Confused Children
December 10, 2006 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm an atheist. My fiancé is not. What about the children?

My fiancé and I have been talking about having children recently, but a major point keeps coming up. She's a Christian and I'm not. She wants to instill in our children that the Bible is a factual book, and that, for instance, a man actually spent three days in the belly of a whale and survived. I think think that it's a mediocre story book.

Surely there are others that have faced this same situation. What kind of compromise did you reach with your partner?
posted by drleary to Religion & Philosophy (46 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
ouch... This is the kind of question that usually comes up long before engagement or marriage. I guess it really depends on your belief system. I'm a fairly rabid atheist, and for me, that would almost be a deal breaker. Obviously, you have learned to accept your fiance's belief, and she your disbelief, so I'm willing to bet that you can find a compromise.

For what it's worth, I was raised catholic, but always taught to think for myself and not follow the crowd. As I grew and started formulating my own beliefs in late adolescence, the reason kicked in and I saw what a crock the whole thing was.

This thread isn't quite the same question, but may offer you some insight anyway.

Good luck.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:28 AM on December 10, 2006

Expose them to both. They're thinking human beings, not vessels to be filled.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:28 AM on December 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

I think perhaps, and please do not take this the wrong way, you need to re-evaluate your engagement. Your fiancee, if I'm reading correctly, believes that the Bible is literally true? How far does that belief go? Does she believe that humans were, in fact, created by God directly, women created from Adam's rib, etc?

This is not a belief system that is compatible with atheism, and I'd be willing to bet that compromise won't happen.

However, if you are sure that this can be worked out, the best probable way to go about it is to raise your children with the lesson that some people believe things that other people do not, and that they will need to figure it out for themselves as they grow. Instill in them that there is a grain of truth within all belief systems, whether deistic or not. (Don't jump on me here--the core of truth in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as I see it, comes out when you view Toraical and Biblical stories as metaphor and allegory. On a very basic level, "In the beginning there was nothing," and "there was a Big Bang" are essentially the same statement. Same thing in Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Objectivism, what-have-you.)

In order to make this work, you both have to be completely engaged and altruistic about it. Your fiancee needs to be allowed to present Christianity as a viable belief system, without any subtext of "...and everyone else is wrong." Ditto you.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:33 AM on December 10, 2006

I made the mistake of marrying a Catholic the first time around. She said matter of factly that she was a "pick and choose" Vatican II American Catholic, and would never be doctrinaire before we married, but she wanted to be married in the Church, and to keep peace with her family, I went along.

Bad mistake. The Church demanded I agree to allow the kids to be raised Catholic, as the price of using the church for the ceremony (OK, different point of view, from their theological grounds, but that's what it boiled down to in practical terms). Still, she wasn't bashful about divorcing me civily 4 years later, re-marrying, and carrying on, and the Church was happy to baptize her 3 and 4th kids, and cash my court ordered tuition checks for Catholic school (part of a child support agreement). But that's pick and choose Catholicism for you.

Both of my sons resent being raised Catholic, and spit on the ground when the Church is mentioned. I've apologized to them profusely as adults for letting this happen to them, and explained that under the laws of the state in which their mother and I were divorced in the early '70s, I had no say in the decision, as I had no custody rights. I don't know that you could say as a family we really achieved compromise, but my kids aren't confused in the least about the nature of religion.
posted by paulsc at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

You tell your children, "This is what Daddy believes. This is what Mommy believes. Each of our belief systems are right for us, and we respect everyone's rights to believe however they choose. As you grow up, you'll learn what it is you believe, and that will be right for you. And Mommy and Daddy will always love you, no matter what."

Then, you love them no matter what.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

Well, she obviously allows for liberal interpretation of at least some of the bible:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
- (2 Corinthians 6)

While many christians see friendship with nonbelievers as a good thing (you can spread the good news "relationally"), marriage to one is highly, highly, dubious.
posted by phrontist at 9:39 AM on December 10, 2006

Oh, and I highly reccomend a unitarian church. They vary in quality by locale, but many are great communities of non-dogmatic, intellectually honest, (non)believers of all stripes.
posted by phrontist at 9:41 AM on December 10, 2006

My mother was/is nominally catholic. In my youth, I was a fairly ardent believer in (at the very least) the existence of eternal hellfire. My father was/is a non-believer/pantheist sort, and it was emotionally disturbing to think that he would spend eternity in hellfire. I was raised in a fairly mild church, and it was incredibly hard for me to shake the belief system.

