In marriage, what is more powerful: Love or God?
October 5, 2006 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I love my wife. She is deeply religious. I have become an atheist. Do I tell her? What now?

I have searched the archive and read other posts that approached this, but none seem to fit well enough for my comfort. I apologize for the length of this question, but I want to give as much information as possible, as I am asking it anonymously and don't want to over-simplify a complicated issue.

My wife was raised Baptist and I Catholic, although I spent much of the time agnostic. She was so devout that we had an argument before we were dating wherein she said Hitler would be more likely to get into heaven than Ghandi because Hitler believed in Jesus. (I know there are stories apocryphal and otherwise that disparage Ghandi's character, but for the sake of example this will have to do). And, while wishing no offense to those who share her beliefs, I found it strange and personally irreconcilable that she thought the world was only 6,000 years old and dinosaurs either lived during the time of man or were faked by science or God to test us.

Despite all this I attempted to court her--there were innumerable other good qualities; her only "failing", as I saw it, was her fanaticism, which should have been enough to stop me, but we were 16 and 17 at the time and long-term relationship considerations did not enter into my mind. Not surprisingly, she listed my lack of faith as the reason we couldn't be together.

Fast-forward a few years. I go a little crazy in college and pretty much burn out my jack-ass party-animal capacitor, calming down unrecognizably by the time I graduate. She goes to college and grows in tolerance and independent religious thought by leaps and bounds. We talk during this time, her using her religious background to help talk me through some rough patches and I use my un-abiding cynicism and insensitive arrogance to get her to question some of the perceived illogic of the Bible and organized religion (getting her to move from a literal interpretation of the bible to view it more as a mixture of history, fable and allegory). We have long discussions wherein I ask her why a sect supposedly based on Jesus's infinite love and forgiveness has so many churches teaching hate and intolerance (against homosexuality, other faiths, misogyny, racism, etc.)
The long and the short of it is she became much, much more tolerant, open-minded and free from the inflexible teachings of her church and I gained a small spark of faith in return.

We started dating, and again I fell head over heels for her. As ridiculous and cheesy as it sounds, I found it her proof of God, I saw our love as a kind of religious awakening. She truly is a very good person; generous, patient, forgiving, etc. and I saw her as an example. Our romance allowed me to have faith and my faith allowed us to have romance.

I still love her, but too many things have happened or not happened in the macro-world and our small private microcosm. Old fallacies and illogic have crept back. Every church we have tried together has either expressed intolerance towards others or blatant sexism. And I have continued friendships with my mostly atheist college friends, with whom discussions about the negative impacts of religion have further quashed my belief in invisible, absentee gods. The contradictions, paradoxes, illogic and unanswerable questions ("God works in mysterious ways" or "We cannot comprehend his infinite wisdom" are non-answers to me") solidified my atheism.

Despite all this, I do not feel her belief makes her "gullible", "fooled", "ignorant" or "stupid." I feel it makes her happy and that's all that matters. On the important things that anger me about religion, listed above, she agrees with me.

But I don't know what to do. Me having faith was so important to the start of our relationship. A former boyfriend lied about his faith to date her and she felt justly betrayed. I didn't lie, I did believe, but I don't any longer. I truly want to be honest with her but also want her to remain happy (both of our families are religious and this would add to the strain). As I don't foresee any punishment from a God I don't believe in for lying to keep her happy I'm not sure if her happiness is worth more than my honesty. This is my first question: Is it worth it to admit my lack of faith when it has no impact (save question two) on our life? When there is a chance it may create a wedge between us, even if it doesn't end the relationship?

And my second question, the one that really bothers me:
We plan on having children and I want them to make their own decisions. "Good Christians" raise their children in the church, but I don't like the idea of unquestioning faith, in God or science. I want my children to be able to ask why and be comfortable finding the answers out on their own. I also fear that, while I support my wife's decision in faith, she is an adult. I don't like the idea of what, to me, would be lying to children. I have this idealized, optimistic view of the children going to church with her on Sunday and coming home and asking us both questions about how we believe and interpret the sermon, and deciding when they are mature enough whether or not this is something they want to pursue. I'm not sure if this is realistic, as it seems a little to modern-Rockwellian to be possible.

If anyone has personal anecdotes, experiences, or any opinions or answers I would greatly appreciate it.

Other, possibly applicable information: We are both in our mid-20s, live a few states away from our families (she is very close to hers and I am somewhat estranged from mine), have a group of friends spanning most faiths and levels of belief, have been married two years and have only had 2 "fights" which were completely resolved. The only other points of contention we have are minor deficiencies we both recognize in ourselves and are constantly working to improve without medication (she has attention deficit disorder and is "flighty" and I am bipolar, sometimes resulting in rude or cold behavior).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (70 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a tough one, and I feel for you.

For some atheists, their lack-of-faith isn't a something they think about very much, but it sounds like an important issue for you -- your struggles with religion, whether you're in a period of faith or atheism -- seem like a big part of who you are.

So I don't see how you can keep this from your wife. And I mean that literally: if you try, it will probably come out. She'll figure it out or you'll blurt it out. It's really hard to keep major secrets from someone you live with, someone who really knows you.

And if it DOES come out -- and it's clear to her that you've lied to her for a long time -- she'll be very upset. It's like an affair: no one wants to find out that their spouse is having one, but it's even worse to find out that he's been having one and hiding it from you for ten years.

One of the really hard things about marriage is that sometimes -- hopefully not too often -- you have to have these discussions. You have to tell your partner really scary things, and you can't control how they'll react. It sucks. But you're right, she's an adult. She's your partner. Maybe some people can keep a huge part of themeselves from their partner, but I can't. I don't see how people do it.
posted by grumblebee at 5:57 AM on October 5, 2006


I don't believe marriage will work between a real "true believer" and an atheist. She'll look down on you because you're going to hell. You'll look down on her because she's deluded. Looking down on your spouse is death to marriage.

There's no way you'll come to an agreement regarding child-raising. She'll want full indoctrination. You won't. Are you willing to see your children taught that the Earth is 6,000 years old and scientists are in a big conspiracy to lead everyone astray?
posted by jellicle at 5:59 AM on October 5, 2006


Wow. You must love your wife a lot.

You could lie to her, but I have a feeling that she will get wise sooner or later.

Is it necessary to attend a Baptist church? I have found the Episcopal church much more tolerant to other faiths and issues like homosexuality. I would encourage you to continue your quest for a better church unless you have exhausted the options in your area.

Consider reading the book Velvet Elvis with her. The author labors metaphors quite a bit, but it has some good Christian-friendly arguments about why it is okay to be flexible in your faith and why it is okay to question God.
posted by Alison at 5:59 AM on October 5, 2006


Any good marriage, is based on honesty, and love. Be honest with her now, and hope it you can work it out. My wife and I have different views on our faith. I believe in god and feel that hes everywhere and I don't need to be in church to pray, and she is a every sunday kind of person. I'm really introverted so I rather stay home on sunday mornings and recharge and reflect. We just discussed it and worked it out. She still asks me every sunday if I want to go. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. One thing I can suggest though, as I had given up on faith for a long time and left the church until I found faith again, is to try going to a non-demoninational church. I've found them to the most tolerant and accepting churchs I have been to. We go to one every time I need my cup filled..

On the subject of children. When they are born, they are too young to make a decision. So no matter if your right or wrong in your beliefs, I would view baptism as a "insurance policy" until they can make their own decisions, as in your wifes eyes if something happened to the child before they had the chance to make their own decision, they would not have been forgiven for original sin.
posted by JonnyRotten at 6:06 AM on October 5, 2006


We plan on having children and I want them to make their own decisions. "Good Christians" raise their children in the church, but I don't like the idea of unquestioning faith, in God or science. I want my children to be able to ask why and be comfortable finding the answers out on their own.

It is possible to be raised "in the church", and still develop the capacity for critical thinking. I don't think it's an "either-or" thing.
posted by muddgirl at 6:08 AM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]


Your kids are going to find their own way no matter what they're told. I didn't know that my father was an atheist until a few years after I knew that I was.

