As I work on my book about religious/nonreligious mixed marriages, one of the important variables is when the couple got “mixed” and whether they still are. Couples who were both religious at the beginning, then had one partner lose the faith, deal with different issues than a couple that was already mixed at the altar. Same with couples who were both nonreligious, then had one partner become religious.
There’s also much to be learned from couples that started mixed, then both ended up on one team or the other. This is all part of the formal survey coming out later this month, but for now, here’s the informal poll question of the week.
[Note: If you choose "none of the above," please explain in the comments. Thanks!]
Off to a great start with the new form for sharing stories about religious/nonreligious marriages. To make sure all categories are covered, I’m going to prime individual questions once in a while.
If you’re in a religious/nonreligious mixed marriage, or once were, or almost were…let’s start with the first time you and your partner discussed the difference in your beliefs.
Ours happened in 1990 when I was 27. After the usual series of misfit relationships and a lot of thinking, I’d become incredibly picky. I finally knew exactly what I was looking for…and Becca was IT. Compared to everything else she brought to the relationship, the fact that she was a churchgoing Christian was a footnote. Honestly, if I’d learned she had a second head growing out of the back of her neck, I’d have bought it a little hat. This, at last, was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life, the person I wanted to raise a family with, grow old with, the whole cliché.
We’d known each other for years and been dating for a few months, but my atheism had never come up. I finally decided it was time. I was terrified of the possibility that I’d lose her over it, but I knew this was too big to be an “oh-by-the-way, funny-thing” moment later on. If it was going to be a big deal, it needed to be a big deal right then, before we got engaged, before we got married.
I decided that a fast-moving car was the right place to bring it up.
We both lived in LA at the time and occasionally drove to San Francisco to see her parents. Perfect. Somewhere around Kettleman City, in the middle of nowhere, I got the nerve. I don’t remember the exact words I said, but at some point it was out there: I don’t believe in God, it’s something I’ve thought about seriously for years, and it’s not likely to ever change. Is that, uh…okay with you?
The tires thrummed for a while. She clearly hadn’t seen it coming, and she seemed a little shaken.
Finally she said, “Well…is it okay with you that I do believe?”
I said yes, of course. I’d known that from the beginning.
“It has to be okay for me to go to church.” You’ll note that this was not in the form of a question. I said it was okay, of course it was. At which point I learned why it was so important for her to go to church. And as is so often the case, it had nothing to do with God.
She laid out the whole story. Her stepdad, a former Baptist minister, had an ugly falling out with his church when he left his first wife. As a result, he didn’t allow Becca’s very religious mom or her daughters to attend church. Becca vowed to herself at the time that she was bloody well going to church once she got out of that house, and that no one was ever going to keep her from it again. It wasn’t religious uniformity she needed from her eventual husband. She just needed to know that that particular bit of family history wasn’t going to repeat itself. It was never about salvation. As much as anything, her churchgoing was an act of proxy redemption for her mom.
By the end of the conversation, I was relieved, we knew each other a lot better, and the biggest secret I had was out in the open. And it had gone just fine.
As you may know, I am writing a book on marriage between religious and nonreligious partners. In addition to an upcoming survey, I am collecting stories to personalize the issues. If your marriage straddles that religious/nonreligious divide, I’d like to hear your insights and stories by using this form.
Possible topics include:
The first discussion of your different views
Extended family issues
Dating across lines of belief
Family identity issues
Talking about differences in belief
Kids and baptism, naming, circumcision, etc.
Kids and churchgoing / Sunday school
Kids and religious identity
Separation or divorce
Death, loss, funerals
Submit one story or ten, one sentence or a hundred. What have you learned? What would you do differently? What has made your relationship stronger, and what weakened it? Are you both in the same place belief-wise that you were when you married? Did kids bring out the complexities of the issues in a whole new way? Has the mixed marriage made you more tolerant of other beliefs…or less?
Thanks in advance for anything you can give. I can’t wait to read them. The form will be available until July 1, so no particular rush. Take your time and dig deep, then click here to submit your stories!
Thanks for participating in the first mini-poll of several. These polls won’t form the basis for any actual conclusions in the book, but they’ll help me think some things through, including the wording for questions in the full survey coming in a few weeks.
Though people in secular/religious mixed marriages have always been a part of my audience, readership for Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers (and this blog) skews significantly toward couples in which both partners are secular. Makes sense, since the books and blog are mostly about raising kids without religion. But even with that skew, 22 percent of the 509 respondents to this poll so far are in a secular/religious mixed marriage.
