Thursday, March 10, 2011

Unequally yoked: Advice for atheists in a relationship with a theist

The following is a guest post by Lynnea, whom you probably know by now from The Non-Prophets. You can read her regular blog at

The Atheist Experience TV show gets a lot of fans asking them for advice about how to deal with a loved one who is still into religion. The circumstances are frequently different: the atheist might have started out as a believer, or there might have been a known philosophical difference from the start. They might be considering getting more serious, or they might be already married with kids in the mix. It's always tricky to offer relationship advice on a problem that has been building and building. There are no simple answers for relationship compatibility issues, but I'm hoping to offer some concrete starting points where you can suss out the issues yourself.

1. Should We Stay Together?

First of all, don't consider your long term history together. This may sound strange, but dwelling on the past is not healthy, even if the past is positive. You need to be addressing the issues as they are now. Are the two of you getting along well? Is the religion issue making one of you hostile or walled off? Are you afraid of hostility or being shut-out if you were honest? If so, that's not a healthy relationship now. Don't consider how the relationship was years or months ago, and guiltily linger on that. Relationships should be continually developing and loving and giving, not something that just cuts off after a certain amount of time. There is no excuse, no reason that allows someone in a relationship to be treated poorly.

On the flip side, if the two of you are reasonable and caring to each other and you know about your religious differences, then you are at a good start. Relationships are built on respect and care, and if that's something you have then you are doing well. Being nice to each other a great indication of a good relationship, but there can still be some warning bells.

A slight caveat to considering your history: if things are peachy right now, but there's a history of extreme ups and downs then things will probably not get better. The cycle of abuse shows a relationship model of attacks, apologetics, happiness, tension building, and then more attacks, whether it's physical, psychological or emotional. If there's a history of domineering, disrespect, manipulation, hostility or other outbursts, then do keep that in mind. The cycle describes an relationship built on dominance and inequality, and the only way to break that cycle is to just get out. Watch out for a partner who refuses to allow your atheist books in the house, disallows you to go to atheist meetings, who forces you to come to religious worship, who tells you (with no remorse) that you deserve Hell, or doesn't allow you to talk about religion to the family. Those are all kinds of controlling behaviors, and abuse is about control. Here's a great guide about the kinds of relationship abuse, along with great extra resource links at the bottom.

Another warning bell to consider is if the two of you alright with your religious differences only because the differences are never discussed. Do the two of you avoid discing all difficult topics? When was the last time you had a serious discussion about politics, moral qualms, money, social problems, gender structures, etc? Do the two of you only talk about superficial stuff? If so, you might want to reevaluate if this relationship is really substantial or if you're just in the honeymoon stage of the relationship. If there's no deeper connection, no deeper common ground, then why would you want to be in a long-term relationship with this person? Seriously consider if you're there just because it's comfortable and tough to leave.

Now, it's quite all right to have topics that are avoided. If the two of you talk about social, financial, political and other issues issues, while religion is just the odd duck, then that's probably fine. Russell and I have topics that we've just agreed to disagree on and never bring up, because they're fruitless discussions (male infant circumcision, for example) but we are pretty much in agreement when it comes to other debates, and we enjoy those discussions thoroughly. There's only so much time we two can spend discussing World of Warcraft and other superficial things, before our conversations would go silent. Having these deeper connections keeps our conversations constantly new and fresh. Having deeper connections is important, and if those are lacking and have been lacking for quite awhile, then it's pretty easy to see where the relationship will go in the future: nowhere. It can be tough, but really look at these outside issues.

2. Trying to Deconvert a Partner is Usually Not a Good Idea

Perhaps a more popular question from atheists about religious partners is how to deconvert their theist partners. That's a much trickier topic to navigate.

The approach I take to this sort of question is to generalize it out. Instead of making it about religion, let's say instead, "I have a partner with a large character flaw. How can I fix that flaw?" It's the typical problem of starting a relationship with someone and then expecting them to change for you. Now, a small amount of personal change in a relationship is healthy and normal. It's part of being accommodating, loving and exchanging: imagine a relationship where Partner 1 improves zir habits about picking up the laundry, and Partner 2 works on their problem of calling when zhe will be late. Maybe one picks up bicycling in exchange for D&D and they both increase their sphere of hobbies. That's good. In a normal relationship, there is a certain amount of change that is willingly and happily made to accommodate and improve each other. It's a positive embracing of newer and better habits, hobbies and experiences. When it becomes unhealthy is when that change is forced or coerced, (or when the change is in forbidding previously enjoyed activities). If there is someone who feels continually pressured to change, then the relationship ceases to be based on mutual respect and love. Here, I recommend a deep evaluation of whether pressuring is an appropriate tactic. You might win and deconvert them, but more than likely you will just put an extra strain on the relationship.