Your job as the dad in a house like that is just to be vague about religion and make sure that your children know how to think critically like you do. They'll figure it out for themselves whether they want to be relgious or not.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:16 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't believe marriage will work between a real "true believer" and an atheist. She'll look down on you because you're going to hell. You'll look down on her because she's deluded. Looking down on your spouse is death to marriage.

Wrong.

My wife is deeply religious, and she is raising our son as a believer as well. Me, I'm an atheist. We get along great. No, I don't "look down" on her any more than she does me. Why would we do that?
posted by bradth27 at 6:20 AM on October 5, 2006 [3 favorites]


Are you still searching for a church? You might both enjoy an Episcopalian (Anglican) church. They don't tend to focus on hatred of anybody, and some congregations aren't just tolerant of difference but embrace it. For example, there's a debate going on right now about whether or not gay ministers should be permitted, and many congregations are just fine with it, including mine. They also have lots of pomp and ceremony that you'll find familiar as a lapsed Catholic. They also believe that science and religion are fundamentally compatible, and that not every word of the Bible is literally true.

I started out as an agnostic, and my husband as a "non-denominational" (but effectively Protestant) Christian, and we've ended up meeting in the middle with the Episcopalians, because they fulfill his needs as a Christian, and they don't offend me or demand anything from me. I am currently struggling with my beliefs. Like you, I find the concept of a loving, omnipotent God incompatible with the realities of our world - tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes and so on (not so much wars and such, because I see that as a product of our free will, i.e. we do it to ourselves). So it's a problem. But I am not sure it's an insurmountable one. I may end up believing in a very hands-off sort of God. I don't know. It's something I'm giving a lot of thought to, and am of two minds about.

If you don't have an issue with your children being raised as Christians (and it sounds like you don't) then I think your challenge is to find a specific church/congregation which welcomes rationality and thinking deeply about these things, and questions, and so on. Not all Christian churches impose their views. You needn't send your children someplace where they'll be taught to follow blindly.

As to whether or not you should tell your wife, I don't know. But here are some things to think about: will she still feel betrayed if she understands that you were sincere at the time? are you willing to share her faith-based activities if not her faith itself? will you find hiding this aspect of your thinking intolerable, or just mildly annoying, or no big deal at all? are there aspects of her faith that you can still participate in? will she feel compelled to try to save you, and how will you react to that?
posted by joannemerriam at 6:23 AM on October 5, 2006


There was an article in the Vancouver Sun about interfaith marriage being on the rise in Canada and touches on the issues.

As for me, I couldn't do it. I dated a very mildly religious woman a few years ago who insisted that her kids would be sent to church on Sundays, and it was one of the reasons we broke up.
posted by solid-one-love at 6:23 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I am an atheist who comes from a Fundamentalist Baptist background. The only way for me to have a somewhat normal relationship with my (very devout) family is for all of us to avoid the subject of religion altogether. This is mildly difficult to do, even though we live in different countries and don't talk all that often.

Religion is pervasive, and colors aspects of life that you may not even consider. For example, political discussions can be influenced by the belief held by most Christians that God is in total control of the world and therefore nothing is going to happen on earth that is not prophesied in the Bible. (That's why many Fundies don't care about environmental or nuclear proliferation issues).

If you believe strongly that there is no God, then you will need to keep this from your wife for many reasons, but especially because she believes in the reality of Hell. That it is a real place where the souls of the Unsaved spend eternity in torment. A place where the father of her future children is certainly going to spend innumerable eons wailing in torment as punishment for his unbelief. If she loves you, your nonbelief will devastate her. (I learned this from being a bit too honest with Mom once).

I suggested keeping it from your wife, but I also doubt that anyone's marriage could survive a lie of this magnitude, so I am not hopeful for your future as a couple. You have deepest sympathies.
posted by Optamystic at 6:28 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I really feel for you anon. This is a terrible situation you find yourself in. You seem to have compromised some core philosophical principles for love and now that you're settling in to the routine of your marriage, you're finding that those principles can't be set aside so easily.

If it were merely a problem of differing perspectives, I wouldn't worry so much. But (as you note) the issue of raising children makes this a more than trivial concern.

On the bright side, however, you're both young enough to work these problems out, find a resolution or a graceful exit, and get on with your lives. If you can achieve some sort of equilibrium together, I am certain that your children will grow up stronger for having parents of such integrity who have struggled through this.

Now to your core problem: you present the situation in extremely stark terms. She believes, you don't, and something has to give. Is it possible to approach the situation dialogically and with openness? Can you try to understand the basis of her faith even as you describe to her the core of your unbelief? As Pascal said: "The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not." Your love for this woman is not accidental. If you treat her with respect and engage her in an open dialogue, it may lead the two of you to a much more mature perspective on issues of religious faith, one which is considerably more nuanced than the all-or-nothing position you describe in your question.

Some ideas: can you find books to read together, things that are important to you or to her, and discuss them? This might take the pressure off the two of you as people and help you to engage with the ideas which undergird your points of view. It probably wouldn't be all that productive to have you force some Richard Dawkins down her throat, only to gag on James Dobson. But between those extremes lie a wealth of possibilities. Hans K√ľng, Martin Buber, C.S. Lewis, Joseph Soloveitchik, Jim Wallis, Kathleen Norris, Anne Carson or Reinhold Niebuhr...any of these might get you started on a productive conversation.

Alternatively, can you find a local college with an extension program and take a course on the philosophy of religion together? Having access to the sophisticated language and concepts which have been used to frame questions of belief and unbelief might help elevate your conversation, taking it out of the realm of the strictly personal.

Also, can you read the bible together? There are plenty of resources from a variety of intellectual perspectives that could help you engage with the text which is (I assume) at the core of her faith. You could bring something from a secular, historical-critical perspective while she could bring something from her particular tradition. Even the act of reading and discussing the text together could help you to better frame the issues which separate you. Start with the Song of Songs, maybe. It's a beautiful text, rich with theological and aesthetic depth, and one which believers for centuries have used to draw parallels between human love and the soul's yearning after God. It will probably take you places that a debate over the six day creation in Genesis won't.

Finally, the issue of an appropriate congregation is a real and vexing one. Probably something not to be tackled until you've had time to talk for some time. There are a wide range of denominations and traditions to choose from, however. Liberal protestantism, American-style catholicism or reform Judaism embrace a variety of attitudes toward belief, from piety to skepticism. There is no reason you should have to submit yourself to an intolerant congregation that you find alienating, just as there is no reason she should have to give up worshipping simply to be with you.

I hope you both approach this impasse with respect, love and intellectual courage. In time, once you've got some of the groundwork laid out, you may even find a clergymember in one of the abovementioned denominations who can act as a sort of mentor, helping to guide your conversation in productive directions. But you've got a lot of work to do before you get there.

I wish you lots of luck and plenty of strength.
posted by felix betachat at 6:29 AM on October 5, 2006 [3 favorites]


Every church we have tried together has either expressed intolerance towards others or blatant sexism.

The key would seem to be, above all else, to find a church you can embrace for yourself and your future children. Perhaps you can be partially honest with your wife about that -- don't talk about your lack of belief yet, but rather about the beliefs you do have: equality, respect, tolerance, and the need to find a congregation that embraces those values. The Unitarians come to mind...
posted by footnote at 6:34 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


The community at Ship of Fools is a good place to repost this question. It's a Christian site where right and left Christians come together and the level of debate is extremely intelligent. They are especially good at helping to find a church.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:36 AM on October 5, 2006


Seconding the Unitarian Universalists -- lots of congregations even have atheists who come because they like the ceremony.
posted by sugarfish at 6:44 AM on October 5, 2006


I think that if you are honest with her in a non-threatening way (ie "I'm just not sure I believe anymore" versus "I just can't in good reason believe this junk anymore") she will accept it. She married you, and according to her Christian vows, athiesm is not a valid reason for divorce. If she takes her vows seriously, you should be able to work this out.

