Value-Based Interfaith Dating

The beliefs and values shared across the world’s most popular religions have more in common than not, it seems. Here, learn why dating someone from a different faith isn’t really so different after all.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

he foundation of any successful relationship is built on shared values and beliefs. The good news is, many of the major religions — including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism — share some common ethics and principles. “In terms of morals, most religions are very similar,” says Stephen Simpson, director of clinical training at the Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Psychology and author of What Women Wish You Knew About Dating: A Single Guy’s Guide to Romance. “They diverge on tradition, ritual, and specific theology.”

According to Simpson and Stephen Prothero, author of God is Not One, some of these common
In terms of morals, most religions are very similar.
parallels include:

1. The promise of an afterlife. All religions believe in an afterlife that’s happier than this life on Earth.

2. Behavioral morality. It’s not enough to believe in the right things, you have to do the right things, too — and avoid doing the things that are wrong.

3. Charity. Giving to and helping out those who are less fortunate is a fundamental part of virtually every faith.

4. Contemplation. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all contemplative practices based on prayer or meditation.

5. Family. Caring for and gathering with family to worship, conduct rituals — such as fasting or feasting — are common threads amongst many religions.

6. Fault. Almost all religions start with a sense that something has gone wrong with the world, specifically with the human predicament.

7. A higher power. With the exception of Buddhism, the major faiths believe that there’s only one God. Additionally, Jews, Christians and Muslims share Abraham as a common ancestor.

8. Relationships. Christianity, Judaism and Islam emphasize the importance of developing strong relationships — both with the divine and with other people.

9. Self-discipline. Most faiths consider it important to control any desires that
Accept that it is very unlikely that your partner will change.
are directed solely toward self-gratification.

10. The Golden Rule. All these faiths believe in treating others as you want to be treated yourself, or some variation thereof.

“People get hung up on the fine points of theology and fail to see that 90 percent of their values and beliefs are the same,” Simpson notes. But that doesn’t mean the other 10 percent isn’t critical. “You have to be able to tolerate differences in tradition and ritual.”

Celebrating Your Differences
“Respect and love mean not pretending to be the same when you aren’t,” notes Ruth Abrams, managing editor of That’s why Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, suggests celebrating the differences, too. “It’s important to acknowledge and appreciate the differences and unique beauty in each faith,” he says.

That’s what Anthony Goldberg of Los Angeles is trying to do. He’s Jewish and his girlfriend, Joy, is a Muslim. “Before we started dating, I had no inkling of what Muslims believed, save for the bad things I have heard people say,” Goldberg recalls. The couple has been dating for two years. So what advice does Goldberg have for interfaith daters? “Keep an open mind and try to learn from people of different faiths,” he says. “As with any religion on the face of this planet, there are peacemakers and there are extremists. Do not let yourself be prejudiced by other people’s preconceived notions about certain faiths. In the end, we are all striving for the same thing in life: salvation and peace toward our fellow man.”

And if you find that religious differences are creating conflict, Simpson says, “It’s crucial that you realize that you won’t ‘win’ a debate with your partner about religion. You’re more likely to solidify the differences if you fight about religion. Accept that it is very unlikely that your partner will change, and start discussing how you’re going to maintain intimacy and communication despite your differences.”

Abrams offers this advice to daters with different faiths: “If you’re dating and starting to get serious, don’t think religion won’t be important to you in the future,” she cautions. “When you start to do life-cycle events together — starting with your wedding — it will. Share your beliefs and assumptions now and don’t be afraid of the ways in which you are different. What do you think weddings, baby-naming ceremonies, and other family gatherings will be like with this person? If you think ‘joyous and supportive’, go for it.”

Carrboro, N.C.-based writer Margot Carmichael Lester, is the author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College and coauthor of Be A Better Writer.
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