The Love Shackle: Are Marital Religious Conversions Sincere?
Marriage remains the primary reason many people of faith convert from one religion to another, or from no religion to a precipitous discovery of sudden belief. But why should anyone be forced to change their personal belief system based simply on falling in love? Doesn’t true love demand tolerance, that is — allowing a spouse to believe what they want and loving him (or her) for who they really are?
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been in the news a lot lately. In the midst of another news cycle, we’re reminded once again that Ivanka once selflessly converted from Christianity (Presbyterianism) to Judaism prior to marrying her beloved prince, Jared. Isn’t that nice.
Ivanka’s sudden religious epiphany had more to do with an intense desire to get married to someone well-to-do than any discernible intellectual exercise or inner spiritual experience. In fact, the power couple reportedly broke off their engagement at one point due to strong objections from Kushner’s parents to their son marrying outside the faith.
So, why would a strong-willed, seemingly-intelligent, highly-educated woman reflective of the modern age do something straight out of the Middle Ages, subjugating her most heartfelt personal beliefs to the forced coercion of matrimony? Let’s call this all-too-typical pattern of behavior what it truly is — an exercise in forced intellectual subjugation. Oddly enough, it’s a perfectly acceptable form of slavery and servitude that’s still widely in practice.
The Kushner’s certainly aren’t alone, and I don’t mean to pick on them. This isn’t a political attack. Rather it’s a philosophical inquiry. In fact, conversion coercion (a term I just invented here) has become so common that it’s not only now socially normal, but also prudently forgiven as an entirely rational decision. Indeed, millions of religious conversions have taken place over many decades, no nation more familiar with this peculiar cultural practice than the United States, the ultimate melting pot of people with divergent religions and belief systems. Matrimonial conversions were all too common in 20th Century America, during a time when religious bonds were considerably stronger than they are today, when boys and girls with different religious upbringings often went to the same school, fell in love, and then decided to get married. Plenty of Catholics converted to Protestantism, and vice versa. Christians married Jews, and converted. More recent, we’ve even begun seeing Christians convert to Islam. That said, I’m not familiar with any Atheists suddenly “finding religion.” The building blocks of intelligence can’t be deconstructed, it seems, even by the power of love.
So, what makes religious conversion a mandatory ritual between some couples? Wouldn’t love and tolerance be best exemplified by loving someone for who they really are, without the remolding process? People of differing religious faiths, or faith versus no faith at all, have married, and lived happily ever after. I’ve seen no scientific evidence that shared religious views increases the chances of a happy marriage. People who are comfortable with themselves and their own beliefs shouldn’t feel threatened by a life’s partner professing an alternative view of our place in the universe.
Truth and honesty should dictate that no religion wants its believers to be converted by force. But history reveals quite the opposite story — from the Inquisition to the Crusades to the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas (all done in the name of religion). Hence, it’s no surprise then that religions want new followers any way it can get them, either by using the carrot or the stick. Marriage just so happens to be a little of both.
Is religion nothing more than a light switch to be flipped on at a moment’s notice, just prior to heading off to the alter? Can a thinking person really alter their most fundamental belief system without some genuine curiosity and a longer process of discovery? Well, exposure to new teachings might explain some sincere instances of religious conversion. Yes, they do happen. Surely, out of countless millions of instances there are some couples where one spouse signed up to join a different tribe and then gradually become mesmerized by and absorbed within the new rituals. Still, this all-too convenient (and dishonest) outcome can’t possibly apply to the vast majority of forced conversions, leaving those pseudo-converted shackled to the cerebral equivalent of a ball and chain. Sure, plenty of people might be able to “fake it” and go along with the charade for a while, many doing it for the sake of the children, no doubt. But it all seems terribly contrived, and ultimately fake.
Closing the minds of children and insisting upon a strict religious orthodoxy is bad enough, and I’d argue abusive. Proper education should require that all children get a more balanced view of the alternatives. But shackling one’s husband or wife to a religious faith is a twisted manifestation of anguishing cruelty. Forcing one’s religious views on another person, especially a life’s partner, isn’t love. It’s the ultimate in insecurity and selfishness.