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Does Religion Really Matter?

Does Religion Really Matter?

December 02, 2011

Can love conquer all in an inter religious marriage?

It was nearly fifteen years ago on a pleasant March evening when he asked me to marry him. We were on the ramparts of a crumbling old fort at a place called Tranquebar. To say that I was surprised would be a lie. I had been expecting something like this. All that mattered to me when I said “yes” was that I was going to share my life with someone who loved and respected me.

Unfortunately, some people around us did not share my view. Some of our friends were openly skeptical while others were plain shocked – the reason being that he was Christian and I was Hindu. “How does it matter?” was what we asked these so called “well wishers” who were intent on discouraging us. They probably thought that we had gone crazy. Actually, a lot of people thought that way because religion, we realized soon enough, was for many an important source of identity.

Our parents, after the initial hiccups agreed but again we had to deal with this issue of how were going to survive as two individuals with different religious identities. My mother-in-law wanted me to convert to Christianity. My parents though not very happy with this suggestion, felt that it was probably the most practical idea because “a woman in our country is after all defined by her husband’s identity”. Just as she changes her surname she can change her religion too at the time of marriage.

But a change of that nature was not something that we were going to impose on ourselves. I tried to reason with his mother about the futility of changing one’s religion just so one could marry. “Will this not be an insult to your religion? I should believe in a religion when I adopt it” was my argument. I seemed to convince her and we went on to get married in a civil ceremony. Neither did I change my religion nor my name!

People sometimes want to know how we manage to co-exist as two people from different religions. We used to find these questions very silly when we were younger. But now that we are older and wiser we introspect on the people who ask us these questions and wonder why is it that they ask them. 

Though it is actually a contradiction to the secular principles on which our country is founded, in practice religion continues to define people’s identities. I never noticed this until I got married but people often refer to others thus “that muslim lady, a Christian gentleman” etc. Interestingly, nobody refers to themselves as “the Hindu aunty next door”. Here it is a caste identity that is used to define the person. In a place like Chennai caste is an important determinant of who you are once your religion is established.

One of the things that we realized in our fifteen odd years of marriage was that religion has the power to be a divisive force only if we allow it to become one. Neither of us are actually religious people though we do practice the religion in a very loose sort of way. My husband goes to church every other Sunday – he usually goes alone. I used to go too when my mother in law was alive but it was more by way of enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the heritage church building than for anything else. My husband on the other hand often comes with me to temples – sometimes like me to enjoy the beautiful architecture!

People are often curious to know the religious affiliation of our daughter. They find it hard to believe it when we say that religion is not something that we are going to leave for her as a legacy. If she decides to follow a religion it has to be a conscious choice that she makes. It does not have to be the religion of her parents and could well be something totally different.

She seems quite comfortable with that. Unfortunately others do not seem to let her live with that. There are often occasions when people assume that she is a Christian because she does not put on a “bindi” and her middle name is her paternal grandmother’s name - and therefore Christian sounding. For a thirteen year old it can be quite daunting when adults jump to these conclusions. She does not feel why she has to explain to people what festivals she celebrates. “I also like to buy new clothes for Eid” she once told a very nosy neighbour! She finds it very difficult to explain to people that she is not an atheist. She cannot understand why people do not make that simple differentiation between religion and god – that one is all pervasive while the other is man made.

Both my husband and myself feel that we are lucky to be part of two different cultures. We celebrate Christmas and Diwali with equal gusto. In both these festivals we try to highlight the cultural aspects and play down the religious overtones.

It is not to say that it has been roses all the way for us. We have had our share of troubles, arguments and fights, but none of these have been about religion. Religion continues to exist in our lives but does not consume our day to day existence. People who know only my husband are surprised when he tells them his wife’s name just as people known to me give a start when they hear my husband’s very Christian sounding name. Sometimes they are not sure if we are even married!

Both our extended families have kept away from intruding in with their brand of religion – if anything they have only tried to be inclusive. So, as my daughter used to say when she was younger “Don’t mess with me. I have Gods from two religions behind me”!!!

Photo credit: 


  • J
    25.06.13 07:49 AM
    I have only one thought on this, before you throw away what made you to come this far in life in every aspect, that is your roots and culture and religion, think what type of flower your new seed will bear in 30-40 years. Also consider the love and relationship in which, faith and culture you were brought up with and you believe that the new love and relationship of short duration is better.

