Recently, my car witnessed a discussion about religious beliefs in a marriage. I am no expert because I am no longer religious and I doubt the boy I live with ever was.
So her question was, is it possible to co-exist and make decisions beyond the standpoint of religion if one spouse is religious and the other is not? Though I didn’t have an answer then, I figured out one thing right away–I can’t think while I am driving!
Though this comes a fortnight later, I hope it’s better than never. Most religious people tend to be mindless in their faith. I guess faith works best when it’s blind. Here I speak of the temple-going, pooja-doing regularly faithful and not the veda-master, vasudeva kutumbakam-spewer. I grew up in a very religious household set in its way of doing things. A long time before I came about, these activities had moved from the realm of religion to culture or a halfway home thereof. It was the culture of our family to make offerings to the temple, to be frugal during Ekadashi and to show people where they belong. There were rules about what could be eaten, who could be seen and where not to go. When you call it family culture, you don’t come off as a hardliner, do you? I suspect many people grew up like I did. I could very well have turned out to be a 30-year-old who doesn’t think much of any of these things. 30 years is long enough to be set in one’s ways if you are mindless.
To answer your question, I think anything is possible in a marriage. In an ideal state, marriage can be a union of two people who respect each other and their life together. And this respect spills into every aspect of their life, including faith. It’s important that you have faith in your marriage but any other kind of faith should be optional. In a not-so perfect world, religion manifests itself in many ways. It could be in not cooking non-veg in your kitchen, never inviting over friends of a lower caste or having separate vessels for your maid. And I wouldn’t be surprised when these are justified using reasons of taste, convenience and hygiene. And I genuinely believe that many don’t see these remotely as religious activity. Because this is how we grew up. Unless you consciously stop to think about it, it’s as ingrained in you as brushing your teeth every morning.
There is no space in faith. Which is why the dictionary defines it as the complete trust in something. Faith grows when you are fully surrendered to the idea and blind to perspectives. I have a lot of respect for people of faith. They have in them the absolute strength that absolute faith offers. And little else can replace that in our transient lives. Religion is not a hat you wear when you go out. Religion is skin, you are in it or you are dead. This is perhaps why it’s difficult to be a moderate. Of course, this is different from being spiritual or believing in an invisible power.
Let’s take abortion for instance or gender equality. I consider these examples because they are themes of interest to you. Both these as options are systemically written out of religion. Women don’t have the right to choose not only because they belong to men but they also embody sin, have impure bodies and are objects of lust. Of course God is a man. Do religious women even think of abortion as an option? Maybe if they have an atheist for a husband.
I agree that personal should be political. As women, each of us should strive to find and keep our place in our marriages, our belief systems and our society. And this has to be a personal journey where agency is demanded where none exists. But when this ideology meets the religious spouse, I fear the answers to all the tough questions are already written.