Lasting potential?
July 5, 2011 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Need some input on this relationship issue

Anonymous in case details make this too obvious. Sorry if this is long and overly detailed, but I figure it would give a better picture of the relationship.

I’m a woman, 26, in a monogamous relationship with a man in his early 30’s. He is my first boyfriend (I have very little experience, period) and he has previously been married (just over half a decade). He separated last year and the paperwork was recently finalized, though he’s told me that he was emotionally checked out of the marriage for several years before it ended.

We’ve been going out for about 6 months now and things are going swimmingly. We are not really phone talkers, but we text each other frequently every day and see each other 3-5 times a week.

I know (and believe) the saying that people are on their best behavior early in a relationship, but so far he has truly been a fantastic boyfriend. He is sweet and attentive, frequently giving compliments and showing physical affection. He’s funny, smart, incredibly talented (we are both fine artists), and kind. He doesn’t appear to be the most charismatic guy when you first meet him, but as I’ve gotten to know him he’s shown a quiet confidence and strength that I find incredibly attractive. As this is my first relationship, I am naturally curious about his previous marriage, and he is completely open to answering any questions I have. He is honest and loyal, and I truly believe he’s a good person/person of good character. I'm a little astonished that someone so amazing adores me so much. I feel like I could just ramble on here about the ways in which he’s awesome, but I don’t want this to get too long.

It’s not all perfect, though. I know that I really have to consider several issues when entering in to a long-term relationship (finances, kids, etc), but so far my biggest concern is this: I’m a Christian, he’s not. He is not particularly opposed to religion, more indifferent. We’ve talked about this before (and will continue to talk about it in the future) but this is the gist of it.

Him: Christian up until college (though raised Mormon as a child), turned off to religion by behaviors he witnessed which he found manipulative. He does say that he feels like he was ‘brainwashed’ when he was younger. When I asked him if he thinks he would even believe in the future, he says maybe if God spoke to him and said “I’m real” (which I found interesting). He has offered to go to church with me, though.

Me: Raised Christian (non-denominational), and though I haven’t as strong in my spiritual walk lately I will likely never stop believing in God. Christian by choice, and though I frequently question my faith I feel like I am stronger for it. I am a little more on the liberal side, I guess, in that I am even pondering the possibility of marriage with a non-Christian.

He doesn’t seem as worried as I am, but has asked me (in one of our many talks) if I would miss the shared spiritual times, the shared religious foundation. I answered truthfully yes (however, I know that just because a guy is Christian doesn’t mean that the relationship is guaranteed to work—of course). Now the more I think about it (and I think about it A LOT), the more I feel conflicted about whether this relationship could work if we were ever to get married. At the moment I feel like it is so early that I just want to see how it goes. I feel like there is more we could work through with discussion. I have no expectation of him “changing his mind and converting”, but I’m curious to see how he responds as he becomes more familiar with the spiritual side of my life. If we were to stay together for a year+ or start to seriously consider marriage this would definitely be thoroughly discussed. I understand that if we can’t work it out at that point we’d probably have to break up—I want both of us to be happy, and it would be unfair to both of us to draw it out. But I did want to get some feedback on the matter.

Is it wrong to keep “going with the flow” just to see what develops? Could it work, even with these significant differences? Am I just overthinking things? Hivemind input much appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ask yourself, why would you need him to be a Christian? Why does he have to believe the same as you?
posted by yarly at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Is it wrong to keep “going with the flow” just to see what develops?
No! That's the only way to learn.

Could it work, even with these significant differences?
Yes! If your way of being Christian is basically believing in God and not doing the whole Church Experience every week then where do you see major, unstoppable differences arising? Even if you do go to church, would he need to come with you?

Am I just overthinking things?
Yes! Wait until actual problems arise before worrying about it.
posted by bleep at 5:32 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hi, atheist married to liberal Methodist. It works because no one is trying to change anyone and her time at church is enjoyably spent with those who share those spiritual thoughts and feelings. It's not a big deal. We even raised a rather swell and God believing and liberal child.

It's only an issue if you want to make it an issue, which is your right. But your SO doesn't have to fulfill you on every level there is.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

but he has asked me (in one of our many talks) if I would miss the shared spiritual times, the shared religious foundation. I answered truthfully yes .

