Monday, 19 July 2010

a dogma of madness?

A few weeks ago I read this post on A Practical Wedding. Whilst the post itself is interesting the comments are what piqued my interest. I have wanted to write a post ever since but haven't quite been able to explain myself. That was until I skipped through my drafts (all 195 of them, crumbs I think I have a lot to say but don't quite get around to saying it) and found what I think to be a good starting point.  

The line between a secular and religious wedding ceremony* in England and Wales is defined by law. That is a registry office or a ceremony presided over by a registrar is allowed to have no religious element, from the words to the music. So it is rather different from the US and even Scotland. In the US seemingly you are able to integrate different parts a religious ceremony into your day.  Now at first glance I can see why this is a good idea. Surely, to be able to include certain aspects which interest and excite you is what life is all about? Yet cherry picking in this way, even to an outsider like me, almost certainly devalues what is meant by these core tenets of religion. Yes the Chuppah is a beautiful aspect of a Jewish wedding but to use for aesthetic reasons and call it a Chuppah surely negates these features and is essentially a gazebo? (I in no way mean to denigrate what a Chuppah means to a Jew). Why call it a Chuppah if you are not Jewish? It completely baffles me. I know even less about the customs which surround other religious weddings so I shall not even attempt to comment!

I agree that Christians cherry picked the best pagan traditions to allow followers to grow accustomed to the way of God (as you may have guessed I am not religious although not preachy with it.  I just don't happen to have faith.  If you do, that it your prerogative and I do not fear you!)  I think I have made clear my thoughts on those who choose to marry in church just for the aesthetics or even because they think it means more. To marry because it is pretty  belies the entire point of marrying in church. Indeed I shall not be any less married. If there is a god, he/she/it will know I have married and been "good" and at "Judgement Day" I would hope an all knowing and all forgiving God would understand my scepticism and still acknowledge my contribution to the world. Gosh we are getting a little to deep and off the point here!

Perhaps as an outsider I can see more clearly? It seems that it is perfectly acceptable to cannibalise different religions and customs. I am not saying one should blindly accept anachronisms (if they are indeed true anachronisms) of religion but if you are to believe in the good you have to believe in the bad. Or perhaps more interesting if you believe in evil, one must also believe in a god? To pick and choose a wedding ceremony seems sacrilegious and at odds with what you want to do.  I am sure many would be offended by your actions and whilst  this is true of many situations,  to offend someone, indeed one who has no religious beliefs, with your actions is surely indicative of a certain level of disregard.

Now this would make feel like a queen on my wedding day.  I mean how entirely fabulous, I simply adore the pomposity of the headpiece.  Yet I am most certainly not a Cameroonian King and thus it would be complteely inappropriate on my head.  Whilst I have to admit I do bang on about my Welsh and Polish heritage (Welsh is helpful for rugby supporting and Polish, well, I am proud of how my Grandfather acted during the war, he was a great, grumpy man!) I think that I am still in close enough touch with my roots to acknowledge my heritage. However I shall be unlikely to engage in any country specific rituals during the wedding because I am British, well English and that is who I am.  To continue to perpetuate a tenuous link with one's past when one is looking to the future appears to be conflicted.  I digress.

What do I want to say? I guess you have to take the good with the bad.  To marry in church you shouldn't grumble and moan about attending once a week.  If you want a Jewish wedding ceremony, learn about the religion and think why this particular service enthrals you so?  If you are not born in Ireland, you aren't really Irish. I though I would add that just in case I am yet to offend you.  Please just take your celebratory cues from your current life and values and not what you think you should or are expected to do.

*I almost wrote marriage but if you do believe in an all powerful god (purposely lowercase g) surely even at a secular ceremony he/she would be present?  Furthermore would god not be with you everyday in your life and marriage?  I admit to my limited knowledge of Christinity and very limited knowledge of other religions so I do not know if this is the same with respect to Islam, Sikhism, Judaism, Buddism, Baha'i or Zoroastrianism (please do enlighten me - I would be a very interested wedding observer/participant!)


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  2. While I've tried to stay out of further discussions on this front, I will nod my head in agreement here.

    There are lots of really complicated things that you take on being Jewish and having a Jewish wedding - difficult painful complicated stuff, and that's part of the deal. That's the stuff you have to take on to have a Jewish wedding (or an interfaith wedding, which is even MORE complicated and difficult).