Chances are that she won't have to worry for your soul anyway, due to the "once a Christian always a Christian" doctrine that is prevelant in most Protestant congregations. In her eyes, you once believed, and loss of faith doesn't change your "saved" status.

I think you and she would also be wise to recognize that there is a certain amount of fluidity to faith, where people believe things strongly, lose that belief, gain it back, change it a little, etc. This is true in all kinds of belief (both religious and otherwise), and it will be true with yours and hers. To make any rash decisions over the state of your and her belief at this tiny point in time would be impulsive I think.

About the kids. . . well I think you should be honest with them too. But don't press them or shame them for believing what your wife believes if that happens (especially when they are young).

Regardless of "indoctrination," (and honestly, find a different church if you're really coming up against this), many churches have positive characteristics of community and support and social outreach. All of these things I think you can say are unwaveringly "good." So I think you should and could find a church that you can attend with them and feel good about aspects of it.

But you can also say, "Some people believe in God and that he created the world, some really good people like mommy believe that and it makes them happy. Some good people don't, like daddy. And it's important that we can all treat each other well even though we believe different things." You and your wife have the opportunity to demonstrate the kind of love and tolerance you want to see in this world. . .

Also, you can still stress the need for critical thought. And you might be wise to actually read through the source material of Christianity and find what it actually says and what it doesn't. The world being created 6000 years ago and dinosaurs being a lie is a view that is maybe held by 2% of Christians. You can easily just leave those things - and similarly ill-informed, irrational aspects of faith - behind when raising your kids.

And also, it's not automatic that your kids will grow up to have "unquestioning faith" just because they were exposed to religious people when they were young. Did you?
posted by visual mechanic at 6:46 AM on October 5, 2006


As I don't foresee any punishment from a God I don't believe in for lying to keep her happy...

Wow, a belief in God is the only reason you wouldn't lie to your spouse? You're really out to give Atheists a bad name...

Assuming that the above was a not-very-well-thought-out aside: the most powerful thing in marriage is neither Love nor God -- it's Truth.

She needs to know that you're still seeking. For a while you leaned towards believing in the Christian god, and now you're leaning away from it. Even Atheists have to deal with spiritual growth, and for a person as obviously interested in the topic as you are it's going to be a lifelong journey.

The contradictions, paradoxes, illogic and unanswerable questions ("God works in mysterious ways" or "We cannot comprehend his infinite wisdom" are non-answers to me) solidified my atheism.

As I've gotten older, I've found that Christians who actually take these statements to heart are the best and most tolerable kind. Essentially what they're saying is "Down deep, we haven't got a clue how the universe works or why it might work that way." That pretty much exactly matches my feelings on the matter, although I don't feel the need to surround the core thought with a bunch of mythology.

In any case, you're going to need to talk to your wife about what you are feeling and why. I would urge you to back off of the idea that you've completed your spiritual journey in your mid-twenties, but you should tell her where you're at right now.
posted by tkolar at 6:47 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't believe marriage will work between a real "true believer" and an atheist. She'll look down on you because you're going to hell. You'll look down on her because she's deluded. Looking down on your spouse is death to marriage.

Another vote for "wrong!" Many couples survive serious differences of all kinds. Marriages survive when one partner is a democrat and the other is a republican; marriages survive when one partner is an introvert and the other is an extrovert. Particularly when you get older, these big cosmic philosophical differences seem less important than the "small" things -- the fact that you both like the same Mexican restaurant; the fact that you have years of shared history; etc.

Some marriages don't survive differences. It all depends how much BOTH parties are committed to the "to death do us part" part -- and how willing both are to respect each other's individuality.
posted by grumblebee at 6:47 AM on October 5, 2006


Atheist here, married to a, well, non-observing Anglican I guess is the best description. One 3 year old child.

You have to talk to her, period, and before you have any kids. Lying or covering up your beliefs will screw up a lot of things, far more than talking it out now. Put it this way - If this is a big enough issue to cause a breakup if revealed now, how bad will it be when it's revealed several years and a couple kids down the road?

Seriously, you need to talk this out with her soon. Work out some of the questions yourself (how does this impact her? how does it impact your extended families? what about holidays? how will the kids be raised? etc.), but expect many, many more you haven't considered. It's a talk that has to happen, so it's better to happen now.

Can an atheist and a deeply religious person be happy together? Yes. But it's up to the two of you to decide what's more important, the marriage or your beliefs.

Personally, I have no problem with my wife taking our son to church most weeks, and to Sunday School. My wife has no problem with me teaching my son to think critically about things. I never went to either as a child, but I have friends who did. Many of them are now atheists, some are not. Each of us makes our own decisions on our beliefs.

If she's the type that demands belief in others, well, it's not going to work out so it's better to know that now.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:52 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


Talk to her.

You say she's intelligent, open minded and tolerant. I assume you were open with her during all the other periods of faith and non-faith and sorta-faith you've described. She's still the same friend she ever was. Talk to her.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:55 AM on October 5, 2006


In my experience, most relationship conflicts are centered around FEELINGS: wounded egos, fears of rejection or lonlinese, etc. Yet (probably because most of us hate revealing ourselves and looking vulnerable), we tend to ignore the feelings and argue the "facts."

If you DO discuss this with your wife, and the discussion turns into a debate about whether or not God exists or the evils of organized religion, then neither of you are dealing with the really important issues (important issues for the MARRIAGE -- the other issues ARE important, but not until you deel with the feelings).

You've said that you're scared about what honesty will do to your marriage and your wife's happiness. SAY that. Tell your wife that you're really scared and unhappy.

I'm an atheist and my best friend is a Christian. But for years, he was also an atheist. We were "brothers in dis-belief." When he became religious, I was really upset, and we spent a couple of weeks arguing logic. But the truth was, I wasn't concerned about the logic. I was lonely. I felt like I had lost a friend, because I had lost something that the two of us had always shared together.

As soon as I started talking to him honestly about my feelings, things got better, and we're totally cool with each other today. In fact, I'm now thrilled that he's a Christian. The fact that our friendship is still the same -- but that he's different from me in this way -- has turned out to be really interesting. We have an open dialogue about faith/atheism, both respect each other, and both learn from each other.

So perhaps you and your wife can -- one day -- discuss philisophical issues. I hope that you can. But you can't LEAD with that. You need to deal with the feelings FIRST.
posted by grumblebee at 6:57 AM on October 5, 2006 [7 favorites]


Why worry about God, when you have Jesus you can, at the very least, respect? You pointed out there were things you really appreciate from the teachings of Christ.

It often seems to me that we screw religion all up by worrying about unknowable details concerning this 'God' thing. Jesus made this vastly more simple. Besides, the "invisible sky-being" is in you, not in the sky. Find it there and take peace in that (it won't be difficult for you).

Practice Christianity in the way you live, and the way you treat other people. No belief in anything mysterious is required. Teach your kids that, and you'll raise good people, free of the nonsense preached by institutionalized religion. The kind of people of whom Jesus would approve.
posted by Goofyy at 7:02 AM on October 5, 2006


I think grumblebee's right: the basic issue here is your marriage and your wife's feelings, not the existence of God (which is something that really can't be discussed sensibly, and people who are sure they know the answer are deluding themselves). Since she knows you used to be an atheist and is probably aware that your getting religion had something to do with her, it shouldn't be a huge surprise to her that you've reverted to your natural state (so to speak), though it will doubtless be a disappointment. Tell her, let her know that you don't want it to wreck your marriage, and hopefully she'll come to terms with it and you can continue being happy together.

And don't worry about the kids. My mother believed, my father didn't, we kids went to church and Sunday school and eventually stopped believing and it was all good—I'm glad I got exposed to the music and the tradition, and I can understand where believers are coming from. You sound like you'll make a fine parent; trust the kids to come to their own conclusions.
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on October 5, 2006


Keep in mind that "faith" means trusting in something we can't see or verify. It's believing something that is completely unknown. So every person of faith is out there on a tightrope too. But faith can bring a lot of hope and love and light to life. Some Christian churches can deal with--and even encourage--honest expressions of doubt or disbelief. My guess is that a staunch Baptist might be uncomfortable in the Unitarian atmosphere, and might also find Episcopal/Anglican services very formal.