And the thing is, religiosity is a very strong emotional and religious meme, and it is a tough thing to shake. In a way, it's like an addiction, as strong as an alcoholism. Try reframing this relationship deconversion problem as trying to get an alcoholic sober. You can see the problem, you can see the logical gaps, you can see how it's possibly destroying their lives and eating up their money, you can see everything. And you deeply care about this person, and would love for them to be freed from this one affliction that is ruining an otherwise perfectly good person. But anyone who has tried to help an alcoholic will tell you how fruitless it is. That person is in an addiction and sees no reason to change. You will have to accept that probably they will never want to see the light. You will probably have no influence on them leaving their religion or their alcoholism.

Now, this feels hypocritical for me to write, because I used to be a Christian who was in a relationship with atheists, and now I am quite the atheist myself, so I know change is possible. But I feel like my story is merely one anecdote, and I prefer to trust general facts instead of individual stories, even if that individual story happened to me. This is tough to do, but an essential part of being a skeptic. And looking back, I don't think I would have deconverted while I was dating my high school atheist sweetheart. At that time someone pointed out to me the bad things the bible says about women, and I had flippantly excused it with "Oh, that's only The Old Testament." I don't know that I was emotionally ready to deconvert, and any attempt to do so would have probably just made me feel hostile and disrespected. I did change my mind later, but that was only because it was something I came to slowly, and independently, through a love of skepticism and evaluation (and not until I was single). I changed not because of who I was with, but because I chose to follow the facts and they slowly led me to disbelief.

I don't think my story is all that typical of theists. After all, most of the theists I know are still theists. There are always those alcoholics who independently decide to kick the habit and cure themselves. There are those religious people who slowly realize that their faith is based on nothing. But it shouldn't be your job to sacrifice yourself on the unlikely chance that they will spontaneously change themselves, or that you can be the one to "fix" them. It likely won't happen. That spark and desire for change has to come within, and there's nothing you can do to put that into someone else's brain.

As another example, Russell and I took a premarital class to waive a marriage license fee, and in it the director gave a story about how on his honeymoon he flipped out and punched through the glovebox of the car. A scary story by itself, but then he then he continued that kind of behavior for 9 more years before finally figuring out that was unacceptable. He slowly realized he needed to change, and turned himself around. I'm glad that he had that self-realization, but would you have wanted his partner to have stayed through that for 9 years on the hope that he would change? Do you think that there was anything this woman could have said to make him re-evaluate his behavior, or would he just have ignored her? The truth is that something clicked in his head on its own, and he self-motivated his own change. A good method for self-evaluation is to pretend that a friend is in a similar situation, and ask yourself how you would give them advice. In my opinion, they shouldn't have stayed together. Take a step back and look at your relationship as if you were looking at a friend in a similar situation: would you advice your friend to wait it out? Can they be happy together if they stayed the same, for years and years? If you can't accept them for how they are now, then you need to re-look your standards or re-look your relationship.

3. Can Deconversion Attempts Be Acceptable?

I would like to point out a mitigating factor, even though I worry that it might just add confusion and false hope. Many people who are stuck in religion are there only because they've never been presented with contrary views or information. Their religion is treated with some sort of reverence that shields it against scrutiny, and they might be simply ignorant about their own faith. If they are the kind of person who cares about truth and knowledge and logic, then they might just need a bit of nudging in the right direction, and you never know where that nudge might come from. It might be from you, it might be from someone else, it might even be from someone religious. Faith is a Jenga tower, and you can never be sure which block will topple the whole thing down. In this case, it might be helpful for you to offer advice and arguments about religion and reason. Address concerns and doubts they have. Ask them the tough questions: always ask questions instead of telling them. Let them do their own research and point them in the right direction. Asking questions allows them to think about it themselves, telling them allows them to just shut it out. I recommend reading 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God, and The Demon Haunted World. And of course, Iron Chariots and TalkOrigins are fantastic guides as well.