Religion is bad for kids.

If you really understand the absurdity of her religion, don't you want to free her from that delusion? Isn't that the loving thing to do?

I don't think holding this kind of dissonance is a positive thing.
posted by phrontist at 9:46 AM on December 10, 2006

I guess you could handle it in the same way divorced parents handle visitation. Every other week they can go to church and every other week they can go to the Center for Inquiry, a Freethinkers meeting, or listen to a Richard Dawkins book on tape.

It's going to be hard to "expose them to both" when they are tiny kids. One week, they're told that religion is voodoo and belief in God is idiotic. How will it make them feel when they go to Mom's church the next week and are told that if they question God's existence, they will burn in Hell for eternity? Parents are always told to be consistent, and if Mommy says "no," Daddy needs to back her up and also needs to say, "no." So when the kid asks Mommy, "where do dead people go?" and asks Daddy, "where do dead people go?" the mixed messages are going to be unnerving and the kid won't trust either of you.

All of this is to say that I don't think there is a solution. You are both going to end up resenting each other and will probably get divorced. But it would behoove you to go to pre-marriage counseling because this issue is certainly something that may be a deal-breaker down the road. Better to find out if that's the case now, rather than later.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2006

Most Christians believe that if they don't raise their children to follow Christ, they are at the very least not very good Christians, and quite possibly damned to Hell themselves (not to mention the children, of course). "Let's compromise so you and our children can go to Hell" is not really much of a compromise from her perspective.

So, sadly, you really have only two choices here:

1) Allow your children to be raised the way your wife-to-be wants.
2) Don't marry her.

I am sorry to say that #2 is probably the best solution. All the other possible outcomes are crap. If one of you gets their way then the other will inevitably be resentful. Heck, even if she gets her way she may end up resentful -- if even one of your children leaves the fold as an adult, you are the obvious one to blame. If you try to teach your children both ways and let them choose, they will be quite confused for a long time because their parents will be contradicting each other.

Keep in mind that even though she may seem okay with your atheism now, if she really loves you and is devout, eventually the urge to save you will kick in. If you knew that someone you loved was going to Hell (and she "knows" this, such being the nature of faith), wouldn't you try to save them? How could you not, if you cared about them? In the back of her mind, perhaps only subconsciously, she is very likely already planning to save you. Your children will feel the same way if they grow up religious.

I'm an atheist and unmarried, but I have seen the distress my lack of religion causes my father, who is quite devout. It makes him feel like he has failed as a father and I know he worries that it threatens his own salvation. Out of kindness I have intentionally not shared with him the total extent of my atheism; he believes that I am merely a very lapsed Christian. This leaves him the hope that I will eventually come back to the church, even though I know better. (He doesn't use the Internet, fortunately, or my cover would have been blown long ago.)

It is of course possible to love someone very much while at the same time realize that living with them for the rest of your life and raising children with them is a huge mistake. My advice is to marry someone else, someone with a compatible worldview, someone with whom married life would not be a constant struggle. Breaking up now will be painful, but not as painful and damaging as getting married eventually will become.
posted by kindall at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

The issue will be a non event until the kids start asking, "Why isn't Daddy coming to church with us?" Then Daddy says what my brother did, "That's your Mom's crap. I don't believe in that shit." That taught my nephews to think for themselves. Now, in their early teens, they often accompany their mom to church, but also say no thanks too. I think they go to spend time with mom rather than for the message. God fearing these two boys ain't.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

My husband and I are both nonbelievers. My kids both attended a Presbyterian preschool because it was a nice little program close to home and a small percentage of its curriculum was about Jesus.

I don't think I would want my kids attending church and Sunday school, but it won't kill them. I think everyone should be familiar with the major religions. Think of it as a humanities course.

My mother dragged my sister and I to church every Sunday for years and my father stayed home. Now my mother is an atheist, and has been for quite some time. She was raised Catholic. Perhaps as a young mother she did believe and wanted us kids not to be heathens. Something happens to mothers and their babies. Your beautiful baby is like a miracle in a sense.