If this is something that's really important to you, it sounds like something will be missing if he doesn't change.
posted by la petite marie at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband actually sounds a lot like your guy - sweet, attentive, affectionate, funny, smart, etc etc. He was really, really Christian when he was younger, to the point of going to Bible school to become a minister. Like your guy, he became disillusioned for various reasons, and although he still considers himself a Christian, he rarely attends church.

I'm an atheist Buddhist, and we've had a lot of long talks about spirituality. I don't think it's something to shy away from discussing, or even having a shared spiritual life. I've gone to church with him a few times and I enjoy discussing (not debating) the details of his faith and Biblical trivia or whatnot.

I can't tell you if it's going to bother you down the road. I think you have to establish now what you're both comfortable with. If you go to a Bible study group and want to talk about it when you come home, will he avoid the subject or discuss it with you? If you want to go to church on special occasions, like Easter, will he go willingly or stay home? If he stays home, are you OK with that? If your guy says no, I will never attend church with you, well you have to respect that, but there's no harm in asking, especially if you stress that you're not trying to convert him. Unless deep down you are, in which case, cut him loose.
posted by desjardins at 5:52 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems like it's plenty early enough in the relationship, and that you are both sincerely enjoying having each other in your lives enough, that going with the flow makes a lot of sense.

Long-term, it is pretty rare among all the married couples that I know that the spouses believe identical things about God, religion and spirituality... and rarer still that those beliefs haven't changed and evolved during their lives together. I don't think the difference between your self-identification as Christian and his not-believing-in-God is likely to pose as much of a problem to you both objectively as might the fact that this is something you think about "a LOT" now. Is it possible that the religion issue is a red herring, that you're just channeling all of your (very reasonable) doubts and vulnerabilities about this relationship onto the religion question, particularly given the imbalance in your levels of "experience" and ages? I'm not doubting that spiritual compatibility might be a true dealbreaker for you, but that seems a little incongruous with a non-denominational upbringing and that the core belief you mention is that you are confident that there is a God, not the importance of the specific teachings of Christianity, the New Testament, etc. to your daily life and worldview.
posted by mauvest at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

My religious beliefs have rarely matched up with the beliefs of my various significant others, and it has never been a problem. I've been Christian married to a religiously indifferent spouse; and happily agnostic married to a deist with no religious practice. And the two of us recently started going to church together, and while it has been a lovely shared experience I can't say it has made a huge difference to our relationship over the previous ten years when our beliefs differed.

As long as you are both tolerant and a bit flexible it can work out fine, particularly if there are no heavy religious lifestyle rules in your particular denominations.

The main problems I've ever heard about in atheist/religious relationships is when one or both parties is contemptuous of the beliefs of the other, and/or is determined to convert the other.

If he's willing to come to church with you, let him. He may get something out of it, and you might enjoy having his company and support even if he's not real interested in having "shared spiritual time" or whatever with you in private. Honestly, it doesn't have to be a problem unless you make it one.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:15 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, I am what you are (nondenominational Christian.) I don't have to tell you what the Bible teaches about being unequally yoked.

Now, what I am guessing is you were probably raised in a Christian home, went along with going to church, like the idea of God, liked your church, liked your Christian friends, etc.

What you need to ask yourself is this: Do you foresee yourself at any point in future wanting to be more fervent than you are at the moment? How would you feel if you married this man and a year, two years, three years later realized you really wanted to go on with God-but now you are married to a man who has little to no interest?

I have to tell you that the people I know who are in spiritually mixed marriages are for the most part not happy about it. Many married figuring that their spouse would later decide to become a Christian. You cannot count on that. Occasionally it does happen but more occasionally it doesn't.

Oh, and when I became a Christian myself, I was actually dating a nonChristian at the time. There came a point when I realized I had to choose. God won out.