    Think in state of equilibrium.
  • Rational
    03.01.13 05:20 PM
    Insightful. How do you deal with someone who is fundamentally rooted into principles of monotheism, exclusivity and superimicsm espoused by Christianity. Who is unwilling even entertain a healthy dialogue on possible existence of another faith or entertain the idea of atheism or agnostiscm as a faith, system of belief or one's guiding principles of life. Rationally speaking separation is the alternative but ethically speaking it is a defeat of human spirit and failure of 2 individuals who would have failed to surmount their differences. How do you solve such a conundrum?
  • Kavya
    29.05.12 09:23 AM

    I was born a Hindu, and I practice the religion in a very mild way, mostly for my parents. I just believe in doing my best in all walks of life and don't feel that a god would be keeping a watch over me. Same is the case with my Catholic boyfriend. But, we are faced with a lot of problems from my parents. Initially his family was fine, but now they're also against us.
    This is creating a hell lot of problems, since my boyfriend feels that he should not hurt his dad and now is trying to convince me to convert to his faith. He is totally torn between his love to me and duties to his dad. I've decided to give up on my family and marry and feel that I can work on it slowly and make my family be with me, but my boyfriend has completely lost all his confidence. All I can see of him is a shadow shattered with love and duty.
    I seriously need help to sort out this thing. I seriously need his presence in my life, wherein his sanity is not being compromised. Can you help me Ma'm?
  • carol
    06.03.12 01:22 PM
    here almost all are talking about only religion and not faith!! i find that one person does not want to change their religion not because he/she believes in that religion they belong but because others want them to change. strange!

    Be clear on your faith.
  • Rajpriya
    20.02.12 07:06 PM

    You two must make a serious attempt to get an opportunity to talk your lady's parents and express your wish to get married. Even if it takes time you must be in a position to explain
    to them that you will be a deserving husband and will really take care of her.

    It all depends on how much she loves you and willing to get her parents' consent with out going against them.

    Just don't give up too easy.

    Wish you the Best
  • Jeeves
    20.02.12 06:09 PM
    I am in a very similar situation, me being christian and the woman i love being Hindu, she loves me too but is unable to dissapoint or go against her parents wishes and so we are both struggling with the reality that two people who fit together as well as we do cannot be together because of religion and culture. It is a very cruel lesson one which seems impossible to move on from. I am at a loss as to what to do?!?
  • Kirklops
    22.12.11 03:45 PM
    tys... that made my day :))

    "With or without it [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."... Steven Weinberg stated this at a conference. Though I don't completely agree with him with regard to his assertion that religion is dangerous and an "insult to human dignity", there is an element of truth to the quote.

    People fighting over beliefs, trying to impose one set over another has slowed civilizational progress in many ways. If only more people followed your words, “accept a person and their beliefs just the way it is” at a societal level with no implicit bias, I can't help wonder where would we be now as a civilization (talking of entire humanity here)?
  • Deva Sagayam
    Deva Sagayam
    10.12.11 08:03 AM
    Religion can not be separated from its ambiance.
    Family, friends, relationships, festivals, temples all are an integral part of hindu religious experience.
    Most of these are lost in inter religious marriage to the Hindu partner.
    It does not happen to the partner from other religion.
    Even musical experience is different. Most Christians prefer western music and instruments, while learning music is difficult in Muslim families.
  • Keri
    09.12.11 10:36 PM
    @Meera Sorry to go off track, but you raised the issue.

    All religion is a "way of life". According to "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe...and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." That set of beliefs and moral code is the "way of life" that people follow. If a person who was raised one religion decides that they want to change their "way of life" to follow the Hindu belief and moral code, who can say that they can't? That they MUST retain the religious affiliation they were born into no matter what? Just like you chose to not change your religion, lack of a formal conversion process doesn't mean that a person can't become a Hindu in their heart and mind, and live that way as their life. Belief is too personal for any of us to make stipulations or demands regarding it.
  • Rajpriya
    09.12.11 02:40 PM
    Thank you for educating me on "Hinduism", the way of life. Though I was born into a Hindu family, I have lived away from India and somehow gave too little importance for this way of life.

    Sorry about that. I did emphasize that I would not change mine for any reason.

