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Worry about tomorrow today, or tomorrow?
December 20, 2007 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Relationshipfilter: I'm agnostic. She's Christian. We've been dating for four months. We fit eachother well and are very happy together, but of course clash over our deeply-held ideologies. Should we worry about the ideological clashes now, or be happy with eachother now and worry about how to raise the kids if/when we have kids?

We get along great in 99.9% of our day-to-day lives. Seriously, best relationship I've ever been involved in, when it comes to everything except the religious clash. We try not to think/talk about it, but it resurfaces every few weeks to some degree or other, usually because of me worrying about what I'm asking about here.

Here's the issue: her faith is very strongly that Christianity is Truth and that non-Christians burn in hell. Mine is that Truth is beyond what any of us can understand, and that if anything, a lot of different religions are trying (through imperfect human perspectives and more-imperfect human organizations) to describe different parts of the elephant in the dark room by touch alone, if you'll forgive my mixed metaphor. I can deal with this dispute in my own life and in our relationship, I think.

The problem is the potential issue of kids, which she wants relatively soon. I'm okay with children -- in most ways we share opinions about childrearing. The catch is that I deeply respect the way my parents raised me -- by giving me information and guidance and being ready to catch me if I fell, but letting me make most of my own decisions and face those consequences. She agrees with that in most areas of childrearing, but she insists that her kids must be raised in a Christian home, and she has expressed fears to me about how her kids might be less likely to be believers if their father is a non-believer (and consequently might be more likely to go to hell).

So here's the thing: We've been dating for about four months. I realize this is a drop in the bucket -- I've been in several serious relationships, a couple of which have lasted much longer -- but the potential for long-term discord unsettles me. She thinks we should enjoy our happiness together now and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. I really want to think like that but I'm afraid of waking up ten years from now with kids and feeling very upset that I'm not allowed to share this part of myself with them without upsetting my wife.

Any advice would be appreciated, particularly advice with an eye towards making this work so that both of us are, if not completely happy, at least able to live with ourselves. I know I can't change her, and I doubt I'm going to change, but I'd like to aim for happiness, somehow.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (76 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Doom. It's a trap. She wants kids, soon, and wants them raised in a fashion you don't accept. What possible compromise could there be, beyond a wrenching capitulation on one side or the other? If you can't think of one, hanging around hoping for a solution to materialize is just wishful thinking.
posted by Estragon at 8:50 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


You already know the answer: tackle the issue now or you will wake up ten years from very upset. If the two of you can work through your differences, great. If not, better to know now than in a decade.
posted by Joe Invisible at 8:50 AM on December 20, 2007


Of course, this is only my opinion, but here goes:

This is not going to work. Get out now and both of you will have more time to find suitable partners. If both of you are convinced your beliefs are right for you, you will never reconcile this; someone will be resentful, even if everything seems to have worked out. Don't waste each other's time.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Previously Again Etcetera
posted by meehawl at 8:52 AM on December 20, 2007


I wish I could offer a suggestion as to how to make it work, but, honestly, the only way I can see it working is if you never have kids.

I'm an atheist who was raised in a (very) reformed Jewish household, married to a lapsed-Catholic but spiritual woman, with two young kids. We've had a few issues here and there, like my absolute refusal to be married in a church, and my refusal to lie to the children and tell them that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny exists. Those issues have been hard to deal with, but they're nothing compared to the ones you're going to face.

If she truly believes that non-Christians go to hell, and is unshakable on her insistence on raising her children to believe the same thing, any children you have are going to believe that you, their father, are going to hell. There's no getting around that, to say nothing of your feelings and beliefs basically being ignored.

I'm sorry, but I don't see how you can avoid either breaking up or agreeing never to have kids.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:54 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Every person has a few issues that are non-negotiable. Frequently religion is one of them. From her perspective, it's raise the kids Christian, or let them burn in hell. She will not compromise on this point. If you are unwilling to help raise your kids as Christians, get out of the relationship now.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2007


This is a pretty serious disagreement that you're talking about. Were it simply doctrinal, she wanted to raise kids Catholic, you wanted to raise them Episcopalian, it would be less troubling. As it is, you're actually talking about a very fundamental difference in how you want to raise children.

While I think that the "raising kids to believe in God is child abuse" position is ridiculous, I will say that there is something very affecting about children and their relationship to the larger questions in life. My sister has gotten increasingly religious over time, I think in no small part because of her kids, and while I disagree with her about it and have my concerns about what our differences in belief do to our relationship, I am never more aware of it then when I see her instructing my nephews in religious thought. She thinks she's introducing them to something wonderful and enriching, and as much as I think faith might be nice, I think she's narrowing the scope of their lives. While I obviously have no parental interest, it's always difficult to witness, especially since it so obviously comes directly from love on her part.

I would suggest that even four months into this relationship, if you all are in the market for having kids, you need to talk this out and at least come to terms with how large a difference in outlook you all are talking about here.
posted by OmieWise at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


We're in a similar situation, although a lot less extreme: my wife is a Christian, and I am not. And we are raising two kids, and we use our different faiths as an object lesson that there are a lot of different viewpoints in this world and you need to be prepared to respect more than just one of them.

But it sounds like she might not be open to such an approach. Which doesn't bode well.
posted by jbickers at 8:56 AM on December 20, 2007


FYI
posted by meehawl at 8:57 AM on December 20, 2007


"Here's the issue: her faith is very strongly that Christianity is Truth and that non-Christians burn in hell."

Are you willing to invest in a relationship - and raise kids - with someone who believes your future is one of eternal torment? I think you know the answer to this question and your's.
posted by tom_g at 8:57 AM on December 20, 2007


She thinks you are going to burn in hell. She probably thinks you should burn in hell, since God is just, right? She wants to raise your children to believe that you should burn in hell.