PS-since you are nondenominational you won't think I am nuts when I tell you that Satan is really really really good at trolling really great guys across your path when you are considering a deeper walk with God. I could tell you numerous tales from my single days. The problem is that those really great guys totally led me away from the path I NEEDED to be on.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and from a secular sense going with the flow is just fine, but for a Christian, particularly one of "us" it is NOT. So that is why so many on this thread are saying what they are saying. In their eyes it isn't a problem. But they aren't you and they aren't what you are.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2011

I'm going to be a voice of dissent here. Do you want kids? Is it important to you to raise those kids Christian? How is your boyfriend going to feel about that? Even if he agrees to let you take the kids to church, what is he supposed to do when they ask him why he doesn't go, or if he believes in God? Lie? Say, "It doesn't matter what I believe; listen to your mother?"

Because I'll tell you right now, unless he explicitly tells you he's OK with this, you'll likely be in for a big surprise when the kids actually come. And honestly, why would he be OK with this? I know you say he more indifferent than opposed to religion, but it he seems like he's pretty much decided he doesn't believe in it, and that he has issues with church manipulation he witnessed/experienced as a child. That he's OK with you believing doesn't mean he's going to, or should have to, shut up about his views on religion so that you can be the only parent to influence your children's.

I'm not saying you should break up now or anything like that, but your question is about lasting potential. And I do think you really need to work out the religious upbringing of any future children before you get married. For a lot of people (and you've been hearing from some) a difference in religion isn't an issue, but I gotta tell you, it very often is.
posted by randomname25 at 6:24 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't really understand what your question is.

Religion doesn't have to be a dealbreaker, but sometimes it is.

I would say that if you can envision yourself long term with someone you have absolutely zero chance of converting, period, end of story, EVER? Sure, stick it out.

If you guys are moving towards some sort of uncomfortable stalemate where one of you has to be someone you're not in order to fulfill the minimum requirements of the relationship, then get out while the getting's good.

Most of all, absolutely do NOT bank on this "willing to go to church with you" thing as being an open door towards him becoming your particular brand of Christian. Because in 99% of situations that's simply not what that means. I'm not a Christian, by choice, and am NEVER going to be one - let alone of the "nondenominational" sort. But if a friend invited me along to a church service, I might go. I mean, what's the harm? Unless it's snake handling or something, why not? I go to Episcopalian services with my grandmother sometimes and have given bible readings at wedding Masses. None of this means I want to be a Christian, ever.
posted by Sara C. at 6:24 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of human relations questions about romantic relationships on AskMe That don't feature a great guy or relationship like the one you describe.

He sounds wonderful and wonderful for you. Furthermore, you don't attend services regularly AND he's respectful towards your faith.

I was raised Catholic in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. My husband was raised Muslim in predominantly Muslim country, but he attended private Catholic school all his life. I could go on, just saying this is someone from a diverse background and household here talking to you

Honey, why are you buying yourself trouble?

You should worry about what is in front of you in the Here and Now, because if it is what you think it is (a great relationship with a great guy!) then I'm pretty sure that The Apocalypse (or whatever conflagration the various organized religions of the world keep promising us) will take care of itself while you live a Good Life with the one you love.

(And by "take care of itself", I mean adherence or non-adherence to any particular set of rules won't interfere with your personal relationship with God, one way or the other.)

Any church that wouldn't want to see a believer happy with the partner they love is not worth participating in. Your guy sounds like he wouldn't object to you continuing to pursue your faith.

I don't see a problem here. Don't you go making one up if it isn't there.
posted by jbenben at 6:30 PM on July 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Answering this question is not so much about thinking where you are with your man, but more or less requires you to think about where you are with your relationship with God -

If God is as important as your mobile phone is to you, then you can imagine being fine with a scenario where your life partner is indifferent to what brand of phone you're using. The answer then would be "yes go for it".

If your relationship with God is as important to you as your relationship with your mom, then you can try imagine a scenario where your life partner is basically going to always be indifferent / dismissive towards your mom, and has no interest in getting to know her. Here's the point where you might be setting yourself up for some discomfort for the rest of your relationship, but still might be worth it.

If you're on a level where your relationship with God is the "omg most important thing, beginning and end and source of all meaning" then hell no, you're not going to want to get involved with someone who's not going to validate that relationship.

And all this is not to satisfy some teaching in the Bible or something a minister said or something, but just common sense, why in the world would you do this to yourself.
posted by xdvesper at 6:40 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My immediate reaction is that if you continue with the relationship in the way you describe, you have every chance of making it work, by finding mutually acceptable accommodations (for eg, "I won't try and convert you if you don't mind me going to church" or something).