I've found great acceptance in some congregations of The United Church of Christ. I'm not proselyting, but they have a great website at www.ucc.org. Each congregation is different, but those who are "Open and Affirming" tend to be most welcoming. I've been attending a UCC church for several months, and it feels like home. There are many "former Catholics" and "former this-and-thats" in the pews. There's no pressure to believe a prescribed way or even to join the church. My suggestion is to ask friends about a pastor who is open-minded and who might give some wise counsel to you. Best wishes.
posted by rdauphin at 7:15 AM on October 5, 2006


To make any rash decisions over the state of your and her belief at this tiny point in time would be impulsive I think.

Especially given that the most recent turning point in your faith was backyard brews with the boys, I think characterizing yourself as "searching" or "seeking" is not only canny, it's honest, and honesty is as important as everyone has said.

It's important, I think, to find a church that you can attend with her as often as she goes, even if you don't "participate." You need to hear what she's hearing so that you can respond and engage her about it. It's one thing for couples to have separate hobbies, but this isn't a dimension in which you want to grow apart, unless she's attending a church that's just anathema to you.
posted by blueshammer at 7:17 AM on October 5, 2006


Are you sure you're an atheist? Sounds more like an anti-theist, rather than simply having "no" religion. But anyway.

I am a Christian, and I am pretty sure she already knows you're not one. It's really really easy to tell.

However, I'd like to address few of your concerns about Christians and the bible in general -- not all of us have those same perceptions that your wife does/did.

The bible is fairly clear that a Christian is simply a person who has asked God to replace his/her criminal record of disobedience (deserving death) of God's rules, with Christ's record of perfect obedience (deserving life) of the same rules. That is the total committment. A Christian is simply a person who has asked this to be made so, trusts it to be made so, and nothing else. Paul really hounds on a church for even suggesting that there is a "Jesus AND ___" requirement. The abundance of churches is the resuly of branches of the same core requirement who put some other AND thing on the end, and yet still claim the same bible as their literature, without even reading all of it in the first place. It's a high-jacking of a religion to suit one's own needs without determining what the scripture actually says, and it's a very widespread thing. This isn't cause to reject Christ -- it is cause to reject the popular uneducated blatherings. You don't have to be a church-member to be a Christian, and not all Christians participate in the same lifestyle choices either. It's too drastic to categorize all Christians as having one particular belief except the core requirement above.

You've indicated evidence that both you and your wife have changed:

Me having faith was so important to the start of our relationship. A former boyfriend lied about his faith to date her and she felt justly betrayed. I didn't lie, I did believe, but I don't any longer.

It is obvious that you are both no longer the same people you were at the beginning. What mattered a lot to her then may not matter as much now, simply by what you've said about her relaxing the zealotry a bit. I am fairly confident she already knows your intense doubts (but perhaps has not let on, considering you're still worried about it).

I found it strange and personally irreconcilable that she thought the world was only 6,000 years old and dinosaurs either lived during the time of man or were faked by science or God to test us.

99% of those are inferred assumptions that aren't well thought out, that aren't directly stated. In other words, it's an unciteable traditional belief, claimed to be stated by the bible when the bible does absolutely no such thing. This is a flaw of the person who believes it without checking, not a flaw of the scripture that never claimed it in the first place.

Old fallacies and illogic have crept back. Every church we have tried together has either expressed intolerance towards others or blatant sexism.

I think it is crucial to emphasize that this is a fault of the people within it to fail to reconcile their self-preaching with the information in scripture that is quite obviously opposite of these motives, rather than to cast aside the lot as a whole.

I would be more that elated to discuss and address any suspected contradiction, examine openly any logic fallacy in fairness without using "just because" type explanations, and confront any widely-held belief by using scripture itself to disprove the very idea. There is a bunch of beliefs floating around that are socially known to be held by Christians in general, but found nowhere in scripture -- thus being a flaw of each person's own responsibility to research claims by reporting the bible as saying so, not a flaw of the scripture that never said that in the first place. Please (anyone, even) email me at walkwithx [dot] gmail [at] com (swap dot & at) for such discussion (!).

I, myself, as a Christian am fervently, vehemently against blind faith and zealotry without knowing what you're even talking about, and claiming obviously false concepts based on screw-loose interpretations and profoundly insipid logic. I want it to be very clear that you don't have to do commit these rationale atrocities in order to be a Christian. Those implausible assumptions are the fault of the individual's own unwillingness to actually figure it out, to think for oneself, and to avoid intellectual suicide.

We plan on having children and I want them to make their own decisions. "Good Christians" raise their children in the church, but I don't like the idea of unquestioning faith, in God or science.

There is no such thing as a "Good Christian," nor is there any particular common trait among Christians that is held by all except the core requirement alone. I urgently assert that requiring your kids to think for themselves is the best policy.

I agree with bradth27 regarding:

"I don't believe marriage will work between a real "true believer" and an atheist.

Wrong."


It depends on what you're focused on. It's like saying a Ford lover can't get along with a Chevrolet lover. The marriage isn't based on cars, it's based on personal devotion to each other, love, trust, etc. Just buy two seperate cars and get over it. A marriage can absolutely work between a Christian and non, because there's not really that much difference between the two except one simply possesses a particular differing opinion than the other's.
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:24 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I don't know if you should tell your wife. That's a decision you'll have to come to alone, and I don't know that you'll find the answer anywhere but yourself. I do, however, think that you should tell her before the two of you make the decision to have children.

As for my $0.02, I don't think this will be a deal breaker for the two of you, simply because you stated that the two of you agree on the main points that irk you about religion. If she were fanatical to the point where you were looking at a divorce over your differences in faith, I doubt you would have gotten this far to begin with. At the very least, keep your faith in her - if she's become as open minded as you say, perhaps she'd be willing to attend a Unitarian church with you. She would get her churchiness in, and you'd be able to spend that time with her without all the fire, brimstone, and sexism that bothers the both of you.

On how to raise children, my parents had the same dilemma - my mother is Jewish (now a remarried Catholic) and my father is Lutheran. Their answer was to not do anything until I was 11 or so, and then they told me about religion in general, and basically to pick a belief for myself.

I had decided on atheism before then, but I still respect them to this day for making the decision not to be selfish and stick me into a cookie cutter religion of their own. It also helped them avoid the "'my-religion!' 'no-my-religion!'" debate, or the "Mommy's going to hell because she doesn't like Jesus" kind of bull some people would use.

Best of luck to the both of you.
posted by sephira at 7:30 AM on October 5, 2006


First off, this is a fairly familiar pattern, at least to me. My grandfathers had, at most, agnostic humanist beliefs, and my grandmothers were both religious (one devout Catholic, one vaguely Southern Baptist). My paternal grandfather looked forward to when gramma'd take the kids to church, since it meant he was alone in the house on a Sunday. and could watch sports.
Neither of them, to my knowledge, ever discussed religion in front of their partners. My paternal grandfather would mutter and roll his eyes, but he saw that the church was important to my gramma, and that was good enough, even if he thought it was horseshit. My maternal grandfather made no bones about his lack of faith, but it still just wasn't discussed.
So, I suppose the "traditional" answer is just to ignore it and never make it explicit that you're an atheist.
My brother, whose wife is a devout Catholic, is again at most agnostic humanist (if he's wavered toward faith, he's never told me), also treats the whole thing with passive aggression, and yet the relationship seems to hold. I suppose one of the nice parts of the Christian tradition regarding the male non-believer is that the sexism of many Christian doctrines make the issue less contestable.