You can roughly double that number that once you get outside of the PBB skew. Religious intermarriage has been rising steadily for a century, from 26 percent of all US marriages begun in the 1910s to 45 percent of marriages begun in the past decade.1 And nearly half of all married nonreligious Americans currently have a religious partner.2 (This comes as a big surprise to many nontheists I talk to who are convinced that secular/religious marriages are simply impossible.)
The increase in religious intermarriages parallels an overall increase in acceptance of the idea. About 60 percent of those who reached adulthood in the 1930s felt that shared religious beliefs were “very important” for a successful marriage. For those who became adults in the 1950s, that dropped to 50 percent. And for those who came of age in the 1990s, that feeling plummeted to 23 percent.
If you believe some of the terrible books I’m currently reading on interfaith marriage, this change in attitudes is a disaster. Many of them, including recent titles by decent publishers, bang the drum of religious uniformity as a vital component of a successful marriage. Scratch the surface and you find that many or most of these are actually more concerned about their religions than about the marriages. And it’s true — religious intermarriage has had a deleterious effect on the cohesiveness and retention of many religious traditions. But the effects on marriages, though real, are seriously overstated in the literature. (More on all that later.)
The rest of the mini-polls, like the full survey itself, will be directed at those who are currently or formerly in secular/religious mixed marriages. I will also be creating a form to submit your own stories of dating, marrying, raising kids, and dealing with extended family across that religious/secular gap.
Thanks for your help with this.
1Cited in American Grace (Putnam and Campbell, 2010), from Gen. Social Survey 2Faith Matters survey (2006) 3World Values Survey, 1982 and 1990
Part of the research for my book on the religious/nonreligious mixed marriage will involve a large-scale formal survey in May. Before that’s released, I plan to run a few informal single-question polls to scratch the surface and guide my work. I also hope you’ll share these polls widely.
Here’s the first one. Phrasing is always a challenge, so thanks in advance for answering to the best of your ability. “Religious” in this case refers to theistic religion.
If you are married or in a committed long-term relationship, please choose the most accurate statement:
I identify as nonreligious and my partner does as well (72%, 402 Votes)
I identify as nonreligious and my partner is religious (21%, 119 Votes)
I identify as religious and my partner does as well (even if the religions differ) (3%, 15 Votes)
Don't know / can't answer as phrased (2%, 14 Votes)
I identify as religious and my partner is nonreligious (2%, 12 Votes)
The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. MARK TWAIN, Letter to George Bainton, 15 October 1888
Well into the writing and research for my book on religious/nonreligious marriages and ready to start blogging it a bit. As I did with Atheism For Dummies, I’ll be looking for your help to chew on some ideas. If you give me even half of the terrific input you gave last time, I’ll be grateful. It really helps.
Right now I’m looking for the perfect, concise term to denote the marriage of religious and nonreligious partners.
I can pretty much guarantee we’re not looking for an existing word, at least not one used in this context. We’re going to need a new coinage here, or at least a repurposing. The term should denote this kind of marriage without including other mixes, such as marriages between adherents of two different religions. For that reason, “mixed marriage” and “interfaith marriage” don’t do the trick, though they are useful for the larger categories.
The ideal word would be concise — four syllables is an absolute max for a single word, maybe five for a two-word term. And even though its meaning doesn’t have to be obvious at first glance, it would be nice if it didn’t rely too much on knowledge of ancient Mediterranean languages to make sense.
If I introduce the term up front in the book, I can then use it in place of long, tedious phrases (“When couples in which one partner is religious and the other is nonreligious…”). The new term might even make it into the title, who knows. In any case, if you coined it, you’d certainly get a loud shout in the Acknowledgements.
So help me find le mot juste here. Help me find the lightning.
The humanist members and staff of Foundation Beyond Belief extend our hearts to everyone affected by the tragic bombing in Boston on April 15.
FBB has become a touchpoint for compassionate humanist action in the freethought community. That’s a responsibility we take very seriously. When a tragic event like this one happens, many atheists and humanists contact us to see if FBB will mount a crisis response drive. We examined the Boston situation carefully and decided we could be most helpful by pointing toward existing efforts.
If you would like to assist the victims of the bombing and their families, here are a few ways to help:
The Harvard Humanists shared the news that one of their volunteers and her daughter were badly injured in the bombing. Celeste and Sydney Corcoran are both enduring extensive surgeries, and Celeste lost both legs below the knee. Consider making a donation to help the family cope with the financial burden. You can learn more about Celeste and Sydney here.
The One Fund Boston is a fund started by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to assist the families most affected by the bombing. Individuals and businesses are contributing to this fund, including a $1 million commitment from John Hancock and donations from many other corporations. “The One Fund Boston will act as a central fund to receive much needed financial support,” according to Governor Patrick.