My entirely atheistic best friend is married to a devout Christian and they've got a great relationship.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:45 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you think he's going to hell? Do you think his life would be better if he were a Christian? Do you think that he's meant to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Do you quietly, deep down, hope that someday he might decide to follow Christ again?

If you think those things, then I think you'll have a difficult time making the relationship work, long-term. If you do not think those things, if you consider Christianity to be what works for you and not what works for everyone, then I think you can make the relationship work the same way any pair of differently religious people make a relationship work--respect and love.

I understand that you're more liberal than others in your church, and that you're constantly questioning your faith. But I was raised the same way you were, and I became more liberal and questioning as I grew older--and as long as I was still following the Evangelical tradition, I felt strongly that those around me who didn't share my type of relationship with God were missing out. I didn't push my faith on anyone, and I respected all my non-Christian friends' beliefs, but deep down I believed that I had the Truth and they didn't. I seriously doubt I could have sustained a healthy long-term relationship with a non-Christian during my liberal and questioning but still believing phase.

(I'm sure you can find successful marriages between Dawkins-esque atheists and fundamentalist Christians, but I think it is the rare couple who can be happy in such a relationship.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:54 PM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Is it wrong to keep going with the flow? I think so, yes.

There's two people in this relationship. You're falling in love, and he's falling in love, too. Waiting until you get to the point where you're talking marriage and then deciding you could only marry a Christian would be cruel, cruel, cruel. Your guy deserves better than that.

So I think you need to do two things:

a) Assume he will never convert.

b) Decide if you'll be okay with that.

If you won't be, you have to discuss that with your guy and let him decide if he wants to break up or continue with the knowledge that a long-term commitment is not in the cards. Presumably, he's treating you with good faith. (In the secular meaning of the team.) You need to treat him with good faith also.

Your post is almost entirely about how your decision would affect you. Time to think about how your decision would affect both of you, and act accordingly.
posted by Georgina at 6:58 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Priorities are something you choose PRIOR to the opportunity.

So, If you have made God your priority, and have decided upon that,
then when an opportunity comes (in this case, a non christian opportunity),
then you already know the answer to your dilemma.

Maybe the real question is: "What are your priorities?"

then, knowing them, act accordingly.
posted by theKik at 7:24 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a lot here, but one of the main strands I've picked out is: you've been together for 6 months and you feel like maybe it's just too early to make a big judgment about whether you're compatible enough to get married.

It is absolutely not too early. You could reasonably make this judgment after one date; you can certainly make it after 6 months!

The fact that there are other relationships in the world that are successful even though they're between a Christian and a non-Christian is not very relevant to your situation.

It all depends on how much importance, how much value, how much of a priority the individuals in the specific relationship place on religion. With your relationship, that's for you to decide; no one else can decide it for you.
posted by John Cohen at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

`When I asked him if he thinks he would even believe in the future, he says maybe if God spoke to him and said “I’m real” (which I found interesting).'

I would assume that to be sarcasm on his part, which would suggest he was getting exasperated with the discussion. He doesn't really expect to hear God talking to him.

I think you need to accept that he probably won't convert, and figure out if that's okay with you. He's been exposed to Christianity a lot already, so his decision wasn't an impulsive one. This is probably one of those things you can't change.
posted by Net Prophet at 8:02 PM on July 5, 2011

I am you. My husband was a Catholic for the first 18 years of his life and talked about being "open" to religion again when we were engaged.

It is a difficult road, and statistically, couples with divergent views about religion, especially when one partner is committed strongly to a faith community, divorce at a much higher rate (I've seen figures as much as 75%, honestly). I totally can see why they do, if I'm honest.

St. Alia and randomname have said it well, so I won't repeat what they said.

However, one more thing: Do you believe that all non-Christians go to hell? Can you reconcile that with your husband not being a Christian? It's a lot harder than you realise...seriously.

Please memail me if you want to talk at length about this. I've been there. I know what you're thinking/feeling/trying to rationalise.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:46 PM on July 5, 2011

OP said her beau was brought up Christian.

In my book, for example, I guess I am still residually Catholic, even if I no longer formally celebrate any faith. Ditto my husband, who sees Islam as something interesting in his make-up, but not a defining characteristic.