It sucks, but religion makes people crazy. Find someone else.
posted by callmejay at 9:03 AM on December 20, 2007 [9 favorites]


She thinks we should enjoy our happiness together now and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

It'll be tomorrow tomorrow. You guys need to hash this out soon. I was in a similar situation, where I was the agnostic and my wife the Christian and I made it clear that I was not going to be participating in her faith, but neither would her teaching the kids Christian values. We respect each other's beliefs, sometimes debate for fun and learning, and life is good.

But this probably wouldn't have worked if she felt I was going to burn in hell.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:05 AM on December 20, 2007


Aside from the kids issue, aren't there bigger problems that are more immediate with her belief that anyone who isn't Christian is "going to hell"? According to her beliefs, YOU, not just your theoretical kids, are evil and sinful and the only thing that's going to save you is coming over to her side. It seems like you guys are working around this for now (or brushing it under the rug because it's early and you like each other) but if you think kids are the only issue that will arise out of her beliefs, I'd think again. If the point is to "aim for happiness" longterm, think bigger than kids.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2007


Seconding jbickers. If she doesn't, can't, or won't see that religion can be a personal matter and that people can live fulfilling lives no matter what their faith, then you may not be able to find middle ground. I personally would be extremely uncomfortable even dating someone who thought that I was doomed to hell, and I would never have children with someone who would raise them to think the same way. If you are willing to live within that framework, maybe this can work, but it sounds like any compromise will have to come from you. And that is something you will have to decide.
posted by bassjump at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dear poster,

Any relationship post presented to AskMe is going to result in a million "dump the loser" comments. Also AskMe is decidedly slanted againt conservative stripes of Christianity. Please read all results with that in mind

Thanks,

Pollomacho

Your relationship is not automatically doomed to failure. Don't listen to those that are so prejudiced. The key, as in any relationship, is open communication. Keep the lines of communication open. if she and you cannot communicate your feelings, yours and hers, then you are doomed.

Also, have you visited your local Unitarian church together. She can feel free to be strongly Christian and you can be strongly agnostic (somehow that sounds a little like being a radical centrist, but for lack of a better term...) and you can both go to church together, find ritual and fellowship together and all the other things that go along with chuch going, without the burden of rigid dogma (in many if not most Unitarian churches anyway). [I am not Unitarian so this is not a sales pitch]

There are plenty of success stories between Jews and Catholics or Athiests and Evangelicals out there to chuck it all without giving it a try.

Also, just keep in mind that if you are sleeping together than she's a hell-bound fornicator anyway, so she can just get down off that high-and-mighty horse right this minute, thank you very much, Ms. Fornicator.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2007 [7 favorites]


I agree with chrisamiller. If you look at it from her POV, you will see that there is no way she will be budging on this. The way she sees it, her children's eternal salvation is at stake. If *you* are not willing to compromise on this, you will be at an impasse. And then what will you do?

Leaving this till later is, IMO, a mistake. If her approach to religion were a little more, say, lax, then you could use your different opinins in order to show your kids that people of different faiths or beliefs can coexist. But not only does she not sound lax, she sounds completely committed to her religious beliefs.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:10 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd say differences of belief are fine except when the other person doesn't believe that differences of belief are fine. The problem here is not that she's a Christian but that she sounds, from your post, like an intolerant bigot.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


she insists that her kids must be raised in a Christian home

It is a serious disagreement. If you decide to engage in discussion about this and try to work it out, you might be able to ask what "a Christian home" is. What does that mean - attending church, taking part in charitable efforts, religious instruction? Grace at the table every night? Prayers before school, before bed? Bible stories? Christian education and/or homeschooling? A religiously informed perspective on discipline, moral development?

she has expressed fears to me about how her kids might be less likely to be believers if their father is a non-believer (and consequently might be more likely to go to hell).

Apart from the disturbing note that she is convinced that your soul is eternally damned, this might be interesting to explore with her. Although raising people within a religious tradition definitely shapes their personal development and makes them more likely to be believers, it is not a guarantee. I know (as I'm sure you do) many people who were raised in deeply religious environments, only to question, modify, and in some cases totally reject those beliefs. She will be able to structure the home, but she will be powerless to structure everything about the children's minds and lives. It's not something she can control fully. Talking about that reality may produce some interesting insights.

But I think she's correct about how the children's experience would be changed by seeing that their father is skeptical and is a non-participant in religious activities; there is just no way a child can observe this and not engage in reflection upon the reasons for that. The two of you would not present a united, monolithic approach to spirituality, and that, from the get-go, will complexify the world of religion and spirituality for them.

Of course, from your point of view, that's a very good thing. From hers, it's terrifying - you'll introduce questioning and difference of opinion and belief into the home.

Perhaps more importantly, how would you feel about having a divide between you and your children? If they are in a strongly Christian environment, they'll share a jargon you don't speak, make allusions you don't get, be associated with friends, teachers, and leaders who don't share your views and may actively work to undermine them, and perhaps be expected to volunteer for and donate to causes you don't support.

It sounds as though your girlfriend has very specific desires for her family life and that they are not terribly flexible. I would say if you think they are more flexible than you've indicated here, or that if you explore them more deeply she might become more open-minded about other worldviews, you could pursue the relationship and keep the topic open. But if this is a firm stand for her, one she is uninterested in re-examining, it's hard to imagine how you could live happily in that family situation. Especially if questioning, wonder, tolerance, willingness to explore many worldviews, and an anthropological approach to varying belief systems are important things for you to pass on to your children.
posted by Miko at 9:13 AM on December 20, 2007


One more thing I'd like to add - I know of a couple where the wife is a diehard Pentecostal, and the husband is an atheist. They dealt with it thusly: he compromised on letting her take the kids to church and raising them in her religion, she compromised on not making him go to church or follow her faith. She went to church with the kids, he stayed home, but neither parent ever judged the other - at least in front of the kids. They appeared to love each other very much, although I can't speak to how they helped their kids understand their differences. Again, the key here is that each partner was willing to give a little.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2007


I suggest that when you talk about it, you keep your feet on the ground. Don't get caught up in grand, philosophical issues. Think nuts and bolts.