Be aware that your wife may become even more deep-rooted and fanatical in her faith after children come along. I have seen that with some of my friends. One of them sends me Jesus emails on a regular basis and goes to church twice a week since she has had kids. She used to be fun and easy going. Now she hates people that drink alcohol and thinks that homosexuality is a choice.

As with my mother, there is hope that as time goes by your wife will see the light. For the kids sake it would be nice if your wife chooses a tolerant church and not one of those brainwashing, gays are going to hell, we don't drink or dance, we take the bible as literal truth crazy houses.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think that plenty of people in the US don't regard their Christianity as the sort of maximalist, believe-or-burn proposition that the anti-Christians on this thread are describing.

Here's a series of articles by smart people on raising mixed-faith children, which I haven't read, from the WaPo's worthwhile On Faith series.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:13 AM on December 10, 2006

I am very sorry to hear about your dilemma, and sadly pretty much agree with lots of the stuff above: if your atheism and her religionism are genuine and deep, you're in for a very rocky road. Before you actually marry, you two need to have a very SERIOUS discussion about how to handle this - and if you can't come to a resolution, then perhaps marriage isn't the best future for you, her, and any children you would have.

I wish you both the best.
posted by davidmsc at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Mod note: a few comments removed. please keep "OMG your relationship is DOOMED" talk out of here, either be helpful or go roll your eyes in metatalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:26 AM on December 10, 2006

1) Allow your children to be raised the way your wife-to-be wants.
2) Don't marry her.

How about not having kids?
posted by phrontist at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2006

Well - my wife also has a Christian bent - however she doesn't believe in the Bible as literal truth. Meanwhile I am agnostic/atheistic and we have two kids to raise.

I have no issue with them attending some Sunday school and learning about Christianity. Life is complex enough for young children - they do seem to have a 'need' to believe in something bigger than all of us.

When they are older and we can have more in-depth conversations I will certainly encourage them to question dogma and search for their own beliefs. I will definitely introduce them to other religious concepts - if only to help their search. And maybe they won't want to search.

Heck - I've already introduced and explained FSM to my 8-year old. She thinks it's funny.
posted by jkaczor at 10:38 AM on December 10, 2006

What kind of Christian is she? Is she fundamentalist or mainstream? What is her church?

Here is what I posted in a similar thread:

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 10:39 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think that plenty of people in the US don't regard their Christianity as the sort of maximalist, believe-or-burn proposition that the anti-Christians on this thread are describing.

It's probably true that such people exist, but calling them Christians is, to be charitable, a bit of a stretch. Christians believe that non-Christians are not saved. Christ was pretty explicit about that.
posted by kindall at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2006

How about not having kids?

That too, I guess, but if they're talking about it, they pretty clearly are going to have them.
posted by kindall at 10:46 AM on December 10, 2006

I suppose I would have some questions that I would want to work out long before having kids, maybe as part of premarital counseling:

- Does she believe you're going to hell? Will your children believe this? How will she/your children/you deal with pressure from church people about seeking your conversion? When I was young and in an evangelical church, I remember feeling sorry for other kids in my Sunday School classes whose fathers didn't go to church, and I'm sure they felt that pity. How would you deal with that as a family? How will you deal with a crying four-year-old terrified that Daddy's going to burn forever because a kid at church said so?
- Do you believe that she is silly and deluded to believe such things, as is somewhat evident in your phrasing above? Will this message be passed on to the kids, even indirectly? How will it affect your marriage as the years go on? What if she became increasingly religious, how would you react to that?
- Would she want them to be baptized? Would you be able to participate in that fully, not being a member of the church community and not personally believing in it?
- I don't have kids, but I hear over and over that you need to present a united front as parents. What is your united front on evolution? Jesus? Sex education? Homosexuality? Separation of church and state? etc. You don't need to absolutely agree on these things, but you need to be able to answer questions clearly and with respect for each other.
- How much pressure will you have from family? Will you be treated as a lesser parent because you aren't the "spiritual head of the household" as is so important in (evangelical/fundamentalist) Christian families?
- If your children express doubts that you also have (e.g. about Jonah's trip in the whale), are you allowed to discuss that with them, or will this anger your wife who is trying to instill these beliefs in them?
- Is ten percent of your shared income going to be given to the church? If not, how much?
posted by heatherann at 11:06 AM on December 10, 2006

If you were a Jew it would be obvious, but in this case, also being from an Abrahamic religion... the child will indeed believe in the Bible. It is a Christian child.
posted by Napierzaza at 11:19 AM on December 10, 2006

I'm a Catholic (very lax) who married a Muslim (very lax), and we discussed this issue and more during our long engagement of two years - and it was all thanks to a certain book, Promises and Pitfalls. It's geared toward intercultural relationships, but it brings up a lot of issues that any couple should think about before they marry.