Most importantly when communicating, evaluate how you have these kinds of discussions. Different ways of approaching a relationship disagreement can lead to vastly different results. If there is accusing, storming out, stonewalling, ignored olive branches or any other number of bad arguments habits, then you need to take a moment to work on your own communication skills. I highly recommend John Gottman's The Relationship Cure, which is all about how to communicate effectively, really in any situation. Interestingly, one of the best summaries of proper relationship communication techniques I could find quickly was in a section of a wikipedia article about open marriages (it's been flagged as inappropriately placed, so enjoy it while it's there).

As an atheist now, I frequently feel frustrated that I was a christian so long around so many atheists and skeptics who rarely questioned my faith, but on the other hand, I honestly could not tell you if attacks on my faith would have sped up my deconversion or whether I would have entrenched further. For example, this incredibly long YouTube series tells the story of a student decoverting after fervent debate with his professor, a guy who I would have chalked up as a lost cause. Meanwhile, as I've already said, I defended biblical subjugation of women with the dumbest argument that I actually believed made sense. I was a pretty hopeless case, and maybe I did benefit in some small way from having my faith prodded a bit when I was younger, but it took years after that. It's always worthwhile to try presenting arguments against religion: even if they fall on deaf ears now they might produce logical responses years down the line. Deconversion is a slow, gradual process that frequently requires input from multiple sources. They might thank you years down the line.

That said, I would like to reiterate that it is not your job and not your place to change and fix your partner. It might be possible to point them in the right direction, but if these debates go nowhere, then you really need to accept that this is how they are and this is likely how they will be for a long time. I've hesitated to give the above advice about how to deconvert a partner because I am worried that it might be used as a sort of grasping at straws for those who are in a relationship with someone who really is stuck. I'd say most people are in the kind of situation where their religious partner is not likely to be swayed. The majority of Christians I've ever known and discussed religion with are still Christians. And if you think that doesn't apply to your partner, then you're probably deluding yourself. Go ahead and attempt to change their mind, but be prepared for it to fail, and then be prepared to move on. You should not sacrifice yourself and your happiness to try and fix someone who is a lost cause. When was the last time you watched a romantic movie? They are formulaically based on the fantasy of changing a fundamental flaw in the love interest. That this is so attractive of a fantasy really speaks to how unlikely the chance for change really is. If you've tried to communicate your desire for a change, and that desire has been ignored, then you need to accept that this is a person with their own free will and thoughts and you might never be able to change them. Are you alright with coupling with someone who will have this attitude forever? Would this permanently leave your relationship more strained than positive?

4. Should I Just Go Through the Motions?

One of the side questions that gets brought up is that of going through the motions, for the sake of the relationship. Whether it's a religious ritual in a marriage ceremony or attending a religious service. If you are an out atheist to your partner, this pressure can feel uncomfortable. Perhaps you feel awkward about going through these motions, but are uncertain about why: after all if you don't believe that sprinkling water on a child does anything magical, then why not allow it to happen? This discomfort comes not from the actual act, but from the attitude of respect and mutuality in a relationship. The ceremonial implications with god might be imaginary, but the ceremonial implications between the two of you are very real. If there is a situation where you are expected to take the backseat and have no input, then that is being disrespectful to you. It is disrespectful to say that one person's views must be followed and the other person's must be ignored, for the sake of someone outside of the relationship. Here is where you need to find some sort of compromise that shows respect to your feelings and your partner's feelings. Have that wedding chapel ceremony, but exclude references to god from the vows. Compromise, and be wary of inflexibility. Inflexibility now means inflexibility in the future. It means you will be in a relationship where you will be pressured and coerced to continue going through the motions, and as we've already discussed, pressure to change is a real relationship-killer. Is that something acceptable to you?

Alternatively, if your partner doesn't know that you are an atheist, then you are in a bit of a bind. You are now in a relationship that's not based on mutual respect and trust, but instead lies and deceit. If you are afraid that telling your partner about your atheism will damage the relationship, then you have to examine how strong your relationship really is. If something like that can shake your strength, then be honest with yourself about if there are deeper issues: lack of deeper common interests, inabilities to communicate, etc. You need to ask yourself if this is a relationship worth keeping together on such shaky ground. Now sometimes relationships can be solid, but the religion has entrenched itself so deeply that even strong relationships will be torn apart by a commitment to the faith. In this case, it can be painful to admit that you are in a relationship with someone who would hurt you for something imaginary. But does that sound like a deep love, a faithful commitment? Does that sound like the sort of person you would want to rely on? Would you recommend a friend stay with someone who doesn't accept them, who has to lie? This can breed a relationship where you feel resentful and disrespected and trapped, and your partner feels an unknown distance growing between the two of you. It's much better to come clean, and then to accept the repercussions of that. Do it gently, if you are worried: say that you don't believe what you used to and that you're still the same person and that you care about your partner and will always be open to answering different questions, and that you hope they still care about you in the same way too. Give a negative reaction some time to cool off, but if there continues to be hostility, then realize that this is someone who does not respect you for who you are and is not contributing to a loving, respectful relationship.

