Equally Yoked
April 10, 2007 5:03 PM   Subscribe

How any have mefites in christian-atheist relationships and marriages fared? What advice do you have? What do you think about 2 Corinthians 6:14-15? I'm atheist and my fiancée is Christian. We both feel strongly about our beliefs, our love, and respect for one another.

Before anything else, I'd like to request snark be kept to a minimum. If you really want to vent, start a thread on MeTa.

A backgrounder:

I'm 22 and have been atheist for 8 or so years. I am a skeptic of most everything, but at the base of it I believe there is a rational non-supernatural explanation for everything. I spent a lot of time in high school trying to prove that God does not exist and found no suitable proof, which in turn led me to believe that religion is a matter of faith. I have none, hence my atheism, but I am willing to warrant that others do, hence their own beliefs. I was raised Christian, have a pretty good understanding of Christian beliefs and doctrines, and respect many many Christians. I make a big distinction between "Christians" that are homophobic, judgmental, full of themselves, closed-minded and hateful as opposed to Christians that are welcoming, loving, helpful in their communities, and not afraid to associate with and be around us sinner types.

Which brings us to my fiancée, Julie (and brand new member jsmarie).

She is 23 and has always been Christian. She believes that Christ is the only way to heaven and salvation (and, as a corollary, that I'm not on a path to heaven). She believes in the Bible. She has a personal relationship with Christ, and that is at the crux of her beliefs. She is aware she sins and doesn't claim any hoity-toityness She does not believe that because I am an evil sinnerman that she should avoid me (obviously). She does not believe that it is her duty in life to convert me. She is the kind of Christian (kind, open, and loving) that I mentioned up above. She gets just as upset and distraught, if not moreso, than I do about groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. She's an archaeologist, so it isn't as if she has been sheltering herself from the world and its many cultures and religions. She is a fan of evolution, and doesn't see why it would preclude God's hand in things.

We started dating over two years ago and got engaged this last November. We are in the middle of planning our wedding, which will be this August. If we put our beliefs in brutal and frank terms: she thinks I'm on my way to hell (but loves me anyway) and I think her personal relationship with Christ is baloney (but love her anyway). Nobody's perfect. Luckily, though, neither of us are fucking assholes that feel a need to constantly tell the other person they're wrong. We have discussed this thoroughly, so it is by no means as if we woke up one day and realized we were getting married but -- oops -- had different world views. We both think that it, just like everything else, is a fair topic for discussion and not anything to be brushed under the rug and ignored. We both think it is important to be involved in the communities we live in. We both think loving each other, our friends, and our families should be a primary goal in life.

We have every intention of keeping our beliefs. I won't go to church with her (unless we have kids), but am perfectly willing to hang out with any friends she has from church and go to non-Sunday morning church functions. If we do have kids, I'm more than willing to raise them as Christians with plenty of attention spent on the importance of skepticism and open mindedness. I was grateful to my parents for raising me in a good home and taking me to a good, loving church. There's a lot to be said for a kind and helpful community, even if they think I'm gonna burn. Neither of us are fearful of our kids having different beliefs than we do. We'd rather have smart kids that can think for themselves.

So things are generally great. We're super excited about the wedding and our marriage. Julie, though, has been fighting with and upset by the idea of an ideal Christian marriage, which she'll be missing out on: one where two individuals come together in marriage as an act of worship. We won't be able to share our beliefs, pray together, make spiritual goals and the like.

Do any mefites out there have any personal experience or advice that would be helpful for her, or for me? I love her, and she loves me, and I don't like seeing her upset by this but there isn't much I can do.

(These threads are similar and helpful: Confused Children and I'm an atheist and my girlfriend is a churchgoer).

Sorry for the length. Thanks to anyone that responds. Hell, thanks to anyone that reads more than a third of this rambling tripe.
posted by ztdavis to Human Relations (69 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I think, honestly, and this is meant absolutely non-snarkily, that you need to re-evaluate remaining together.

While it is possible to sustain a marriage even when diametrically opposed in belief/non-belief, it's not very likely. Mixed-religion marriages fare better, I think, because at least you have some common ground on the issue.

I think it's absolutely wonderful that the two of you are so open with each other. Would that all couples could be that way. Unfortunately, you're setting yourselves up for failure: she is becoming conflicted that she can't have her version of a dream wedding and a dream marriage. While it may be true that many people don't get that, this strikes to the very core of who she is as a person. And the only way for you to provide what she desires is to lie--which is, obviously, not healthy. If she didn't care about that aspect of marriage, if it weren't important to her that marriage be an act of worship unto God, I would be saying something very different.

All that said, it may be possible for her to approach this from a different perspective. If she is able to reinterpret (paraphrase) "Wherever two men gather in my name, there I am also" as "Whenever two people love each other, there I am also", the two of you might well have a chance. One of the greatest gifts that God--however you wish to call it; I'm using that word for simplicity's sake--has given us is the capacity to love and be loved in return. Exaltation of that gift is an act of worship on her part, and an act of self-actualization on yours. You love her and she loves you, and with luck, it may be possible for her to view that as the fulfillment of her dream to have a marriage that is an act of worship.

To put it another way, perhaps, Spider Robinson has been fond of saying that he and his wife make love all the time. Sometimes they're even in the same room. I think that's what it comes down to: an act of worship does not depend on others, it depends on your behaviour and intent. You clearly join her in the understanding that the love you have found is a rare and precious thing; you merely differ, if she is able to see it this way, on what that means in a metaphysical sense.

All that being said, it'll still be a dicey thing, even if she's able to coem at things from the above perspective. It could very well be better for both of you to find partners with whom you are more philosophically suited.

Good luck.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:17 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

(lalex, ztdavis mentioned that thread in the penultimate paragraph of his question)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:19 PM on April 10, 2007

As much as you hope this to be a non-issue at the moment, time and familiarity will ultimately breed contempt. Especially once children are involved. This isn't about preference for fabric softener (which you seem to understand). This is about nothing less than your fundamental view of existence, from which all other beliefs spring.

If you are honest with yourselves you may realize that both of you secretly believe the other will eventually "see things your way". You may come to resent your spouse when this doesn't happen (and she, you).

You're still young and a lot of changes may yet happen in your beliefs, so I wouldn't call off the wedding just yet. However, proceed with extreme caution.
posted by OpinioNate at 5:20 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

...which in turn led me to believe that religion is a matter of faith. I have none, hence my atheism...

I'd like to point out that atheism is a matter of faith. A person with no faith is a "weak agnostic".

atheism: "I believe that there are no gods."
strong agnosticism: "I believe that it is impossible for us to know whether or not there are any gods."
weak agnosticism: "I don't know whether there are any gods."