    So like you correctly point out I won't treat the Hindu way of life, like changing clothes.
    If you allow me to me say the rest "It just accepts a person and their beliefs just the way it is". I never disputed. If you do not wish any other opinion on "Does religion really matter"
    you wish is granted at least by me.
  • Meera Sundararajan
    Meera Sundararajan
    09.12.11 01:43 PM
    This is now getting a bit confusing for me.. "Hinduism" my friends is not a religion but a "way of life". It is very abstract as a concept and has few prescribed entry points unlike other religions of the world ( there is no formal conversion system into it though the Arya Samaj has tried to do so). One can therefore only be "born" into a Hindu family and therefore become one! Religious affiliation unlike the clothes we wear cannot be removed or donned at will though in practice many do it! It calls for actual change in beliefs and practices which for many are very basic changes. It is unfortunate when a person cannot be accepted for who you are. An inter religious marriage like mine does not negate religion. It just accepts a person and their beliefs just the way it is. No religion preaches evil or anything negative. Just as rice and wheat are both calorie giving energy foods religion is also the same... It is difficult for a rice eater to sometimes completely become a wheat eater...!
  • Deva Sagayam
    Deva Sagayam
    09.12.11 01:30 PM
    The problem is larger which affects all Hindus.
    Spending mental energy on Brahmin issues is waste and it is a diversion which other religions are happy with.
    Brahmins form a very small percentage of population. They do not matter anymore.
  • Rajpriya
    09.12.11 08:33 AM

    You may be right on that point. Strange but true. I have lots of muslim friends. They have fed me with the best Biryani I have eaten. One thing I never heard of them do is, change their religion.

    At the Brahmins I can die of thirst without being offered a glass of water though, I am a descendant of the Cholas. l(eave aside giving their son or daughter in marriage to a non-brahmin),

    "Abachcharam!" "Abachcharam!"
  • Deva Sagayam
    Deva Sagayam
    09.12.11 07:19 AM
    All I was trying to say was that religion does matter in inter religious marriages.
    The Christian or Muslim boy or girl gets to keep their religion and their family connections.
    Most Hindu boys or girls lose theirs.
  • Rajpriya
    08.12.11 05:35 PM
    If I understand correctly the authors question was, whether religion matters in a marriage that involves a Christian and Hindu getting married without converting into one or the others’ religion and stay that way right through out their lives.

    And they did it because each one loved and respected not only the other but respected the religion each believed in and continued to be tolerant of their different faiths in married life come what may.

    Going back into history there have been mass conversions of people from one religion to another for economic reasons, fear of persecution the few that come to my mind. That a Brahmin girl changed her religion because the boys parents wanted to do so and the girls parents refusal to see the girl again, is all a bit too intriguing and too conservative to my little too broad minded head.

    Thoughts that allow different religions to coexist under one roof depend on how broad minded people are. To give an example I know a close Hindu friend’s sister was in love with Buddhist boy. The father had died a few years earlier. My friend was studying in London with me.

    One day he came into my room disturbed and said because his other brothers and mother opposed their marriage and if she married to stay away from home.
    The two eloped and married and were living a few hundred yards away with the Buddhists boys’ parents.

    After a couple years my friend went home and now being the oldest in the family
    insisted and convinced that the sister be allowed to come home. Later they were in a different town because of employment. When my friends’ sister was expecting her first child his mother had opted to be with her and life had become normal again.

    A few years later I heard my friends’ sister had converted into being a catholic.
    Thinking his sisters’ husband was a Buddhist I did not see the reason why his sister became a catholic. Even if I had a chance I would not have gone to find out why.
  • Meera Sundararajan
    Meera Sundararajan
    08.12.11 03:35 PM
    @ Devasahayam I don't understand your comment! This post is about my experience and not about others's experiences. Sure if someone wants to adopt a religion just to get over some procedural issues and marry another that is certainly their choice- not mine!! So what is the problem here? About the parents not agreeing to meet them- yes there are parents like that too. I have nothing to say about them.
  • Shashi
    08.12.11 11:23 AM
    I personally believe, any religion is nothing but set of rules, Dogma's and patterns designed to make a group of like minded people, as man is basically a social animal and feels secure in groups... Religion is not GOD or Supreme Consciousness. As Buddha said, that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.

  • Rajpriya
    08.12.11 11:15 AM
    I thought I would relate some personal experience about being in one religion and living amongst people of another.

