Debate Magazine

The Problem of Children, and Inter-faith Love – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

By Carnun @Carnunmp

Here’s another (belated) post inspired by Alom Shaha’s outstanding ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook’.

I hope that these will help a few to consider donating to the campaign to get copies of the book in all English and Welsh secondary schools, the website for which can be found here:


“Most religions insist that you do not marry someone of a different faith. This is a good way of ensuring the propagation of the religion, but it is something which must have led to millions of broken hearts throughout history.” – Alom Shaha, The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

It’s tragic, really, that what you happen to/choose to believe should dictate who you’re allowed to love. From my own godless perspective, I despair that religion should have such an influence on so many aspects of a person’s life, all of the way down to relationships and basic human desires – but I’m not surprised.

When it comes to ‘love’, many religions are especially invasive and controlling. Scripturally, the rules are clear: homosexuality tends to be frowned upon, for starters. Then, in a heterosexual relationship, there are behavioural guidelines (right down to sex – which end up being inherently hostile towards female sexuality and enjoyment), and one is expected to partner off with another of the same faith.

And it is this last bit (although there may well be more to talk about I haven’t mentioned) with which I wish to concern myself here and now in this (admittedly brief) post, because there really are significant obstacles – including frank verses on the subject from various religious texts – for inter-faith couples to overcome.

The first, and perhaps most concerning, is what to do with children.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 “O you who have believed, save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones” – Surah Al-Tahreem 66:6


One problem a hypothetical Christian-Muslim couple may face, for example, is how to religiously educate their children, if at all. And supposing they each happen to be rather devout (or live in the company of strict traditionalist family, again for example), there is an absolute imperative to teach kids the right way to worship. Their very ‘eternal soul’ is on the line, after all.

Of course, every religious individual will have a different take on exactly how to ensure their offspring a place in the ‘Kingdom of God’, but this fact does not negate the extreme likelihood of a conflict of interests (if not from the couple but from loved ones) on this point. Sure, there’s no reason compromise can’t be made – like the child growing up attending both Mosque and the Church, or neither -  but it’s still an issue others don’t have to face.

And what of marriage?

Marriage plays an integral part of the religious lives of many. For a Muslim man, marriage is often said to represent ‘half of his deen’ (roughly translated as ‘religion’ itself), and Christians are reminded, by their wedding vows, that marriage signifies ‘the mystical union between Christ and the Church‘.

So, does our inter-faith Christian-Muslim couple ‘join’ in a Church or Mosque? Perhaps two weddings can take place, to please both families – but will they each really be happy with that concession? And which vows are upheld – the ones said in Christ’s name or Allah’s?* The simplest way around this would be to get a neutral, secular marriage, but, unfortunately, many do not feel the same way about them as they do towards (the perhaps perceived as fairytale) religious occasions, and once again the disapproval of family can have a very big influence on decision-making.

For this party, the answer may be to ignore the idea of their child’s possible inter-faith desires altogether, and instead arrange the marriage of their choosing… Which is a sad, if not dangerous, lucky dip for the individual(s) it affects.

You may be thinking that the core ‘issue’ is trivial. That pretending to extended family really isn’t that hard; that it’s no problem people are expected to live and love ‘each to their own’ and with the division it brings; or that ‘a loving God wouldn’t mind if people get married in a Church, Mosque, or Town Hall’. But some people do care – and when that gets in the way of a loving relationship, it’s tragic.

It shouldn’t be an issue at all, but it simply is.

Even if the couple can easily rationalise their way out of many of these supposed trivialities, they may very well still face the unfair, irrational judgment and exclusion of the people they’ve grown up loving – and that’s not something many are, understandably, willing to risk. A broken heart is sometimes the easier option, lamentably.

But that does not make it the right one.


*Not that it would, I suspect, really matter to most couples.


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