Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Before we got engaged, my wife and I discussed our feelings about all sorts of things. We debated living in the city versus living in the country. We haggled about how to handle finances and how to raise hypothetical children. We even spent hours investigating the merit of organic vegetables and the wisdom of non-stick fry pans. However, in all the endless talking we never addressed whether or not we believe in God. I didn’t ask her and she didn’t ask me. If we share similar views about so many things, how could we disagree on such a fundamental issue as the existence of God? Easily, it seems.
I believe in God. I am the son of a Reform rabbi and the brother, brother-in-law and nephew of Reform rabbis--all of the mystical bent. They have rubbed off on me. When I think of God, I think of the unity of creation or what my generation refers to sheepishly as "the Force." God does not punish sinners or perform miracles. That type of God makes as much sense to me as Zeus or Ra. Instead, God is everything and everything is God. We are all tied together by God.
My wife, on the other hand, is a biologist. Does she believe in God? In a word, no. She believes that the Earth is connected by ecological processes and that the universe will one day be described by a Theory of Everything. Said another way, she sees God as an outmoded term for the interrelationships that await definition by experimentation and proof. She believes those interrelationships are quite real, even crucial.
Which I am puzzled to find is more or less what I believe. I call the connections God and she calls them science. So the initial question is not, "Can we agree?" but "Do we already?"
We do and we don’t. While we both agree that the connections are real, I have a rough time accepting that they could ever be completely explained by logic. I believe this not because I lack any faith in the scientific method but because I think using science to explain something as mystical as the soul is like using calculus to explain grief: hardly comforting. My wife retorts that using religion to describe consciousness is like doing an interpretive dance about deoxyribonucleic acid: hard to watch.
"So," I needle, "if in the instant I finished asking you this question a team of scientists made an exact clone of you, down to the smallest quark and including every electrical pulse, would you and your clone both answer my question in unison?"
She and her clone reply, "Yes." So now I’m outnumbered!
I sulk. I hope there could never be such an exact clone of my wife, but do I really think there couldn’t be? I’m not sure any more. Wouldn’t the piece that makes her beloved to me be missing? That piece that I call God? If science could create that, then what would be the point of love? Can I really love a woman who makes me question the point of love altogether? Seems so!
Our lives are impossibly complex. Can my wife’s science explain them? Could the existence of my God? Regardless of the source, any complete explanation would take longer than recreating life on some extra-galactic meteor and teaching it French. Fundamentalists are agitating against teaching evolution while geneticists are breeding glow-in-the-dark rabbits. Who wants to explain either of them? Any hands? No? So what does it mean that my wife and I disagree about the existence of God? It means we have something to talk about.
It would be different if either of us had an unshakable faith, one that was essential to our identities. We do not. We both believe in the sort of world in which the actions of the individual affect the well-being of the whole. Is it important if I believe our actions matter because God exists and she believes our actions matter because we are all part of the same ecosystem? So far, no. Can we still grow old together debating the more important things, accepting the simpler ones, and allowing our arguments to change us?
God willing, we can.