Considering marriage, religion matters

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Column by David B. Whitlock

It’s wedding season. May through August are the most popular months for marriage ceremonies.

While planning a wedding, depending on the elaborateness of the ceremony and number of guests attending, can involve months of preparation, thriving in a marriage is a lifelong project, filled with challenges. Somebody said in marriage there are three rings:  engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering.

One of the most important aspects of a successful marriage often is overlooked. It’s the role religion plays in a marriage, or to be more accurate, the dynamic of spirituality in loving relationships.

The recent split between Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, with his commitment to the Church of Scientology supposedly having a role in her decision to divorce, is a stark reminder that in marriage, religion does matter.

The reason religion matters is because we are not only physical and emotional beings but spiritual ones as well. When we disregard that aspect of ourselves, we neglect something real and vital to our wholeness and wellness.

As the French Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it, “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.”

Physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy are all essential to a fulfilling relationship where two people become one while maintaining their unique identities.

In Couples who Pray, authors Squire Rushnell and Louis DuArt challenge couples to pray together aloud for five minutes a day for 40 days, promising that the deeper level of spiritual intimacy will lead to a more fulfilling sex life. The authors maintain that love making, romance and conversation increase 20 to 30 percent when couples practice praying aloud together and fear of divorce diminishes to zero.

I’m not interested in the quality of Holmes’ and Cruise’s intimate life. However, Cruise’s commitment to his faith and Holmes’ apparent lack of the same appears to have created a rift.

Holmes was raised a Roman Catholic. Whether her conversion to Scientology was sincere and deliberate or a cavalier decision made in the heat of romance may be argued by both parties.

According to Us Weekly, Holmes is fed up with Scientology’s rules and its demands of child rearing. The couple has one daughter, six-year old, Suri.

The venture of enjoying an intimate spiritual relationship within a marriage when the couple has totally different religious beliefs requires understanding, respect, and tolerance on the part of both people. The more convinced one partner is that his/her religious beliefs are the only legitimate expression of spirituality, the more problematic any unity becomes and the more likely the prospects are for a conflicted relationship. It's usually when children come into the picture that suppressed reservations of the other partner’s beliefs emerge.

Tom Cruise is a devout member of Scientology, which maintains that our problems began 75 million years ago when Xenu, dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy,” brought alien beings to our planet, placed them in volcanoes around the world, then vaporized them with hydrogen bombs, scattering the beings’ spiritual essences across the atmosphere until they attached themselves to humans, harming us spiritually, resulting in a plague of psychological and social problems, maladies from which only Scientology can free us through a process called auditing.

When it comes to religion, you might say Tom is from Galactica; Katie is from Rome.

Mark Ebner, who has reported on celebrities and Scientology for 15 years, said on NBC's Today show, “When it comes to Hollywood couplings within Scientology, either you’re in or out. There’s no half measures there. If you’re out, the marriage is as good as over.”

To be sure, couples of different religions can have fulfilled, intimate marriages. And couples with identical religious beliefs can have failed ones.

But all things being equal, the closer a couple is spiritually, the easier it is to find intimacy at other levels as well, with each strengthening the next.

Until two unique individuals, one from Mars the other from Venus, find themselves gradually becoming as one on Earth.

David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., is a Baptist minister and university instructor. He can be reached at drdavid@ddavidbwhitlock.com.