But, frankly, you seem to have a more open and healthy relationship with your wife. I do echo the thought above about finding a church you can agree on. I have a pal who's becoming an Episcopalian pastor, and I've attended services at his church without a religious bone in my body, and enjoyed them. Their belief in active campaigning on Earth for the poorest and weakest makes them appealing to me. And especially in a college community, the theology is pretty abstract. As you move toward a church, talk to your wife about your moving away from faith and toward a secular view of the world. You sound like you can communicate clearly enough to make the "It's not you, it's me" speech on it. As for kids, well, I would echo the comment above that critical thinking isn't exclusive to atheists. And a clear statement to kids about what you believe should be good enough to raise kids who don't accept dogma unquestioningly.
posted by klangklangston at 7:34 AM on October 5, 2006


In regard to "indoctrination:"

I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church. We baptize infants and then have confirmation classes (membership classes) for kids who are around 7th grade. I have an orientation session with the kids and parents where I say each and every time the following:

"Choosing to join the church is the first adult decision our kids make. During this time together, I will teach them the basics of Christianity and base the class largely on their honest questions. We will wrestle with those questions in a safe and loving and open environment. But let me be clear: you can tell them that as long as they live in your house they will come to church, but as far as their joining the church, that is their decision, and I expect you to respect it."

Also,

It sounds like you have a great relationship, formed heavily by very honest dialogue you had about faith and doubt when you were younger. You are only more in love now than when you began. If you were brought together, at least in part by honest conversation, how could more of it drive you apart?
posted by 4ster at 7:37 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


I am in such a marriage, my wife has faith and I have none, and we are very happy. But I don't think it would work for everyone.

First of all, my wife is a devout Episcopalian. They are OK with drinking and dancing and Darwin and accepting of pretty much everybody who walks in the door. I tease her that the only mortal sin in her church is mixing plaids and stripes. Her priests sermons are lessons in Biblical history and Christian culture, with a plea to love thy neighbor tacked on the end. Good people.

Second, I have had to drop my noxious atheist habits of mocking faith. No making fun of Jesus, or references to the "imaginary sky god" (how I miss using that phrase!) And rather than find another "outlet" for being a smarmy jerk about religion, I have suppressed and rooted out a part of myself that was never very nice. I am a better person for this. (Bonus: Episcopalians love to make fun of fundamentalists, so we get to do that together).

As to our kid--I nag her to get him to Sunday school on time. So much of western history and culture is shot through with Biblical references and language, I figure it is good for him. At the same time, I am raising him to be super skeptical (our first game we played together: Pull My Finger). I am not worried about him.

Now, if my wife believed the earth was 6000 years old, or that gays are the devil, I don't think we could make it work.

You say you have been shopping for churches, have you tried the Episcopal church? Or another liberal domination? It might be your best hope. Good luck buddy.

(And hold off on the having kids thing until you have this worked out.)
posted by LarryC at 7:45 AM on October 5, 2006 [4 favorites]


Not for the first time, Klangklangston beat me to the right answer.
posted by LarryC at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2006


Could you bring it up by telling her you're going through a period of doubt? even mother theresa had moments of doubt - that's part of religion for a lot of people. It also does not seem that uncommon for there to be an atheist parent who shrugs & tolerates ritual - my cousin and his wife attend an episcopal church, because the wife wanted to give the kids some kind of religious structure, but they make use of the "some people believe x, some people believe y" set up a lot, and both of them are not really sure what they believe.

In fact, I visited them last weekend and was struck by how everyone had their own take on the purpose of the church. My cousin is basically atheist but thinks the community service & social exchange makes it almost worthwhile (he isn't sure and doesn't like having to hear jesus stuff etc); his wife thinks there must be some kind of "energy" or "spiritual unity" in the world, but doesn't really think there's a personal god; his sister interprets god in a kind of pagan way, a divine male and female force or something; and then there was me, a philosophy student, with my abstract ontological interpretation of what god is supposed to stand for (which I don't necessarily believe is the case - the universe may be absurd rather than necessary). I guess the point is, if you recognize how complicated the issue is, maybe there's room for tolerance?

If you want to reinterpret god for yourself in a way that will be more atheistic/metaphysical, in addition to some of the suggestions above, I'd add Emerson, maybe Kierkegaard or James.

Hiding something which is causing existential angst is not gonna work though :). Like grumblebee said, honesty is key.
posted by mdn at 7:51 AM on October 5, 2006


One note about worrying about kids: look at your wife. You have the luxury of seeing what she was like while she was a teenager and growing up. She went away to college and became more open minded, more critical, more tolerant - it sounds like she became similar to the person you want your children to be. It appears (and I'm making some assumptions) that she was in an environment that preached one idea, one way of thought and she grew up in a place where questions and understanding were put on the back burner. She was taught to be a robot. But, she went away to college, away from the environment that she grew up in and she changed into something else; someone more open and tolerant. Look at your wife's life to find inspiration on what can happen with your kids.

Talk to your wife about your faith situation, let her know what you're thinking. You're worried that you're going to lose her but if you lie to her and are not honest, you are going to push her away and harm your relationship. All faith is fluid and it sounds like your wife would understand that. Her understanding of her faith has changed over time; if she's tolerant and as open minded as you claim, she's going to recongize that.

And shop around for a church! not all churches are the same nor all denominations. I've been to maybe 15 churches in the last 10 months alone and finally (through my girlfriend) found a church I actually enjoy going to (all the other churches I found to be negative for many of the reasons you said above).
posted by Stynxno at 7:56 AM on October 5, 2006


The only other points of contention we have are minor deficiencies we both recognize in ourselves and are constantly working to improve without medication (she has attention deficit disorder and is "flighty" and I am bipolar, sometimes resulting in rude or cold behavior).

By the way, I thought it was interesting that you chose to comment on these issues and the fact that you are trying to improve them "without medication".

Both of these disorders have been studied in depth by rational, scientific minds. Medications have been formulated, massive trials have been run yielding statistically significant results. A hardcore rational Atheist should have no problem accepting medication as one of the tools that is useful in treating these conditions.

And yet I'm guessing that for you, as for many people, using medication to affect your mental state doesn't "feel" right. There's an offense against nature somewhere in there, even if you can't put your finger on it.

Anyways, just some food for thought in case you get to feeling that you live in a formless, indifferent universe with no objective "right" or "wrong" in it. The universe may very well be that way, but humans are seldom able to match its indifference.
posted by tkolar at 8:01 AM on October 5, 2006


My wife is agnostic, while I am, and have been since childhood, completely atheist. Despite how close we are in belief, we still argue about how we would raise children, how we would talk to them about death, etc.

This wide a chasm would, and has in the past, be a dealbreaker for me.

Aside: LarryC, I really admire your patience.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:19 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of talk about the religious aspect of the conflict and almost all of it is just brilliant - sometimes I'm astonished at my good fortune to have found Metafilter and amazed at the caliber of the people who post here. So I'll acknowledge my betters and not comment on that bit, other than to say this: I've ranged from jackass atheist to apathetic agnostic in the course of my life and have thought of myself as Buddhist for the better part of a decade now because the philosophy and practice 'speaks' to me. A big part of that evolution - just the ability to even claim to identify with anything approaching an organized belief - has had to do with an ever-increasing appreciation for the value of community and the power of myth to inform our lives. Yes, I [heart] Joseph Campbell, so sue me.

You seem like you already have an appreciation for those things at a younger age than I managed them. Kudos. Nurture it, and when you wrestle with churches that advance a message that bothers you - and I agree with you 100% on intolerance and sexism - consider what other imperfect organizations you are able to happily tolerate in your life and if you're holding the church to a reasonable standard. Which perhaps you are - they're a teaching institution and if they strongly advance something you find repugnant then maybe it doesn't matter if they overall do more good than harm. It's not an easy question to answer, but I find I've mellowed somewhat on imperfection with age and you've already surpassed me at that age - perhaps you'll evolve in a way to make this easier as well. Good luck.

I swear that started out brief...

What I really wanted to say is that no matter what the outcome, you need to be up front with your wife about this. While it may be difficult, it's unfair to hide something that significant from her. You're in a partnership and you simply cannot have a successful one if you're hiding something that eats at you. It's certainly possible for one person to demand something or to know something that's not reasonable, but to respond to that with deception compounds the problem.

