When people think of secular wedding ceremonies, they might think as much of the beliefs of the couple as much as the content or tone of the ceremony. There is probably something of a presumption that the individuals who would seek out a secular celebrant are not religious themselves, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
One type of couple is, in my opinion, the perfect candidate for a secular ceremony: the interfaith couple.∗
In one sense, I can speak to this, as I am in such a relationship. My wife and I were both Christians when we got married nearly twelve years ago, but I left religion about three years ago. (This situation is not ideal, it should be noted; deconversions of one partner tend to put a substantial strain on a relationship.) Today, if we were to get married or to renew our vows, a Christian ceremony like the one that we had twelve years ago, which was officiated by my father (a Baptist minister), would simply not suffice because I have become alienated from my former religion.
What has been a useful insight for my wife and I as we have essentially renegotiated one aspect of our relationship (the part where we had shared religious beliefs) is that it’s not about beliefs – it’s about shared values. In his excellent book In Faith and In Doubt (for which I have only praise), Dale McGowan talks about the importance of finding these common values, especially when one partner has changed views:
When religious believers learn that someone is not religious, some assume that their values – including empathy, compassion, even basic morality – fall away as well. A nonbeliever who learns that someone is religious often assumes that intellectual values such as critical thinking and skepticism are suddenly missing.
But if they allow themselves to discover the difference before bolting in opposite directions, couples are much more likely to find that they agree on the relative importance of basic values. (p.130)
In situations where a difference in beliefs is already clear, there is even more of an opportunity to find those shared values, and that is what a ceremony – and ultimately the relationship in general – should focus on. In many ways, a secular ceremony is the perfect ceremony for an interfaith couple because it largely removes the religious differences from the equation and sets the focus back on the celebration of love that the ceremony is designed to facilitate.
Interfaith relationships are not always easy to navigate, but going into it with an attitude that prioritizes shared values over disparate beliefs is one step toward a healthier relationship. The ceremony is a good place to start.
∗Here, I use “interfaith” as a shortcut for “having different positions regarding religion or non-religion.” Other similar terms that have been suggested for similar purposes include “interpath” and “interbelief.” In any case, this can refer to couples where partners have different religious affiliations or where one has a religious affiliation and the other does not.
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