Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:December 11th, 2008 10:22 EST
Overcoming Differing Religious, Spiritual, and Philosophical Beliefs in the Family

Overcoming Differing Religious, Spiritual, and Philosophical Beliefs in the Family

By Scott Bufis

In her text, In the Beginning was Love, Julia Kristeva writes of how her non-belief conflicted with her family`s believing as she was growing up.  Using Heidegger`s idea of god-less thinking  to show that atheists can also perceive God, exploring Howard and Kathleen Bahr`s ideas of family transcendence,  and expounding upon Kristeva`s ideas on direct and immediate transference,  this paper will claim that families with conflicting and differing religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs can unite, solidify, and stabilize by focusing on a common thread which is believed to be good throughout the family.


At the outset of the text, Kristeva writes, I am not a believer, but I recall having been born into a family of believers who tried, without excessive enthusiasm perhaps, to transmit their faith to me. [1]  It may seem striking that an author be anthologized in a book called The Postmodern God when that person claims to not be a believer.  One may ask: How can you have ideas on God if you don`t even believe?   To begin to answer this question, one must first ask, Can an atheist have ideas on God?   Heidegger claimed that god-less thinking is more open to Him than onto-theo-logic would like to admit. [2]  The atheist is, in a way, one step above the conventional theist in relation to God because the atheist does not attempt to define God.  Therefore, the atheist is more open to the idea of a limitless Ultimate than the theist because the theist limits God by defining him within the confines of logic.  To the theist, God cannot be both omnipotent and non-omnipotent.


            The other striking part about Kristeva`s statement is that she describes her family as attempting to transmit their faith to her.  It is an interesting dynamic when a family is complete with believers and non-believers, or with differing religious views.  Unfortunately, this usually leads to a divide in a household.  The atheist feels suffocated by all the religiosity being forced upon him or her, and the believer is genuinely worried about the fate of the son or daughter`s immortal soul.  Where religious agreement may fail in a family setting, family transcendence may succeed.


In their article A Paradigm of Family Transcendence,  Howard and Kathleen Bahr describe the idea of family transcendence as, the essential familial connection to life and to the cosmos, to what has been and what could be. ?[3]  In other words, family transcendence occurs when the family unit comes together to focus on the nonphysical, or metaphysical, attributes of life in which they find most important.  By doing this, the family is then free to rise-above the negative effects of their differing religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs and ideas, and become a positive and accepting force to one another.


But how does a family come together and transcend these differences?  The first step to this is awareness; awareness of the self and of the others in the family unit.  Before someone can rise-above differences in theological beliefs, that person must know his or her personal, subjective morals and ideas of what good is.  For, it is focusing upon this notion of the good that keeps one in-line with what he or she believes is right.  And it is the same in the family unit.  If a family, together as one unit, comes together to focus on what they share as what they believe to be good, their spiritual differences begin to melt away because no longer are the differences important.  What is now important is the common thread they all share.


This idea of the good is manifest in many different aspects.  The most common idea of the good, especially in American families, is in a religious sense.  Usually, families that share a common religious belief tend to be more closely knit than those with dramatic religious differences.  To clarify, a commonality within families in regards to religion does not necessarily mean going to church every Sunday or that a church trip is essential every summer.  The importance of religion within families is that they share a common thread in their belief system; they do not even have to belief exactly the same thing.  The fact that an understanding has been reached throughout each member of the family is the common thread that is so needed to keep a family close.  Religion, however, is not the only way for a family to view what the good is; it may not even have to do with a belief in the supernatural, as long as the family shares some fundamental ideas on what is good they can focus and meditate on that. 


Therefore, a family consisting of a Catholic, a Muslim, a Baha`i, and an atheist can function and flourish as a loving, enriching family by focusing and meditating on that which they commonly believe to be good.  This will result in a more closely knit family unit that enjoys more open communication between members and a better understanding of those people who we care so much for, the family.


Kristeva goes on to write that, This direct and immediate transference` to a form, a structure, or an agency (rather than a person) helps to bring about primary stabilization of the subject through its enduring character; because it is a gift of the self, it both encourages and hinders the disintegrative and aggressive agitation of the instincts.  This is perhaps what Christianity celebrates in divine love.  God was the first to love you, God is love. [4]  What Kristeva is saying here is that the direct and immediate transference to a universal good, which God is supposed to be the manifestation of, aids in unifying, solidifying, and stabilizing a family situation.  Kristeva claims that God was the first to love because He is love.  Both religious and non-religious can both perceive this; even the atheist can feel this love.


Many times in contemporary culture, families are torn apart by religious, spiritual, and philosophical differences.  Kristeva, herself, was in this position when she was growing up.  It is understandable because these things are so important to each self.  It is, however, unfortunate because families can overcome these differences in perspective.  The theory and practice of family transcendence allows the family to rise-above conflicting and contrasting beliefs an unify under a common thread of what is believed to be good.

[1]Kristeva, Julia, In the Beginning was Love, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1997), 223.

[2] Heidegger, Martin, The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics, (Malden/Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 75.

[3] Bahr, Howard and Kathleen, A Paradigm of Family Transcendence, ? Journal of Marriage and Family, 1996, 541-555.

[4] Kristeva, Love, 224.