Both you and she deserve to be able to interact with each other with honesty. Perhaps that means a difficult conversation and an agreement to avoid the issue, like Optamystic's relationship with his family. I think that's suboptimal, but compared to one of you being dishonest with the other? That's a cancer, and I cannot think of a single circumstance where responding to a question with what someone wants to hear fosters more real, long term closeness than saying you're not comfortable talking about it.

I feel like I have really fucked up this answer and I am sure I can do better, but apparently not today. So I'll just state that I think no matter how unpleasant discussing this honestly might be, it'll be better as a whole than trying to deny who you are.
posted by phearlez at 8:23 AM on October 5, 2006


1. Lying very rarely works out.
2. People who believe in God have accepted terminal limits to critical thinking. If her critical-cognitive can be turned against her irrational (example: can your god help you to forgive me for not believing in your wack job god?) then your relationship can survive the (required) honesty.
3. I think you have to define yourself. John Shelby Spong has written some good stuff on non-theistic Christianity. You need to have a coherent view on the value of religious tradition.
4. Also, bible-worshipers don't really understand the bible that well. Seminary makes more atheists than life experience does. Know Thyself... and understand why you have chosen the critical-cognitive over the irrational. If you don't know who you are, you can't explain it to her.
posted by ewkpates at 8:36 AM on October 5, 2006


Just tell her, if she loves you this will all be ok.
posted by stilgar at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2006


Do you love your wife or ego more? That's the only question. If you've only had two fights, you're probably already familiar with the concept of compromise. Sometimes love means withholding the truth and it's always built on lies, stories, pictures and other untruths. Anyone who tells you otherwise is deluded.

Anyways, if your _really_ an atheist, you'd realize how pointless professed belief is. So just say, "I'm not omniscient. I don't know wether god exists or not," like the rest of us.
posted by Clock Attention Issues at 8:51 AM on October 5, 2006


We atheists have a problem (assuming we want to relate to theists). When we say we're atheists, most of us simply mean that we don't believe in God. But theists may THINK we mean that we stubbornly refuse to entertain the possibility that God MIGHT exist. In other words, we've made a decision and we're not budging from it, and even if God tapped us on the shoulder we'd refuse to acknowledge Him.

This may, in fact, be true for some atheists. But leaving atheism aside for a second, it's pretty much impossible to make any relationship work if you're not willing to listen to the other party with an open mind.

Let me be really clear that I'm not suggesting you should be agnostic (even if I was, how would you make yourself be so?). I'm a "devout" atheist. I KNOW that God doesn't exist. I'm sure of it. Still, my belief isn't non-falsifiable. If God DID tap me on the shoulder, I would admit that I was wrong. It will be hard to convince me that God exists, because I feel sure in my bones that He doesn't, but I'm still open to discussing it and I recognize that I am sometimes wrong -- even about things I'm sure of.

If your response to this is, "Yeah, well, I don't see the theists having an open mind. They're not willing to entertain MY view," you'll need to get over this if you're going to have successful relationships. Maybe it's true, but see if you can out-Christian the Christians. See if you can be more open and giving and receptive than they are.

Also, there's an unfortunate linkage in our (US) culture between atheism and intelligence. I don't for a second think atheists are smarter then theists (as I mentioned, my best friend is a Christian, and he's way smarter than me). But that perception exists.

It's really irritating to me, but sometimes when I say I'm an atheist, I send a meta-message (without trying to) of, "and that means I'm smart and you're dumb." And I make it worse if I claim I'm an atheist due to logic. That's like saying, "and clearly you're a theist because you're too dumb to understand the logic."

I HATE the fact that I "send" this message without trying or wanting to, but that doesn't change the fact that I do. And if I want relationships with theists, I may have to deal with this. I may have to make it really really clear that I'm not looking down on them.

Finally, since faith is vitally important to many theists, they need to make sure that their faith isn't shattered. I'd bet there are zero theists who never have a moment of doubt. And those moments of doubt are painful and scary to them. (I'm basing this on discussions I've had with some wonderful, honest theists.) They may worry that debating with an atheist might shake their faith. So try to be simpathetic to that.
posted by grumblebee at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


sugarfish writes "Seconding the Unitarian Universalists -- lots of congregations even have atheists who come because they like the ceremony."


Depends on the particular congregation. I tried this years ago at a Universalist-leaning UU church, and they got all Jesus-y on me the first (and only) time I showed up. Very friendly people, but with am element of hard sell and definitely Christian.
posted by orthogonality at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2006


Both of these disorders have been studied in depth by rational, scientific minds. Medications have been formulated, massive trials have been run yielding statistically significant results. A hardcore rational Atheist should have no problem accepting medication as one of the tools that is useful in treating these conditions.

just wanted to note, this is really misleading. Those disorders are not even well defined (they're defined by grouping symptoms, not by causes, or the causes are correlative rather than clearly initiative). The meds to treat them often do not do better than placebos but the pharma companies can run trials until they get statistically significant enough results to be approved. But statistically significant is still minimal, and it is worth remembering that these drugs can have long terms side effects, some of which we do not even know about yet. So a rational atheist could easily choose to pursue other avenues of treatment without it being due to vague mystical feelings; the truth is science is still young, and there is a lot of shit we haven't got much of a clue about.

posted by mdn at 8:55 AM on October 5, 2006


Pedantic nitpick alert: that Indian fellow's name is spelled Gandhi.

And I too don't think this relationship will work in the long run, for reasons others have noted; I especially don't see how you could have children with her. One big reason for my childlessness-by-choice is the awesome difficulty of meeting a woman I'm attracted to and could like (as well as be "in love" with), who's similarly into me, from a similar background, who could support her brood herself if something happened to me, who shares my "mental framework" and who wants to have kids with me; in my experience most women who want kids fail on most of the above "qualifications", while those who've agreed with me on "life, the universe and everything" are averse to having and raising kids (sometimes with anyone and sometimes just with me). There's simply no way I could face knowing that I helped create a person who will be raised in any religion (let alone red state Republican Baptist), and there's no way I could avoid conflict were the mother of my child(ren) to decide to do so. (For the record, I'd have similar problems with a deist Buddhist or a practicioner of a secular religion like Trotskyism.)

Nor do I see any reason you should deny who you are (not even your atheism) by following the advice in this thread to "shop around for a church" etc.: a "lesser evil" is still an evil. Why should you subject yourself to an evil you don't like in order to subject your offpring to an evil you don't like? It's completely illogical, and, if I may say so, stupid.

My advice for you both is to bail out of the issue while you're still young: either decide to stay together childlessly (and back it up by having a vasectomy) or, if you both must have children, split up while you're both still young enough to have kids with more congenial partners. I advise this because (probably to your credit) you don't seem callous enough to do what I actually did: I chose "relationship partners" for "less deep" criteria, wore condoms "religiously" (as I couldn't afford a vasectomy), and made clear that I'll kill myself rather than be roped into fatherhood (with some I've had to add "and I might kill you too").

As to "mental illness" I'm "agnostic" on the issue: I really don't care why certain types of drugs improve my life, only that they do so as far as I can tell. How many coffee drinkers care exactly what effect caffeine has on their brains or exactly why they don't live life without it? I wouldn't force "a growing brain" to take any psychoactive drug any more than I'd raise a kid religious, but an adult might choose drugs morally.
posted by davy at 9:17 AM on October 5, 2006


I am probably more agnostic than anything, and my husband is a Methodist. His dad is a Methodist trustee in his church. I had a "God & Jesus" wedding. We do fine, and we do fine mostly because we both agree that, philosophically, Jesus was a peace-loving hippie and that the fundies have totally screwed up his religion. He doesn't try to make me go to church, and I try not to make "sky fairy" comments, although dark matter help me, I am occassionally driven to it by the wingnuts. So this can work - but she probably needs to accept that you are going to come at life from a philosophy point of view (and I'm projecting a little here, because this is what I do) and she's coming at it from a more relgious point of view. You both think that one ought not to kill people, but possibly you are arriving there by different roads, essentially.