(There are also atheists who think that atheism is a scientific fact, but they're full of it.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:23 PM on April 10, 2007

I'm in a similar situation (married already) and have put some thought into this. That's great that you guys respect each others beliefs (or lack of), however you only graze the most important part of this subject, kids. Sure, you can concede baptisms, church, sunday school, church camp, etc to her doing it with them, or you accompanying them, and that's wonderful, until your kids ask YOU questions about god, faith, etc. Being the committed atheist you are, how do you anticipate discussions with your children will go in regard to their questions about god, faith, etc? Are you going to betray your beliefs and pretend to answer the questions in accord with how your wife would answer? or are you going to totally confuse the crap out of them by telling them that although Daddy goes to church, bows his head in prayer, and yadda yadda yadda, he really thinks its a bunch of hooey?

Please, think long and hard about how you would handle this (and then let me know what you came up with, 'cause right now I have no good answer).
posted by tdischino at 5:28 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: SCDB: I agree, I just didn't want to go off on that tangent in what was already a long question. I try to live a life free from any beliefs, but I do believe that God doesn't exist. I'm aware that that is a faith issue, even though my original plan when leaving religion was to get away from faith.

I would technically say that I am a strong agnostic, as I believe that it is impossible to know whether or not God exists. Since, though, I am ever the skeptic I also think it is impossible to prove anything using inductive logic. I don't let that hinder my day to day activities, though.
posted by ztdavis at 5:30 PM on April 10, 2007

tdischino, read the question: Daddy won't be going to church.

And, from my perspective growing up in a very mixed household (mum's Anglican, later converted to RC, stepmum's Anglican, dad's extremely atheist, stepdad's Zen Buddhist), what you tell the kids is that some people believe different things, and encourage them--also as mentioned in the question--to question and decide for themselves. The important thing is that both parents must provide the same encouragement in that regard. The other important thing is that you not participate in that which you do not believe--the implicit lesson for your children in that is that it's okay to lie. (This is not an attack on you in any way, shape, or form). While it's true, of course, that any relationship involves compromise, I'm not sure that young children will necessarily grok the difference between 'daddy does this because mum compromises in other ways' and 'daddy lies'. YMMV.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:33 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: tdischino: I want to read up more on child development, for starters. I don't want to ever lie to my children, but by the same token I don't want to start teaching them how to analyze big concepts like God or even something like parents that can have entirely different beliefs when they're still trying to multiply. My tentative plan is figure out guesstimations for what ages are best for bringing those topics up and play most of it by ear. I want to be open and honest, but I am willing to overly simplify if the situation and age warrants it.
posted by ztdavis at 5:35 PM on April 10, 2007

We all have dreams of what our mates will be. If your fiance was raised in the church (as it sounds like she was), it was drilled into her from a very young age that marriage to a non-Christian is not only wrong, it's not a good idea for some of the practical reasons you're beginning to deal with. I was raised that way as well, and I understand how hard things must be for her now. I think you should hold off on the wedding, and let her work through those feelings. Mourning a loss, even the loss of something you wanted, takes time. You can still get married in 6 months, a year, whatever- get this foundational life stuff ironed out now.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:35 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll start off by saying that I am replying mostly because I am interested in your question, not because I have any particularly insightful experience to bring to the table. So if you're still reading: I know you said you are putting it in blunt terms when you say that your fiancee "thinks [you] are on your way to hell," but... to me that would seem like a (way) bigger deal than you are making it seem here. That said, I'm not your girlfriend (and looks like I never will be), but that would factor in to how I saw my future-husband and the role of our relationship in our lives (and afterwards). If she is completely, completely (completely) alright with the thought of you ending up in [various interpretations here, but ultimately not The Good Place], keep on truckin.
(On preview, OpinoNate has it).

Whatever happens, best of luck to you both!
posted by liverbisque at 5:37 PM on April 10, 2007

I have known Christian couples who couldn't stay married for six months, and "unequally yoked" couples who have been married, not unhappily, for 25 years, so who knows...

Honestly, I think this will be more difficult for Julie, particularly because of your statement, she thinks I'm on my way to hell (but loves me anyway). It would be difficult to grow old with someone, believing that when they die, they will be spending eternity in hell, whereas you will be in paradise. I think the urge to try to convince them to accept Jesus would be overwhelming.

IAAChristian, and dated (though did not marry) a non-believer for several years. He was a non-practicing Jew and like you, had respect for faith and the practice of religion. In spite of that, he did show some resentment for the time and energy I spent on faith-based pursuits - church, volunteering, Bible study. He also occasionally made offhand jokes about Christianity that I resented. They weren't extremely offensive, and had a Christian made them, I probably would have laughed, but I felt like as a non-believer, he hadn't earned the right to make those jokes.

It's difficult to be committed to the work of the faith - going to church, prayer, reading the Bible, etc. - when you are doing it without your partner. Because as much as you may support her right to practice her faith, and respect her for doing so, in the end, you think her personal relationship with Christ is baloney, and she knows it. That's a tough one to live with.

I don't really have any advice for you. Just sharing my experience.
posted by clh at 5:39 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: dirtynumbangelboy:

I meant to put this in the question but I guess it was left out: by willing to raise them in the church I am willing to go to church with my wife while they are young and be a part of that community with them. I won't bow my head when people pray, I won't sing hymns, but I also won't deliberately confuse my kids by sleeping on Sunday and drinking beers until they come home. I am fine with going to church, but I will never tell my children that I believe in God or do something at church that says the same.

Sorry I didn't put that in up above.
posted by ztdavis at 5:39 PM on April 10, 2007

Picture this - she suppresses her conflicted feelings enough to marry you, but she still has the same inner struggle years later, especially if you two have kids... but now she feels trapped too, because her religion prohibits or at least discourages divorce. If I were her I'd really be cautious about committing my life to someone for whom I must compromise my spiritual ideals.

If I were you, I'd really be cautious about committing my life to someone who believes I'm going to hell - no matter how much she loves you, how can you ever really gain her respect if that's what she believes? For that matter, how can she really have your respect if you think what she believes is silly, made-up stories about some dude with a beard? (And be honest - at base, isn't that what you think?)
posted by desjardins at 5:41 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: clh:

I'm not necessarily expecting advice, and am thankful for you sharing your experience.
posted by ztdavis at 5:44 PM on April 10, 2007

Sure, you can concede baptisms, church, sunday school, church camp, etc to her doing it with them, or you accompanying them, and that's wonderful, until your kids ask YOU questions about god, faith, etc.

