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How do atheists find love in a theistic world?

My girlfriend of over a year is a devout catholic. She is very intelligent, down to earth, and gorgeous to boot! I am an atheist (secular humanist). Recently she has all but completely withdrawn from our relationship because of this difference. I try to explain to her about the unconditional love of Jesus and how that should apply to me as I am a good moral person, but her emotion remains in limbo (no pun intended) as to whether or not to continue out relationship.

How do atheists find love in a theistic world?

Posted: August 1st 2007

SmartLX www

It’s not a theistic world any more than America is a Christian nation. It’s just a world/nation with a lot of theists/Christians in it.

I’m in love with a liberal Christian, and we’re both open with each other about our beliefs or lack thereof. We talk about it often, though not adversarially. Maybe one or both of us will eventually change. No big tragedy if neither of us does, we’ll deal with it.

I made sure she knew I was an atheist very early on, because I knew she was a Christian and I worried that she would react the way your girlfriend has. I’m very glad she didn’t.

So atheists find love either with other atheists or with people of other persuasions who are accepting of atheists. Unfortunately your girlfriend is not yet the accepting type. Whether she can learn to be, or wants to learn, is up to you to judge.

Posted: November 22nd 2007

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George Locke

If right-wingers and left-wingers can do it, I don’t see why atheists and theists couldn’t.

You might ask what Catholicism requires of you besides practicing the liturgy; meaning what kinds of things make a 'good Christian’. Hopefully you live up to that ideal better than most Christians. I should like to point out that Kierkegaard, who is a leading theologian of the Lutheran faith, wrote that an idolater who faithfully worships his idol and strictly follows his idol’s commandments is a better Christian than someone who goes to church but doesn’t follow the teachings of Christ (I think this is in the introduction to Concluding Unscientific Postscript — this introduction is great, dense reading and an excellent discussion of Christian morality). If you hold considered beliefs on spiritual matters, that sets you apart from most people; you can tell her that spiritual matters are important to you (or maybe just that you have given them serious attention) but you see them differently. I don’t know about you, but I think that prayer and visions and things can have real benefits, I just think that the source is the unconscious/intuition.

You should think about what kinds of concessions you are willing to offer. Relationships are all about compromise (a cliché but damn if it ain’t the truth), and extending an olive branch might be a good move. Offer to go to church with her, or do some community service with her church group or something like that. Show her that you accept her beliefs and see value in them and she will hopefully reciprocate.

Those are some things you can do to bring her around. You might also consider what you’re willing to go through, like how much church you could sit through, think about a marriage ceremony, condescending in-laws, even (more distantly) how you’d handle children vis a vis religion.

I don’t know what your relationship is like, but when my fiancée and I disagree, in certain cases we try to talk about what has brought each of us to our respective, conflicting positions (this is really only appropriate for a few kinds of disagreement, this being one of them, another being the pros and cons of hot dogs versus ice cream as better junk food :). If you can discuss what are the things that she likes about being a Catholic, and you can tell her some of the things you like about being atheist (while trying really hard to avoid the question of which the 'correct’ choice for either of you), then this again should help to show her that your beliefs are not so incompatible with hers.

One of the main things that atheists in general are demanding from the religious is that they have an open mind and a willingness to judge every idea on its own merits. As far as I can tell, the only way that your girlfriend will ever accept your own form of (non) spirituality is if she is willing simply to see that your position has at least some merits and that it is not entirely unreasonable, even though she sees the problems as outweighing the merits.

Keep in mind, there sometimes comes a point where putting more energy into a relationship helps no one. I hope this isn’t happening to you! Best of luck!

Posted: August 7th 2007

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flagellant www

I have never fancied myself as an agony aunt, but here goes: you have to think of the practical side, later on, if you try to pursue this relationship. Some Catholics can be pretty relaxed about their ‘faith’ and they’ll use sensible methods of contraception, not insist on your conversion, etc. Others will go for the full suite of nonsense and you’ll perhaps find that your children will be cuckoos in the nest. Could you put up with that? If she’s a full-on, eyes-closed believer, you have two options, really: you could run and be thankful for the lucky escape or you could negotiate if you’ve really got it that bad. You say she’s ‘Down to Earth’; this may help. If you negotiate here’s just one way you might choose to do it:

Firstly, talking about Jesus isn’t a particularly good strategy for you; you ought to look, instead, at doing some joint study. This is a serious suggestion: see if you can get her to agree to study two books together. The first would be Alone of all her sex by Marina Warner. It’s an academic study of the Virgin Mary. It is seriously interesting. Just try to discuss it sensibly. (If she wants to choose a theist text, I warn you that most of them will drive you mad by their relentless series of assumptions. The text I suggest has the great benefit of being discursive but hardly neutral. If she insists on the Bible, start with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Judges. Make sure she understands what she’s reading.)

In return, she must read the second, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, with you. Don’t be aggressive about it. Don’t claim a point every time she shows doubt. Try to be genuinely neutral. Just let her make up her own mind about things. It often takes years to dump the indoctrination. Although I myself became an intellectual atheist in my early teens, it wasn’t until my forties that I really managed to dump the emotional attachment, too. So don’t expect quick results.

By working together in the way I’ve suggested, you will find out lots of things about each other, most of them pleasant, I’ll bet. You may even be able to agree, amicably, to go your separate ways. Perhaps you’ll end up lifelong ‘platonic’ friends. I have a few – there are such things, you know…

This comes back to the main point: even if you reach some romantic accommodation, and it looks as though she’s ‘coming round’, can you wait? Are you prepared to make the effort with nothing at the end? I understand that there are several good atheist dating sites…

Good luck and, if it comes to a wedding with this lovely lady, please invite me, whatever sort of marriage you have.

Posted: August 7th 2007

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John Sargeant www

I went out for 6 years with a practicing Roman Catholic, my best friend studied theology. So love of friendship or romance I have never found difference of world view a killer.

I know some relationship books talk about differences in religion can cause problems in a relationship. Just like differences in politics.

Love is based on how you feel about a person. I have never understood how people can love someone yet want to change them into something they are not.

Love is how you feel about someone now. If differences really are going to get in the way of a meaningful relationship then that is how it is. But for some belief is so vague that really it plays no part in day to day life.

In short it depends. But trust me you can find love in the world no matter what your world view is.

By the way all the best in your relationship :)

Posted: August 7th 2007

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brian thomson www

Personally, I don’t have an answer to that one, being a single (non-Irish) guy in Ireland. The predominance of Catholicism here has meant I’ve had to think about it – possibly over-analyzing the situation a little.

Your question becomes doubly troubling if you look at the future: if you overcame your differences and decided to get married. Since your girlfriend is a devout Catholic, I guess that her family are devoutly Catholic too, which means they would demand a Church marriage.

When I pondered that point, I came to a sobering conclusion. The “most important day of my life” would, for me, be a day for absolute honesty, and any deception would be unacceptable to me. I could not stand there, in front of a priest, two families, and friends, and make religious vows that I did not fully believe.

Say you get over that hurdle, and the marriage goes well, there are children to think about: whether to have them, how to raise them … beyond the scope of this question, but you can probably see where I would be going. I don’t mean to come across as a “party-pooper”, but on this topic I have to be, if I am to be honest about the prospects of a Catholic – Atheist relationship.

Posted: August 7th 2007

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