What exactly is "a Christian home?" Assume, for the sake of argument, that you will try to abide by your gf's wishes by via the most minimum requirements that will make her happy. I'm not saying that you SHOULD do this. I'm saying that by figuring out what those requirements are, you'll be more likely to know whether or not you can deal with them.

For instance, is it VITAL to her that you pretend to be a Christian? It sound like it is, but make sure of that. If that's the deal, can you hack it? That would be tough for me. But maybe she won't expect that of you. Maybe it's enough that you don't criticize Christianity in front of the kids. If so, how do you feel about that? Well, I know how you feel about it, but are you willing to put up with it? Can you put up with it without passive-aggressive sabotage?
posted by grumblebee at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2007


She probably thinks you should burn in hell, since God is just, right?

this is the kind of idiotic statement that i find just as offensive as those spouted by religious crazies. it sounds like this woman loves the OP—or has as strong of feelings for him that one can at four months since they are talking about the possibility of children. so i doubt she feels anyone she loves should burn in hell.

which might eventually become an issue here. if you two get married and have children and she loves you, she's not gonna want you to burn in hell as her beliefs state you will. she might start trying to convert you as well. just something to think about.

from how strongly you state her position is about raising the kids christian, this is definitely going to be a really serious issue in your relationship if it gets to that. she sounds like she's very inflexible where this is concerned and it will cause you problems.
posted by violetk at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2007


"she insists that her kids must be raised in a Christian home, and she has expressed fears to me about how her kids might be less likely to be believers if their father is a non-believer"

Game over.

I'm an atheist. I was married long ago to a church going Christian. I could use the quote above to describe her feelings. We thought we were fine with that, and for the most part we were. But it ate away at things like trust and communication. When we got into arguments, and we didn't mind getting nasty, it would come up. Not in a good way. And not in a way that was ever going to get resolved.

Now that "worked" in that we had a mostly happy marriage for a long time. But eventually it was one of the reasons we got divorced - We just didn't believe the same things. And when one of those things is the fundamental nature of reality, the universe, and everything........ well, it can be a pretty hard rationalization to be burdened with. It wears on you in those quiet wft moments that spur you to make life changing decisions.

Fast forward...... I'm now married to a Christian who is rather casual about it. We can talk about the issue comfortably and we agree on most religious issues - For example we agree Paul was a bit of an "out-lyer" in the Bible and many Christians could do with a lot less of his influence. I think she would say that exposing kids to more than one belief system is a good thing.

The first marriage was probably doomed to failure. The current one seems just fine.
posted by Ragma at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Pollomacho, I agree — the moment I read this question I just knew that the first five hundred comments were going to be of the DTMFA variety.

Your position is supported by the Bible, if that helps you at all — 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

If her pastor is not of the "ye heathen REPENT!" variety, and perhaps is very cool and/or forward-thinking (they are out there — my mother's pastor is one of them), perhaps couples counseling — not to get you to "convert", but for advice.
posted by WCityMike at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2007


Not many people are able to overcome strong conditioning, and religion is some of the strongest. It's unlikely that she'll change her mind, and it's highly unlikely, given what you know, that you'll accept the conditioning as an adult, so this is likely to be an ongoing issue. If she becomes deeply invested in the relationship, she's going to want to "rescue" you. Can you bear a lifetime of being proselytized at? Can she bear a lifetime of her husband being impatient about her 'silly superstitions'?

If you can, more power to you, but I think it's unlikely that you'll be able to successfully raise children together unless one of you goes through a really major transformation. It sounds like kids are a big priority for her, so you probably need to have this conversation now.

It's very unlikely to end well, and you should be prepared for lots of tears and recriminations on both sides, as well as being single again.

I don't think, for what it's worth, that this is your fault; your position is essentially flexible, where hers is not. She has already decided how the children must think, and I doubt very much, given your views of the world, that you will be able to tolerate this easily.
posted by Malor at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's only been four months. Give yourselves more time to let these things shake themselves out. You might find yourselves incompatible for other reasons. She might find herself less convinced by Christianity over time. Any number of things could happen.

You don't have to worry about the kid issue because there's no way she's getting pregnant before you're married right?
posted by ODiV at 9:17 AM on December 20, 2007


> Seriously, best relationship I've ever been involved in, when it comes to everything except the religious clash.

... most of the "dump dump dump dump DUMP DUMP DUMP!!!!" crowd seems to be overlooking this little sentence in there ...

posted by WCityMike at 9:17 AM on December 20, 2007


Damn italics tags.
posted by WCityMike at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2007


There are plenty of success stories between Jews and Catholics or Athiests and Evangelicals out there to chuck it all without giving it a try.

I don't know of any success stories that involve a person who believes everyone who doesn't believe the same thing they do BURNING IN HELL ... with someone who believes differently.

Seriously, talk this out now. Find out if there's room for compromise that you can both accept.
posted by canine epigram at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is always a weird situation to me. I'm pagan and my partner is agnostic, and WE have some issues. (mostly the drumming) But a "True Believin' Christian" who thinks non-Christians are going to hell?

Here's the thing: If she REALLY believes that, and she isn't trying to save you, does she really love you? If she really loves you, and she isn't trying to save you, how strong IS that belief?

It's one of those things. I'd hate to be hassled about my beliefs, but if the person who says she loves me is okay with my soul going to eternal torment, I'd wonder about her motivation. Kids aside...
posted by foxydot at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


As an atheist, I couldn't imagine allowing my children to be raised Christian, or any religion. They will be exposed to everything, but forced into nothing. Because I feel so strongly about how my children will be raised, I would not date a person with such strong religious beliefs as your girlfriend.

This has been discussed before on this website, and I won't be the first to say it's a lose lose situation.
posted by Sufi at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


... most of the "dump dump dump dump DUMP DUMP DUMP!!!!" crowd seems to be overlooking this little sentence in there ...