So the problem here, OP, is that your guy (like us) doesn't practice anymore professionally, but we still respect the upbringing to a point. I mean, this guy doesn't fault you your beliefs, which is BIG.

That crack I made in an earlier comment about The Apocalypse? Yeah. The Abrahamic religions all formally feature their climax as concurrent with, y'know, The End of The World. That's not very attractive to many folks, even if the concepts of Peace, Love, and Understanding absolutely do appeal to us. A lot of people can't reconcile the "God is LOVE, is in everything" concept with an attending belief that no matter what, the world must end.


In short, Good People don't believe they are going to Hell just because they ate pork, or didn't go to church regularly, or whatever.


One of the reasons I (and also my husband, how funny!) both prefer Judiaism is because the rituals are family oriented and kinda fun. Neither one of us is converting or practicing, although I often celebrated Jewish holidays with friends up until I was in my early 30's, long long after I stopped doing anything Catholic-related.

What I am saying is, you can keep the traditions if that is what you will miss most, or make new traditions. Family traditions are important, often they center around religious holidays - you can keep the traditions and except the differences in everyone's level of acceptance when it comes to the religious meaning behind the gathering. Again, the rules don't matter, the intention to be together does. If you have a family and one of you believes more in the religious side of it - so what? It's the togetherness, the tradition, and the shared ritual that counts most.

To reiterate, most of the questions here in AskMe are about crappy partners. You don't have that complaint.

Make it work!
posted by jbenben at 11:36 PM on July 5, 2011

I think people are asking the right question by asking you to get specific about what matters to you about his religion. Is it that he could discuss Bible study with you? Is it that you'll have a date to the Christmas Eve services? Is it that he'll agree that your children should be baptized? Is it that you would believe he was going to heaven? Depending on your answer, this relationship might or might not function well over the long run.

For me what would matter are: having a common set of assumptions about reality in the world (what is true?), having a set of values that lead to making similar value judgments (what does it means to be "good" or "do right?" e.g., is that person the kind of good person we'd want to get to know?), and being able to explore the key questions that matter to your life together.

If I let my liberal humanist agnosticism permeate my response, I want to try to persuade you that what matters are his behaviors, not his beliefs. But I compare it to core parts of my identity, and times when I tried to date people who didn't share those beliefs, and those differences definitely contributed to relationship challenges. If I shared the details, it might sound stupid that I would care about someone believing that. But it's not that I "cared." It is that we had disagreements at times when we wouldn't have had them. Topics I was obsessed with were uninteresting to them. Emotions I felt about certain things were ones they didn't share or might even prefer not to be around. And so on. Things didn't work out. But since things with you ARE functioning well, however, this might be more of a "wait and watch" situation...?
posted by salvia at 12:25 AM on July 6, 2011

Ask yourself if, for him, being Christian might actually mean returning to his Mormon roots and taking you with him, would this be acceptable to you?

Ask yourself, if this is a man who is perfect for you in so many ways, you grow as artists together and come to love and appreciate, challenge and support one another in ways you could not imagine when you had been together only six months, would changing him still be your top priority?

Ask yourself, if you break up with this man now, say no to what seems right and meant to be, and then a few years down the road, after you have matured some more and had some deeply spiritual experience with life, you come to believe that the name with which you label your inner life is not nearly as important as living out of the love in it, will you be sorry you sent him away?

You might change and he might not. He might change and you might not. Probably you both will change over time. No relationship is perfect. Most don't last a really long time. Some do. You don't get any guarantees, not even from your God.

Good luck, dear girl. You are guaranteed to get hurt some by life but you have to take some risk to find the good stuff. I myself think the loving and caring and building together is worth the risk.
posted by Anitanola at 2:40 AM on July 6, 2011

He can't change his religion. All he can do is pretend to do so for your benefit. We could be talking about you becoming atheist to match him, the likelihood of it happening would be exactly the same.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:58 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here is a link to a previous thread regarding the same issue (albeit further on in the relationship, close to marriage), seen from the non-believer's point of view.
posted by coraline at 3:36 AM on July 6, 2011

If it's a big deal TO YOU, then it's a big deal. I would say you're not over thinking it.