Also, bear in mind that even if your intended wife is cool with letting the kids have a little bit of her ideas and a little bit of yours, her family may not be cool with it. We don't have kids yet, but the in-laws have provided the most pressure so far. "You'll raise them as Muslims, right? With a Muslim name?" [eye-rolling from husband and I]
posted by Liosliath at 11:30 AM on December 10, 2006

dirtynumbangelboy and others have good points about the incompatibility of this. What it boils down to is that if she is a literal Christian she is going to be maternally terrified that without growing up with a Bible in their throats, your kids are going to spend eternity in hell.

No matter what agreements you make before you have kids, when she sees those kids growing up, her maternal instinct and her belief system will make it impossible for her to resist indoctrinating your kids. Put yourself in her position, suppose that the roles were reversed. If you werea literal Christian and your wife was an atheist, even if you made an agreement before having kids not to indoctrinate them, would you be able to stick to that when you truly believe that without Jesus Christ your kids are going to be tortured for eternity?

If you go ahead with this, its going to cause some serious conflict for the two of you down the line, and no amount of reasoning before that is going to prevent this from happening.
posted by baphomet at 11:30 AM on December 10, 2006

These marriages don't work. The failure stats for interfaith couples is the highest by double, and by asserting your atheism, you only set yourself up to be legally brutalized when the divorce comes around. If she is a fundamentalist, you will be lucky if only one of your kids apologizes for hating you before you die.
posted by Brian B. at 12:03 PM on December 10, 2006

I have to be honest; ultimately, she thinks she's going to heaven, you think she's going to rot. They're incompatible world views. I would find it incredibly difficult to let christianity into my childrens' lives. That said, I'm not in love with a Christian - you may be thinking differently.
posted by sann1657 at 12:43 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

These statements:

Keep in mind that even though she may seem okay with your atheism now, if she really loves you and is devout, eventually the urge to save you will kick in.

These marriages don't work.

are not true for everyone.

I'm an atheist, raised by an atheist father and Catholic mother, and I have a sister who's a nun (my sister the sister). Mrs. Wet Spot is quite Catholic. The daughter unit has been raised Catholic. Yes, I roll my eyes a lot, but it really hasn't been much of a problem. I just read Metafilter while they're conversing with the Jeez.
posted by Wet Spot at 1:08 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

There is no better way to insure that your children turn out atheists (which I'm sure deep down is what you want - just as your wife wants them to be brainless soul-zombies) than to send them off to church several times a week with your wife while you stock the house with popular science, national geographic - pretty much any secular, approachable media that will get their attention.

Myself and every other atheist I know all started out life in goofy churches (me, Southern Baptist) and as our intellects developed as children we began to question... and once you start to question, well it's down hill from there isn't it?

The opposite is true too: if you pour your atheism into your children they will eventually become rebellious teenagers and start going to some whacked out megachruch with their friends and then you've lost them...

Oh yeah, I also echo the concern upthread about reconsidering your engagement... (even though this is far from what you asked about) you're talking about battling your wife over many more things than just what to do with the children. What are her ideas on contraception? Abortion? Evolution? Thinking ahead: What if one of the kids needs stem cell therapy some day? What if your teenage daughter gets knocked up? Faith (and the lack there of) shapes many of our choices on a day to day basis... it's a big deal.
posted by wfrgms at 1:37 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Work out some ground rules with your wife about what will be said. "Daddy is going to burn in hell" is not acceptable. Then again, if that's what she thinks, why would God make her fall in love with you, right?

An aquaintance of mine is in the same deal. It drove a wedge between him and his children when they were younger. However, when his son turned 9 (the age they agreed he could introduce the idea of religion as a metaphor, etc.), without attempt to convert his son over to "the dark side," the son stopped going to church at 11 of his own volition. Of course, this drove the younger daughter more religious and fervent in praying for her sinner brother and father.