No they aren't, the DTMFA crowd is pointing out to the OP that he is overlooking the depth of their described disagreement. That isn't the same thing.
posted by OmieWise at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


dating four months and already discussing kids? this is a bigger problem than the Christian thing, really

not true. my boyfriend and i have been together about four months and we have discussed how each of us view various aspects of child-rearing. this is the best relationship both of us has been in as well and we know we want to be together for the long haul so i don't think that discussing kids at four months indicates other/bigger problems.
posted by violetk at 9:24 AM on December 20, 2007


If two people hold strong and opposite religious beliefs I don't think there is any chance in hell a relationship can work. My GF is religious but isn't a rabid bible-thumper. I even go to church with her because I work with people that also go to church there. The church and father are cool and liberal minded. I am not big on organized religion but don't care if someone wants to believe in God or not.

Seriously I think you should move on because this is a big issue and is obviously not going to be resolved unless you become born again.
posted by JJ86 at 9:35 AM on December 20, 2007


I'm an atheist. One of my best friends is an atheist and he married a deeply Catholic woman. I was a bit shocked at first. They had a mixed wedding at the Church where basically the ceremony and the vows only apply to the bride. He goes with her to Mass. They have a daughter and they christened her. He is still an atheist. They respect each other's different points of view. He loves her. Love, you know. It always softens any radical ideology you might hold. She also became less hard core. They compromised. No big deal. What will their daughter grow up to be? I have no idea, but as they say, "we just want her to be happy, catholic or atheist or muslim or Hare Krishna". Would you love your kids less if you raised the same way your parents raised you and then they'd turn religious? Would you think they were dumb if that happened?

What I'm saying is: if you really love each other, your love will be stronger than philosophy. And everything will be OK.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:42 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


the potential issue of kids, which she wants relatively soon
she insists that her kids must be raised in a Christian home
She thinks we should enjoy our happiness together now and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.


These things are incompatible. Is it possible that she's not actually viewing you as a potential mate, and is trying to warn you about an inevitable (from her point of view) break up? Or that she is secretly convinced that as a good person you will be reborn if you can just be shown the way?
posted by anaelith at 9:42 AM on December 20, 2007


I'd say that differences of belief are fine except when the other person doesn't believe that differences of belief are fine.

Quoted for excellence.

This is not about Christian-bashing. If she made up her own mind about God and respected your right to do the same, I'd say no reason to DTMFA. Plenty of Christians can coexist happily with people of different beliefs without laying a big damnation trip on them. But this?

her faith is very strongly that Christianity is Truth and that non-Christians burn in hell.

I just don't see how that's going to work.

For one thing, if she's really devout, she's not supposed to marry an unbeliever.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:43 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Here's the issue: her faith is very strongly that Christianity is Truth and that non-Christians burn in hell.

Are you sure? Are you very sure this is her belief? I pressed someone I was dating on this issue and it turned out to be a little bit more sophisticated than that. I asked him "What about people who never had a chance to hear about Christianity? What about atheists who have lived good lives...might, just might God give them a second chance before they die?"

Read some books together. We read Pascal and Kierkegaard, two philosophers worth reading anyway, but the philosophers she wants to read might differ depending on doctrine. Actually read the Bible together. It's a little shocking and more complex than extremist preachers would have you think. Go to some theology lectures.

Do it on the premise that you want to learn more about Christianity and understand where Christians are coming from. You'll have arguments after reading, but they will refine the way you think about God and each other.

If she still thinks she knows the plan of God after reading those things...well, I'd be surprised. Yes, it's a investing a lot in a relationship that might not work out even after soul-searching, but if it's really as good as you say it is, it might be worth it.

"All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions"- Yeats
posted by melissam at 9:47 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Regardless of how good it is now, this is either going to end in a compromise neither of you is particularly comfortable with. Or with one of you dramatically altering your own beliefs for the sake of the other which would be unfortunate for either one of you.

If you love her you will be honest with her, let her know that you are unwilling to compromise and you dont want to drag something out that will ultimately destroy one or both of you spiritually and emotionally.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:48 AM on December 20, 2007


First of all, I agree with Pollomacho and WCityMike that you are going to get a lot of "DUMP HER!" advice that you should really think twice about. Not least because women tend to be more religious/spiritual than men* and because atheist/agnostic women, IME, are more likely to be childfree by choice. So if you want teh kidlets you may have to look harder to find your dream non-religious mate. And if you are well-suited for one another in every other way, it's possible - not inevitable, but possible - to work around this.

However, you won't work this out by sticking your heads in the sand and waiting for "tomorrow" to figure out how to do it. You need to discuss this issue with one another tactfully but frankly. ("You'll burn in hell!" and "You silly superstitious woman!" is not tactful.)

I also suggest premarital counseling from someone who is neutral about religion. Neither someone with an atheist viewpoint nor a Christian counselor would be helpful; you need someone who won't automatically take sides.

Good luck!

*Research bears this out, so plz no hordes of female atheist MeFites getting up my nose, kthx. We all know MeFites are spayshul! *g*
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:52 AM on December 20, 2007


One more thing that seems to be ignored here is that beliefs often change over time; she might be in a place right now where seeing the world in black and white is comforting to her for whatever reason. Two or three years from now, her hardcore Christian stance may have mellowed, if not gone away entirely. That's the baby-in-the-bathwater here - the OP seems to really love this person, and who's to say she's not worth waiting for?
posted by jbickers at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2007


I understand that there's an emotional conflict here, but I'm actually confused about why y'all are seeing a practical conflict, because it doesn't actually seem like your beliefs are that much in conflict. Your definition of spirituality encompasses hers -- you believe there's some larger force/truth at work in the universe, and that various religions are necessarily incomplete attempts to understand that force/truth (incomplete because of human limitation).