Listen to your instincts on this, regardless of where they lead you. It is likely your best bet.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:22 AM on July 6, 2011

Here's an interesting perspective.

He's not Christian, but I notice he's asking questions about what being Christian is like for you. You also say you're not trying to pressure him to convert, which -- speaking as someone who's of a somewhat liberal/eccentric spiritual bent right now -- is refreshing.

It strikes me that there's at least a possibility that you could end up "preaching by example" -- you know, you continue to be open to his questions, and just live your life in a Christian manner without pressuring him, so he can see what it's like and what it gives you -- and he could very well all on his own decide, "huh, maybe I should check this out, because it looks like she's happy" and convert.

And hell, that very thing has happened -- I was raised Catholic, and when I was a kid one of our neighbors started coming to my church, even though she was Methodist or something. My mother and a few other neighbors were Catholic, and the Methodist woman had heard them talking about Catholicism and was curious and started coming to our church to check it out. She spent about five years just attending our masses more and more frequently, but no one ever tried to take her aside and make any kind of "sales pitch," they just let her come and said "glad to see you" and left it at that. And after five years, she formally converted, after feeling things out at her own pace and seeing what Catholicism was bringing to the lives of other people she trusted.

Mind you, this could also NOT happen. But right now it feels like it's a bit soon to be having the whole "what are we going to do if we're two different religions" discussion, especially if things are going so well. Just mentiong this because it is one possible outcome I'm not sure you'd considered, and something about the fact that he was asking you about Christianity felt like it was a possible option. At the very least, it's a sign he supports YOUR being Christian, which is also a good thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2011

I have two points, the first based on my experience with relationships and the second based on my experience with religion.

1) Since this is your first relationship you won't have found this out yet, and maybe you never will because probably my experience isn't universal. But here's what I've learned after a series of medium-length (1-3yr) relationships: the issue that broke up the relationship in the end was always there, right in front of my eyes, from the very beginning. At the beginning of the relationship I'd be thinking,

"Hm, Small Issue X might be a problem...but he seems so great! Why be so pessimistic? It won't matter, I'm sure it'll work out! He'll change! I'll change! We'll grow together!"

By the time the relationship was in its death throes however many months or years later, it was still Issue X but now it was Major Insurmountable Issue X and instead of lightly thinking, "He seems so great," I'd be up late into the night, heartsick, sobbing into my pillow thinking,

"I'm desperately in love with this guy and it's going to break my heart to lose him from my life, but I can NOT deal with Issue X any more!"

Maybe I'm bad at relationships.

So that's my warning to you. Relationships can get off the ground just fine in the face of doubts and concerns. But keeping them afloat is hard, and the deeper in you get the more painful it is to let them go. I think the time to think about this seriously is now -- not six months from now, and certainly not after you've gotten to the point where you're talking about marriage.

2) I have very Christian grandparents and an openly-atheist uncle. Although everyone gets along just fine and there are no day-to-day problems, it hurts my grandparents incredibly deeply to know that their beloved son is not going to be joining them in heaven for eternity. There's no rabid fundamentalism here, this is just a core tenet of their quietly but closely held religious beliefs. And there is nothing my uncle could possibly say to change this, no understanding they could ever come to, because it's completely about them and their personal beliefs.

You talk about this as if it's something you and your partner need to work out together. Like if you discuss it enough you'll reach some compromise or understanding that works for both of you. But I don't think it is. This is not a discussion about "Which is more important to me, this particular awesome guy or God". It's not a discussion about "What kinds of problems will this cause in our daily lives, and how can we work together to surmount them". It's a discussion about "Is it really okay with me if my life partner doesn't believe in God". And it's probably a conversation you mostly need to have with yourself, rather than him, because from an nonbeliever's perspective this isn't a particularly weighty issue (as it sounds like you've noticed, since you say he isn't as worried as you). That's not to say you shouldn't talk to him of course! You need to be open about the soul-searching you're doing. But I think this issue is really a deep and personal one, and not a matter for negotiation between two people with different opinions.