5. What About Kids?

One of biggest and toughest questions I've saved for last: the issue of children. The easier issue of children comes with those who don't have them: discuss if you want children and come to some sort of agreement about how they would be raised, and how much religiosity they will have. Discuss schooling and strictness and punishment, really consider if you want to bring someone into the world who might be pressured into believing a religion. Can you accept watching your child be taught to believe for life in the imaginary? That's a pretty tough burden to accept.

If there are already children in the picture, it can be tough. Very young children really do benefit from having two parents, and you should consider the fact that splitting up might leave your religious partner as their primary source of religious information. Consider also that many atheists now are the children of very religious parents, myself included. All you need to do is instill a love for truth and knowledge, and atheism can come naturally later on its own.

When it comes to divorce, the damaging effects on kids is actually a bit overblown. The connection between emotional damage is actually with parents who are frequently negative and attacking of each other. If you and your partner argue frequently and heatedly, then a divorce might actually be more positive, because it would reduce that negative element by giving the two of you some space. Similarly, if the two of you have a loveless marriage, kids will pick up on that. Then, that sort of unfulfilling, unaffectionate relationship will be normalized for them. There's no positive in that.

If you choose to divorce, make a conscious effort to do so respectfully and calmly. There is a lot of societal/religious pressure to keep marriages together at any cost, but this might not always be healthy. Obviously it's not good to get flightily at the first few whiffs of trouble, and if trouble has just started then it might be a good time to look into relationship help. But if there are deep relationship issues, don't be afraid to break those off just because of children. Whatever choice is made, be sure to impress upon your children how much you care about them and reinforce that you will still be there in their lives because they are important; that's the biggest thing that kids need from their parents.

6. Where to go from here

I've covered a lot of ground here, but I hope that this can serve as a good starting point for those who are currently in a relationship and aren't quite sure what to do next. I find that frequently people know exactly what to do, but have trouble admitting that to themselves, and look for outside advice. So think about your relationship, think about the implications, think about the status of your relationship together. Think about how deeply committed and respectful and loving you are to each other. Think about how you would advise a friend in a similar situation. Think about what sorts of things you care about in a relationship. Think about if your decisions are influenced more by comfort or by true respect.

If you do decide to split up, don't focus on finding someone else. Focus on yourself; improve yourself; join classes and expand your interests and hobbies. Follow your passions and then if you are active with them, maybe you will find someone that way. If you don't, know that happiness and healthiness are more important than being in a relationship. There's plenty you can do to make the world a better place, and it's always nice to focus on ways you can improve the world.


  1. I think that religious differences in relationships are really the same as other differences, but given more credence because our culture is so steeped in religion. In reality, I think these differences are the same as other differences in relationships.

    I have been with my husband for almost 13 years. In that time, both of us have changed. As a result, our relationship has changed. There is nothing wrong with that. The difference between 22 and 35 is huge, and to think that we would be the same now is silly and unrealistic.

    So, there are things we agreed on that we do not any more. There are things we both used to be interested that only one of is now, and there are new interests that only one has adopted.

    For example, I am currently very interested in exploring a more technical feminism (more in depth and educated than simply "women are equal") and discussing issues like rape culture and privilege. This does not interest my husband in the same way. He is not dismissive of my interests, he loves me and respects me, but he simply does not feel the passion for the subject that I do.

    I could interpret this as a fundamental flaw in our relationship. How could he not care about such things?! What sort of terrible person wouldn't be up in arms about how abstinence education helps to formalize rape culture in the minds of young children?

    Then again, his passion, discovered after we married, is recording music. He's brilliant at it. He went to school in NYC for it and received some of the highest scores SAE has ever given out. He lives and breathes recording music. I simply don't have the talent or hearing necessary to participate in his passion. He'll show me a vocal line, click something on the computer and then ask, "Do you like this better?" I can't tell any difference between the two. This is frustrating for him.

