Sunday, July 08, 2007

To The De-Converted Out There: How Has It Affected Your SO's?

For years and years and years, I believed that marrying a nonbeliever was sinful - “do not be unequally yoked” and all that. So for years and years and years, my first dating requirement was that the guy be a believer.

Today, I would probably be classified as the kind of lukewarm/backslidden/cultural Christian (or heretic!) that a good Christian man would be cautioned to avoid. This is actually fine with me, because I would certainly not be happy married to a conservative or orthodox Christian. I wouldn’t enjoy dating such a man, either.

So I have started wondering what a person’s faith struggles do to their relationships, and the kinds of qualities they want or need in a mate. To that end, I have a couple of specific questions for the skeptics and de-converted out there:

1. If you are married to a Christian and you are now skeptical/agnostic/atheist: how has it affected your marriage? What does your mate think?

2. If you are single and skeptical/agnostic/atheist, how has it affected what you look for in a mate? Do you need someone who can relate to your Christian past? Do you want someone sympathetic, at all, to Christianity?

Other observations or experiences are, of course, welcome.

24 comments:

exapologist said...

My wife cried when she found out, but things have pretty much been the same. She still goes to church, and takes our toddler daughter, but I don't go. We don't pray at the table together anymore, etc. But, really, this hasn't been a problem. My wife just prays silently, she doesn't nag me about church, etc. From my side of equation: I love my wife and daughter, and respect them deeply. So I hold their views with respect, and bite my tongue (most of the time!) if the occasion arises to take a jab at Christianity. She does the same for me. ;-)

Basically, it's a bit weird at first, but you learn to change certain behavior patterns, and one day, not too far down the road, things are back in the groove.

maybeitsnonsense said...

my husband gets frustrated. although it is curious, since i have stopped attending church so has he. although he does not really provide an explanation. he mainly thinks my skepticism is the result of “being hurt” and he encourages me to “search for answers” to the questions i have and to settle the conflict. at times, our marriage is very stressed by my turning from faith. naturally, he tries to figure me out and solve the problem. on the other hand, he loves me. for the most part, i keep my de-conversion conversation on-line. it is not something we talk too much about unless i am really fired up.

Slapdash said...

Exapologist, do you think your wife would agree that it hasn't been a problem?

My mom was a Xian ("backslidden" according to her) when she married my Dad, a nonbeliever. They've been pretty happily married for 43 years though my mom still claims to this day that it was sinful of her to marry my dad and that if she had to do it again, she wouldn't have done it. (ouch!!!)

Anyway, the idea has gotten drilled into my head that marriages between two Christians have (or should have) some kind of mystical quality to them, the whole Christ and the church analogy and all - like there's a holiness and intimacy to Christian marriages that is missing in marriages where one/both are not believers.

maybeitsnonsense, does it bug you at all that you wind up keeping your deconversion conversation online? Does it bug you that he thinks you're just hurt and need to keep searching for answers?

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I don't know if it's considered a sin to marry a non christian if you are a christian. At least, as people have explained it to me that it is more advisable to date someone of similar beliefs as your own. Though I find that difficult at times since I am not a christian in a straight up conservative sense.

Slapdash said...

***I don't know if it's considered a sin to marry a non christian if you are a christian. At least, as people have explained it to me that it is more advisable to date someone of similar beliefs as your own.***

Maybe it depends on your upbringing; in the ones I've been part of (evangelical, congregational, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic) it has most definitely been considered a sin. If anyone in the community I was part of dated anyone outside of that community, speculation was immediate as to the spiritual condition of the outsider, and the spiritual condition of the community member if anything 'suspect' came up with regard to the outsider.

Now, it's obviously good common sense not to marry someone whose values are not aligned with your own. But I am only now starting to move past the guilt and obligation I have felt for most of my life to date/marry ONLY a born again believer. I've started to realize that there are a lot of people out there who don't wear the label Christian who see the world the way I do and could make a good mate.

maybeitsnonsense said...

Slapdash-
I was taught and thought the same as you. Marriage to a non-or even “weak” believer is sin, unwise, not god’s best, etc. When I was first married I had such a high expectation that my marriage would be “different” because christ was the center of it. We both loved god and purposed our life to serve him. I expected that there would be a spiritual life to our relationship. Our marriage was not any different, any more spiritual, etc. This actually caused me a lot of turmoil. I constantly thought I was not living up to the model of the proverbs wife, to the model of a godly woman. Anyways- that is another story.

I had a lot of expectations, but I also think I developed these from the teachings of the bible and other christians. In some ways, now that I am no longer a christian, I am more relaxed in my marriage without these extra “spiritual” expectations. I am able to accept my husband and myself more.

