SAM, one of my readers, sent this email in response to last week's article:
I’m curious to know if your wife is also a non-believer. I’m in a similar situation. I met my girlfriend a five years ago and we were both believers back then. I was Roman Catholic and she was a born-again Christian. After about two years though, I started to become more rational and skeptical. I questioned everything. The more I read and researched, the less I saw the need or possibility of God.
I became a closet atheist, but some hints would leak out. I would question God and the church teachings, which my girlfriend noticed. Being a devout Christian, she tried to explain things to me as best she could. But the answers were not enough for me anymore. They were not satisfactory.
Finally, I admitted to her that I was an atheist. She was initially shocked and sad -- mostly because she loves me too much and couldn’t bear the thought that I would not be with her in heaven. She broke up with me because she could not live with a boyfriend who was an atheist.
I was so mad at her for replacing me with someone I thought was just an imaginary being. But things cooled down and after a few months, we got back together again. She said that she now had opened her mind about religion and different beliefs in the world, but she still keeps her faith until now.
We just have some sort of compromise between her faith and my unbelief. We try not to argue and belittle each other’s stand, which would only lead to resentment. But we try to discuss openly and civilly as well. I’m hoping for our relationship to be like yours. We’re learning to get along despite our differences.
Thanks for sharing. To answer your curiosity, no, my wife is not an unbeliever. Like your girlfriend, she still maintains her belief in God because of some personal experiences she has had, and I respect that. She is not religious though. She doesn’t go to church and practices more of a private sort of spirituality.
We did not go through your experience of breaking up or quarrelling seriously about it though. I guess this is because we both shared the same journey out of an exclusivist and conservative mindset into one that is more open, liberal and critical.
We came to a point where we questioned the traditional beliefs we grew up with, found like-minded people but still within the Christian framework, and began to explore more.
The difference was that she stayed there but I continued pushing the boundaries and finally broke through it.
Both of us understand each other’s position. We laugh and joke about it, but we don’t fight about it. The way she thinks is that there is no difference between her loving God and loving me.
To love God is to love your neighbor, as Jesus said, and I am much more to her than a neighbor. And even when we were Christians, we came to a point where we seriously questioned the belief of a God who would decide a person’s eternal fate on the basis only of one's belief or non-belief in the salvific sacrifice of his son.
Where is the justice in that? Yes, I know that theologians left and right will have a field day trying to explain that, and they have, and I have read and watched countless articles and talks about it. Yet, like you, I share the feeling that none of the explanations are satisfactory. And I simply followed what was the most reasonable course for me.
I am glad that you have decided to keep your relationship despite your differences. The pressure is quite strong in some Christian circles not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” as Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians.
I don't know if the particular denomination your girlfriend belongs to adheres to that belief and would pressure her not to be with you anymore, though it might be of interest to her that there are denominations that interpret that verse differently and don’t apply it to marriage. She might want to explore those views as well.
What I have found to be really important in our relationship is trust, as well as open and honest communication. I am glad that you are now able to discuss in a civil manner with each other. Keep at it. It is truly a wondrous thing when two people can set aside their biases and truly commit to one another in love.
After all, isn't that what love is really all about?
[Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.]