I think he said their rules were if the kids ever ask, without being guilt tripped either way, to go to church or not go to church, their wishes were obeyed. Mom could never bad mouth him over religion (although he suspects it happened anyway). And he used the basic Joseph Campbell all religions say the same thing, it's a metaphor for what's going on in your head, etc. around age 9.

I can't say it's worked for them and he's said (after a few beers) that if it weren't for the kids, they probably wouldn't be together, but as far as the belief goes, it's working out in giving their kids options and making both mom and dad feel "right".
posted by Gucky at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2006

A friend of mine would attest that you're headed towards divorce and many years of resentment. Many of the post above have covered why.

It doesn't sound fair to bring children into the relationship you describe.
posted by krisjohn at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2006

Are you a rabid, evangelical atheist like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett? Or are you one that doesn't engage in debate with people and try to "convert" them, like evangelical Christians do? If you're a quiet, libertarian atheist then it might just work. If both of you are outspoken about your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), then it won't work.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

It really doesn't matter what compromise you come up with; if one parent is a believer and the other parent is not, the kids will not be believers. The path of least resistance wins, always, and if one parent seems to get along OK without going to church, keeping shabbat, fasting, praying, sacrificing goats, etc, the parent who tries to tell the kids that these things are necessary will just look silly. The best the believer parent can hope for is that the kids will take her/him seriously enough to worry about their other parent and want him/her to believe -- which is not what you want either, is it?

Doesn't your girlfriend realize this?
Does she really think that all she needs is your permission to raise your children in her religion, and then they will somehow not notice or care that Daddy doesn't follow it?
The question is not whether you want your kids to be believers, the question is whether you want your kids to be... stupid.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:21 PM on December 10, 2006

Some have touched on the topic, and I agree with it 100%: It will become a huge issue when your kids ask why daddy's not coming to Church.
When my parents first had kids, my mom went to Church while my dad watched football. When my older brother was 5, he asked, "Why doesn't daddy go to Church, mom?" At the time, the easiest choice was simple: my dad gave up an hour each week in order to a) appease the wife and b) as an answer to my brother's question. Since then, he's come to enjoy Church in his own way.
Point is that at some point, it won't be the wife you have to answer to. It will be the kids you ultimately have to answer to.
posted by jmd82 at 2:43 PM on December 10, 2006

The two positions are not reconcilable in raising children -- the each belief (rationality vs. faith) denies the existence of the other.

I really find it it bizarre that this wasn't an issue for you before you decided to get engaged.
posted by modernnomad at 3:01 PM on December 10, 2006

It's probably true that such people exist, but calling them Christians is, to be charitable, a bit of a stretch. Christians believe that non-Christians are not saved. Christ was pretty explicit about that.

kindall, this is blatantly inaccurate and based on the assumption that one is only Christian if they take the entire Bible as literal truth to the most extreme degree. But surely you must already know this, otherwise why would you make this kind of sweeping generalization about a group of religious practitioners without having studied the history and belief system of that religion itself?

To answer the poster's question--it all depends on how committed either of you are to your belief system. If neither of you are able to budge about having the kids raised non-believing or hardcore Christian, no, it probably won't work.

But what about raising the kids quasi-agnostic? Give them Richard Dawkins and a thorough scientific background, but also let them attend Sunday school. Tell them faith or atheism is something they will have to choose themselves.
posted by Anonymous at 3:06 PM on December 10, 2006

What CtrlAltDel said. Don't feel you have to go along to get along.

Then again, as an atheist, what's the worst that could happen? That the kids end up believing what you consider a bunch of nonsense?

Here's the thing: you're already so much in love with a person whose worldview is wildly opposed to yours that you're going to have children with her. So, if you can love and respect this deluded woman, how is it going to be any harder to love and respect your deluded kids?

By the time they get to about fifteen, in any case, the sheer amount of crap they believe about everything important - stuff next to which the small matter of their religions pales into insignificance - will leave you feeling bruised and battered on a daily basis. Mere religious differences with your kids will be about 5% of your problem :-)

Another angle: it seems to me that the urge to proselytize one's own belief system is always going to be stronger when backed by religious faith than by the lack of it. In other words, this is always going to be much more of a problem for her than for you. If she's OK with it, so should you be.
posted by flabdablet at 3:29 PM on December 10, 2006

I'd honestly suggest you wear condoms until several years into the marriage because: 1 ) Some people mellow with age, some do not. As it stands right now there is a high degree of uncertainty if this arrangement will work out, and you should know if it will before having kids. 2) So you have an active role in the decision on having kids, and aren't at the mercy of an over emotional desire to beer at some given point.