    Now, if I told you that either the feminism or the recording was the reason for us divorcing (we're not divorcing, we're fine), you would probably laugh. I see religious differences the same way. With love and respect these differences can be worked around and the relationship preserved. It's when respect and love are not present that differences, religious or otherwise, become an insurmountable problem.

    Shorter me: if one partner's religion is torching your marriage, the problem isn't the religion. Religion is the symptom, the problem is lack of love and respect.

  2. Thanks for posting this. It's almost like you've been living at our house. I deconverted about a year ago and it's been a struggle ever since. It's a lonely road but I'm slowly working at it. I just wish my wife was more forgiving.

  3. A great post! As someone in a relationship with a believer I can relate to much of the above. I think it was me more than her, who hurt our relationship, I was very vocal, very argumentative, as this girl is orders of magnitude smarter than me (a PhD)and I couldn't understand why she stays with a belief she admits has no evidence and is not rational. That was my fault, I didn't know enough to not be a little loud mouth.

    But we've recently come to an agreement about having very little discussion on the matter, and when we do it is more of a common ground thing: "honey I just read Michael Martin's book it was great", or "you should read Mike Licona's new work on the resurrection, it asks some great questions" etc etc. And that works for us, we don't have big discussions/fights about theology anymore, and things are great for it. The only strain actually is her family, they have met me for like 5 minutes and hate me (as I'm an atheist) and she feels she needs to lie to them (she doesn't tell them she's with me) about where she goes, and who she hangs out with. Which puts pressure on her an us! How do you guys, or anyone else for that matter deal with a fundamentalist family who hates you not because of the person you are but because of a dogma, that says you're a "fool"?

    Sorry for the long post! Keep up the great work guys!

  4. Great post! I'd add that if you decide to stick with your significant other, then PATIENCE is of utmost importance. I myself am married to a theist and it took some time after I told her for things to be back to normal (it still causes some tension here and there, but religious discussion was never a huge part of us in the first place.) I think a key thing for us was that we both agreed that we would still love each other regardless of our religious views.

  5. Pet Peeve time!

    Why do you say "Zir" and "Zhe" when we have a perfectly good gender-neutral pronoun already, namely "They". It's ok to use "they" as a singular. Don't worry, it won't bite!

  6. Nice post. I'm an atheist married for twelve years to my wife, who is Christian. We've had a few potholes along the road, but we're still ridin'.

  7. I've been married 27 years to a woman who's a believer, but not terribly religious. I've been an atheist since before we were married. She was pretty much a moderate Christian when we married, now she's one of those people who would describe herself as spiritual but not religious (whatever that means!). She's a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I think she's pretty good at it, and she's seen a lot of harm caused by religion to her clients over the years. I think that's the primary reason she doesn't seem to be particularly Christian anymore. She does still like to go to church services on Christmas Eve and Easter. There are problems in our marriage, but they're unrelated to religion.

    Kids are somewhat of a bigger issue. Before kids, we discussed it and I told her I was OK with raising them as Christians. My thought process was that if you raise them religious, then they can always deconvert, but if you raise them without religion, converting probably isn't an option. It was only after kids came along that I realized the problem with my previous thoughts - religion is so obviously a crock of shit that the only way you can get someone to believe it is to indoctrinate them when they're young, thus bypassing the critical thinking skills that they don't develop till later.

    My boys are now 14 and 10. Where we are now is that I don't pretend to be religious, but I'm not openly atheistic around them either. We attend a church service once or twice a year, but that really feels like a family tradition more than worship, like cooking crab legs for dinner on Valentine's Day. We let them attend church services with various friends - I'm completely OK with that and would prefer they get exposed to a wider variety of religion this way. Right now their experiences are weighted towards the evangelical Christians and I'm uneasy with that much of one thing.

    If my 14 year old doesn't yet realize that I'm completely nonreligious, then he's not paying attention.

    Anyway, that's where I am if anyone is interested. About your list of advice, I'd emphasize the one about not expecting to deconvert your spouse - don't go into a marriage expecting something you see as a problem now, to get better. It's not fair to that other person, you need to marry them for who they are, not what you think you can make out of them. That's just opening you up for disappointment when it doesn't happen.