Bingo. Back in the day, my mom went to Church with the kids while my dad stayed behind playing tennis Sunday mornings. One day, my older brother asked, "why doesn't daddy have to go to Church?" He's been going weekly with the mom thereafter.
Kids can be amazingly astute and ask those uncomfortable questions adults won't.
posted by jmd82 at 5:46 PM on April 10, 2007

by willing to raise them in the church I am willing to go to church with my wife while they are young and be a part of that community with them. I won't bow my head when people pray, I won't sing hymns, but I also won't deliberately confuse my kids by sleeping on Sunday and drinking beers until they come home.

Honestly, I think it would be far more confusing for the children for you to partially comply. I would also personally find it deeply disrespectful for someone to come to my place of worship and not follow the outward forms, at least. YMMV, of course. I just think that--since you pointed out that it's difficult to teach very young children about gradations of thought--it would be exceedingly difficult for them to get "Daddy goes to church but doesn't do what everyone else does" over "Daddy doesn't go to church".

The latter is, in my experience, very non-confusing. Just like (for example) Daddy likes watching football in his underwear while mum stays dressed--it's just what Daddy does. No real difficulty. Of course, you are set up for quite possibly a lethal blowout when one of your children announces s/he's going to be just like Daddy and stay home from church--unless you and your fiancee are on the same page about encouraging your children to question and decide for themselves. Worship is mostly an adult thing anyway; children (I think) tend to prefer the social aspects of church as opposed to the metaphysical. In fact, Sunday school can be downright terrifying, depending on your church (thank goodness mine was an extremely hippy, touchy-feely kind of place.)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:49 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

the idea of an ideal Christian marriage

What's an ideal Christian marriage? We've seen plenty of those in the public sphere that turned out to be anything but.

This can only work if both sides are willing to let it go and not push the other. My wife intends bible class, worships regularly, tithes and involves herself in the church wholeheartedly. I'm agnostic. We've raised a kid together. The kid believes in God, oh yes, but not in the bible. I would regularly challenge the kid's line of thought about what the bible said about X or what she learned in Sunday school. My wife welcomed this and this, I think, is extremely key. I joke that the kid isn't some mindless cult slave while the wife reminds that overall, the kid does believe in God. Eh, win some, lose some :)

The wife would like for me to be more into the church, but she's not pushing it. I would like her to be a little less churchy. But she is who she is and I am what I am. We learn from our differences.

For the record she's Methodist and doesn't take the Bible literally. Her church may be of a different breed since tonight in bible class they were exploring the idea that Jesus was a terrorist. hee hee.

Sometimes she asks me to go to church with her. Occasionally I'll go, maybe once a year and she'll enjoy sitting there in church with me by her side. Me, I'm bored silly and my butt hurts from the wooden pews, but the wife is happy and it's not too terrible an imposition on me. Sometimes we'll talk philosophy and religion and that's usually very interesting as we get different points of view on our personal views.

Sometimes she ask me to do other church stuff. I say no, she drops it. Others in her church seem perplexed by our relationship and my not attending church, but fuck'em, you know?

But overall, no one pushes the other and no one feels as though they're missing out on some magical lifetime because the other isn't like X. If you can't do that, the relationship will always suffer for it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:00 PM on April 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

I have no experience here - but you seem to be handling this in the mature way that fosters good relationships. Going to church with your wife and kids will actually be beneficial - not all little kids are able to sit nicely through an entire service, so your wife might appreciate having someone to take the restless ones out for some air. I don't think going to church is confusing - little kids won't notice anything, and kids old enough to question should be old enough to understand that you respect the cultural, if not theological side of your (future) wife's religion.
posted by fermezporte at 6:03 PM on April 10, 2007

My wife and I, when we met, had views on religion that have changed radically during the course of our marriage --- and each of us has different religious beliefs.

I guess if there's anything I can advise you, it's this. Whatever you see in each other, if your relationship is worth a damn, is probably much stronger then her attachment to her faith or your attachment to atheism. Your beliefs may radically change during your marriage. That's a gamble we always take when we marry someone. But if you are reasonable people who actually use your minds, I cannot see this religion issue as serving as a wedge to drive you apart.

Not professing a belief in God, even in the strictest Catholic view, is not a moral failing. So I can't see this difference of belief as being divisive if you are both reasonable about it -- there's plenty of room for you each to respect the other's beliefs, because this is an area of life where "reasonable minds can differ."
posted by jayder at 6:09 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I should have said, "Not professing a belief in God, in and of itself, even in the strictest Catholic view, is not a moral failing."
posted by jayder at 6:10 PM on April 10, 2007

I'll speak as someone who was exactly, precisely in your situation.

I married a woman who was a devout Christian. I was an atheist. Everything was pretty much exactly as you have described it in your original post.

We discussed religion often. Because she's a theology dork, she was a font of knowledge about church history and apologetics specifically. The result was that we were able to have the sorts of conversations about religion that you wish would happen on the internet; respectful, calm, productive, non-combative, with everyone coming away as though they really learned something about the opinions of the other.

We have children, and they attended church with her on Sundays while I stayed home. She would have preferred that I go with her, but never made an issue of it and certainly never made me feel badly about it.

We are still married today and are doing splendidly. If you believe that this is the woman that you want to spend the rest of your life with, and she truly feels the same, then I say forge ahead! So long as neither of you are expecting the other to "come around" or "wake up", then you should be confident going forward.

Best of luck to you! :)
posted by DWRoelands at 6:10 PM on April 10, 2007 [4 favorites]

desjardins: By way of reply to your comment about hell, I have never seen my belief or someone else's lack of belief as a value judgment. I believe I need God for my day to day salvation as well as for eternity, but I can in no way believe this makes me better or respect someone less for their belief to the contrary. It would be impossible to truly have friends with different beliefs if I did. Zane's decision to accept or not accept God can only ever be his, and I can only love him if I respect his unbelief.
posted by jsmarie at 6:12 PM on April 10, 2007

I won't bow my head when people pray

That strikes me as weird. Akin to going to things where people applaud and not applauding. You know -- rude.

IANAChristian; I could be wrong. But the few times I've been to church, I would've felt very ill at ease doing anything that rubbed me the wrong way (such as praying), or anything that rubbed other people the wrong way (such as not demonstrating any respect for prayer).

Seconding desjardins, too. Especially the part about having respect for her. I haven't known a lot of committed atheists who think of the you're-going-to-hell sort of believer as -- how to put this? -- intellectuals.
posted by kmennie at 6:20 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

For two people of any different faiths getting married, I've found a great book is Joining Hands and Hearts by Interfaith minister Susanna Stefanachi Macomb.
posted by mattbucher at 6:20 PM on April 10, 2007

Response by poster: kmennie:

Inherent in my understanding of religion is that it is a matter of faith. I can't prove God does or doesn't exist. Since I can't prove it, even if I really strongly believe that God doesn't exist I don't know that he doesn't. As such, thinking someone is idiotic for believing in God would be the same as decrying myself for not believing in God: they're both matters of belief.

