During my deconversion process, a nagging question bothered me. How did an atheist and a strong Christian believer conduct a marriage and be parents together? Being a former Christian, knowledge of goals and desires for raising godly children were very familiar to me. Now being an secular humanist, some of my thoughts on many manners had changed.
I was a bit alarmed to find there wasn’t a lot of advice or experience particularly pertaining to this topic out there in the world wide web or among my limited social circle. But one thing was for certain: despite our polar stances on this very strong topic, my husband and I shared a desire to be together peaceably. What has followed since then has been many exercises where we’ve both learned a lot about communication and cooperation. The eight years before that had been full of that, as well. But this challenge loomed larger even than managing a marriage through a high stress job and having four children in five years. Due to the nature of Christianity’s idealogical grooming, there’s a tendency for Christians to think of nonchristians as alien creatures who cannot possibly understand Christians or have unions with them. There’s a Bible verse against it. Yeah, they see us as the darkness. That’s a big hurdle when your goal is to have positive, respectful relationships with Christians.
There’s plenty of materials aimed at Christians who have an unbelieving spouse, all with the goal of converting the unbeliever to Christianity. Because when you’re the light, your primary function is the light the darkness, make it like you. Atheists not seen as people to have a intimate, respectful, relationship with. But that’s what a healthy marriage is supposed to be. We had to slog through an emotional conflict, complications, trust issues, and long emotional journeys. Sometimes we didn’t even know what to aim for except the vague concept of peace. I would love to see spouses in mixed marriages sharing their positive experiences online!
Imagine my thrill one morning discovering a Patheos blog written by a man in a very similar situation to me. He is married to a strongly religious woman, and they have four children who all attend church with the wife. He is a person who obviously wants to have a healthy, balanced relationship with his wife and children, respect their faith while not having one of his own. This one was the first one I read but it lead to many others. Particularly captivating for me was his series of letters to his daughters. Like me, Neil Carter desires a peaceful, balanced relationship with the religious people close to him, where everyone is respected and lines of communication are open. Those letters echo beautifully the desires I have for my own children, who are attending a private school and forming their own religious beliefs.
There’s still a lot of background I don’t share with Carter, not entirely surprising. He was a man in conservative Christianity, I was a woman, and in Christianity, those are very different experiences I have had a hard time finding other women like me online. You see, most former-christians who are openly atheist in a mixed-belief marriage I have read about are men. I would love to see statistics on how this reflects the American population as a whole. Why aren’t more women free to leave Christianity and become openly atheistic? I have my own ideas on why, mostly formed on my own personal experience as somebody who grew up in the church during their teen and early adult years. But much of it has to do with the first article I linked. Christian beliefs and culture in America sets up women and men as very different indeed. As a result, women frequently stand to lose a lot more if they drop their religion.
I do hope to find more atheist women who are peaceably living with a faithful spouse, to hear their stories. If they come from a similar Christian culture as me, they are navigating a very tricky environment indeed. But living with a spouse of faith and children of faith, being previously of faith myself, I know we have more in common than we do different. We share more goals than we don’t. I have fought to keep a positive outlook that this can work out. I bet there are more like us out there. Hopefully I find them!
Have you found any interesting blogs lately that have been encouraging to you? I’d love to hear about them!