I would be lying to say that it does not bother me to not really talk about de-conversion with my husband. It is something very personal to me and I know I get easily defensive. Also- I need him to just listen instead of trying to correct me. About the hurt thing- well I know that I really am hurt. I am hurt by the church, but mainly I am hurt by God. Assuming god is real- god has hurt me deeply by abandoning me and leaving me to fall into this de-conversion that will result in hell. If god is not real- then I am hurt that I have believed and have been taught things that have controlled my life. Even still, it is not only hurt and it does upset me that my husband simplifies.

Spiritbear said...

My wife and I have always shared the same basic beliefs but I think it would really strain a marriage. Basically because religion whatever that may be involves many levels of emotions and the eternity question. If for instance one person believes their mate is going to hell thats gotta cause some tension.

I havent been there and I dont know

None of the above statements reflect waht I beleive just what i perceive religion to be all about

exapologist said...

Slapdash,

I think she'd agree it's not a problem -- at least in the sense of a disruption in terms of internal afffections and external behavior in a way that harms our marriage. We still laugh at the same things together, do the same activities together (well, except church-related stuff). When it comes to our daughter, I'm happy to let my wife share her faith with her, and bring her up in the church. My only caveat is that she be encouraged to think about spiritual matters for herself, and be an autonomous human being who makes her own decisions.

However, I'm sure she'd say that she is saddened and regretful of my deconversion. However, I'm not sure how deeply these feelings go. I get the sense that her faith is waning.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

Even when I attended an Assembly of God church which is a very conservative denomination I didn't here it was a sin. Seriously, this is news to me.

Zecryphon said...

I think the Bible verse that alot of people use to justify not being married to a person of non-faith or a radically different denomination within Christianity might be:

2Co 6:14 - Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

I have heard this one used to encourage that only Christians of similar beliefs should date and marry. I have also heard it used to demonstrate why two people of different faiths, say an agnostic and a Christian absolutely shoud not date, because it would be considered a sin to do so. The church also brings this verse out to discourage people from using the "date to save" mentality to justify their actions. This would apply to people who think that if they date a person with different beliefs they can bring them to faith in Christ, therefore they would not be sinning.

Slapdash said...

***I expected that there would be a spiritual life to our relationship. Our marriage was not any different, any more spiritual, etc. This actually caused me a lot of turmoil.*** (maybeitsnonsense)

Yes, I wonder how often Christians experience this kind of let down. The way some pastors talk about the glory and spirituality of marriage, you'd almost think that Jesus himself comes to the dinner table every night.

Slapdash said...

***However, I'm sure she'd say that she is saddened and regretful of my deconversion. However, I'm not sure how deeply these feelings go. I get the sense that her faith is waning.***

Interesting - do you think you have influenced that in any way? (I don't mean actively even, just by virtue of how and what you think)

In my younger years, I Cor 15:33 was one of my favorite verses: "Do not be deceived; bad company corrupts good morals." Wow - talk about judgmental! But that, along with 2 Cor 6:14, were the big drivers of the "don't marry an unbeliever" sin thing. The prevailing theory was that a Christian's faith would go by the wayside if he/she married an unbeliever.

Interestingly, my mom has been quite the counter-example to that: her faith is strong as an ox, and my dad is still uninvolved and uninterested in spiritual things.

Heather said...

** Cor 15:33 was one of my favorite verses: "Do not be deceived; bad company corrupts good morals." Wow - talk about judgmental! But that, along with 2 Cor 6:14, were the big drivers of the "don't marry an unbeliever" sin thing.**

In many ways, this has never made sense to me. God is supposed to be stronger than anything, so shouldn't Christians embrace the unbelievers with no fear? Otherwise, faith ends up looking really weak, and something that can only be maintained under specific conditions.

Slapdash said...

***In many ways, this has never made sense to me. God is supposed to be stronger than anything, so shouldn't Christians embrace the unbelievers with no fear? Otherwise, faith ends up looking really weak, and something that can only be maintained under specific conditions.*** (Heather)

That's an interesting point. What I grew up with believed that sin/evil was so powerful that you needed all these specific conditions (b-study, church attendance, fellowship) to keep you from falling away...because the world and our flesh is THAT tempting. It all fit pretty well into the "the way is narrow" mentality.

Hmm. In this rubric our flesh is pretty damn strong and WE have to do a lot of the work to make sure we don't lose our grip on God. Funny that God wasn't expected to do nearly as much of the heavy lifting. :)

Heather said...

Slapdash,

** In this rubric our flesh is pretty damn strong and WE have to do a lot of the work to make sure we don't lose our grip on God. Funny that God wasn't expected to do nearly as much of the heavy lifting. :) **

Exactly. And I would think it should be the opposite. Faith should make one fearless, and allow one to stride into any situation and not be altered. Instead, it seems to make people draw a very tight circle around themselves and hide, less anything disturb it.

exapologist said...