Forgive me if I'm projecting, because I'm also fairly agnostic and so I may just be assuming that you believe what I believe, but it seems like, in your belief system, Christianity *is* true... it's just that there are *also* other things that are true. So raising the kids Christian shouldn't really be an issue, the issue is simply your girlfriend's insistence that everyone else is wrong?

From what I understand, from conversations with Christians (including priests), this "We're right, everyone else is wrong" thing isn't really a necessary component of Christianity. Even if it's important to your girlfriend, I'd find it hard to believe that she would label it as the most absolutely vital piece of her faith. Christianity can be -- and often is -- about kindness, generosity, community, and service even to those who don't share your beliefs; the overriding message is not "We're better than you" but "We're all imperfect and also worthy of forgiveness and redemption." I would think that one could fairly easily raise children in the Christian faith who don't condemn everyone around them -- because not condemning people is, in fact, the Christian thing to do.

Maybe my views on this are colored by the fact that most of the Christians I know are Catholic or Anglican, and this thinking is more common there? I do understand there are more fundamentalist churches in the country that don't emphasize tolerance quite so much, but I went to a random mass the other night (because I thought the church was pretty) whose main point was "Don't rush to judge, be patient and eventually God will explain anything you need to know" (based around the story of Joseph finding out his fiancee was pregnant, and yet not condemning her). I think this is a pretty straightforward message that pops up fairly regularly in Christian texts and interpretations.

So, on a practical level, I guess, it would seem like a decent compromise would be raise the kids Christian but tone down the "we condemn everyone else" side of things; I would assume, if she's not a racist / homophobic / xenophobic / nasty person, that she's practicing this sort of inclusiveness anyway. She would just need to extend it to religion, and I think there are certainly precedents in Christianity for doing so.

If she is in a church where fire and brimstone seem to be emphasized as the main tenets, then I think there's more of an uphill battle here, obviously. But if that's just coming up in your relationship because it's the main point of contention, then see if you can switch the focus back to what you *do* agree on -- the value in our search for meaning in a mysterious universe, and how slippery and ambiguous and magical and imperfect that search can be -- and see if you can back off the polarizing bits for a while.
posted by occhiblu at 9:58 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


A lot of this comes down to whether the OP's claim that his girlfriend believes non-Christians burn in hell was accurate or a huge exaggeration. I took it as being accurate; if I'm right, then I think all the well-meaning suggestions of how to work with this and not DTMFA are unfortunately worthless. This kind of rigid irrationality is a) not negotiable with and b) unlikely to change except as the result of a major spiritual crisis, which you can't assume is definitely going to happen.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:03 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm atheist, my husband was raised Methodist, we do not go to church. We are happy. We would not be happy if he made me go to church, or even if he somewhat agreed with the "crazy" stripes of religion out there - the ones that spend more time hating people than loving God. I may not have a religion, but after years of living around it and tolerating it, and knowing lots of religious people, I also know what is and is not good/safe religion. For me it would be thus:

1) whatever religion your partner wants to take the kids to cannot teach hate. whether or not it teaches hate is something you and she have to agree on, but generally people who think that all homosexuals are going to hell fall into this category for me. It's subjective, but that's life.

2) My lack of religion is not grounds for any sort of belittlement or scary talk about me going to hell. The fact that she's so concerned about going to hell makes me think, based on my experience with the various denominations, that she is not a laid-back Methodist like my in-laws or liberal Presbyterian like my college, or even Episcopalian like some of my friends. It sounds like Baptist/Evangelical/Born Again talk, and generally that sort of religion focuses a lot on Revelation.

3) While we're on Revelation, I wouldn't want my kids being talked to a lot about Hell. Kids need the Golden Rule, not hellfire and brimstone, IMHO.

As a generally tolerant person myself, which I am for the purposes of this discussion assuming you are as well, none of those three things above would ever be OK with me when it came to any theoretical or real offspring. At best, you are going to have to scout out this church she wants to take your kids to, and then at worst you are going to have to fight about it. You need to do some calculus on your odds here and decide what you think will happen, but religion is often a dealbreaker.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2007


N'thing the "dump her"-crowd.
"We've been dating for about four months."
"Seriously, best relationship I've ever been involved in" -> Hormones still talking.
If you aren't prepared to dump her right away - she does believe in a dichotome woodoo worldview, right? - then at least wait it out untill reason kicks in again - usually after a year or so. Do not commit to what seems like an uresolvable year long conflict while freshly infatuated ;-).
Ask yourself how you would describe her filosofy if you weren't in love with her. Probably not quite as understanding, right?
Fundamentalistic christianity is a textbook example of formalized stupidity.
Don't go there.
Run.

Sorry.
posted by Thug at 10:19 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't feel I can offer solid advice on what path to tkae, but I do want to point out that the two following statements are at odds with each other

She thinks we should enjoy our happiness together now and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
and
She insists that her kids must be raised in a Christian home

She's already worrying about the eternal souls of children that don't exist.

It seems that either A) she's got some clear ideas about what shape her future is going to take, and she's being willfully myopic on the subject of your relationship; or B) she's actually more flexible than she realizes herself, and is sticking on the children+religion issue because it's something she's never had to address in the here-and-now, and is just going with her preconceived notion of how things should be in the abstract.

One way or the other, there's a contradiction here that deserves to be addressed. She may decide to dump you (or you her), or the two of you may be able to work out a compromise approach to childrearing that satisfies you both.
posted by adamrice at 10:23 AM on December 20, 2007


Per occhiblu, I think there are certainly flavors of Christianity in which the tradition of tolerance is strong enough to accept a nonbeliever in the family - I know many such couples myself. But there are other traditions in which that tradition is a minority element or completely nonexistent. Since this gf is literally worried that her children will burn in hell if they turn out to be nonbelievers, I've got to suspect that she is not participating in one of the broader-minded traditions. But since I don't really know, that's why I think the best recommendation is to ask what, exactly, she sees as a "Christian home." It could be as comfortably light an influence as the kind you mention, but it could be very much otherwise. And even if it's very light, if the OP resists "one true path" religious thinking while the spouse embraces it, there is a fundamental conflict there.