Literalist biblical interpretation is pretty easy to pick apart, and if she has not at least made the transition to allegory she may not be an easy mother to have...

I don't have a magic answer, but to reiterate, figure out if the relationship is going to work before having kids. The two of you will have enough difficult things to negotiate, do them one at a time, and for the sake of everyone involved, if you do start having troubles don't fall into the trap of "if we just had a kid we would be closer".
posted by edgeways at 3:38 PM on December 10, 2006

Religion is one of the seven fundamental arguments of marriage. If this is someone who can somehow believe that a guy spent three days in the belly of a giant seagoing mammal, and other fun stuff, well, I don't see a lot of room for compromise in your marriage, only capitulation.
posted by adipocere at 4:02 PM on December 10, 2006

Well, first, as a Christian your fiancee is doing what we term "missionary dating." I can just about guarantee that she fell in love with you and then figures that at some future point you will decide there IS a God and come around to her point of view.

Marriage is darn hard enough without having this sort of crack in the foundation. She may be lukewarm at the moment (otherwise she'd be finding a nice Christian boy to marry) but the minute you bring a baby into the equation I'd be willing to bet that religion will be a bigger deal to her than you ever could have imagined.
That isn't fair to either of you. You would have to be an exceptional couple for a marriage to survive, much less thrive, in such circumstances.

She needs to at the very least ask herself if she is okay if you never ever ever decide to believe in God. Because I have a feeling that deep down she would not be.
posted by konolia at 4:49 PM on December 10, 2006

I read Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings a few years ago, and one particular quote about Charles Williams' upbringing by his father often struck me:
Mr. Williams was not only widely-read but totally undogmatic, teaching his son that there were many sides to every argument, and that it was necessary to understand the elements of reason in the other point of view as well as your own. Though a devout churchman, he encouraged Charles to appreciate the force of atheist rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine. Above all he insisted on accuracy, impressing on his son that one should never defend one's opinions by exaggeration or distortion of the facts. It was a remarkable education. It did not – which it perhaps might have done – encourage Charles to adopt an attitude of detachment. He learnt to be committed, in his case to Christianity; but he also learnt that the other side may have an equal force of argument. It was perhaps partly because of this that he never wavered from belief in God during his adolescence; or, to put it another way, his father had taught him to absorb doubt and disbelief into his beliefs.
Now, Charles Williams may well not be who you want your children to grow up to be (not only because you may not want your children to turn out religious, but Williams' faith had some occult threads and personal life had some odd twists as well). What impressed me was the idea that Williams' father was interested in giving his son this broad education that included an exposure to opposing sets of ideas and beliefs.

It's occured to me that this upbringing might not, under the right circumstances, be too different from an upbringing by two parents, one who believed in Christianity, one who was an atheist. The right circumstances, on the other hand, would require a situation where both sides of a couple have a deep respect for each other, a comfort level with the position the other has arrived at, and a true willingness to let their children decide for themselves at some point... no easy point to arrive at, I think. Not impossible, but really quite difficult enough that the chorus of voices in this this thread telling you how likely you are to encounter trouble are worth thinking about.
posted by weston at 4:54 PM on December 10, 2006

Wow, this is pretty negative and heated.
I am an atheist, having been raised a Catholic. My wife is still nominally a Catholic, though half-hearted.
She would like our kids raised with Christian beliefs as she thinks they are worthwhile.
I shudder when my daughter argues with me the story of Jonah must be true because they learned it in scripture.
But we have heaps of bigger problems.
You will need to decide whether this will be a big deal for both of you going forward, or if one or both of you can compromise.
All that said, from my outsiders view it seems this is a much graver issue in the USA than in other places where inter-faith marriages are unremarkable.
So maybe you should also consider what your community will feel. Will your wife's church try and force its view, will your atheist friends try and convert your wife/future kids?
Perhaps if you can both agree to keep it an issue between yourselves, and each reject third parties it may be less fraught.
posted by bystander at 6:00 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

In the church (Protestant in small-town New England) that I grew up attending, there were many families with a mother who came regularly and a father who didn't -- there were no families who reversed that pattern. The dads tended to come for Christmas and Easter (as a family function/tradition rather than a religious experience), and maybe for the service the kids put on annually, or if their wives had volunteered for a church function and needed some lifting and carrying done. No other church members blamed the moms for the dads' lack of attendance, or warned the kids their dads would go to hell, or tried to confront dads who were wrestling giant packs of soda out of the car, or anything like that.

