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October 14th, 2006

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06:36 pm - An atheist's love life
Hi everyone, new to the community, and have already been mightily impressed by some of the interesting discussion.  Hopefully it will not die anytime soon, because that would make me sad.

So here's my question, open to both the atheists and anyone else...

Let's say you (and by you I mean I) are an atheist who has fallen deeply in love with a wonderful, sweet, caring young man who seems to be perfect for you in every way except that he's a deeply religious Sunday school teacher.  He knows and accepts that you are a nonbeliever, and you've had a happy, fulfilling 18-month relationship, but he has made it clear that he doesn't understand your lack of religious beliefs and would really like you to help him do so.

1) How does one explain why one is an atheist in a manner that will be understandable and helpful to a religious Christian?
2) What does one tell one's pain-in-the-ass atheist friends when said friends ask you what the hell you are doing messing around with one of Christ's little sheep when there are plenty of decent freethinkers available?  "We love each other" never seems to be a sufficient response.
3) Have any of you ever been in a similar situation, and how did it turn out?

Thanks in advance ^^

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 15th, 2006 12:26 am (UTC)
I wouldn’t know what to say other than to point out (a) the lack of evidence for religious beliefs, (b) that lack of evidence is considered evidence for the contrary in practical fields (including all sciences), and (c) the large historical-anthropological-scientific body of evidence that religions are cultural inventions.

Actually, I find it hard to see how one could remain comfortably religious in the traditional sense, when presented with these things. I was not comfortable and that’s how I became an atheist.
[User Picture]
Date:October 16th, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)
1)In order to put it on his level, to a certain extent, I would try to point out the similarities between why he believes and why I do not. I would explain that, to a theist, the idea of there being a god is such a certainty that if they look deep within themseleves, that is the answer they get. Being an atheist is exactly the same, except with the reverse result: we looked deep within ourselves, and our hearts told us that there was no god out there for us to look up to. Keep in mind, as you discuss this, however, that it may be impossible to prove one way or the other whether there is a god, so you shouldn't need to justify why you believe what you do, any more than he does, because there is no way of knowing whether either of you are right or wrong. He sounds like a nice guy; I hope he doesn't use pseudoscience to try to "prove" something, but if he does, let me know and I can find you any information you need on evolution, the makeup of the universe, etc. (I'm a third-year biology student at university, with a focus on evolution and genetics, and I have access to hundreds of scientific journals through the library, not to mention that I'm halfway through and extensive course on evolution.)

2)I wouldn't dignify rude and invasive questions like that with much of a response, even coming from friends. I would continue to say, "We love each other," and leave it at that. No other answer should be necessary, since you have a safe and healthy relationship with him. Say it in response to every objection to your relationship until they get the idea that they do not have the right to approve the people you date, then change the subject. I don't like intolerance among atheists any more than I like it when it's used against us.

3)I deliberately avoid dating anyone who is religious. My boyfriend of two years, who I plan to marry, is an atheistic secular humanist. Although I don't have any direct experience, I would suggest having a serious discussion with him about what you want out of life, such as marriage, children, careers, etc. Would he insist on a religious education for children? Would you be able to compromise and expose your hypothetical children to both sets of beliefs? Would he expect you to be married in a religious ceremony, and could you live with that? Would you need to convert for his family to accept you? If you were married, would he attend church alone every week, or would you expect him to be around on Sundays once in a while? You've been together a while now; it's time for these things to come out into the open. How it turns out depends on how much you can compromise to make both of you happy.

Best of luck with everything.
Date:October 20th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)

Part 1...

What coach_carolyn said, plus:

1) How does one explain why one is an atheist in a manner that will be understandable and helpful to a religious Christian?

This is a very difficult thing to do, mostly because the verbal landscape has so many mines in it. Which kind of Christian he is will probably count more than anything else.

If I were you, I would be very clear about setting a few boundaries for the discussion before it got going. First, neither person is trying to convert the other one. Second, atheism is NOT a religion or a coherent philosophy. Third, atheists are NOT enemies of Jesus and they are NOT secretly wanting to be converted. If he can't grasp these at the outset, there won't be a way to explain yourself because he won't be able to provide a clear conceptual space for you to talk into.