Just don't lie. Lying is such a bad, mean, wrong thing to do to one's spouse.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:28 AM on October 5, 2006


davy, you seem to be ignoring the many people here who were raised in similar households and grew up fine. Don't impose your own issues on the poster.
posted by languagehat at 9:41 AM on October 5, 2006


Actually, I think davy's comment is a great data point showing the extreme end of the scale: anonymous, if you feel like davy, then it won't work.
posted by footnote at 9:45 AM on October 5, 2006


languagehat, see footnote's footnote. Though I don't consider my view "extreme" -- to me it's simple common sense. To wit, it's better not to put anyone through what I went through. Nor what I put others through: e.g., while I don't regret my decision it really hurt my father that I didn't follow in his Methodist faith (and get ordained like he couldn't). Sure it'll feel so much better when you quit beating yourself on the head, but why bother in the first place? (And hey, I gave a personal answer to a personal question, so shoot me.)
posted by davy at 10:02 AM on October 5, 2006


I'm an atheist, and it would devastate me to have my children grow up going to church and Sunday school. I would feel like I'd have to do de-briefing every week to make them understand why what they heard was wrong.

Religion is all about faith. Faith is just another word for belief in things that are wildly improbable or demonstrably false. This flies in direct opposition to everything I hold dear: clear thought, rational thinking, love of the truth.

I also believe that people have inherent capacity for good, and though religion may amplify that in some cases, it's overwhelming contribution to human history is one of division, persecution, and hate. I couldn't imagine having my children raised in this environment.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:05 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


This will boil to a head eventually. But that doesn't mean that when it does, or how you stave it before it does, will mean the end of marriage.

The important thing is that you love each other. She knew who you were, and how you felt when you got married. People are allowed to fluctuate their views over the course of their life. I think you should focus more on what it means for her if you don't believe. Can she accept that? Is she going to feel that you're not going to be with her in the afterlife and all the time you'll have is here on Earth?

As for ignorance and sexism, I don't know Baptism as well as I know Roman Catholicism, my denomination. But from what I've been taught, and hear at church we don't hate other races or homosexuality. Homosexuality is frowned upon but the basis for Christianity is not to hate, but learn tolerance and love for even your enemies.

Your best bet is to talk this over with your wife. If she has been such an amazing, patient and caring person, why wouldn't she see you through this?
posted by PetiePal at 10:06 AM on October 5, 2006


I found it strange and personally irreconcilable that she thought the world was only 6,000 years old and dinosaurs either lived during the time of man or were faked by science or God to test us.

Being religious is one thing, but it would break my heart if someone I cared about deeply believed or professed to believe this sort of thing. I couldn't imagine having children, or really putting children in the general sphere of influence with someone who believes something so outrageous, ignorant, and really just truly dangerous. A belief like this a cultish level of delusion, and I really couldn't live a lfe with someone who let themselves go down this road. It's almost tragic.

There have been others in this thread who have shared stories of theists and atheists living together and discussing ideas and being open and having a good life of it, but if your wife really and truly believes such a thing as stated above, I cannot imagine someone of your nature and inclinations having children with her.
posted by xmutex at 10:13 AM on October 5, 2006


Besides, from what "anonymous" said and how he said it, it seems to me that his wife is going along with him for the sake of getting along with him (and vice versa). I suspect also that deep down she'd really rather not be "unequally yoked", not if she's still encouraging him to "try church together" instead of shrugging off his lack of belief and agreeing not to raise their kids in any faith. (Which is different from "exposing them to many ideas and letting them make their own decisions," mind you.) She seems more rooted in her religion than in their relationship, and I doubt having kids will change that.
posted by davy at 10:21 AM on October 5, 2006


One big reason for my childlessness-by-choice is the awesome difficulty of meeting a woman I'm attracted to and could like (as well as be "in love" with), who's similarly into me, from a similar background, who could support her brood herself if something happened to me, who shares my "mental framework" and who wants to have kids with me; in my experience most women who want kids fail on most of the above "qualifications", while those who've agreed with me on "life, the universe and everything" are averse to having and raising kids (sometimes with anyone and sometimes just with me).

I'm the LAST person who should be critical of this, since I waited until I have only been in love once, married her when I turned 30, and have never met anyone else -- before or since -- that I would even consider causually dating (assuming my wife were out of the picture).

But I'm not proud of this. I'm not saying you are, either, but it's worth saying that people like us make it sound like one "should" wait around for the perfect mate.

But besides obvious problems of lonliness, there's an important sort of personal growth that people like us -- people like me, anyway (I won't assume anything about you) -- fail to achieve: in refusing to settle for anything less than Mr. or Ms. Perfect, we don't learn how to co-exist with people who are different from us.

I am SUCH a better person, now that my best friend is a Christian than I was when he was an atheist. Accepting that change forced HUGE growth.

Sometimes people can't be that flexible, and sometimes it's not worth trying (and no one should be forced to supress key parts of their personality), but -- anon -- if you and your wide DO get through this, you will both be much stronger people! It you can stick it out and make it work, it's worth it.
posted by grumblebee at 10:47 AM on October 5, 2006


mdn writes...
The meds to treat them often do not do better than placebos but the pharma companies can run trials until they get statistically significant enough results to be approved.

Umm, having seen the cost, complexity, and most off all the time investment that goes into these trials, I can guarantee you that the pharmas aren't just cramming the same drug through again and again until they get lucky. They have a strong financial incentive to come up with something that demonstrably works.

So a rational atheist could easily choose to pursue other avenues of treatment without it being due to vague mystical feelings.

Very true. The wonderful thing about science is that you can review the results for yourself and come up with your own conclusions. Beats the heck out of religion.

However, the reason I made my original comment was that the phrase "without medication" in the original post seemed very much out of place. It's a completely extraneous detail that to me speaks of a person with a dogmatic point to make.

(btw, have you clicked the "next" link on the first article you pointed to? Placebo effect or not, the effectiveness of anti-depressants is not in doubt)
posted by tkolar at 11:22 AM on October 5, 2006


Some of you seem to have missed the part where his wife moves "grows in tolerance and independent religious thought by leaps and bounds" and moves "from a literal interpretation of the bible to view it more as a mixture of history, fable and allegory." Can we stop with the straw man about the 6,000 years and the dinosaurs?

I was really hoping we could get through this thread without some moron saying all religious people are stoopid, but apparently not.

And davy, you're a smart guy, you know damn well your views are extreme (which doesn't mean wrong, or stoopid). I call to the witness stand "I'll kill myself rather than be roped into fatherhood." Of course it's fine to offer personal views and experiences, but you're presenting yours as normative and suggesting the poster run his life by them, which is silly. Most people do not think the way you do.
posted by languagehat at 11:24 AM on October 5, 2006


Anonymous, I' hope you listen more to the folks who are looking for a way to help you rather than score rhetorical points about how awesome it is to be contemptuous of believers, especially the ones that imply your wife is duping you by pretending to be less doctrine-bound than she is.
It was a nice thread until the Godless-by-Force Force got here.
posted by klangklangston at 11:42 AM on October 5, 2006


Oh, and the note about love versus ego before was apt.
posted by klangklangston at 11:43 AM on October 5, 2006


following the advice in this thread to "shop around for a church" etc.: a "lesser evil" is still an evil. Why should you subject yourself to an evil you don't like in order to subject your offpring to an evil you don't like? It's completely illogical, and, if I may say so, stupid.

This may be right for you, but anon has in no way communicated that be believes the church is 'evil.' Perhaps I, like you, am projecting my own beliefs on anon but my read is that he takes issue with aspects of religion that are starkly contradicted by science (literal interp of the bible) or intolerant/racist/sexist. It may well be that a church that indulged in none of those would be peachy-keen to him.
posted by phearlez at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2006


My mother-in-law is deeply religious and my father-in-law is not. I'm not going to speculate on the kind of understanding they have because I don't actually know, but I can tell you how they acted. The mother forced the kids to go to church every sunday until they were 18, the father forced them all to get college educations. The end result is that none of the kids are religious but they all have degrees. Perhaps a similar deal with your wife can be reached?