Hi Slapdash,

If anything, I'm more "straight-edge" than I was as a Christian, so I don't think it has to do with my lifestyle. I'm not sure what sort of impact I might have, if any, on her waning faith. If there is, it might have to do with the fact that I was an apologist for Christianity for over a decade, and yet the more degrees I got and the more I studied, the less plausible Christianity seemed to me.

Suppose your best friend knew all the best arguments for Christianity -- philosophical, historical, and scientific -- from "beginner" to "advanced" level, backwards and forwards, and who wrote college papers defending them, and argued for them in the University classroom as a professor. After a while, though, and with continuous investigation of the details of those very same arguments, and the details of the non-Christian criticisms of them, your apologist friend gradually found the case for Christianity to be implausible on closer inspection. One day, your friend tells you, with great sadness of heart, that they are no longer able to believe the central tenets of the faith -- what C.S. Lewis calls 'mere christianity'. Suppose, finally, that your friend nonetheless had a very happy life (indeed, happier than the one they had as a believer), and who remained a very loving and ethical person. Would that be a blow to your faith?

I'm that guy. I'm not sure, but I suspect that this has had an impact on my wife's faith. I can't be sure, though, since we don't talk about it.

All the best,

EA

Cragar said...

The hardest part is with the kids, IMO. My wife and I can work through our own differences, yet when it comes to the kids she wants them to be spiritual and I want them to be more free thinking.

We work through it but it can be difficult.

jennypo said...

I was going to keep my mouth shut on this one, because I haven't experienced it, but I wanted to point out that my main reason for not wanting to marry an unbeliever is not, as you suppose, that I fear being "led astray".
Don't get me wrong - there are a lot of people who don't believe in God who lead moral, upstanding lives that would put any Christian to shame. My three best friends in the world (except for my sisters) are unbelievers, and they are kind, wise, moral people, and all better than me.
It's not that I'm concerned about being "led astray", but if I ever marry, I will want to share what is the single most important thing of my life. It's not like one partner liking sports and the other liking ballet. Our life goals would be different. It would be cruel to marry a person and expect them to fit themselves around a God they didn't believe in. It wouldn't be too fun to me, either, to always have to censor my statements so they wouldn't think I was trying to push them into "just believing".
It is valuable to me sometimes to be able to give my mind over to someone else's perspectives, knowing that we share core beliefs. Sometimes I can ask my sister for advice and I can take it without analysing it because I know that our foundational priorities are the same. I can also let go of my own thinking for a while in order to see things as she sees them because, while our personalities are very different, we agree on the basic truths. And since I know God, he is THE basic Truth. To me, this kind of privilege is one of the greatest aspects of a close relationship.
I really respect those of you who have been able to maintain a relationship this way. I don't doubt that it makes a difference how important God is to the 'Christian' partner, but I bet it takes some real commitment regardless. Bravo for those of you who have sacrificed a "meeting of the minds" for a relationship with someone you obviously love.

Anonymous said...

"There is now, no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus"...a great verse to remember, but sadly a verse that Christians know - but don't believe. The "Church" tends to condemn many.

Slapdash - I'm visiting your site because you had posted on Chris Tillings site. After reading a few of your posts, I hope I can add something to help in your journey.

Church is not a place you go to, it's people who believe. The legal condemnation is brought on by man, not God. The church (as we know it) are striving to do right, but tends to see and understand in part. Doing their best to teach, exhort, nourish, etc., but failing because we are still waiting for the fullness of God's indwelling Spirit .

When Jesus does return, (I thought the same as you, but it was in the 70's! yes, I am an old one!) we will be transformed and our eyes will be opened. His return will be at the right time. Don't stop looking for him.

As far as looking for a mate, I have been married for 29 years. We are believers in Jesus and follow him. We have not attended "church" in many,many years, but feel that we live as the "church". Of course when you marry someone who does not have the same belief, or is from a different culture, it can be harder to communicate your heart...but of course, it's not impossible if both are willing to love each other unconditionally. WHen that happens, your faith, culture, disagreements, understandings, are not an issue should you live in a way to love and serve each other....and when you live to serve each other, give and love unconditionally, I believe the Lord will be present in your life and lead you to the "Truth" you both would be seeking.

When you learn (choose) to love, you find that the strange, awful and good things people say and do, what they believe...is just their lack of understanding, experience, their pride, selfishness...and you realize, they're just like you! They are searching and looking for "truth and love" but are still on their journey.