Thanks for insulting my fiancée, by the way.
posted by ztdavis at 6:35 PM on April 10, 2007

You may think I'm being snarky, but I'm not.

she thinks I'm on my way to hell (but loves me anyway) and I think her personal relationship with Christ is baloney (but love her anyway).

You are both too inexperienced to see that this is bad and it makes you incompatible. You should not get married. You are way too young to get married, especially with such writing on the wall.

You probably have 60-70 years of life remaining. For that time, unless one of you changes (and I suspect, as others have said, that you both secretly hope the other will) you have the above italicized situation for that time. I think that would be crazy to promise to put up with that for the rest of your lives. It won't last, and if you have kids (I notice you say "if", as if you have no choice in the matter and haven't made a decision - haven't you talked about whether you want kids before getting married??), they'll be in the middle of it.

Wait five years. If you still want to get married, go for it. I know you think it's a bad idea, or you wouldn't have asked here. Listen to your gut as well as your mind when making big life decisions.
posted by putril at 6:36 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering about what happens when the kids are older, and are able to ask questions - and to make decisions based on their own ideas. Say they go to church, are raised in a Chistian worldview, with the addition of dad's attention on skepticism and open-mindedness. And then say that somewhere along the line the skepticism clicks and they abandon their religious beliefs.

You wrote, "neither of us are fearful of our kids having different beliefs than we do." Are you certain that if your child rejects Christianity in adolescence, with all of the rebelliousness that often goes with it, that it won't put an intolerable strain on you both? That it'll feel to some degree like your child is choosing sides? It may be one thing to worry that your spouse is going to hell - it may be something else entirely to worry that your child is going to hell.

I admire you for having the kind of relationship where you can talk about these sorts of things openly - that seems to be to be the crucial first step into making things work. But questions about what will happen when your kids start thinking for themselves probably should be on the table now. If your fiancée is upset about the loss of her ideal Christian marriage, will she be upset if her children don't have one, either?
posted by Chanther at 6:40 PM on April 10, 2007

That it'll feel to some degree like your child is choosing sides

All children choose sides, eventually. It's what they're supposed to do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 PM on April 10, 2007

I can't offer advice or experience in this situation, but I will say this: Judging by ztdavis' original post and jsmarie's comment, this couple is doing and saying the right kind of things that (I hope) will help them understand and work through the issue.

If the endorsement and best wishes of a stranger on the Internet are helpful, know that you have them. Good luck to the both of you..
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:50 PM on April 10, 2007

Will your friends and relations in your respective religious/atheist communities accept your choice? Will you be able to turn your backs on them if need be?

Sounds like you have great communication and respect for each other and I'm in awe of what you're trying to do. Continue your discussions about all aspects and possibilities concerning your lives together. But beyond discussions, examine your own hearts to their depths.

If not already suggested, some premarital counseling might be in order.
posted by DarkForest at 6:53 PM on April 10, 2007

Do you really want your 5 year old looking down on you and asking why you don't love Jesus and why you are willing to go to hell?

If your children find out that you are an atheist and you let your wife raise them as Xtians this is a possible outcome.
posted by Megafly at 6:53 PM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Thanks for insulting my fiancée, by the way.

Huh? I thought I was insulting "committed atheists," if I was insulting anybody.

posted by kmennie at 7:01 PM on April 10, 2007

My husband was raised Methodist, and I was raised essentially without religion. I have tried religion on, and I have found it fits badly. I have read the Bible; I know a lot about Christianity, particularly the history of it, and I understand and respect his beliefs and those of his parents. I've always been (as it seems you have been) 100% upfront with what I believe (which, for reference, is that if there is a God, I am apparently not in any way inspired to have anything to do with Him on a day to day basis, but that Jesus seems to have said some stuff about not being a jerk that works for me on a philosophical level - there may or may not be a God, but I can't figure out how to get worked up about it one way or the other).

I go to church at his parents' church a couple of times a year, and we were married by a Methodist minister. We had what I called a "God and Jesus Lite" wedding - enough references to have my inlaws be comfortable and none of the stuff from the traditional ceremony that I found objectionable.

We will be married for three years in October of this year. We're fine. The biggest difference is that my husband has really become comfortable with a sort of Gnostic view of religion, a kind of "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there," feeling about things, so there is no conflict over church for us (or lack thereof). I think, honestly, that a large part of it lies in remaining intellectually curious. You may not believe in God and Jesus, but there are philosophical things that it seems your fiancee is perfectly capable of discussing with you. Keep up a dialogue, and don't disparage her beliefs, and I think you'll be okay, too.

Good luck. Being married is the craziest thing you will ever do, but it's also incredibly rewarding.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:07 PM on April 10, 2007

I don't know why everyone seems to think that kids can't deal with parents who have different beliefs. It sort of presupposes a worldview wherein everything parents tell their children must be considered a "fact" and as such parent's can't disagree. In reality, religion or non-religion is a belief system that depends on faith. Yes, it speaks to the heart of life and existence, but so what? There are many people who grew up in (either religious, mixed, or non-religious) households where they were encouraged to seek out, and learn about all belief systems and choose ultimately for themselves. The attitude that religion must somehow be brainwashed into people at an early age is just odd and inappropriate if you ask me. It almost takes the idea of free will which Christians purport to believe out of the equation. If you two can agree on how in general your children ought to approach the concept of belief, religion, and faith, the children shouldn't be a big problem.

The issue I have more concern about is that I've yet to encounter someone who genuinely believes in hell after life, but doesn't feel an urge to convert their loved ones. That's what you suggest your girlfriend is like, but I just don't believe it. Don't take offense, but it's practically contradictory or hypocritical. And it's this sort of more harcore Christian belief that I'm not certain would be compatible with a mixed marriage because of the brewing mutual resentment it might create.
posted by drpynchon at 7:16 PM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

she thinks I'm on my way to hell (but loves me anyway) and I think her personal relationship with Christ is baloney (but love her anyway)

Reframe that around your future kids. Can she countenance your kids making the same decision you have and "going to hell"? Can you countenance them living what you consider is a lie? It's not just about the rituals of the church. It's about your fundamental view of what makes life meaningful.

I've been in this position. I thought love and respect would conquer. The respect wasn't really there. She always secretly hoped I would see the light. I always secretly hoped she would come to her senses. Neither happened.