Kids in these families tended to come until they were around 14, when it was time for their confirmation. These kids either stopped attending before the (long and involved) confirmation process began, or they stayed long enough to be confirmed and then never showed up again. The confirmation ceremony was seen as some sort of "church graduation," which is just bizarre considering what it's meant to be. I remember a small handful of these kids did stay active members, and were as involved with the church as children whose parents were both members.

Most kids, in general, never seemed to be troubled by theology or questions of faith. In Sunday school, almost everyone were more interested in sneaking out to snitch cookies or to smoke in the bathroom, but most were occasionally able to answer simpler questions about Moses, Jesus, and similarly important figures. In this form, it really seems like Sunday school serves as a basic foundation that will later help them answer Jeopardy! questions and interpret Western literature, and I think a whole lot of people could use a little help with both of these tasks. If nothing else, the kids will learn something about the history of their culture.

But I think a lot of this experience has to do with the specific church. Mine was not concerned with literal interpretation. Your fiancé's apparently is. I wanted to comment to counteract all the "Christians will try to kidnap your kids"-esque responses, but it would really help if we knew which denomination she belongs to.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:11 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

kindall, this is blatantly inaccurate and based on the assumption that one is only Christian if they take the entire Bible as literal truth to the most extreme degree

Well, the things in red letters, at least, strike me as non-negotiable. There's plenty of figurative language in the New Testament, to be sure, but I can't find much wiggle room in statements like "no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (which was part of Christ's answer to a direct question from Thomas about the way to Heaven). It hardly seems "extreme" to take that pretty much the way it reads.
posted by kindall at 3:12 AM on December 11, 2006

modernnomad writes "The two positions are not reconcilable in raising children -- the each belief (rationality vs. faith) denies the existence of the other. "

Not in my world. I would be perfectly fine with my children being raised to appreciate all views, and make their own decision as they grow up. My faith is for me. I fully recognize that it's not for everyone.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:32 AM on December 11, 2006

I dont want to take the negative approach with this because your marriage can absolutely work and your children can grow up to be well adjusted but you and your fiance have to sit down and make some ground rules/plans. If you dont you are only asking for tension in your marriage and alot of arguments down the road. Marriage is about compromise and religion is no different than anything else.

I am atheist, was raised christian, absolutely loathe the church and everything about it, (insert cliche anti God comments here), etc.

I was made to go to church as a child and am very grateful for it. (methodist church in Texas.) I learned some vague moral beliefs, met some nice kids and once even figured out how to get through the next puzzle in Kings Quest IV because of a sermon. I was told that the bible was literal in many senses and that the almighty God is very real. But I was also taught to think for myself, respect all other people and their beliefs, and to analyze and question everything, (i think they were just trying to get me to analyze who was a kidnapper and who wasnt, but it changed how I looked at everything.)

The most important thing is to teach your children to respect the beliefs of both of their parents, be careful not to bash either side and when your kids want to know why you dont go to church let them know that you simply dont believe in religion but that you heavily respect Moms right to believe in it, and that you think the exposure is good for your children, in the same way that coming home and having some deep thinking conversations with dad are. If your kids see that you passionately love and respect eachother despite your differences they are less apt to take sides and more apt to ask alot of questions on both sides and make their own decisions.

To this day my parents are very much christian, but that isnt a negative to me. It lets me know that no matter what happens in their lives they have something that keeps them full of hope and happiness. They also respect that I am a full blown atheist, even if they dont understand, because they love me and want what is best for ME. So make DAMN SURE that you will be ok with christian kids and your wife will be ok with atheist kids, because if not then you really do have a big problem.
posted by trishthedish at 5:53 AM on December 11, 2006

« Older Safe/dangerous African countries?   |   Investing for Dummies Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.