    And it reminds me of the old joke that a woman marries a man, expecting to change him, but he never changes, and a man marries a woman expecting that she'll never change but she does. So true.

  8. Treating religious belief or atheism (depending on the side you are on) as some kind of disability is funny as hell!!! I have read the exact opposite arguments from Christians.

    My point of view? Agnostic. Since I don't know for sure, I try to keep an open mind. This way I can laugh at both positions!!!

  9. I have been trying to ask a question for a while now by e-mailing the hosts of AETV, but I am afraid that my e-mail has gotten eaten by a spam filter somewhere along the way. Once upon a time, Matt said that you should put some combination of letters in the subject to make sure it would make it past his spam filter. Does anyone remember what that was?

  10. It's AETV or NPR (Non-Prophets Radio)

  11. I spent a year and a half with a girl who I absolutely adored but had gradually become more and more devout as time went on.

    We tried working at it - I went to church, I fasted with her, I read 'Purpose Driven Life' every day until it was finished with her (*shudder*) and generally put up with all the craziness such as speaking in tongues etc.

    Eventually, for an avowed Atheist, I realised it was taking up a ridiculous part of my life. She had become increasingly away with the fairies as well - disapproving of me giving blood etc as the Bible didn't approve. I then started imagining a situation in the future whereby we had kids and one of them required a blood transfusion. I couldn't say whether she would permit it or not and that was pretty scary. Her transformed position on gay rights also infuriated me. It was only when she stopped our plans to spend a year in China together on account of her pastors disapproving and missing her church that I realised it wouldn't work. It really killed me as I really loved her but I had to end it there.

    I think anyone who is in such a relationship and doesn't particularly have any responsibilities (i.e. kids), needs to seriously consider what their partner's beliefs are doing to their lives. For me, it was too much.

    On a positive note, after some time it felt so good to be apart from all that religiosity. It's so surprising to look back and realise what an emotional burden it felt like and I wasn't even a bloody Theist!

    Anyway nice article, thanks.

  12. I view theism as an acquired mental illness that can be crippling, expensive and contagious.
    What would you do if your partner had a virulent harmful contagious disease that your offspring have a good chance of catching?
    Just let it slide?
    That is clear child abuse.

  13. Perhaps this will be interesting to some of you after reading this good post...

    I live with a Hindu girl who consider herself very religious, while I consider myself a "strong" atheist (I actually believe that there is no God).

    Strangely enough though, she is as deist as one can be in terms of how she sees the world.

    Because of that, we get along pretty well and have interesting philosophical discussions once in a while.

    At the same time though, our biggest fight ever was because of religion... The problem was simply that it's hard for me not to laugh at superstitious behaviors. Long story short, I need to never put clothes in front of a picture of God anymore! ... and especially not burst laughing when explained why!

    And by the way, don't believe this mocking of Hinduism that says that they have hundreds, thousands, or millions of gods. All gods are like rivers that flow through the God "sea".

    Oh Catholics, you thought the trinity flow was soooo cool.

    Finally, @Vassilis, please have the balls to answer the question: "Do you believe God exists". I'll even let you define 'God' so that you can answer Yes, or No.

  14. The answer to question no 1 "Should We Stay Together?" is "No".

  15. I suppose I’ll be the one to say it:

    The article is at once presumptuously sanctimonious and naively vague.
    You’ve extrapolated your personal tastes to those of others without a hint of rationale, let alone adequate reason. That you consider the absence of “lofty” conversation (e.g., politics, religion, social problems, etc.) to prevent depth in a relationship says roughly dick about relationships in general. Where do you get off determining what others should prioritize as topics? I don’t care for entirely superficial chit-chat either, but if some couple enjoys discussing the weather and shitty sitcoms, fuckin’ aye. To condescendingly suggest that relationships unlike yours in conversation are just in a “honeymoon stage” or in any way less admirable is, frankly, preposterous. You further assume the priorities of others by dictating what is and is not a healthy relationship (to some degree). You provide no legitimate reason why these things should be valued. That you share a popular opinion hardly excuses the a priori adoption of values not inherent to skepticism or atheism.
    It’s worth noting that couching sanctimony in one-sided qualifiers and soft language doesn’t make a statement any less ridiculous.
    When you aren’t making such assumptions, the advice you offer is free of any insight. Stating the bleeding obvious several times over, at great length does not profundity lend. I think that people wondering how to handle religious differences in marriage have probably figured out evaluating a relationship and weighing their feelings. I re-read the post looking for even one novel idea or interesting suggestion; it came up bankrupt. It’s the same re-hashed fluff that can be found in any Ann Landers column or new-age self-help drivel.
    I have never had a problem with religious differences because I know what my priorities are, what I want, and how I can go about effecting any desired ends. You may also have figured out your respective stances. That’s all well and good; however, self-assurance hardly gives license to offer generalized advice. I’ve read many columns on this topic, and most of them have the same problems this one does. It’s sawed-off armchair psychology posing as wisdom.