Yes. It can work. You are open and discussing it openly, which is great. If you genuinely and deeply respect the other's perspective, maybe you have a chance. You're young. You have time. Keep talking. Please wait.
posted by idb at 7:18 PM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Jumping Jesus (so to speak), some of these replies have me scratching my head. DWRoelands stole my thunder, but I'll still add my 2 cents.
I've been married to a Roman Catholic for close to 15 years, and for the last few months she's even been in a leadership role in the church. I, on the other hand, really don't like the RC approach at all, and rarely go myself. We have two kids, 10 and 8. They go to church, they like it. A couple of years ago my oldest said he was considering becoming a priest, but that interest seems to have faded somewhat. There have been some rough spots in the marriage (things are good now), but those rough spots had nothing to do with religious views.

The critical thing in my view is whether you can tolerate each others religious views forever. It seems from both of your replies that your respective philosophies on religion are important to you as individuals, but not something critical to the relationship. So it's quite possible, maybe even likely that religion won't really be an issue for you guys. In my particular case, religion as an issue paled in comparison to issues such as extroversion vs introversion, appropriate child discipline, and appropriate balance between family and friends.

So in my case, religious differences didn't have much an impact at all, of course ymmv.
posted by forforf at 7:26 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My cousin is a jewish (strong in the cultural aspects but generally non-practicing), he married a catholic woman. They raise their two children catholic (though they do attend family hanukkah parties, etc.) and his wife is active in their religious education. While he goes to various events like communions, etc., he doesn't participate in their catholic upbringing. The children aren't confused, I think they feel that judaism is part of their ethnic culture whereas catholicism is their belief system. The reason this works out well for my cousin and his wife is because they wanted their children to have a religious background and she was willing to make the effort. However, she isn't so devout that she believes that he is going to hell because of his lack of belief in/relationship with jesus and he doesn't believe that her belief is equal to belief in the tooth fairy, etc. There is no judgment there on either side.

The fact that there is a lot of judgment and, perhaps, lack of respect involved in your contrasting views (you are going to hell and her beliefs are baloney) is worrisome. It would be unfortunate if that is passed down to your children. What is going to happen when little ztdavis jr asks mommy if daddy is going to hell because of his beliefs? Will she say "yes, but we love him anyway? Or what will happen when your kids ask you why mommy believes in god if- based on your beliefs - god isn't real?

I don't think these things can't be worked out but I think you two will need to come up with the answers before getting married and having a family. For instance, if you can agree to go to church and participate while the children are growing up, can she agree to never let the children know she believes you are going to hell for your lack of beliefs? I guess what I am trying to say is that it always seems like the non-religious person is tasked with bending over backwards for the religious person, as if their beliefs are somewhat more valid. It seems like you are more than willing to compromise to meet her halfway. Is she willing to do the same for you (beyond compromising her view of the ideal marriage as a christian marriage).

Finally, you didn't ask but I'm going to have to say it: 22/23 is very young. Age and experience go a long way to lessen the significance of these issues, why rush into marriage?
posted by necessitas at 7:29 PM on April 10, 2007

another athiest/christian marriage here. it's my second, and were at the five year mark. no kids, but my teenage son lives with me.

my wife is really into theology, and i'm into philosophy. our discussions on these subjects is a source of great enjoyment to us both. i respect her christanity, and she respects my taoist leanings. i went to church with her often when we were dating, and do so occasionally now. we were married in a christian ceremony. i don't pray, or take communion--but i have volunteered at her church.

to us, respect is the key. my wife understands my feelings, and respects them. i understand her faith, and find it one of the things that i admire about her.
posted by lester at 7:32 PM on April 10, 2007

tdischino, read the question: Daddy won't be going to church.

dirtynumbangelboy: please do the same.

I won't go to church with her (unless we have kids)
posted by tdischino at 7:34 PM on April 10, 2007

(As an aside, I think that if you do go to church with the kids on (every? alternate? some?) Sundays, obeying the outward forms is just basic politeness. Sitting when everyone sits, standing when they stand, bowing your head, at least looking attentive during the hymn, etc. Would you refuse to take off your shoes in a mosque, or to wear a kippah in a synagogue, if you were asked to do so? But really, you sound like a nice guy, and I can't really imagine someone as obviously thoughtful and caring as you appear to be really acting rudely in a church, so this is certainly a non-issue. To be avoided -- and hopefully people will not ask them of you -- are overt statements of faith, such as taking communion or testifying, if you don't share that faith.)

I don't think that this needs to be a barrier to getting married. For one, people can have long and happy marriages without agreeing on all kinds of things -- whether you are loving, and can communicate, and are supportive matters more, in a day to day sense.

For another, people change, and change in surprising ways. In my own marriage, we have both moved back and forth between faith and ... not-faith, I guess. One of us began as an agnostic, regained religion, and now is back to a different kind of agnosticism. The other began as mildly religious, became fervently atheist, and is now strongly religious in an entirely different religious tradition, with detours along the way.

Things happen. Crises of faith are really, really common, especially as you go through life and experience good and bad events. A parent dying, or a friend's betrayal, or societal changes, cause people to reevaluate their relationship, or lack thereof, to religion. So while there is a chance that both of you will feel exactly the same way at age 80 as you do now, more likely there will have been two or three (or thirty) moments of reconsideration along the way.

Being able to talk about these things, I think, is more important than beginning at exactly the same point.
posted by Forktine at 7:36 PM on April 10, 2007

We have children, and they attended church with her on Sundays while I stayed home. She would have preferred that I go with her, but never made an issue of it and certainly never made me feel badly about it.

Which is all well and good if you want your children to become indoctrinated (Christian children indeed), would things be so peaceful if you didn't want them to go to church? It seems in all of these cases the religious one often supersedes the non-religious one, especially in matter concerning children.

You, and others, paint a bucolic interfaith picture, but is not a core feature of marriage 'shared values'? How on earth can you share a bed with someone who literally believes you're going to hell? The level of intrinsic pitty would be utter poison to the relationship.

It seems fairly obvious, as much as way may wish for it to be not so, that these endeavours are sadly doomed. And while there will always be at least temporarily exceptions, the rule will hold.

But hey, good luck with all that.
posted by oxford blue at 7:40 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for their comments.

necessitas: The fact that there is a lot of judgment and, perhaps, lack of respect involved in your contrasting views (you are going to hell and her beliefs are baloney) is worrisome.

I was being unfortunately playful with that sentence. The thing is, all of our discussions about this and our feelings towards each other in regards to religion are centered around a deep feeling of respect for each other and a desire not to judge each other. I don't think she is any less intelligent for believing in God: I think she has a faith that I don't. Similarly, she doesn't feel superior to me because she doesn't feel having accepted Jesus makes her a better person than I.

I apologize if my original post was vague or, even worse, entirely incorrect on making this point.
posted by ztdavis at 7:43 PM on April 10, 2007

We won't be able to share our beliefs, pray together, make spiritual goals and the like.