I believe in Jesus and after having a relationship with Him, I don't struggle to believe what He says, and I accept the fact that I will always have more questions than answers...until He comes! And He will come. He's not late! Don't give up and keep looking up.

maybeitsnonsense said...

jennypo-
i like what you have shared. i used to have the same belief- i was not concerned with being 'led astray' rather i wanted to have someone i could share the most important thing of life with. it seemed totally pointless to me to marry someone who was not a born again christian- because the point of my life was to serve, love god etc.
my husband told me recently that before we were married he had to work through all of the possibilities and commit to love me. one of these possibilities is that i would no longer be a christian.
i used to think that spirituality and my life in god was the deepest thing i could share with someone.
now i think differently.
i think the deepest thing is to just share yourself and be open no matter what that looks like- and then to accept the other person when they do the same.
even with many christian couples there is not a spiritual element to their relationship.
marriage is a risk- no matter if both partners are christians or not. there is a risk of cheating, giving up, losing faith- etc.
as much as the bible teaches that christian marriage is so unique and spiritually alive my experience and observed experience is that it is really not that unique. what is different is the fear of divorcing because of rejection from god and the church and a "hope" for the future. it provides shared experience but does not mean the couple is any closer.

jennypo said...

maybeitsnonsense,

I agree with what you have said wholeheartedly, and I absolutely admire the way you and your partner have chosen to love despite not being able to share God. I agree that the commitment is the most important thing, however, there is a difference in how I would want to deal with what happens to me and what I walk into with my eyes wide open. Please don't think I am advocating divorce for the Christian who finds him/herself married to someone who doesn't believe in God. If the "unbeliever" can handle it, we certainly ought to be able to. This kind of a difference does nothing to negate love or commitment. Being committed to someone who didn't recognize God would, however, restrict the direction I might be able to take from God in relation to my life (which would be OUR life). This is possible with a Christian who is unwilling to take direction from God, too, but almost a given for an "unbeliever". (Sorry to use that word, but for lack of a better...)
I respect and applaud what you have been able to do. Certainly, marriage is never magically easy or smooth, but I know many marriages between partners who both do not believe that are beautiful, full of love and commitment and trust and a bent will. Christianity is not a prereq. for marriage!
Your husband is as fortunate as you are that you have found each other.

Maria said...

The verse always cited in the circles I grew up in was "do not yoke yourself to an unbeliever" -as another commenter has already ponted out. How that means don't date or marry a someone who's not an unbeliever I'm still not sure, but in the conservative reformed world I lived in dating/marrying a non-christian was certainly a sin.

I'm single, and in the middle of this "lukewarm/backslidden/cultural Christian (or heretic!)" as you say. I do think that having some of the same beliefs makes a relationship easier, but seeing as in the moment I know more what I don't believe than what I do it makes even that gray and hard to understand.

Ultimately I want someone who will listen and try to understand and in the end who sees that all the Christian baggage I have is part of me and love me for it. It is and probably will always be a part of me after all. My hope is that I can do the same for someone else. Seems like idealism at it's finest, and it's still where I'm at.

I've just found your blog today - it's comforting to find a person in such a similar place. Thanks for you honest reflections.

JumpingFromConclusions said...

I think it is funny that "no missionary dating" is preached based on the "don't be unequally yoked" passage. It's preached at my college too. What's funny, though, is that Paul says that the believer sanctifies the unbeliever in marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. I guess the people preaching just want to play the safe side of the contradiction, though.

Scholaster said...

Just to throw out my perspective on the verses being cited ...

I think it's worth pointing out that 1 Cor 7:12-14 pretty clearly addresses those who are *already* married when they become Christians. It doesn't say whether a current Christian should marry a current non-Christian.

And the "being made clean" part is ambiguous enough that I balk at calling it a contradiction of 2 Cor 6:14. I don't see that being made clean is necessarily the same thing as being equal partners.

Then again, I actually don't think 2 Cor 6:14 should ever have been interpreted as applying directly to marriage. It's talking about the church as a whole and non-Christian society as a whole, not individual relationships.

Anyway, this is a really good conversation. I am myself ... agnostic about agnosticism, we'll say. I have a healthy dose of skepticism about my ability to figure things out one way or another. Since I see plausibility in the core of Christianity (as I interpret it), and since the most loving and humble people I know are members of the church, I am sticking with the church for now. But I'm agnostic enough that most believers would probably not exactly be "equally yoked" with me.

So lately I'm thinking that I should look, first and foremost, for a partner who understands and even shares that situation -- probably someone with a similar evangelical background, even, because that still hangs over my head. That is the sort of person who is most likely to understand what I'm going through; anybody else is likely to be very frustrated with me (and I, I predict, with her).

But I'm just guessing.