Also, are you sure you are atheist (you do NOT believe in God) or are you more anti-religion? From your post I would think you are against the religious establishment and not the idea of God. If that is the case then instead of telling your wife you are atheist, perhaps you should tell her that you do not subscribe to the tennets of organized religion and that you would rather commune with God on your own terms.
posted by Vindaloo at 12:03 PM on October 5, 2006


I think it's absolutely possible to stay together in your situation. If you were Mr. 100% Logic and she were Mrs. Dinosaurs-Didn't-Exist, then you'd have problems, but that's obviously not the case here.

I am a member of the United Church of Christ (Congregationalist), which was mentioned above. My experience with different congregations is that most members are people you can respect. Theology is based on what's written in the Bible, rather than on stuff other people tried to work out from the Bible (dating of the earth and that kind of thing). The New Testament is used more than the Old, on the basis of the new covenant. The denomination doesn't support sexism or disrespect or intolerance.

It also doesn't have a lot of pomp, unlike Episcopals or Methodists or other Catholic-in-structure Protestant churches (this could be a good or bad thing, depending on your opinions).

It defeats many of the old, popular beliefs about Christians and Christianity. I find it the denomination closest to what I think Christ intended, which is why I'm a member. The best part is that with the Congregationalist structure, directives come from the bottom up, not the top down. The denomination leaders don't claim to speak for church members, and if someone differs from "doctrine" on a point or two, that's fine -- that's how it's supposed to work. You don't believe in whatever they say; you make up your own mind, always, and are encouraged to question and do research.

I'd like to make the same offer vanoakenfold made (although with a little less text formatting). My e-mail's in my profile, and I'd be happy to talk to you about my experiences, or to answer your questions, or to tell you more about whatever you'd like to know.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:06 PM on October 5, 2006


As an atheist, I think it could work, although as the thread above shows, whether it *will* work depends a lot on you and your wife. That said, keep 1 Corinthians 13:13 in mind: "love, faith, and hope, and the greatest of these is love".
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:20 PM on October 5, 2006


Some ideas: can you find books to read together, things that are important to you or to her, and discuss them? This might take the pressure off the two of you as people and help you to engage with the ideas which undergird your points of view.

I recommend The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers for this purpose. Get the large format with the pretty pictures. A starting point for discussion is god as transcendent or beyond human understanding. Understanding this point makes existence a tautology, and disagreements over the details irrelevant.

I think that honesty is integral to a fulfilling relationship, and would personally object to any religious indoctrination for my offspring. But I don't think there is necessarily any lasting harm, as long as critical thinking is also encouraged. We all believed in the Easter Bunny at some point didn't we?
posted by Manjusri at 12:24 PM on October 5, 2006


I can only give you an anecdote, and hope that it helps when deciding about kids. For my own part, we've elected to not raise our daughter to go to church (I'm a pisspoor Zen buddhist, my wife is an agnostic who was raised Catholic in the heavily Baptist south US).

When I was a kid, I was never told not to question the church. We didn't have a specific church at all, and through my childhood I went to Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican churches at various times. At one of those (Pentecostal), during Sunday School, we were having a Bible-trivia game, where each kid could ask a question of the others. I asked "Who wrote Genesis?", with the knowledge that on the first page it said "As written by Moses". Well, after answers like "God" and "Adam", I showed them what it said on the first page.

Well, the teacher took this all very badly, for some reason. I ended up being told I wasn't welcome at Sunday School and all of my church-going friends ostracized me. It become immediately and abundantly clear that Asking Questions Is Wrong in the church. From there it was a very quick slide to me giving up on all organized religion and becoming an atheist, which I still consider myself.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:46 PM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]


I decided to take what more I have to say about this, including my take on 'Mrs. anonymous', to Metatalk.
posted by davy at 1:46 PM on October 5, 2006


[a few comments removed and STOP IT - metatalk is for your atheism vs religion discussions not here]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:48 PM on October 5, 2006


i don't know. I don't see it as much a problem to raise children. If you are honest about your believes to them, they'll get a pretty dialectic upbringing. Both views first hand, the atheistic and religious. That doesn't sound like a bad idea to me.

I was raised christian, protestant in a predominatly catholic area of rural bavaria. My mother was religious and my father wasn't, I went to religious classes, church and lost my faith before I had my confirmation. I went through it though, because it ment a lot of money from relatives.

Now I strongly believe there is no god, and my sister believes there is one, not beeing into the organized religion thing either...
posted by kolophon at 4:39 PM on October 5, 2006


For what it's worth, my fiances dad is a hardcore atheist and his mom is a christian. They've been married for 30 years and raised 5 kids together without any problems. I think if two people love each other (and respect each other) they'll find a way to work stuff out. I think the same can be said of the raising of children: if you love them and respect them, you'll tell them what both of you believe and allow them to make up their own minds. I'm not saying it would be easy - I cant imagine being in a serious relationship with someone whose values were so radically different than my own - but I dont think it's undoable.
posted by supercrayon at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2006


I just want to echo all the folks who have encouraged you to be honest. You won't know how much of a problem she will have with it until you talk with her.

It seems likely that if her faith is real, she will be troubled by the discussion, but it remains to be seen whether it is a deal-breaker for her.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:54 PM on October 5, 2006


An important point being made in this thread is that there are tons of successful marriages where one partner (nearly always the man) is indifferent to religion, and the other partner is devout. Many people have made this work--and are better people for it. Talk to your wife and see if you can too.
posted by LarryC at 1:27 AM on October 6, 2006


I never thought I would find myself saying this... but...

You need to find yourself a new church! See if there are any Quaker, Unitarian or Baha'i churches/temples near where you live.

Ditto what supercrayon said.
posted by xpermanentx at 9:01 AM on October 6, 2006


To get back to the original question "In marriage, what is more powerful: Love or God?", I say in this case "probably God." The key clue here is, to quote anonymous, "Our romance allowed me to have faith and my faith allowed us to have romance."

From anonymous' description she strikes me as rather "typical" (or do I mean "normative"): I've found that most women (especially Christian women) want children and a husband, or failing that children and child support, and (as my experience has reiterated a few times) some women will say and do almost anything to achieve that. Even hook up with an arrogant atheist. It's not necessarily a matter of malice, manipulation, lying, stupidity, or even being blinded by the drive to reproduce; rather it's a matter of "as the twig is bent, so shall the tree incline." And 'Mrs. anonymous' seems like she was bent very hard toward a certain religious ideology from a very young age, so hard I don't think she'll ever really get over it. Especially not when her husband (who already let her "bring him to Jesus" once, as a condition of winning her love) continues to enable that by "try[ing] churches together" and having an "idealized, optimistic view of the children going to church with her on Sunday."

What I predict she'll do if he tells her he's become an atheist (again) is patiently "reason" with him, pray for him, encourage him to "keep reaching for faith," reassure herself that eventually he'll "accept Jesus" (and her as Jesus' deputy in their home), and that she'll make damn sure any kids they have will be "raised in Christ" regardless. And if worse comes to worse, if anonymous refuses to knuckle under, when the kids have started school they'll divorce for "irreconcilable differences," she'll get custody (most mothers do, especially nice Christian ones whose husbands are atheists), and the Holy Ghost will score a couple more new souls (who will be raised as closely to how she was as she can manage). All this of course with her Baptist parents' reinforcement. And anonymous will be made miserable by it all.

So rather than urge anonymous to buck what I'm sure are long odds, I'm advising him to cut his losses and spare them all all the trouble I foresee. My view of their situation might be inaccurate and the prophecy based on it might prove incorrect (I hope for anonymous' sake they are), but in all good conscience I can give no other advice.
posted by davy at 9:08 AM on October 6, 2006


Just FYI, this FPP linked to a religious tolerance page that said this:
...a study of intra-faith Christian marriages by Michael Lawlor of the Creighton University Center for Marriage and Family in Omaha NE. He concluded that: "Denominational differences don't cause breakups. It depends on what the couple does together religiously and how they deal with differences. If they can fashion a shared religious life, their marriages will be as stable as any same-church marriage."
posted by joannemerriam at 1:31 PM on October 6, 2006


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