Honestly, from what you've written, it sounds like you're both pretty open and, if you'll pardon the word, 'spiritual' (in a non-religious, and not too new-age-y, sense) people - you're aware that what you know to be true (your 'belief') isn't everything, and she's aware that what she knows to be true (her Belief) isn't everything. Far from not being able to do the above list of things together, I'd say the only thing you won't be able to share is the praying together.

If we put our beliefs in brutal and frank terms: she thinks I'm on my way to hell (but loves me anyway) and I think her personal relationship with Christ is baloney (but love her anyway).

Really? Or is this a bit of hyperbole filtered through a rabid-atheist-vs-stereotypical-christian expectation or stereotype (which would surprise me, because you really don't sound like the types).

I've got friends in similar situations with long and happy marriages, and the only odd thing I'll say about them is this : major life-changing events (in one case, cancer; in another case, the loss of a child) tend to cause a re-evaluation of values which is often harder on the religious partner. To put it bluntly, they go loopy and rabid-religious for a while before settling down and dealing properly. But, then again, none of us really know how we'd react in the same situation.

As for the 'ideal Christian marriage' bit : the key word there is not 'Christian', it's 'ideal'. She's possibly struggling with something which, though she may not exactly believe, has been indoctrinated into her since birth by her religion (and is promulgated by the whole marriage industry in general). No marriage is ideal (be it Christian, Jew, or 'miscellaneous' ;-), nor can it ever be.

Look at it this way: Weddings and marriages are stressful; everybody is wracked by doubt (or should be!) all the way from cradle to the grave; her stress and doubt just have a focal point - the 'imperfectness' of your marriage - to cluster around, rather than being generalised fear.

The trick, like many in life, is to make it a focus to build something on rather than run away from.

Disclaimer: I'm not married, and I'm not religious. I don't believe at all that there is a God, but I'm prepared to accept that I might be wrong on that score, even if I never know it. I do believe, however, that if there is one, they're sane - which would mean they take into account what's in your heart and your actions, not which building you kneel in, how you celebrate your love, or what people you hang around with on a Sunday...

Oh, and the Christian-hate that's all to often around here sometimes gets me down.

posted by Pinback at 7:44 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I'm an atheist who has been happily married for ten years to a Catholic.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:48 PM on April 10, 2007

"Julie, though, has been fighting with and upset by the idea of an ideal Christian marriage, which she'll be missing out on: one where two individuals come together in marriage as an act of worship. We won't be able to share our beliefs, pray together, make spiritual goals and the like."

It sounds like she already feels cheated, and that will probably get worse. In my experience resentments of that kind, where the other person is at fault -- you refuse to "accept Jesus" and/or Julie refuses to "get over that religion thing" -- usually do.

Similarly, if I were a Christian (in my understanding, I was raised in a Methodist church) I'd be obligated to counsel her that Satan and/or her hormones are trying to cheat her out of a Christian marriage, a real marriage, and that for the sake of her soul and those of her kids she must NOT be unequally yoked.

I predict that if your marriage lasts longer than a couple years it'll be because you give in (or at least pretend to), which you've already indicated a willingness to do by saying "I won't go to church with her (unless we have kids)." I gather she'll insist on raising the kids not only Christian but in the church, i.e. Julie's NOT going to give in and compromise HER beliefs. Therefore I advise you to go on a "spiritual quest" before the marriage, staying up praying and fasting (for the Biblical 40 days and 40 nights if it takes that long), until you can join her in her Christian faith. If you can't do that then I suggest you love her, and yourself, enough to call the whole thing off. There's more to this than how you pronounce "tomato."
posted by davy at 7:51 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, this is the problem as I see it.

If your gal is truly a committed Christian, she is sinning by marrying you. I think YOU could do fine being married to HER but I don't think SHE will do fine being married to YOU if you get my drift.

You didn't bring up the subject of intimacy, but if you two are already sexually involved she probably feels like she is obligated to marry you despite the atheism.

Anyway, my take is if she does go thru with the marriage she is not as committed a Christian as you might think-but AFTER the wedding there is a very good chance she might feel she has made a mistake, and will have a ton of regrets. And once kids enter the picture all bets are off.

So, bottom line, if she marries you she will never have the ideal marriage from her point of view. Could you live with that?
posted by konolia at 7:52 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

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.

Look, there are many thousands of happy marriages with partners of different religious faiths. There is no reason to think that you can't be one of them.
posted by LarryC at 7:53 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mom's Catholic; my dad's atheist; and they got married at your age, and I came around soon afterwards. Growing up, I did not go to church regularly, but did end up there a few times a year—after staying over Saturday night with grandparents or friends, or for weddings. I wasn't particularly worried about the possibility that Dad could go to hell, but in retrospect I couldn't tell you why. Maybe I didn't get the memo that nonbelievers were headed straight down. But I also think I understood at a relatively early age—earlier than you might expect—that faith was something everyone had to figure out for themselves and so these different beliefs were not really a problem, that you couldn't really say that someone was right and someone was wrong. I was able to have open and helpful discussions about this with both my parents, at least individually. I don't remember ever talking about it with both of them simultaneously.

On a few occasions my mom has expressed regret that she didn't raise my siblings and me in the church. I don't honestly know how much this actually bugs her. At the very least, it's one of those things that gives you a moment of "woulda coulda shoulda" feelings every now and then. It might be more than that. I don't think she goes through life feeling like she's failed us, though.

They separated in my mid-teens, but I'm pretty sure religion had nothing to do with that.
posted by brett at 8:16 PM on April 10, 2007

I think it will work out fine as long as you do both respect each others beliefs and will not ever try to convince one another that the other is wrong. If you try to convert eachother, only bad will follow.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 8:25 PM on April 10, 2007

my dad is an atheist, and a scienctist.
my mom is strictly catholic, and a creationist.