Also, four months is not too early to compare notes on goals for family, children, and childrearing if one is at a point in life where those have become important goals. In fact, it's better to discuss them early so that any potential dealbreakers are known before things proceed too far in a direction one party wasn't expecting.
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on December 20, 2007


Heck, at my age people do that before the first date, but that's another discussion.
posted by Miko at 10:25 AM on December 20, 2007


I've been with my wife for over a decade, and we just plain don't talk about our religious beliefs because we're both stubborn and are on totally different sides as far as organized religion fits in our lives. But we love eachother, so we just let it roll as is.
I don't believe, she does. Thats that.
After our son was born, she told me flat out that she would start taking him to church when he was old enough. I agreed, and told her that I would not go. She wasn't surprised, and told me that was fine.

I attended church well into my teens, and at some point I kind of decided that I wasn't too sure about how legit all that was. My wife knows this and accepts the fact, and we live our lives fairly happily without and major drama about our religious beliefs.
If faith has too come between 2 people that say that they care deeply about eachother, than I think there may be further issues there, and if you can't work through it, you probably shouldn't be together.

But I may just be talking out of my ass, because our son just zonked me in the head with a basketball. Damnit!
posted by ducktape at 10:40 AM on December 20, 2007


I skipped the other comments, but I just wanted to say (as a committed Christian myself) that she is disobeying Scripture if she marries you, period. So either she thinks she is a Christian but isn't really, OR she is not as serious about her faith as she needs to be. (Is she actively trying to convert you? Our term for that is missionary dating, and that seldom ends well. )


What you do with that info is up to you folks. But I will say you are definitely right to be concerned.
posted by konolia at 10:49 AM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm really sorry, because I sympathize, but Estragon nailed this one on the very first comment.

Everyone else can spend the rest of this thread wailing and gnashing their teeth over the Christian angle if they want, but it's a red herring. You have one deeply held belief. She has another, largely incompatible belief. It doesn't matter that it's Explore-the-World vs. Jeebus. If she believed that Homer Simpson was the One True God, and that her children could be raised to worship no other God but Homer, you would still be in the same predicament, because you believe that your children should be allowed to explore lots of different religions besides that of The Great Donut.

If y'all are going to have a future together, and if there are going to be kids in that future, then at least one of you is going to have to compromise on how to raise them, spiritually speaking. And from the info you give us in the question, it doesn't sound like spiritual compromise equals "being able to live with (y)ourselves."

I say all this coming from a Christian background, and having a Buddhist spouse. "Inter-spiritual" marriage can definitely work, but only with the utmost communication, flexibility (bonus points for relativism!), and respect between the two people involved. From what you describe, y'all are not there, and are probably not going to get there. Again, I'm sorry.
posted by somanyamys at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you are agnostic you shouldn't have any problem with allowing her to raise your kids Christian--baptism, church on Sundays, catechism, and confirmation. On the same token, she has to understand that the burden and responsibility of everything that goes with this upbringing falls on her, as you are not enthusiastic about it. Also, she will have to agree to allow you to express your personal views to your kids; If they ask you if there is a God, she has to be OK with you responding, "I don't know." If you can compromise in this manner, everything will be OK.

Also, I recommend finding a compromise for your wedding as well should you get married. My wife is Catholic and I am agnostic, and we got married in the chapel at a Catholic school. We were able to bring in a more liberal Catholic deacon to perform the service, so everyone was happy. I didn't have to jump through any hoops and/or compromise my beliefs, and she and her family were happy that it was a Catholic service.

It's all about compromise and understanding. As an agnostic I know you have the ability to give and take a little--the question becomes: How fanatic is she? Does she have the ability to meet you in the middle? If there is any doubt, it's going to all come out in the wash once you have kids and you are going to be in Hell (figuratively, of course!).
posted by fusinski at 10:54 AM on December 20, 2007


I was raised fundamentalist Christian, and as a child I was tormented with the knowledge that nearly everyone I knew was going to Hell! So I thought it was up to tiny little me to save them by somehow convincing them to go to church and be baptised. And because most people don't find religion just because a ten year old tells them to, I did not save their souls. Those people were going to hell because of me. If I'd only had more faith, I would have known what to say and I could have saved them.

I can't imagine how awful it would have been if my Dad had been one of those people that I couldn't save from eternal damnation. Don't do that to your kids.

Oh, and the reason she thinks everything will work out, and not to worry about tomorrow? It will work out, because you'll be converted. She's been praying for you. So has her congregation. They are all praying for you to find Jesus so that you won't go to hell and instead marry her and raise beautiful Christian children together. I grew up in those churches. I've heard those prayers. I've participated, fervently in them. The only reason she's not actively proselytising you know is because she's giving God time to soften your heart. I wish I was kidding.
posted by happyturtle at 11:00 AM on December 20, 2007 [5 favorites]


If my evangelical upbringing is any indication, she's not supposed to be dating you at all. She's supposed to find a strong Christian man, date him without sleeping with him, go to Christian pre-marital counselling, get married in the church, and raise kids in a Christian home. She's supposed to find a guy she can pray with, you know? So I'm wondering why she's breaking the rules. Is she hoping to win you over to the faith?

For this to work, I'd want to have these ground rules:

- no conversion attempts
- no disrespect for each other's thoughts on life, the universe and everything
- the children will be taught to respect both views (sounds like you have a conflict there)
- you will defend each other if your friends/family try to (de)convert either of you or suggest that either of you are morally or intellectually deficient because of the faith issue

And ditto on everything happyturtle just said. So true.
posted by heatherann at 11:01 AM on December 20, 2007


One other thing to consider - She'll want to be married in a church. It is very likely she'll pick a church that will insist you confirm your belief in the Christian God, and will include much about your solid belief in said god in your marriage vows.

Thus, the vow you give at your marriage will likely be a lie.