That said, I would approach it from two sides, the "inside" and the "outside". The "inside" is surprisingly easier to do for most Americans: start with the classical Christian view (Heaven and Hell, Jesus the Son of God, 7 orders of angel-type spirit beings, etc.) and then begin asking the classic questions (Is Hell itself evil? Is any of this made up? Where is the Bible supported in its metaphysical claims? Is God capricious? etc...) But then ask the question: what did Jesus actually say and what did he mean by it? At this point I would pull out Marcus Borg's _Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time_ and Albert Nolan's _Jesus Before Christianity_: these do well separating the recorded words of Jesus from the historical religion called Christianity. Your boyfriend may very well be surprised by what Borg and Nolan (who are both ordained) have to say about Jesus.

The "outside" approach is simpler to put but harder for people used to Christian-style thinking to get. It goes like this: start from a blank slate and ask questions. What has happened in human history? How does it look like the universe works? What do we know about how people relate to each other and their surroundings? Where is our planet in relation to the galaxy? How did the Earth look a million years ago? What might it look like a million years from now? From these questions you begin tapping the physical and social sciences for theories: biology, anthropology, history, sociology, psychology, physics, chemistry, etc. Then when the question moves to, "What is Good and Evil?" the theories come out of philosophy. The point of the "outside" argument is that THIS is the proper frame of reference for life. You have a question, go look up theories on the answer and see what fits your experience best. On this ground, the Bible becomes no different from the Bhagavad-Gita, the Koran, various Books of the Dead, etc. I would point out that the Bible was itself state-of-the-art social science circa 3000 years ago, and that all of the disciplines above have continued the work of the ancient experimenters. Then it becomes clear that it is wrong to throw away all of these modern sciences in order to favor the theories offered in the Bible. (BTW--It sounds like your boyfriend may honestly be asking about this "outside" version.)

Date:October 20th, 2006 12:17 am (UTC)

Part 2...

2) What does one tell one's pain-in-the-ass atheist friends when said friends ask you what the hell you are doing messing around with one of Christ's little sheep when there are plenty of decent freethinkers available? "We love each other" never seems to be a sufficient response.

The reason I don't hang out with atheists-because-they-are-atheists is because it turns into a long anti-religion wankfest. (Granted, I live in the South where atheists (literally) can't identify themselves for fear of public persecution.) Your friends should ultimately put friendship first and their religious argumentation second.

3) Have any of you ever been in a similar situation, and how did it turn out?

Sort of. My wife and I are both "spiritual but not religious", but I am the one who is actively looking at the issues and go through phases where "church is alright" and then later "I fucking can't stand fucking Christian hypocritical fucks". I make it a point to occasionally ramble a bit about where I am with things just so that she knows that I'm not about to get "saved" and turn into a hypocrite myself. (My own "sprirituality" resembles what Dawkins calls "Einstein's God".)

Perhaps I can add more to question 1... I don't see the Bible as the 100% Pure Word Of God(tm). I see the Bible as a community document that is part history, a lot myth, a lot political grandstanding, and some wisdom. In our Western tradition, the Bible is the oldest document we've got that concerns itself with human relations, and churches are the longest-running human institutions that concern themselves with human relations. I started going to church to see what bits of modern-day Biblical wisdom were actually being used successfully by the followers. Sadly, it doesn't look like much. The church I go to is focused very much on community and unity (distinct from conformity), but classism is rampant and because of their Christian upbringing they can't even see it much less address it. But we've made some friends, and I can easily say good things about Jesus with a straight face, so we get along -- for now. But we don't fully fit in.
[User Picture]
Date:April 29th, 2007 12:33 pm (UTC)
I second <lj user="chemoelectric>, sure. But you should not forgot that many religious people have a strong barrier accepting "seemly logical" arguments (and they often use a reversed order of evaluation...) "Mathew, 5:37: But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
An atheist's love life - Ask An Atheist — LiveJournal

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