THE BACKGROUND (blah blah blah)
as a child, this was never confusing to me. my mom believed one thing, my dad believed another, they never fought/argued about it. if i asked them both the same question about religion, my dad would let my mom answer. if i asked him religion-based Qs, he'd say to ask my mom. he never disparaged her beliefs, but it was clear to me from a pretty early age that he didn't share them.

my dad quietly came to church every weekend, and didn't ever say much about it (he's sort of the strong silent type anyway). he was quietly thrilled when i showed an aptitude for science and encouraged it with lots of nature-related activities.

my brother and i both went to church as kids, no problem, and sort of enjoyed the community and singing, but we both became very anti-religion in our teens. there was lots of fighting about going to church for a while, and when the dust settled, by the time we were each about 16, we didn't go to church any more except on special occasions to "be nice" to our mom.

my mom actively made us go to church, fought to keep us going as long as possible, is still active in the church, and prays all the time. she's really into it- sometimes i'll find religious icons/symbols discreetly tucked into things she gives me- like a tiny st. christopher medal sewn into the seam of a new backpack, or religious books or bday cards. there's a slight sense of hysteria about it- not that i'm suggesting religion in itself is necessarily hysterical, mind you- but the way my mom practices it is overdramatic (lots of history here, which i'll spare you). my dad, brother, and i all find this very distasteful but generally try to avoid the subject. these days, when she says grace or whatever, we bow our heads and wait it out.

my parents are still together, although the marriage is very flawed, and no-one would ever characterize them as happy or in love, or maybe even as friends. my dad doesn't go to church any more.


in my adult opinion, my parents' religious differences were never in and of themselves a problem in their marriage or our upbringing. BUT- i do think that having such a different world-view from a partner, and getting married anyway, was symbolic of the fact that my parents are not a healthy match for each other and shouldn't have continued this marriage for as long as they have, if they "should" have married at all.

ultimately, i think there's a strange disconnect in their thinking. to think that, in my mom's case, her partner is literally hellbound- that's major! or, in my dad's case, that his partner is fundamentally unreasonable/illogical- that's a pretty big allegation too. although they don't say these things aloud, and in my memory they never have, their world views pretty much dictate that they must think these things. and wait a sec, those are big issues! the fact that they're able to look past them is, to me, not a romantically positive attribute, but rather a symbol of a fundamentally mismatched marriage.

in short, religious people and atheists are not built the same way, and from my anecdotal experience, i do not think they make good matches.
posted by twistofrhyme at 8:25 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ah, a conumdrum.

Background: I was raised RC, attended church weekly (altar boy, the whole bit) declared my atheism at age 15, endured some light family torment, and never looked back.

Religion's role as prime mover in culture drives me to study it, to seek to understand as much as possible what makes people believe, and what they believe. I've attended services in multiple religions since. I have close religious friends.

I think the success of any marriage of the kind you are proposing would depend on how much each of you dwell on the differences in belief between each other. Many people are skilled in sweeping things under the rug, or putting them to one side. I think you're both to be lauded for approaching things as openly and honestly as you have been. My concern would be that the big differences in belief would add up over time, much like the small habits that, while minor on the surface, eventually cause resentment, disrespect, and disdain, despite the fact that you love each other very much. Those small habits are, of course, simply expressions of the personality underneath - just as belief, especially a living faith as your bride-to-be has, alters the behavior of the believer.

I have enough problems with someone leaving things out of place from where I put them. Adding "you think I'm going to burn in hell?" on top of it would make things impossible for me.

There will, inevitably, be a sticking point. Some posters have mentioned the child problem already. There will be another, entirely out of the blue, that will be the test of the two of you. A (minor) example: my best friend believes (because that's what she was taught) that the Jews built the pyramids while enslaved in Egypt. This despite all archaeological evidence I've shown her to the contrary. She can't give up on this point, because it is a cornerstone to her particular interpretation of her faith. To me, it is entirely irrational. It's very difficult, during bad moments, to not look at her, a woman whom I adore and respect, and not think "Stupid, stupid, you're so stupid." And this is a woman I only see a half-dozen times a year.

You've been given wonderful examples of successful marriages between different faiths, or faith and faith no more. Any decent relationship is based upon compromise, of what you're willing to accept in another person. If you're willing to accept, on a daily basis, that when your wife looks at you at least a part of her sees a sinner - and a different type of sinner from her, one that is destined for eternal torment after death simply because of a lack of faith - and she is willing, from her perspective, to do the same - then I say go for it. But be prepared for that sticking point. And be prepared, as other posters have mentioned, for faith (and lack of faith), to waver, harden, and change with time.

The best of luck to the both of you.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:31 PM on April 10, 2007

I think that you guys have as good a shot as anyone (and actually probably better than most) if your discussions are really as open as you say and neither one of you is harboring secret feelings of "he/she'll come around eventually".

Maybe it would help (and I guess this is more for her than for you) to look at things the way CS Lewis seemed to in some of his writings. If you live your life according to moral principles, God isn't going to punish you for worshiping him (or not) under a different name. It's your actions that will be weighed in the balance. So if she believes you're a good person, maybe she can be comfortable that God would hardly disqualify you from an afterlife, if there is one, on a technicality.

This thought process wouldn't work with everyone's flavor of Christianity, but if she's as open to discussion as you say, maybe she could find some comfort in looking at things this way.
posted by MsMolly at 8:45 PM on April 10, 2007

Mod note: a few coments removed, snark goes to metatalk or email PERIOD. Don't like the question, feel free to stay out of the thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:06 PM on April 10, 2007

On the basis of this

We have discussed this thoroughly, so it is by no means as if we woke up one day and realized we were getting married but -- oops -- had different world views. We both think that it, just like everything else, is a fair topic for discussion and not anything to be brushed under the rug and ignored.

and especially this

We both think it is important to be involved in the communities we live in. We both think loving each other, our friends, and our families should be a primary goal in life.

I'm tipping you'll do just fine.
posted by flabdablet at 9:38 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I won't go to church with her (unless we have kids)
I think you should never even consider lying to your kids about something so fundamental.

I'm not saying you should proselytize your atheism on them, nor that you should fight against your wife proselytizing her religion on them. But to pretend you believe this? To your kids? No way.
  1. Don't go to church with them.
  2. Don't push your views on your kids, but if they ask you why you don't go to church, explain it to them.
  3. If they then say that they also disbelieve, and also want to not go to church, tell them that their beliefs are theirs and theirs alone, but as long as they are under your roof, they are to do what their parents tell them to do, and their parents are telling them to go to church.
  4. Explicitly make it clear to her now that you will act in this manner; let her decide whether that is acceptable or whether you should both move on.

posted by Flunkie at 10:12 PM on April 10, 2007

I don't think a fundie/athiest marriage could ever work, but a two free-thinking people, one of whom happens to be Christian . . . could work well.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:53 PM on April 10, 2007

If she's a regular churchgoer, you'll do neither of you any harm by going with her. You might find that you like some of the people you meet there, and you might find that sharing quiet time with your beloved while the dude up front does his thing is actually kind of pleasant. You could even indulge in a little quiet meditation while those around you indulge in prayer.

Of course, you should let your lovely know in advance that you're going purely for the community experience, not as any kind of favour or (worse) freakshow, and make sure that she's happy to have you along on that basis. It's at least as hard for atheists to avoid being condescending to the deluded as it is for Christians to avoid being holier-than-thou to the damned, but love helps.
posted by flabdablet at 11:11 PM on April 10, 2007

Does anyone else think these kind of threads bear a remarkable resemblance to the 'should I eat it?' kind of threads? For every reasoned response you get about 4-5 "OMG! What are you thinking? You can't be 100% sure. You could die/be mentally scarred/never play the piano again" (delete as appropriate).

