We’ve said it before: intermarriage is not a Jewish phenomena; it’s a reality of American culture. Naomi Schaefer Riley of the Wall Street Journal reports that in researching the forthcoming book, American Grace: The Changing Role of Religion in American Civil Life, political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell found that “more than half of Americans are actually married to someone of a different faith from the one in which they were raised.” While Putnam and Campbell define faith as of being from “significantly different traditions,” which includes different denominations of Christianity, their figure says much about American patterns of intermarriage.
In order to better understand how Americans can be simultaneously so religiously fervent and religiously tolerant, they surveyed 3,100 people two years in a row to measure their perceptions of those of other faiths. Putnam and Campbell learned that when one added a new friend from another faith, one’s feelings typically neutralize or warm toward that faith. Which begs Rileys’s question: “Are people more inclined to marry someone of another faith because they are more tolerant? Or do they become more tolerant when they marry someone of a different faith?”
While Putnam and Campbell do not provide a definitive answer to Riley’s question, Putnam does note that interfaith marriage impacts both families involved. (We know this, too. That is why we developed our Grandparents Circle program for Jewish grandparents of interfaith grandchildren.)
“Everyone,” Mr. Putnam says, “has an Aunt Susan,” some member of your extended family who is of another faith. And while you may know intellectually that your own faith does not allow for the possibility of nonbelievers achieving salvation, you think that “Aunt Susan” is a nice person. And you decide that “Aunt Susan is exactly the kind of person heaven is built for.”
And though heaven may be built for Aunt Susan—and this conflicts with one’s faith—it does not impact one’s own religiousness or belief in that faith. Putnam and Campbell therefore argue that one can intermarry and have friends from other faiths but can still be committed to the faith one practiced before intermarrying or making those friends. We agree with Putnam and Campbell and know many intermarried couples who would also concur with their findings. We look forward to the release of Putnam and Campbell’s book and learning more about the United State’s unique religious landscape.
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