Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From the Gossip Columns

So let's say there was a mixed marriage in your parish.  A nice little Lutheran girl married, and we're just spitballing here, a Buddhist.  In fact, he was a prominent member of his zendo or sangham or whatever.  Before the wedding, they had agreed that, whatever Mom's personal inclinations, the family would look Buddhist:  Mom would tell people who asked that she was "studying" the sutras, the kids would go to Lama League meetings, and so forth.

Then, like so many couples, the parents broke up.  Mom got custody, Dad got visitation.  And religion, never far from the surface here, became the apple of discord.

Mom had never really gone for non-attachment, and made a beeline for St. Olaf's, looking for her lime jello fix.  But then you discover that her divorce agreement specifies that the kids can't come with her.  No Sunday School for little Luke and Leia; no new acolytes to swing their feet and snap their gum behind you during the sermon.  Mom didn't want them growing up Buddhist, and Dad didn't want them going up Christian, and so the decision was that they would grow up Nothing.  At some point, as they got older, maybe they could be initiated into the various mysteries of their parents' faiths, but not until they were ... ready, as defined by the lawyers and family-court judge.

Family arrangements like this have been common for generations, and not only where there is a divorce.  How many times have you heard, "I'm [Christian], my partner is [Jewish], but we don't teach the kids anything yet.  We'll wait until they're older, and let them make their own decisions."  And how many times have you snapped, "Make their own decisions based on what?  A lifetime's experience of not being told anything about their parents' beliefs?"

Pastorally, we have always believed that children, and frankly the world, will benefit from More rather than Less in the matter or religious experience, at least when what they are given the opportunity to experience people they love and trust living compatibly with different religious commitments.  Peace begins at home, right?

Now, obviously, this pastoral vision falls apart when you are dealing with fiercely sectarian forms of religion, of the kind that feel a need to build up their own community by running down somebody else's.  The world could do with a great deal Less of that.  Ditto the closely-related phenomenon of cults, in the pejorative sense:  closed communities using "religion" as a tool to control the lives of their members.  Much Less of that, please.

All of which brings us, at last, to the story of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  Lawyers being what they are, we may never know what's really going on in that divorce, as it seems we will never know much about Cruise's divorce from Nicole Kidman.  But there has a been a lot of speculation that the religious upbringing of their daughter Suri is an important part of it all.

What we do know is that Holmes has registered with her local Roman Catholic parish, and that according to gossip site TMZ,
The custodial provisions of the agreement are extremely detailed, and religion is one of the topics.  ... [T]here are restrictions on what Tom and Katie can discuss with Suri on the subject of religion, including Scientology, however, those restrictions are eased the older Suri gets.
This is actually better than Nothing, since it at least includes a structured process for teaching the child about her parents' respective religions.

Or at least it would be better than nothing, if Cruise were a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or a Unitarian. The theological problem here, and we suspect it is a very large part of the marital problem, is that Scientology is not one of those ancient, historic religious traditions, which exist in many and diverse forms and about which so much information, scholarly and popular, is available to anybody who is curious.  On the contrary, it is a recently-developed movement notoriously passionate about secrecy and control:  the virtual definition of a cult, in the most pejorative sense.

So Holmes is well out of it, although we suppose she will never be quite free of the movement's litigious clutches.  We regret that there will be legal restrictions on Suri's religious education, and that Christianity will need to be treated pari passu with Scientology.  Still, it could be worse:  mother and daughter could both have stayed in the Hubbardite orbit forever.

And perhaps, in the infinite mercy of the Almighty, Tom Cruise will eventually return to the church of his youth -- or, failing that, start studying the sutras.


Pastor Joelle said...

I actually had a situation where the court ordered that the children were to remain members of the father's church (the one I pastored) and so when she asked to transfer her and the kids, having seen the court order, I could only transfer her. It was so ugly. The girl's confirmation was the mom's *day* and I had to call her up and beg her to like, you know, be a decent mother and let her daughter be confirmed, that maybe she could actually come too. I ended up agreeing with her that yes, dad was a horrible horrible person (which he was not but sometimes you say what ya gotta say) but I knew she was bigger than that to get her to bring her daughter to be confirmed. What a mess.

Diane said...

Haven't had that exactly one, Joelle, but enough like it to say I don't doubt it.

Have had a few confirmation students where the parents hadn't really done anything religious up to that point because they were 'letting the children decide'. One of the downsides of that is that children don't get any idea whether faith has any importance for their parents, or why.

One of the downsides of your situation is that unfortunately, religion becomes associated with the conflict.