FWIW: you have some differences. So what? So does everyone in a relationship. How is atheist/believer any more difficult than fat'n'lazy/driven'n'fit? The important thing is how you deal with these differences. Sounds to me like you seem to have a pretty good handle on that.

So go ahead, eat the sandwich, it's probably really good.
posted by Jakey at 2:02 AM on April 11, 2007

I know a couple who are atheist/very religious. They're not at the kids stage, but they're in their late twenties, married and doing absolutely fine. They got married only a couple of years later than you guys. The tone of your question and your responses, as well as the way you describe your fiancee and yourself, lead me to believe you'll be absolutely fine.

Good luck.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:15 AM on April 11, 2007

Do you really want your 5 year old looking down on you and asking why you don't love Jesus and why you are willing to go to hell?

No one takes a 5 year old completely seriously, especially about things it doesn't understand.

It seems in all of these cases the religious one often supersedes the non-religious one, especially in matter concerning children.

Most agnostics/atheists aren't willing to force things to be a certain way, based on their own beliefs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:30 AM on April 11, 2007

Take the following with a grain of salt. I'm 22, unmarried, a "strong atheist" (to use the term above) and currently dating someone who is, I think the best term might be, "spiritual but not dogmatic/religious."

When I was younger, one of my grade-school friends had parents in this situation. His mother was a devout catholic who spent time in a convent at a younger age and his father was.. I'm not entirely sure, as he never talked about it, but a strong agnostic is my best guess. They seemed to have a happy marriage (seemed from my teenage-looking-in viewpoint, anyway), but the kids were all devout catholics. It seems like part of their truce in the ideological war was that mom got to rear the kids' religious sensibilities. My friend often made snarky comments about his father's non-religion, which disturbed me (as a closeted strong atheist).

So, can it work? Yes. Will it be hard? Yes. I can't even begin to guess how you'll handle it. I personally have difficulty with emotional closeness wth people who sincerely believe I'm going to hell for what I view as a sane and rational belief. If you can accept that you just don't accept that part of her but love her anyway (and she can do the same for you), then, maybe you've got a chance?
posted by Alterscape at 4:05 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another data point: my mother is a Catholic, my father an atheist. At some point in early elementary school, once I figured this out, and with the help of weekend CCD classes [which aren't so heavy on the "non-believers go straight to hell, do not pass go, m'kay?" as your girlfriend's particular denomination sounds].....I began having regular nightmares about my father burning in hell while my mother and siblings and I looked on helplessly from heaven.

Be prepared for this.

Also, how does your wife feel about spending the "hereafter" without you? How will she feel as you both grow older and it becomes more than just a theoretical?

[And, not for nothing....as a "soft atheist" myself at this point, being equated to "evil" and "darkness" in that passage by Corinthians is not something I think I'd have much of a sense of humor about.]
posted by availablelight at 6:22 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think I could personally do that. I am a kind of non-orthodox, skeptical liberal Christian; my wife is a more traditional Christian but still has her doubts. So we are basically in the same place. And that works for us.

But that's us. When I posted on BeliefNet frequently I read of an athiest who was married to a Methodist minister. He went along for appearance sake without making an issue of his atheism (she was well aware of his lack of faith, but they didn't advertise it to her congregation), and it seemed like it worked pretty well for them.

So I guess I'm presented two data points- one against and one for your being able to work it out satisfactorily.
posted by Doohickie at 6:37 AM on April 11, 2007

she thinks I'm on my way to hell (but loves me anyway) and I think her personal relationship with Christ is baloney (but love her anyway).

So, essentially, you are marrying someone who you beleive rules her life stupidly and pointlessly, and she is marrying someone she believes rules his life stupidly and self-defeatingly. Only, right now, you have enough reasons to not to need to say it out loud to each other.

What happens when those other reasons fade? You each, fundamentally, view other with contempt. Eventually, that's going to matter.
posted by Kololo at 6:54 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

My husband and I are both Christians, but from very different belief backgrounds and even that creates a problem sometimes. I find the archaic beliefs of the way he grew up very frustrating. You could have never told this free thinking Methodist that it would be a problem, but it has been at times.

What you need to know is that it will cause a problem sometimes, i don't care how respectful of each other you are. Someone will get frustrated. Someones expectations will not be met. These are things that will happen more frequently the longer you are married. In that way, it is very much like other differences of opinion that you will have. It is different in that your religious beliefs or lack thereof are a big part of who you are and that is a hunk of your lives you will be forever apart in. This is not " i play golf and she doesn't" but she can shop while i play. Compromise is a lot harder to come by in the realm of religon.
posted by domino at 7:14 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

No one has mentioned tithing yet. Are you prepared to give 10% of your joint income - gross, not net - to the church?

The "equally yoked" passage is talking about issues just like this. The practicing Christian is yolked (obliged) to do stuff like tithe. The non-Christian isn't. Ideally, you would discuss all these issues before marriage, but unfortunately it is difficult to anticipate all of them. The "equally yolked" passage advises Christians to just avoid this situation altogether, if possible. Because even in the ancient world, it was trouble. (However, if you do end up getting married, the good news is that the Bible doesn't recommend divorce - it says to live with and love and respect your partner.)
posted by selfmedicating at 7:45 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

So what happens when she wants to tithe 10% of the family income as is commanded in the Bible?

What happens when she is sick and wants you to pray for her?

What happens when she feels like her Christian friends "get her" more than you do, because you don't believe?

What happens when she wants to spend time volunteering at church and wants your support, not your blase "ok, that's your thing."

And then the whole kid thing.

I agree with the person who said that you'll probably be ok in the long run, but she will not. If she is a believer, then she knows that the Bible specifically warns against marrying an unbeliever. That's not a willy-nilly rule just because God wants her to have no fun. It's there because he knows that her world view is different from yours, and a marriage such as yours will lead to heartache and frustration for her. Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but it's the truth.

So can you make it work? Yes, YOU can. But I believe that it is not in her best interest. It might be "good", but it won't be "best." And I've had "good." And now I have "best." No comparison-- like the difference between surviving, and thriving. Please, for her sake, don't go through with the marriage. Find that which is best for both of you.
posted by orangemiles at 7:47 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

jinx, selfmedicating.
posted by orangemiles at 7:48 AM on April 11, 2007

orangemiles - too funny! I was about to write a longer comment and say exactly what you said.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:46 AM on April 11, 2007

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