A Slut for Faith
Why God’s girl eloped to Vegas.
By Laurel Snyder
I went to three weddings last year, each complete with flowers and families, little crust-less sandwiches made of white bread, and an awful DJ. At each glorious event there were roses in shades of pink, red, and salmon, and groomsmen going bald and chunky but still the life of the party. The brides were stunning. Children blew bubbles. In D Minor. Song of Songs. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. Women cried. Each time.
But see, I believe in God.
And yet, when I—God's girl—got married, I couldn't find a way to fit religious ritual into my wedding. Because the world is complicated and divided, because I didn't want anything phony in my wedding. I couldn't figure out how to reconcile my own Jewish faith with my husband's childhood as a Holy Roman. I couldn't think of a way to please everyone, but more than that I couldn't think of a way to make it meaningful for anyone.
Because see, I believe in God.
I tried—to fathom a ceremony that would be full of prayer, steeped in tradition, and still inclusive, inoffensive to most onlookers. But so far as I could tell, there were only two options, and neither was perfect.
I could have a hybrid interfaith ceremony, with a flaky rabbi and a defrocked priest, a unity candle and an illegitimate kettubah, a bunch of Torah readings (but in the King's English) and a few choice Neruda poems. It wouldn't really be Jewish, and it wouldn't really be Christian, and nobody would be fooled.
Or I could have the Jewish wedding I wanted, without any real reflection of my husband's Catholic parents or his own religious apathy, which is a valid religious identity too. I could find a rabbi willing to marry me to a man with no intention of ever converting -- and then I could accept that, in some way, my relationship with God had been compromised by the fact that I'd excluded the very person I was trying to build a union with. My husband. In good faith.
So I went to Vegas.
We stayed at Caesar's, got hitched at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, ate the biggest steaks of our lives at Prime, and had a blast in an ugly white limo. We decided that if we weren't going to make everyone happy, we'd make everyone jealous instead. At least that way everyone would be in agreement, and our two families could join forces against us in unity.
The way God intended.
And it worked. While we were drinking champagne by the Bellagio fountain, our mothers were on the phone to each other, crying and sharing something. Together, we broke the rules, and it joined us—so that what grew from that night was a feeling of camaraderie, a sense of having gotten away with something. A marriage.
Certainly, Vegas isn't the right option for everyone, but in this skeptical world, I'm shocked that more people don't consider it, or at least head down to City Hall. It isn't my business, but I can't help being confused by the misappropriation of religious ritual—by secular Americans who only want God around when planning a major life-event-ceremony. People with no plans for prayer and no intention of ever paying membership fees to a house of worship. People who select their denominations based on which church looks oldest, which synagogue has shady parking in July.
A friend of mine who happens to be an Episcopal priest tells me that I'm not the only one to notice this trend—or to resist it. She explains that every year a bevy of brides invade her church, looking to book a chapel for spring weddings. They walk through the delicate doorway, glance up at the soaring dome, and exclaim, "Oh, it's so pretty! We want to get married here!"
My priest-friend takes pleasure in telling such visitors that church policy won't allow for non-parishioner weddings. She hopes they'll get the message, think about why such a policy might exist. But most of the time, they don't get it—they feel wronged. "Such a snobby church! We would have made a donation!"
Because pretty is what it's all about. Appearance is what it's all about. And folks aren't thinking beyond that, considering how their desire to play faithful might make the faithful feel.
It's enough to look faithful, I guess. Jesus goes hand in hand with the right cake, the perfect dress, and the adorable flower girl. It's all about the pictures. Never mind crucifixions, days of fasting, penance. Never mind faith and centuries of culture, stories passed down from generation to generation. It's pretty! It'll go great with the limo.
I truly don't know what to think of such weddings, so I try to understand. I ask people why they do it, spend one day playing at faith for the photographers. They take communion. They say the Lord’s Prayer. They recite mouthfuls of Hebrew they can't possibly translate while the Nikon shutter clicks behind them. These are people who haven't set foot in a synagogue since their Bat Mitzvah and won't again until Uncle Hermie finally kicks the bucket, people who put up a Christmas tree each year but don't ask themselves why.
But I ask—because I'm genuinely curious—whether anyone even considers a non-religious ceremony. I nicely ask these couples, when I meet them, if they feel hypocritical, and they usually offer me one of two answers.
1) We did it for our families.
And each time I'm taken aback. I want to shout, "Huh? For your families?"
You're telling me that your grandmother wants you to lie to Jesus? I doubt it. When your grandmother looks pleased at your wedding, it's because she's grasping at straws. She wants you to be a member of the flock. Your grandmother, afraid you've turned into a wicked girl in a puffy white dress, is looking for a sign that you'll raise your children right, get to heaven when you die. And in effect, you've lied to her. You aren't going to her heaven, are you?
Which is ok, because you're following your own conscience, your own path. But you should be honest with yourself, accept that it isn't the wedding she's after—it's your future, your eternity spent in the pits of hell, or at least (if she's a more contemporary thinker) the hope you'll come back to the faith of your childhood, participate in the community, be able to pray over her grave.
And if you're someone who offers the second response—I need to scratch my head. Because it isn't what a wedding is. A wedding is a lot of things, but historically and legally, it's primarily a binding agreement—to unify clans or countries, sell off daughters, earn dowries for second sons. A wedding is a business arrangement.
Or it's a covenant before God. Which one are you shooting for?
You should figure it out before you order the invitations, because if you're trying to pull off a pretend covenant before God—if you think he won't notice that you're lying, reading your prayers from a cheat sheet, renting a church you've never set foot it to fake out Grandma—you've picked the wrong man to fool. No matter how pretty you look in your Vera Wang.
Faith is many things—a tool, a routine, a belief, a reason not to slit your wrists. But it isn't a style, no matter what you've been led to think. And using it as such indicates something to those of us who take faith seriously. It suggests to us that you really don't give a shit, really don't respect what faith means to the faithful, or to those who—like me—struggle.
When I decided to get married, I was faced with the choice between a pretend-God or an absent-God, and I picked an absent-God. I also skip margarine and eat butter. I don't bother with pleather boots.
Because if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. Because I may bullshit about a lot of things, but God isn't one of them. Because I just didn't want to be faking anything on such an important day.
When I got married, I didn't want to be lying under oath.
Of course, not everybody thinks like me. People I love and respect make the choice to pretend every year. I go to their weddings, and I cry and mean it, and I dance, and drink and wish them well. I wish these couples only the best. I believe in their love and their commitment to each other, but I can't help wondering a little each time at whether they've thought it through, considered the logic in place.
If I sound extreme or absolute, appear to be judging, it's only with a small part of me. But I'll never really understand, despite my love.
My friend Polli got married at 18 in a Methodist Ceremony—despite the fact that she was a non-practicing Catholic at the time, or that she would later convert to Judaism. Despite the fact that she is a thinking careful person with a deep religious life now. She was never a Methodist or a believer, but at 18, she wanted a church wedding, and her fiancé's family belonged to a Methodist church. She explains that she wanted it to look real and legitimate.
I asked her what that felt like, why she did it, and she answered me simply. "I was young and in love and wearing the most expensive dress I could imagine. It was heaven."
Heaven. Heaven? That's one definition I suppose.
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Laurel Snyder is an editor at Killing the Buddha, where this essay originally appeared. She has just completed work on an anthology, Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Almost, Not Quite, and In-Between, which will be published by Soft Skull Press in April. She lives in Atlanta and maintains JewishyIrishy.
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