    I, for example, quite miss communion, when I'm at a place where lots of people I love are taking it. But, like it as I may, it doesn't come without the whole kit and caboodle of religion, and I can't cherry pick what I like (communion) and take it willy nilly. It would disrespect the people around me, but more than that it would de-value the thing that I love.

  3. Great post, Anna. I went back and read it twice.

    I absolutely agree.

    I feel uneasy about getting married in a Catholic church in Ireland, because although I learned about the religion in school (the only decent private school where I lived was Catholic) I am not Catholic and I don't believe in a lot of what the religion stands for.

    But, Paddy is Catholic (although, really by name only), and so is his whole family, and his whole town (pretty much). I'm doing it for him, to respect his culture (because I believe it is a cultural thing there) and his family.

    I'm just lucky that we are able to do it twice, because I think I almost wouldn't feel "married" if we'd only had a ceremony that was about religion more than it was about us.

  4. Miss C - for me you are an example of the "correct" way to embrace religion in your ceremony. You are not doing it for the prettiness but because you love your boy and respect his beliefs.

    As an aside do you feel that the Ireland wedding is more his and the Oz wedding is more yours?

  5. Sort of. We both had such different ideas of what our wedding would be/look like. I don't think he has ever been to a wedding that didn't take place in the Abbey in his town, and I've always thought I'd get married on the beach. I've always wanted a small wedding, he is used to big ones. Etc, etc...

    We've made the decisions together, but definitely lean towards my wants for the Aussie one, and his wants for the Irish one.

  6. Such a good post!

    I agree with regard to the use of religious references in secular weddings - I just don't think it's appropriate.

    For example, playing Amazing Grace - a song written about being saved by the grace of God seems a little tacky when played at a secular wedding. Does the bride think her grace is amazing? She looks beautiful, but still... It's a bit like using a song about the Taj Mahal to describe our new-build two-bed semi.

    I can't help that think, however, that certain bible passages like 1 Corinthians make little mention of God and maybe ought to be treated like any other meaningful book.

    Regarding the cultural heritage part - oh yes! I used to think it was really sweet how Americans were so aware of their cultural mix, but after a while it starts to grate. Around St Patrick's day, I reached my limit and pointed out (through my Facebook status! Oh the passive-aggressive shame! But I was provoked, I promise) that if you'd never been to Ireland, you weren't Irish.

    The straw that broke the camel's back was a Miami born and bred girl, tweeting "Being Irish is so awesome! Happy St Patty's! Slaine!" every half hour. I think I offended some Bostonian friends in the process... Oops. But seriously - it was about as ridiculous as me going "I'm such a Taurus! Hey, isn't being Taurus awesome?" Harumph.

    Back to the religion - I think something that atheists aren't necessarily aware of is that religion is a journey and a learning process, so to some extent, there will always be cherry-picking. I suppose it's like healthy-living - you work out what you believe in and what that means practically; and you keep questioning yourself and trying to learn more.

    I'm going to make this brief because I appreciate how completely naff it sounds, but I almost died last summer, some lovely people prayed for me, and I got better much much more quickly than the doctors anticipated. There may be links between those parts, there may not be links, but it took me from agnostic to exploring.

    We knew from the offset that we wanted to marry in a CofE church, because we believe 100% in the Anglican principles of marriage, and feel that we can fully believe in the vows we will make. I think that anyone who is getting married at all has a tendency towards sentimentality - after all, there's no legal or financial reason to get married any more unless you're on a low income.

    Our local church is fantastic - every sermon is relevant and interesting and I come away feeling completely fulfilled. But we don't go every week.

    I believe in my heart that God sees just as much value in helping out with the under-12s rugby coaching, or spending time visiting family as in sitting in church for an hour every Sunday. The great thing about omnipresence is that I can talk to him any time I like ;)

    Rambly as ever, but thanks for reading to the end! Oh - and post some more of those drafts. ;)

  7. I too was challenged and interested by the Practical Wedding post. I am a confused atheist, although brought up in a C of E family, and have attended church on and off throughout my childhood. If I'd have met and fallen in love with someone who was also atheist, then I'm sure we wouldn't have chosen to have our wedding in a church. But the man is also C of E, and it was important to him to get married in a church. To make him happy, I agreed to the church wedding, albeit reluctantly, and with a feeling of hypocrisy in my heart. How can I, a non-believer (at present), feel right about our wedding taking place in a church? But marriage is nothing if not compromise, and this was my compromise.