This bothered my during my first marriage. A lot. One of the most important vows I'd ever take, and I lied about something fundamental. You might want to look into that.
posted by Ragma at 11:02 AM on December 20, 2007


You both might relax as time goes by. I'm the product of a mixed Catholic / atheist marriage, and it was fine. By the time I was born the Catholic had pretty much lost interest in church, and the atheist never said anything negative about religion (as far as I heard).
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:22 AM on December 20, 2007


Just wanting to note that the comments from konolia and HeatherAnn reflect particular strains of thought within Christianity, but should not be taken to represent Christianity as a whole. There is no "we believe" or "our religion teaches" when it comes to the word "Christian." It is a broad term for many hundreds of varying belief systems, some evangelical and fundamentalist, some literalist and some symbolist, etc. So unless we had specific information about the teachings of the OP's girlfriend's faith, no one can simply say "She's disobeying Scripture" or "Her congregation is praying for you." Those statements might be true within certain traditions, but since we don't know which one we're talking about, it's not safe to generalize. Again, the only way for the OP to determine what "Christianity" and "a Christian home" mean for his girlfriend is to engage her in a discussion about the specifics of her faith and her vision for the future.

I also wouldn't say that it's true that an agnostic "shouldn't have a problem" with living in a home with a strong religious atmosphere. That depends on the individual, as well. Agnostics generally believe that no human can logically arrive at an absolute statement of spiritual truth. In a home in which it's asserted that the religion supplies the ultimate spiritual truth, there's a necessary logical conflict and perhaps moral conflict. The strength of that conviction may vary, so that someone who is agnostic could choose not to make a big deal out of the fact that their partner is sure they have discovered Absolute Eternal Truth, but that doesn't mean that is always the agnostic who should be more tolerant of the other belief system. The OP's worldview could be the result of a deep, earnest, even painful spiritual and philosophical examination of self and the universe, and could be no less crucial to his sense of self and purpose than the gf's religion. Agnosticism is a belief, not an absence of belief.

It should also be noted that some people who are practicing members of religious denominations are agnostic. Perhaps a surprising number.
posted by Miko at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I suggest you ask her this: If we marry and have children, what if one of our kids is gay? Will you still love that child or will you cast that child out into the street as a sinner? The answer should enlighten you as to whether she is tolerant enough to raise a family with.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:54 AM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


no one can simply say "She's disobeying Scripture"

Point of order: The Bible literally says not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. (This could refer to marriage as well as business partnerships.)

You may not believe that you need to obey that verse but you can't say it ain't there.
posted by konolia at 12:32 PM on December 20, 2007


Which version of the Bible though? It's not as cut and dried as konolia tends to paint it. Anyone who makes absolutest statements regarding Christianity or the Bible are doing it from a particular faith background and not all Christians agree. So you really do need to find out what her particular brand says, and what she means by "Christian household."
posted by agregoli at 12:44 PM on December 20, 2007


Man, a lot of people here have no fucking clue what they're talking about (as per the course for Metafilter and religion, sadly).

"I don't know of any success stories that involve a person who believes everyone who doesn't believe the same thing they do BURNING IN HELL ... with someone who believes differently."

Well, you obviously didn't read my comment the last time this came up.

It can work if you want it to work, but you both have to be willing to say, "Upon this, reasonable people may differ."
posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on December 20, 2007


I'm certainly not saying it isn't there. Questions of the interpretation of what 'yoked' means in Corinthians aside (it may have nothing to do with marriage, an institution that in Paul's time would be barely recognizable to us as such), what I'm saying is that many Christians -- I might even suggest with great confidence, most Christians - do not use every directive in the Bible as a prescription for behavior. Biblical literalism is very problematic. The various Christian denominations deal differently with the meanings and uses of Biblical writings.
posted by Miko at 12:47 PM on December 20, 2007


I wish I had time to dig in and quote scripture on this topic, as the Bible does indeed address it from several directions, but I gotta get things ready for my returning horde for Christmas.

Going back to experience, the people I know that just HAD to marry their unchurched sweeties usually wind up whining to their Christian friends not too long later about how "he won't go to church, won't pray with me, waaa waaaa waaa" to which I usually shake my noggin and think, well, what did you expect?

The OP probably could get along fine with a Christian wife but I can almost guarantee she is thinking she can change him and will NOT be satisfied with him as is. And that ain't no way to start a marriage, no matter what the differing bslief systems are.

PS-my former Mormon husband tells me that "missionary dating" IS a real and approved technique, at least where he is from. Apparently almost every couple in his LDS church was a gal raised mormon and a guy she married then badgered into converting. So for any of you who fall in love with that perfectly put together, perfectly housewifely creature who thinks Joseph Smith is a prophet of God? She has PLANS for you.
posted by konolia at 2:17 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I don't know of any success stories that involve a person who believes everyone who doesn't believe the same thing they do BURNING IN HELL ... with someone who believes differently."

you both have to be willing to say, "Upon this, reasonable people may differ."


You're contradicting yourself - the point is, either she is willing to believe that reasonable people may differ, or she believes that there is only One True Way and people who reject it will actually suffer eternally. And I think everyone (or nearly everyone) is in agreement that you can make it work if both parties are flexible and admit to possibilities beyond their comprehension and so forth. The problem is if she really holds on to an absolute, unflinching, freak-the-kids-out style religion where the kids will go to bed worrying that daddy will burn in hell... That is just not good from anyone's perspective.
posted by mdn at 2:23 PM on December 20, 2007


I wish I had time to dig in and quote scripture on this topic, as the Bible does indeed address it from several directions, but I gotta get things ready for my returning horde for Christmas.

That would be a real waste of time for all involved, as we don't know that the OP's girlfriend follows scripture to the letter, nor do we know that she follows your brand of christianity that views said scripture the way you do. Your word and interpretation of the particular version of the bible you read, all due respect, is not the authority on the subject of christian viewpoints as there are many.
posted by agregoli at 2:30 PM on December 20, 2007


Run. Now.
posted by pompomtom at 2:35 PM on December 20, 2007


"You're contradicting yourself - the point is, either she is willing to believe that reasonable people may differ, or she believes that there is only One True Way and people who reject it will actually suffer eternally."

