The most common reason parents in my survey cited for choosing an interfaith community was a desire for their children to be knowledgeable about both religions. More than 90 percent of parents chose this as one of their reasons for joining. Whether or not a family also belongs to a church or synagogue or both, a dual-faith religious education program gives children the freedom to compare and contrast in a way that is rarely condoned in a single-faith educational setting. And an interfaith education program provides practical advantages over shlepping children to two different religious schools. One Washington parent explains, “We didn’t feel competent to be the sole religious teachers for our child, but sending him to both church and temple religious school was not realistic or appealing.”
Even if your child chooses not to practice a religion as an adult, or to embrace a non-Abrahamic faith, our culture—American literature, music, politics—was forged in a Judeo-Christian context. A familiarity with Bible stories, rituals, and holidays from Judaism and Christianity makes a child more culturally literate.
Well, okay, but you greatly increase the likelihood that your interfaith child will grow up to profess neither faith — and for people who are serious about religion as a guide to reality, and to the life of the soul after death, that’s a really big deal. For Jews, 58 percent of whom are intermarried, and only one-third of whom (of the intermarrieds, that is) are raising their children Jewish, this is a matter of basic survival as a people. If I were Jewish, I would be extremely concerned about this.
From this recent interview with Here And Now‘s Robin Young, it sounds like Katz Miller has a different idea of what religion is for than orthodox believers do:
YOUNG: How do you square the faith part of this, that Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah, the way to God? Jews believe that the messiah hasn’t come. And in the meantime, you do good works. You do mitzvahs.
MILLER: So we’re not trying to resolve those differences. We’re really not trying to square them. What we’re doing is we’re giving our children access to understanding of all of the variety of beliefs that are represented in their families and in our culture. So we’re explaining to them: Some people believe that Jesus was the messiah. Some people believe he was more of an inspirational metaphor. Others believe he was a historical figure. And you have to ask someone what their personal beliefs are to know. You can’t make assumptions based on their religious label. So for instance, if somebody is Jewish, they might be an atheist, or they might be a mystic.
YOUNG: But you’re talking about ethnic Judaism, no?
MILLER: Well, I’m – it’s very hard in Judaism to untangle the culture, the ethnicity, the beliefs, the religion. It’s really interwoven in a way that’s hard to pull apart. What I would say is, if somebody believes that Jesus is their personal savior, then they are a Christian. And our children understand that, and they understand that they might make that decision at some point in their life, to have that belief. But we’re not teaching them what to believe. We’re teaching them all of these possibilities and that every individual grows up and makes their own decisions about their beliefs and their religious practices, even if they’re from a single-faith religious background.
It’s true that we live in a time and place where people are far more likely to make their own decisions about religion. I am one of the 40+ percent of Americans who are no longer the religion of their birth (well, I’m still a Christian, but I don’t belong to the church in which I was raised). Had one of my parents been non-Christian, and had he or she insisted on equality in raising us kids in that non-Christian religion, would I be Christian today? I’m skeptical. I don’t think Katz Miller thinks this is troubling at all, but rather an advantage. I just don’t see it. Whether or not Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah is, or ought to be, a really big deal, both to Christians and non-Christians.
Whether or not Mohammed was a true Prophet of God ought to be a really big deal to both Muslims and non-Muslims. If Mohammad is a true Prophet, and the Quran is the final testament of God, then I want to know that, so I can conform my own life to what God wants, and know salvation, both in this life and in the next. And if not, not. To be sure, I think God can save anyone He wishes, and I am confident that I will meet non-Christians in heaven — men and women and children saved by the mercy of God, and through the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth, the third person of the Trinity, even if they did not recognize Him in their mortal lives. But that is not the same thing as saying that all religions are equally true. As Prof. Stephen Prothero pointed out, “God Is Not One.” There are meaningful and irreconcilable differences among the religions.
If a child is raised in a home in which he is taught that two very different religions are equally valid pathways to God — Judaism and Christianity, for example, versus Protestantism and Catholicism — it strikes me as obvious that he would come to believe that religion is primarily a cultural matter, something to be embraced if it “works,” or discarded if it doesn’t. Given that we are fast becoming a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist nation, this makes sociological sense. But it doesn’t make sense from a religious point of view.