  16. I think the "kids" bit is actually the least tough issue here.

    Children should be raised by example - and what better example can you give than that people with different views can actually live together in harmony.

    One parent can easily teach their religious stories and values etc etc, while the other can teach their science and their secular principles etc etc. If they don't concur, then you just say that - "we disagree, make your own mind up."

    The only problem that this could cause is if one parent wants to hide what the other believes. But that is patently stupid because (a) you can't do that all their life and (b) what kind of parent wants to shield their children from the truth of the existence of dissenting opinion - especially when the very existence of the second parent puts truth to the lie.

  17. David your example seems good, but the problem I find is that theists are often set on their offspring also being theists, whereas atheists aren't as adamant about their kids also being atheists. If you are a Christian its gonna be hard to live with the idea that your child is doomed to hell if they side with the atheist parent when it comes to religion, which I bet will be the case the majority of the time if the child is presented with both ideas from an early age.

  18. An addendum to my last post...

    I recently went to church with my mom (who doesn't yet know that I'm an atheist) and the preacher made the comment "if we don't start telling these kids about god around the age of 6 they will most certainly be lost." It's just so surprising that no one else understood the real reason why.

  19. Didn't know where to post this so here goes.

    I've heard a bit of noise on the internet today about how todays date is 3/11/11 and Rev 11:13 is:

    At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

    So, you know, brace yourselves to be spammed this verse for the next ten years.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Well D-Train next time someone says that tell them to think about it mathematically. Revelation was written around 100AD. That was 1911 years ago.

    I'm gonna conservatively estimate that there is one major earthquake every year (there are actually like 5-10 but I only need one to make my point). That means there have been 1911 catastrophic earthquakes since Revelation was written. 2nd grade math tells you that if earthquakes occur randomly there have probably been about 5 total catastrophic earthquakes on March 11. Many many more if you go with a less conservative number.

    Now think about this, what about the dates of November 13th, November 3rd, January 13? Those could work as well and if they did I'm sure Bible thumpers would be screaming about them. Add those to the mix and you get about 20 earthquakes from prophecy.

    So lets look at wikipedia and count how many earthquakes we can find on those dates...I've found 7 in THIS DECADE ALONE. Funny how prophecy seems so mysterious till you use your brain.

  22. @Albert
    Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the math involved in these things. I'm just giving a heads up. I'm sure preachers all over will be using this happy coincidence on Sunday to separate fools and their money. I'm sure the AE guys will be getting at least one inane call about it in the next month.

  23. what the heck? if i can't have a relationship with a theist, then i can't have a relationship with like 95% of the girls in my country. religious differences REALLY aren't that important, as long as the spouse isn't a religious nut.

  24. Erauqssi: It's ok to use "they" as a singular.

    No. No it is not. At the very, very least, that is not okay in writing. It's excusable in speech, but written, it's not just a pet peeve, but an actual breakdown of noun/pronoun agreement.

    What it is generally okay to do is to set up individual examples (alternating between male and female pronouns, for instance) or making everything plural--so that "they" can be used acceptably.

    I'm not opposed to the introduction of gender-neutral pronouns into English--we obviously need them--but I'm not sold on "zir" and "zhe." Still, any pronoun in a storm, I suppose.

  25. @Tom Foss

    I disagree.

    While "they" may be an unacceptable singular pronoun in formal settings, it is quite acceptable in a blog post or similarly non-academic effort.

    The pronoun has been used in the singular form for over 200 years; this usage is found in literature, law, essays, and many other forms. Grammar can be taken either prescriptively or descriptively. Both approaches are important. While I tend to be on the conservative side (I structure most writing around the use of "one" or the plural "they".), but the use of "they" as a singular pronoun is perfectly acceptable outside of strict grammarian standards (in which blogs do not fall). It has the history and the clarity necessary to qualify as acceptable.