    When I first moved to Germany after living in UK and briefly in the US, tired of living in large cities was I looking to settle to a village environment for a quiet life and to breathe fresh air. After living in a few places I moved to the present village where I have been living for little more than 3 decades.

    My first house in this village was right in front of the Catholic Church. By law the front of any house has to be kept clean by its occupants at least in villages. It was my practice to sweep the house front on Saturday afternoons. When outside cleaning sometimes, an older man who had lost his leg in the war used to come by (had a wooden leg), pushing his bicycle stopped and chatted with me.

    He related about crusaders and past history of Russia, Europe and religious stories. Listening with interest one day he posed me the question if had ever been inside the church opposite. I told him I am a Hindu and I visit temples and there was none close by. He said in the absence of a temple why I wouldn't visit the church.

    I said I was taught to believe in something different and I must find it's wrong to believe in another. I said to him when I was sweeping out side many people who went past me into the church neither stopped to talk nor did they smile. When they walked out of the church past me it was the still same unconcerned attitude. I continued to say, I don't understand what they were being taught inside that church to allow this kind of unfriendliness and that I would not be interested in learning such behavior.

    This old man had spoken to a few people about my story that resulted in a few people nodding their head. A few years later the priest of this church approached me for help on publishing a souvenir celebrating the 75th year of this church.
    Of course being friendly as I always was consented and got the job done to his satisfaction. An article appeared in the local newspaper about me, relating to this publication.

    Even that being so, the percentage of people who stopped to talk to me did not increase by any large percentage. Then I learnt to ignore such unfriendliness.
    My sons played tennis at courts a few hundred yards behind the house and my elder son became the district champion 1989.

    This made a few more people stop and talk to me. What makes people to be friendly or unfriendly is a thing, I always wanting to know for a long time. May be I am broad-minded in being tolerant and accepting other forms of belief and let them believe in what they believed. It would be nicer to allow me to continue to believe in what I have from the day I was able to learn.
  • Deva Sagayam
    Deva Sagayam
    08.12.11 10:52 AM
    My friend a Hindu Brahmin's daughter wanted to marry a christian.
    The boys parents wanted her to convert and the girl agreed.
    The girls parents said that they were not willing to meet their daughter after marriage. That was their personal choice which we people accepted.
    But people like you thought they were wrong. I wonder why your personal choices are Ok but why others's are not OK.
  • Dark Knight
    Dark Knight
    06.12.11 02:50 AM
    Excellent article, I'm glad you guys have enough things in common that you are able to overcome the religious hurdle.
  • Nishita
    05.12.11 03:36 PM
    If only more people could "live and let live" like you both when it comes to religion (or anything generally), India would be so much more a happier country
  • Meera Sundararajan
    Meera Sundararajan
    05.12.11 10:56 AM
    Hi Folks

    Thanks for your encouraging comments. I did not know there were so many who thought like me. @ Vandana you are so right- lifestyle compatibility is very important. @ Harry , so true- one does not need religious differences to break up a marriage :-) Loved the debate between you and tys.@ Anisha people like to slot everyone and dress is one way of proclaiming who you are !!! Jayanth, yes true, culture and religion in India have close linkages
  • Vandana Natu
    Vandana Natu
    04.12.11 12:54 PM
    I can say that I have been in a similar boa, if not the same boat owing to my interstate marriage.

    But lately if you think about it with a tolerant outlook what people are actually equating with relegion is the lifestyle. Lifestyle compatability is what they want to know and the broadest indicator of it is the school of faith one follows. So I guess when people ask me if I am a Konkanastha Brahmin or a CKP they are not interested in knowing if I know all the vedas, they are actually figuring out in their heads if I am a vegetarian or a fish eater, if I am fair and hazel eyed or fair and black eyed etc (even though they fail to understand that in todays scenario of mixed marriages, these are hardly any indicators). Their fears of inter-relegious marriages not working out arise from the lifestyle incompatability issues. It's just a mental math they want to do before jumping to any conclusions. It is best to ignore them unless you are being discriminated or hurt on the basis of this.
  • Fire Crystals
    Fire Crystals
    04.12.11 03:12 AM
    Loved your post. As someone who is in exactly the same situation, I completely agree with you too. I am a Christian, while my Husband is a Hindu, and our son has no religious affiliation for now (he is just one). We are hoping he will select for himself when he is ready.
  • matheikal
    03.12.11 07:47 PM
    I love this kind of people who rise above religions and live happily.
  • tys
    03.12.11 11:23 AM
    harry heres a joke:

    philosopher 1 : u say that there's no absolute truth , that all truths are relative.

