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A model for world peace

June 15, 2011
Roseli & I on our 9th anniversary

Roseli and I are in what’s sometimes called an interfaith relationship, so one of the chapters from Parenting Beyond Belief that sticks with me the most is called “Parenting in a Secular/Religious Marriage,” by Pete Wernick, PhD. Below are some key paragraphs from the chapter that I particularly like:

Addressing our marriage, the first and best exercise was affirming our common ground. We shared a deep love for each other and more than twelve years of good history. We both wanted to live good lives, follow reasonable morals, be kind and thoughtful, and so on. We both wanted to be with and give a lot of love to our son, to see him grow up well in a two-parent household. This powerful motivation helped us stay the course through many painful compromises and disappointments.

A useful tool was the palliative “agreeing to disagree,” that is, not considering disagreement a problem if it doesn’t affect a decision about behavior. Most religious disagreements don’t directly affect what we do, but concern which abstractions we take as fact or not. I found I could sometimes consider her “outrageous” beliefs something like her having interests, hobbies, or politics that I didn’t empathize with. The challenge is greater regarding the different behaviors called for by differing religious beliefs (such as praying or attending different services or meetings), but in general these can go on independently, leaving lots of opportunity for common ground.

We also understood [our son] would in time develop his own religious orientation but naturally aimed for a fair balance in his exposure to our beliefs during his most formative years. It seemed reasonable for each of us to freely talk about religion from our own view, always in the context of an understood choice of beliefs and with guidelines on how to phrase our beliefs: No proselytizing—that is, attempting to convince. Any comment on a religious subject should include “I believe…” not just stating something as though it were true. Note the difference between “God loves you” and “I believe God loves you, for example, or between “There is no god” and “I see no reason to believe in a god.” Joan would often take care to add, “You know, Dad feels differently about this.”

In recent years, I have taken great consolation in the words of my friend Joe: “Kids learn from modeling. How you live is more important than what you say your beliefs are.” How true! At this point, Joan and I feel we did the best we could in raising Will, now 24. He is a responsible, considerate young adult with a mind of his own and a willingness to work toward good goals.

Looking back, I see that over time we gained confidence that we could maintain our individual identities, and that we could trust our working compromise in how to expose our son to our divergent beliefs.

I came to a strikingly positive, though almost preposterous realization: What we were doing amounted to a model for world peace! I figured if we could live together with relatively low friction on this very divisive issue, there was hope for the Israelis and Palestinians.

Sure, this statement sounds ludicrous on the surface. But… the science of maintaining individual dignity and balance through understanding and disciplined compromise may well be the science that saves the world.

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  1. Neide permalink

    Kevin, your clarity on this post touched me. Because before he could see the immensity of facts, like you, I lived it to the skin even when not exerting any religion, just believing in God, but not on religious dogma, I married a man extremely religious and created tighter standards within a religion extremely biased, but for my happiness, extremely kind and intelligent. And that kindness and intelligence, which should dominate all humanity is allowed to be happy today, regardless of religion, but only a belief and respecting the differences of each other. Neide

  2. Jonathan permalink

    I admire this post as well. Bigotry is everywhere. Intolerance is everywhere. All demographics are guilty of it. Yet, if individuals of differing viewpoints can make a relationship work, then groups comprised of understanding individuals can do the same. Thanks for sharing this post.

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