Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Can I Date Someone Outside of my Faith?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a rather sensitive question. What is your advice on inter-faith relationships? As a Christian, I’ve met a lot of nice girls, although they are usually of different faiths than me (usually Atheist or Agnostic). Is it worth pursuing relationships with girls of different belief systems in the long run, or should I stick to my faith?

 A Humble Pilgrim

DEAR A HUMBLE PILGRIM: Religion can be a tricky matter when it comes to relationships. It’s deeply and intensely personal, but it is frequently intended to be projected outwards. It’s supposed to be a source of comfort, community and strength, but all too often it’s divisive and exclusionary, and the cause of conflict and anxiety.

And then when you mix two distinctly different ones… hoo boy. If you’re not careful, you end up with a lovely volatile mixture, the emotional equivalent of a Coke bottle full of nitro glycerine.

But it doesn’t have to be.

In general, the more strictly traditional and orthodox the branch of the religion, the more exclusionary it tends to be when it comes to dating and marriage; Orthodox and Hassidic Jews aren’t supposed to date or marry outside of the faith, for example, while traditional Muslim women aren’t supposed to marry non-Muslim men.

For the record: I’m not Christian and I side-eye pretty much EVERYTHING Paul had to say about… well, everything, really. So take all this with the appropriate levels of salt.

In Christianity, the idea of not marrying outside the faith predominantly comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?”, which is a metaphorical reference to a passage in Deuteronomy: certain animals should not be yoked together, because together they cannot plow a straight furrow. The implication is that the unbeliever will inevitably pull the believer off the path of righteousness and into sin with him or her. In less spiritual terms, the implication is that a non-Christian is inherently incompatible with a Christian and that such relationships are doomed to failure anyway.

I, personally, find the idea that you can only be compatible with people of your own religion to be absurd. Just being Christian isn’t going to guarantee the success of a relationship, nor will an interfaith relationship ensure it’s eventual failure. That line of thinking never leads anywhere good, and when you follow it to it’s logical extreme, then you inevitably come to the conclusion that you should never date outside of your own very narrow community. Sure, you both may be Christian… but when one of you is Catholic and the other is a 7th Day Adventist, you’re going to run into just as many complications if one of you is Mormon and the other is Muslim.

The secret to keeping a difference in spiritual beliefs from wrecking a relationship is a matter of respect. You may not share your partner’s belief – or lack thereof – but you should at least respect that they have it. As long as one partner’s belief isn’t a matter of practical difficulty – she doesn’t believe in going to doctors and only relies on crystals and homeopathic remedies, he refuses to touch his partner during her “unclean” times until she’s completely re-sanctified herself – then you have the responsibility of being respectful. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree – far from it, I’m a firm believer in the idea that you should be able to have a reasonable disagreement on the subject – but at the same time you shouldn’t actively disrespect it or otherwise antagonize it. If she’s a Jew who keeps kosher, you don’t want to taunt her about the salami sandwich you just had. If he’s Christian, you shouldn’t be telling him about how “cute” it is that a grown-ass man still has his invisible friend from childhood.

Similarly, you have an obligation not to try to press your religion – or, again, lack thereof – on your partner. A relationship is not an open-ended invitation to proselytize. Be willing to answer questions, sure. Explain the tenets of your faith and why you feel they are correct. But unless he or she specifically expresses interest in conversion, your best choice is to leave it well enough alone. Leading by example is far more persuasive than constantly explaining to someone that if they don’t believe exactly as your Invisible Sky-Daddy said you should, they’re going to be condemned to Hell and you’d feel horrible about it if they were.

In your case, AHP, you’re meeting girls who’re attractive and interesting… but aren’t Christian. I don’t think that this has to be a deal-breaker; in fact, I think you may be missing out on relationships that you may find make your life richer and more rewarding. As long as you’re willing to be respectful of their beliefs and they’re willing to afford you the same courtesy, there’s no reason why things couldn’t work out.

And if you’re terribly worried about the Bible forbidding you from interfaith relationships, I’ll point you towards 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 : ”If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.”

Good luck.

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