Those looking for a specifically nontheistic response might consider the drive currently underway through We Are Atheism, Atheists Giving Aid. We Are Atheism intends to distribute the funds to local Boston agencies and/or directly to the families affected.
The Red Cross reported that, thanks to generous donors, the blood supply was adequate to meet demand after the bombing, but people across the country can always schedule an appointment to donate blood.
The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.
You’ve probably seen the petitions going around to end the Daylight Savings Time Hokey Pokey we do every year. I’ve always liked it myself. It shakes me up twice a year, makes me say things to the kids like, “Ooh, remember how dark it was at this time yesterday?” It’s nicely weird.
But it hit me this morning that I’ve got it all wrong. I really ought to hate it.
So now I do.
I’ve always loved things that make me feel like I’m on a planet and hated things that paper over that astonishing fact. Most of the time it’s easy to forget our actual situation, to lapse into the illusion of normalcy Douglas Adams talked about. But sometimes I manage to feel the real deal for a minute.
Years ago, in our house in Minnesota, I could lie in bed at a particular time of night, look out the window at a gable that jutted into the night sky, hold very still, and watch the moon ever so slowly break into view from behind it. I could see the Earth turn.
Thierry Cohen’s spectacular photographic series “Darkened Cities” is a sad reminder of the planetary perspective we’ve lost because of city lights.
(I won’t copy the copyrighted images, but if you haven’t seen them, oh my gourd, GO.)
When I lived in LA, I was properly terrified of earthquakes. But after each decently big one, I always got a little twinge of schadenfreude watching that cocky city grind to a halt for a few hours: Oh riiight, we live in smooshable bodies in breakable buildings built on a jittery crack in the surface of a whirling ball! Scary, but nice in its way.
So here’s the deal with the time change. If we left the clocks alone, we’d feel the shrinking of the day in the fall and the expanding in the spring more than we do. Without those two artificial twitches interrupting the big planetary respiration — without the Wait, wut? of the downshift and upshift — we’d feel the annual breathing of night and day gradually, naturally. Mornings would be too dark for too long in winter, and too light too early in summer, and we’d have to deal with it. In the process, we’d get a better feeling for the shape of the year, and we’d be in a little bit less denial about what we’re sitting on. Maybe.
Two years ago, after Raising Freethinkers had been out for a while, I posted about emails I’d been getting:
One of the funniest recurring topics in my inbox concerns the reader reviews for Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. The reviews are 95 percent good, a gratifying thing. Surprising, too — given the sensitive topic, I was ready for a barrage of negatives from certain quarters when each book came out. It just hasn’t happened, which is awfully nice. Who needs the distraction?
But negative reviews do appear, including some I think are entirely fair. And when they do appear, fair or not, somebody somewhere ALWAYS drops me an outraged note. Some even suggest that I ought to (somehow) get the offending thought deleted. Really.
Now I’m getting a steady flow of the same thing regarding Voices of Unbelief and Atheism For Dummies. It really is sweet of y’all, but (a) I have no special powers, and (b) I wouldn’t use them if I did. I’m a free expression fundie.
Once again, most of the reviews are gratifyingly good, and readers can generally figure out whether the negatives are worth taking into consideration. (My current favorite starts by saying “I have to admit that I haven’t read this book.”)
As I said before, I really do appreciate it when people take the time to review my books, no matter what they think. If there’s an existing review you want to vote up or down or comment on, or if you want to write your own review, Amazon makes it easy. Go on, have fun, and thanks:
Foundation Beyond Belief, one of the loves of my life, is going through a pretty profound transformation this year. Thanks to the generosity of a few extraordinary donors this year, our programs are expanding rapidly, including a pilot for an international humanist service corps that launches this summer. (Much more on that soon.)
But the humanist giving program remains at the heart of what we do — over 1,350 individual humanists contributing what they can on a monthly basis to make the world a better place. We’ve supported over 100 outstanding charities since our 2010 launch and expect to clear $1 million in total donations by year’s end. And every dollar designated for our featured charities goes to those charities.
I know a lot of Meming of Life readers are also Foundation members, and that seriously warms my cockles. If you invite a friend to join and they tell us you referred them, you’ll be entered in a drawing for some cool thank-you prizes, and so will they! (Deets here.)
If you’re not a member yet, now is a GREAT time to join. For one thing, you’ll help us reach our goal of doubling our giving membership by the end of 2013. The giving is simple and fully in your control. You choose your own giving level, starting as low as $5 a month, then distribute your donations among our five cause areas based on your own vision of humanism.