    But as we've been going to church, I've started to change my opinion on it. I'm still not sure whether I believe in a higher being, but I understand WHY people do, and the community feeling is something that I've come to relish and take comfort from.

    So we will be having a religious wedding (although our vicar told us that he is 'not religious' - I'm still working that one out). I have grown to feel comfortable with my choice, as one of us in the relationship has a need to do this. I can justify it to myself, if not to other people. I feel very strongly about people who choose to have their wedding blessed by a higher being in which they neither believe nor want to believe, purely for the aesthetics of the buildings in which it takes place. There are many stunning locations for weddings now, if beauty is what is important to you, choose one of those. Don't devalue others choice to have their wedding in a building built to celebrate something in which you don't believe. I'm sure that many people would put me into that category also, but I have found a way to live with it myself, so I am ok with that.

    Because of my own personal experience I can relate to the Christian/church argument, but I feel the same about people using elements of other religions in their own weddings for aesthetic reasons. If you have a GENUINE relationship with that culture or religion, and it's important to you, then use things by all means. Don't however, appropriate other peoples deeply rooted religious or cultural emblems, symbols or ceremonies.

    Fliss xx

  8. great post anna. this is some big and complicated stuff for people to navigate. luckily the boy and myself are of the same religious persuasion - hugely sceptical!

    i think though for some people they feel that involving religion in their ceremony adds some more weight to the commitment. my colleague's fiance insisted on a church wedding because he said otherwise it wouldn't feel official - never-mind the fact that he's not religious.

    luckily, for me, the huge-ness of standing in front of all out loved ones and speaking our own words of commitment to each other is enough to make it feel official. and true to who we are - which is so important - especially on that day.

    i think it's hard for people to let go of though. when my mum saw the place we are getting married (which has a pretty freaking cute church next to the hall and gardens where we are having the ceremony/party) she tried to convince me to have the ceremony in the church. only a quietly stated "mum. i don't believe in god - it would be hypocritical" made her understand where i'm coming from.


  9. Thanks for writing this! It's not an easy subject to talk about! I know I have like five draft posts in my blog about cultural appropriation that I am always afraid to post because I don't want to offend people. And because I'm a privileged white person too, and I culturally appropriate all the time. And us privileged people tend to go CRAZYGONUTS when we're told we can't have something, so pointing out the offensiveness of cultural appropriation is a tricky thing to do. But you did is very eloquently in this post!

    I grew up in the U.S. during the heydey of multiculturalism, which on the one hand is awesome, because of the learning and the sharing and the celebration, but it has a dark side, which is the creeping lesson that the "melting pot" is somehow a justification for the conquering/kidnapping/economic exploitation that brought different cultures to America, that it somehow makes up for centuries of oppression, and somehow glosses over continuing racism and xenophobia. And of course, white people get to eat the multicultural stew from the melting pot. And to beat the metaphor to death, you know how food in stew tends to get mushy and stringy? Yeah, those are the symbols of peoples ACTUAL religions and cultures that just got pressure cooked and gobbled up by privileged people. And if you tell someone that maybe is wrong, they say, "How dare you tell me I can't eat this stew! It's delicious to me! I have no control over the circumstances of my birth! Why should you get delicious stew ingredient and I don't! That's RACIST!"

    Anyway, thanks so much for writing this great post.

  10. Anna: spot on. You can't pick and choose - you need to understand why these things have meanings.

    I went to Bruges last year. There's a very famous church there with a holy relic which is brought out every hour. You can go and touch it and pray. Tourists just like me queued up to do so. I stayed in my seat. I would have been a hypocrite to do otherwise and I hated the thought that I would have reduced someone else's time with an item which meant so much to them.

    In a similar vein, I love your african headdress analogy. If you believe then that is fab. If you don't then be aware of what you're doing and don't metaphorically pitch your tent in someone else's garden and spoil their view.