    philosopher 2 : yes

    Philosopher 1: are you sure?

    philosopher 2: absolutely!
  • Neelam Kamdar Bhamani
    Neelam Kamdar Bhamani
    03.12.11 08:11 AM
    A thought provoking read!! I am glad you, your husband and your daughter have a sound understanding of your faiths and beliefs. What the others think does not matter.
    In fact, we need more of these marriages so that eventually all religions intertwine.
    I loved what you said about God and Religion being 2 different things, I have a hard time explaining that to people who call me an atheist!!
    Good Luck!!
    03.12.11 03:48 AM
    Hi Tys,
    When studying Beng Hons I was told the theory of relativity, despite no proof of this theory being real, and proven, I was told that I had to accept it as it was, even when science asks that everything must be proven and tangible.

    There are a hundreds of things that cannot be proven in this world, but they are accepted as the truth because experts say so, bearing in mind that this is only their impressions not proven facts.

    I am quite happy to believe the theory of Bedouins wearing black robes in hot desserts.

    While we have a conscious and know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, I am willing to believe that there is a god and that equals truth, until science proves otherwise, of which I know that its not a possibility in my lifetime. If we as a race are a result of biology, then we do not have to be civil with each other and confined to the rules of society.

  • tys
    03.12.11 02:10 AM
    @harry : just for a debate. How is god truth? Truth is, for all we actually know, relative. Wht is god? Our impressions projected unto something we think is real? How is that truth? What is truth? What u think is truth need not be truth to another

    we agree on that?

    What is real? Our experiences based on the inputs we gathered from our senses? Is that real. Yesterday u could see, now u wear glasses to see to the real. How can u trust ur senses?

    The rose u see is seen differently from an insect to to a dog , to a man. Which is real? What do u hold as real? Ur version or the truth. The truth that is so changable? How does something so changable become truth?
    03.12.11 01:12 AM
    Nice article.

    One thing I am going to say is, you don't need religion to make your marriage work. It's up to you if you make or break. People even breakup in same religion.

    The thing that I don't understand is how do you convert somebody to different religion?. Apple can't turn in to an Orange. To change a power source of electronic you have to rip out it's internal to make it work in different country, So how is it possible to change a human being?.

    One carries so much cultural baggage and if the religion and culture are inter-twined, convertion is next to impossible.

    This is why I only believe in god not religion and one should be proud of who they are rather then tell a lie.

  • Aaina
    02.12.11 08:42 PM
    Wonderful Article,I myself was raised by a catholic father and a Muslim mother.I always found my mothers realtives trying to "convert" us to Islam and my Dad's relatives to christianity. The beauty of it was my parents who emphasized on education and being a good person. Religion was a non issue and a personal choice. I migrated to the US 20 years for an education and stayed on.I cannot tell you how many times I am asked if I am hindu or Muslim.
    To me its a non issue but not so much to others, I recently met a cousin after 20 years and while she was all nice and sweet. She called my husband her brother etc..etc..and then She lied to her Muslim friends that my american husband had converted to Islam. I found that funny and revolting that she was not ready to accept him as is. Needless to say I cut ties with her. I have no need for superficial people.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    02.12.11 12:03 PM
    Religion and culture are so intertwined in India that it is hard to differentiate.

    Wonderful article! Thanks for sharing your personal experiences.
  • Anisha
    02.12.11 09:25 AM
    It felt like me.... as I read through your "about" and the article. I'm a Hindu married to a Christian, I face these questions and rather more of "good" advises and suggestions from close relatives to get converted. And the endless advise on what religion would your child follow, when you have one. I'm like why can't the child choose on their own. But now because I'm fed up explaining and arguing i just say we are not having kids and then they start about how having kids are imp etc....

    Though a hindu, I've lived my life without bindi's and people assumed I was a Chirstian. When in College I preferred wearing full sleeves churidars(easier coz I don't have to bother about waxing etc) and I covered my head with dupatta to protect me from sun... many believed I'm Muslim.

    Everytime anyone wanted to confirm my religion, I asked what do you think and just agreed to whatever their answer was. It is easier that way.

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