    That said, I must admit that I find "zir" and "zhe" to be stupid and unnecessary contrivances. If one wants to avoid gender discrimination, there are already multiple ways in which to do so.

  26. I personally don't care about if someone uses "they", "zhe", "he or she" or "one". The specific word is not important, what's important to me is avoiding making assumptions about gender, and allows this post to more easily apply to males/females/etc. I happen to like using zhe/zir because that's what I prefer. To object to progressive change in language that allows for easier use of non-assuming language is just that: objecting to progress.

    If you don't like it, then fine; you're welcome to use "they" in your own texts. But going out of your way to object to "zhe" does not advance the meme of the importance of gender-neutral pronouns, and it makes no sense to object to me using my own synonym. It's as if I said that something was "cool", and you scoffed at me for using "cool" instead of "awesome", promoted "awesome" as superior to "cool", and insulted "cool" as an unnecessary contrivance because there are already many ways to say "awesome".

  27. It's not objecting to progress so much as objecting to unhelpful redundancy. We have "they," "one," "he or she," "s/he," "(s)he," universal "he" (gasp), and the avoidance of pronouns altogether as viable options. There is no need to make up ridiculous words where we have numerous options just lying about. Using these z-root pronouns does much more to hinder communication than aid it. That language evolves is no excuse for casting off standards.

    I would further argue that it does not help to, as you put it, "advance the meme of the importance of gender-neutral pronouns" in the slightest. First of all, the quoted bit is just a drawn out way of saying "suit an agenda". Silly/obnoxious contortions of language such as your pronouns or any number of contrived "wimminist/womynist" terms put forth in the early nineties actually do more harm than good in this respect. Few things scream "agenda-laden" as loudly, and you're more likely to alienate people from gender-neutral language than appeal to them.

    Linguists and writers have been tossing out ridiculous neologisms for over a century. They all fail. Of the lot, the z-roots are among the most preposterous. From a phonological standpoint alone, it's fucked before it gets out of the gate. Take "zhe" alone; how is the average reader going to pronounce it:
    [dʒi], [dʒI], [dʒeI], [dʒɛ], [dʒʌ], [zi], [zI], [zeI], [zɛ], [zʌ], [ʒi], [ʒI], [ʒeI], [ʒɛ], [ʒʌ], [zhi], [zhI], [zheI], [zhɛ], [zhʌ], [ʒhi], [ʒhI], [ʒheI], [ʒhɛ], or [ʒhʌ]?
    Bear in mind, those are only the options for one of the pronouns and only for American-English dialects. Most exposure to these fruitless neologisms is a result of reading rather than hearing. Without an established phonological history, people are simply not going to know which of the many pronunciations is correct, and they're not going to use the word. Bear in mind, you have repeatedly mispronounced the word on the Non-Prophets. If you don't know, how do you expect other readers to?

    If you want to write with social change in mind, then great. However, neologistic onanism does not accomplish anything. You're simply pissing in the wind while effective options are sacrificed on the alter of myopic agenda service.

  28. It's a really good idea for everyone to read this. This is how morality works. Prioritizing values and considering the rationality of them before you put yourself and others (your souse, children) in harm's way.

    I also think that it's not wise to enter into such a hard-to-get-out-of contract until you're old enough to know what you really want. When I say 30 as a general rule, I'm not joking. You have to know you're a whole person before getting married--marriage doesn't change your identity, mah sistahs.

    I never would have thought I would be given such a gift as the marriage I have. I was 37 when we tied the knot. And I considered myself still pretty immature. We met on an atheist message board (thanks, Reggie Finley). That was first and foremost because we discussed our worldviews. Being a headstrong and stubborn person, this was a deal breaker. Start with that. I was also not in a position to have children, so that was not to be an issue, though we discussed it anyway, extensively. forget romance--if you really are going to make this kind of agreement, you've got to know what you're getting into. Mystery should never be part of it, no matter how much you like mysteries.

  29. "I happen to like using zhe/zir because the letter zed is awesome and underused!"

    FTFY ^-^

  30. To be honest I think there are a good percentage of Christians (or Muslims) who don't really believe in it but go along with the flow for social reasons. So unless they're a complete fundamentalist nutjob (who you wouldn't date anyway) it shouldn't be a problem to adopt their faith, or at least appear to. Much of it is just culture, tradition and moral ethics anyway so there's no real harm done.


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