  11. Great post sweetie! Glad I didn't really have a choice in all of that....;)

    Hope you're having a fabulous week and thanks so much for the bday wishes, sweetie! xoxo

  12. Interesting post Anna and I’ve also being thinking about this since Meg’s debate.
    I’m still slightly in two minds.
    Cultural appropriation (of the non-religious kind) was actually quite important for me at our wedding, as someone who doesn’t really know what to answer when asked “where are you from?”.
    We needed to have at the very least German and Italian and English and Scottish elements in our wedding or we wouldn’t have felt like it was ours. I say “we” though I’m the mongrel, but husband also felt strongly about acknowledging and respecting the Euro-muddle he was marrying into!
    Of course, it’s one thing having some almonds as favours at your wedding and quite another taking something that has deeply holy import and modifying it for your own entertainment. 1 Corinthians *is* from the bible I’m afraid and calling what should be a gazebo a “Chuppa” when you aren’t Jewish is just puzzling. I’m sure it’s all done in naive ignorance but it does still annoy me if I see people wearing rosaries as fashion. I’ll admit that during wedding planning and wedding blog reading I found out so many really cool things about other religions’ wedding ceremonies – things that make such sense and seemed so moving that they made me wonder for a moment why we couldn’t do something similar.
    We didn’t though – it would have been totally inappropriate.

    However – again however – like an earlier commenter, I think it’s good to remember that there is a degree of “cherry picking” that goes with any religious belief. It irritates me if it is assumed that being Catholic means I’m a hard line conservative. Yes, I feel I can call myself a Catholic without agreeing with every aspect of Catholic dogma. I really do.
    Also, I know those “Plastic Paddys” on 17th March are annoying but pride in your heritage is what keeps people connected with history and the big wide world. I don’t think heritage is just where you were born (or I’d be Gibraltarian – which I’m definitely not!) I think it’s how and who you were raised by.

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  14. Hmm, the jury's still out on this one for me. We are having a civil ceremony followed by a blessing, by a vicar, in a 12th century chapel. There were many factors that influenced our decision, the chief one being that even if we WERE religious, we don't have a church we regularly worship at so it would be hypocritical to attend one for a few months just to get married there. Our little ruined Norman chapel is only ever used for wedding blessings, so I felt more comfortable with that.

    In terms of the religion aspect - my very dear Granny is pretty devout and was, shall we say, "miffed" we weren't having a church wedding. I admit the blessing was a compromise to appease her, especially as she has been so generous towards the wedding. But the more I've thought about it (and what to say to the vicar when we meet him), the more I realise that I'm quite glad we're having a blessing, in our own right. And I can't really put my finger on why.

    Perhaps because I went to church when I was little and I'm used to it? I don't know. Maybe I just think we could all use as much help as we can get and so God's blessing can't hurt, right?!

    Sorry. Rubbish answer. I'll go and ponder my own theology...


  15. Oh, goodness... I don't want this to be a comment cop-out, but it may sound like one. Everyone has insightful things to say, but I'm still taking all of it in.

    I will say this- Josh and I feel the need to pick and choose religious/cultural traditions for our ceremony. That has been SO very hard. Saying what's more important than the other is not easy. At the same time, neither of us are very religious. Josh, forgive me honey for sharing, is still figuring out if he has faith-based beliefs. Not only are we from two different religions, we are both very different spiritually. I think love has brought us closer to the idea of something Greater or Bigger than all of us, but who that is and what that all means is a mystery- to us at least.

    The only cultural/religious ceremony elements I am comfortable with is our chuppah. Instead of a traditional Jewish prayer wrap, we are using an old tablecloth that belongs to my grandmother. It is made of similar material to the Barong Tagalogs (traditional Filipino shirts) the men wear. To me, it says a lot about who and what we are. Picking and choosing readings just for the sake of doing it is wrong- just like when Josh and I considered becoming Ba'hai or Quaker. We are who we are and yes, I do believe in God, but choosing religion just so you can share one with your spouse feels wrong to me... just like choosing a reading or a place of worship without having the connection or the knowledge.

  16. For us there was never any discussion where we would get married; we knew it would be the church of scotland church we grew up with, in our home town.

    We also know the minister personally which made it more personal to us but I do find it a bit funny when people just turn up as the church is nice! Our minister does have some requirements to getting married I think; for me it wasnt an issue as im a member of the church but not sure what others have to do.

    However I will fully admit to going more often in the run up to the wedding.


So, I really love all the sweet and/or informative comments that you lovelies leave. Yet if you feel the need to be unnecessarily rude or offensive I will delete your comment and not feel bad about it. So just be constructive alright! Hugs to all you wondrous others.


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