No, she can believe that he'll burn in hell, but that it's his choice and that she loves him enough that it doesn't matter. Again, my grandmother believed my grandfather was going to hell, but loved him and stayed with him. While I can't speak to what their early married life was like, their later life just meant that they didn't bother discussing this.
posted by klangklangston at 2:59 PM on December 20, 2007


We try not to think/talk about it, but it resurfaces every few weeks to some degree or other, usually because of me worrying about what I'm asking about here.

This, if you ask me, is the important part of the question.

There's a significant issue in your relationship that you're both avoiding discussing. You need to get together and discuss it, lovingly and with brutal honesty.

The people telling you to dump her are making predictions about the outcome of that conversation. Well, maybe they're right and maybe they're wrong. The point is, until you have the conversation, you can't know for sure. If you cut and run before you have the conversation, you'll never know. So just bring it up.

I wonder if you're worried about being the bad guy. You know, here she is cheerfully ignoring the issue, and you're scared to rain on her parade by bringing it up. If that's what you're afraid of, consider this: if her parade's success depends on her ignorance of your true feelings, then it's a really shitty parade.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:30 PM on December 20, 2007


Oh, and the reason she thinks everything will work out, and not to worry about tomorrow? It will work out, because you'll be converted. She's been praying for you. So has her congregation. They are all praying for you to find Jesus so that you won't go to hell and instead marry her and raise beautiful Christian children together. I grew up in those churches. I've heard those prayers. I've participated, fervently in them. The only reason she's not actively proselytizing you know is because she's giving God time to soften your heart. I wish I was kidding.

happyturtle said it. please don't view this as too extreme to be what your wonderful GF is secretly thinking/doing. I can't say that that is what she is doing because I don't know her, but in the fundamentalist culture that it sounds like she's in, this would be how she shows you love. And she probably believes that later, when you are happy that she brought you to Jesus, you will thank her for saving you from yourself.
posted by argylekneesocks at 3:32 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, really, if she thinks he's going to burn in hell for eternity, and I mean really thinks that, and really for eternity, and really the BAD special hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theater, then why the hell would she think it was something reasonable people could disagree on? Wouldn't the simple fact of disagreeing about it make a person UNreasonable in her mind, just like anyone else would think that someone making any very, very bad, permanent decision for no good reason was unreasonable?

I have no idea what your grandparent's relationship was like, but I can only assume that it was highly unusual if your grandmother was willing to let your grandfather suffer permanent harm (in her eyes) without a struggle.

posted by anaelith at 4:34 PM on December 20, 2007


I have long since ceased to be surprised by the ability of people to fervently believe something and still not let it have a big effect on their day to day lives. Like finding out that a friend of mine's father, who just recently retired from teaching neurobiology, believes that dinosaurs never existed. Aside from that crazy young-earth creationism thing, he's entirely rational and incredibly intelligent.
posted by klangklangston at 4:59 PM on December 20, 2007


No, she can believe that he'll burn in hell, but that it's his choice and that she loves him enough that it doesn't matter.

well, obviously "hell" means something different than I've been led to believe. Or something. She loves him enough that it's okay that he suffer eternal torment. Right then. I have no idea what to make of that as it goes against my personal definitions of "belief", "love", and "matter", but I guess they can just ignore the repercussions and live in a day to day world with their own versions of those concepts.
posted by mdn at 5:20 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


That would be a real waste of time for all involved, as we don't know that the OP's girlfriend follows scripture to the letter, nor do we know that she follows your brand of christianity that views said scripture the way you do. Your word and interpretation of the particular version of the bible you read, all due respect, is not the authority on the subject of christian viewpoints as there are many.

Yes, but those who have more liberal viewpoints than mine wouldn't be having this dilemma, most likely.
Here's the issue: her faith is very strongly that Christianity is Truth and that non-Christians burn in hell.

THAT is what I am basing the answer on.
posted by konolia at 7:30 PM on December 20, 2007


I'm sorry, konolia, that is simply not enough to base your assertion on. Any number of Christian religions believe that non-believing souls are relegated to hell, and that belief does not universally correlate with Biblical literalism.

Your understanding of what in your accepted version of the Bible is expected to be obeyed belongs to your church or denomination alone. Your stance on this may be different from the OP's girlfriend's. As a Christian who disagrees with your viewpoint, I feel it's important to point out that not all Christians, not even Christians who believe in Hell, are united on the points of literalism or Paulian theology. You don't have enough information to assume that the OP's girlfriend is a sinner headed for hell herself, which is where your assertion leads.
posted by Miko at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2007


You cannot have a relationship with someone you have such opposing views with. Whether or not you are together for months or a few weeks, I guarantee it. And honestly, she is trapping you. A woman who tells you not to think about tomorrow is trapping you, I guarantee that as well. Religion and ideology are deal breakers, along with money, in any relationship. I suggest you end this now and get over the "we'll cross that bridge when we get there" mindset.
posted by dnthomps at 6:34 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


It can work if you want it to work, but you both have to be willing to say, "Upon this, reasonable people may differ."

And even more to the point, you both have to be willing to say this to your children, should you have them.
posted by somanyamys at 6:51 AM on December 21, 2007


That would be a real waste of time for all involved, as we don't know that the OP's girlfriend follows scripture to the letter, nor do we know that she follows your brand of christianity that views said scripture the way you do. Your word and interpretation of the particular version of the bible you read, all due respect, is not the authority on the subject of christian viewpoints as there are many.

Konolia: Yes, but those who have more liberal viewpoints than mine wouldn't be having this dilemma, most likely.

What an interesting assumption.
posted by agregoli at 7:14 AM on December 21, 2007


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