Finally, since it's an issue about your personal beliefs and not an issue about the relationship, taking the relationship further for the purpose of seeing how it goes doesn't make sense. Spending more time dating him is not going to help you decide whether it's ok with you, deep down, that he's not Christian. I don't think it's unreasonable to keep dating him a little longer while you work on figuring out what your values are -- but keep in mind point 1 above! The longer it takes you to get this part of your value system sorted out, the harder and more painful it will be to put the decision into practice if you end up deciding you can't be with him.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:05 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It strikes me that there's at least a possibility that you could end up "preaching by example" -- you know, you continue to be open to his questions, and just live your life in a Christian manner without pressuring him, so he can see what it's like and what it gives you -- and he could very well all on his own decide, "huh, maybe I should check this out, because it looks like she's happy" and convert.

Keep in mind that, if he grew up in a religious environment, he probably knows plenty of people who 'preach by example' by living their lives in a Christian manner. He just isn't interested in being a Christian.

Please give your boyfriend the benefit of the doubt that he's done his due diligence and yet really, actually, knows for realsies that he's not interested in becoming a devout nondenominational Christian. Sure, someday that could change. Or it could be that he's the sort of uninterested not-religious person who would be happy to attend services with you on key holidays, have your kids baptized, etc. Or maybe you guys will just agree to disagree and be able to coexist as an interfaith couple.

But when considering whether your boyfriend's (lack of) religion is a dealbreaker for you, don't start from the assumption that you will eventually bring him around. Start from the assumption that this is who your boyfriend is, and he's not going to change. Still interested in the long haul? NOW you're talking. Not because we're all evil atheists who hate Jesus and don't want your boyfriend to convert, but because accepting the dealbreaker with the assumption that something's going to give is not a realistic approach to this situation.
posted by Sara C. at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2011

Fellow non-denominational Christian here, and I can relate to the way you describe your faith. A lot.

What has proven to be most important in my faith, over time, is authenticity. Knowing why you believe what you believe, and why you do what you do. I've grown sick of mainstream American church culture, of people reading their own agendas into scripture and ignoring what Jesus actually said and did. Having been raised in the church, with a onetime-pastor for a father, I've found that it is really hard to achieve this kind of faith, and that many Christians don't really pursue it. I myself am horrible at it, but I try to improve continually. My point with all this, is that I firmly believe that it is imperative to know what the Bible truly says. Not necessarily what Christians say, but what God says about it.

When it comes to an issue as big as who you choose for your spouse, it is all the more imperative to dig into what God says about it, to be open and honest and fervent in prayer, so that you can be as sure as possible that you know what God wants for you. Ask God continually to show you his opinion, and be intentional about listening for his response. Find scripture that deals with this issue, and dig into it. Read it frequently, in different translations. Do word studies so you can be more familiar with the original intention of the words (Greek or Hebrew) - I've found my Zodhiates Word Study Dictionary is an awesome resource for this. Talk to people whose wisdom and counsel you trust, and ask them pertinent and tough questions so you can find out exactly why they believe what they do about it. If you are honestly pursuing God's input, on a big issue like this, he won't ignore you. He cares a lot about everything in your life, especially who you choose as a spouse or boyfriend.

You say you're a liberal Christian (in part) because you're pondering marrying a non-Christian. This is how followers of Christ should come to decide an issue when what is righteous is not entirely clear. Make every possible effort to figure out what God wants, then do it.

(I'm assuming here that you're of the mind that the Bible accurately reflects who God is and what he wants. I say this because you describe yourself as a liberal Christian.)

This is what I think the relevant scripture says (but you should figure that out for yourself): "whether or not this relationship [Christian married to a non-Christian] will work" is about core values. If you and your boyfriend share the same values, generally speaking, that's what will define the big issues in your marriage/family going forward and your ability to be partners. Communication is key to figuring this out. Talk with him about these issues and see if you would be happy building a life and a family with him as a partner. Obviously, theological beliefs can potentially be a big issue in this arena, and you guys need to figure that out by talking through it, through the implications of your beliefs.

As a side note: you say that your boyfriend would be open to pursuing God if God showed him that he is real. A spouse (theoretically) loves and respects you - if he sees how God is real to you, that would likely be a door to him hearing from God and God becoming real (again?) to him. I'm not advocating that you make it your mission to convert him, just pointing out that possibility.
posted by hootenatty at 10:59 PM on July 6, 2011

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