Thursday, 12. September 2013 by Dale
An ongoing series of posts while I’m writing
In Faith and In Doubt, a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the difference between official Catholic doctrine and the actual beliefs of most Catholics. Later on I’ll write about the wide variation in nonreligious beliefs. Today it’s a quick peek in the Southern Baptist cafeteria.
There’s a Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas that holds the Letter of Baptism for my wife Becca. She was willingly baptized into the church as an adult in 1990, the year before our wedding, with her fiancé in attendance.
She was not a Mainline Protestant when we married — by affiliation, she was a Protestant Evangelical. If she ascribed to every piece of the denomination’s creed, the Baptist Faith and Message, we could still easily have been friends, but I doubt we would have dated, much less married. She agreed with many elements of that creed, but the Baptist Faith and Message includes a few important things that I was pretty sure Becca wouldn’t ever have endorsed, any more than I would endorse every tweet of Richard Dawkins.
I printed out the BF&M and asked Becca which of its positions she remembered holding true at that time, and which she would have rejected. Here’s a sample of her response:
She believed there is only one God and that he is perfect, all-powerful, and all-knowing. But she never believed that man brought sin into the human race by disobedience, nor that “as soon as [people] are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”
She believed that Christ was the son of God, but not that he was born of a virgin, nor that salvation is available only through him.
She did not agree that “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.”
She did believe that baptism is “the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus,” as well as a testimony to “faith in the final resurrection of the dead.”
But she didn’t believe it is “the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ” to evangelize others to the faith.
She agreed that “Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice,” “work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick,” and “do all in their power to put an end to war.” But she did not agree that homosexuality is a form of “sexual immorality,” that Christians should “speak on behalf of the unborn,” nor that the strict definition of marriage should be “the uniting of one man and one woman.”
One of the statements of the Baptist Faith and Message that surprises outsiders (and insiders, come to that) is clear support for church-state separation. “Church and state should be separate,” it says, and “the state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind.” She agreed.
As for marriage and parenting, she never believed that it was her place to “submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ,” nor that she had “the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
The contents of her cafeteria tray made her a perfect representative of the Evangelical Left, who affirm the basics (atonement, incarnation, resurrection) but reject the conservative social platform of the evangelical churches.
The moral of the story? Aside from the God-and-Jesus theological frame, my own tray of humanist values and beliefs wasn’t all that different from Becca’s. And when she dumped theology off her tray nine years ago, most of her values stayed put.
Wednesday, 14. August 2013 by Dale
Continuing to plow through the survey data, and I’ve come across a surprising result that relates to extended family.
Of the four sides of our own extended family, one is gone, one is a mix of secular and religious, and two are very religious in belief and practice. Yet Becca and I have experienced very little interference or pressure regarding religion or our kids’ upbringing.
I’ve always assumed that was a rare and lucky thing. Some of the stories I hear from nonreligious parents make my toes curl. Shunning, tirades, threats, using kids as a wedge, pitting one family member against another, I’ve heard it all.
But if the survey is any indication, our situation may be lucky, but it isn’t uncommon at all. When asked to identify any sources of tension or conflict in their secular/religious marriage, just ten percent of respondents identified “Extended family pressure, actions, or concerns.”
I actually started wondering about this last year when I asked people in one of my secular parenting workshops to raise their hands if they’d experienced pressure or conflict from religious extended family. In a crowd of about fifty, maybe 7 or 8 hands went up. Curious, I asked the same thing in the next workshop. Same result.
Given my work, you’d think I would already have had a clear view of the issue. But my skewed perception results from something I’ve mentioned before called the news paradox. You hear about something terrible on the news, or in your inbox, and you think it’s something to worry about. But the fact that it’s on the news means it is newsworthy, which in most cases means it’s rare and you don’t have to worry about it. Car crashes happen every day, so they don’t usually make the news. Plane crashes are rare, and we hear about each and every one in graphic detail. So we race down the freeway, risking a very common death, but fear air travel, the safest of all major modes.
I get a constant stream of emails from secular parents struggling with extended family issues, but I almost never hear from parents saying, “Grandma’s still being great about the religion thing. Thought you’d like to know.”
For those who do experience it, extended family pressure can be a huge and important problem, and the book will address ways to manage such pressure and conflict productively. But it’s good and important to put it in perspective, especially if that can help people to be less fearful of entering a secular/religious mixed marriage.
Monday, 22. July 2013 by Dale
A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.
The secular/religious marriage survey wraps up in nine days. Just as I’m transitioning from general ‘interfaith’ marriage research to a tighter focus on the secular/religious marriage, my friend Laurie Miller Tarr shared this stunning photo with me — the tombstones of a Protestant husband and his Catholic wife, buried in the respective grounds of their faiths on opposite sides of a cemetery wall in the Netherlands in the 1880s.
Sad and lovely.
Wednesday, 17. July 2013 by Dale
A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.
Saturday is our 22nd anniversary. For 13 of those years, Becca was a religious believer; for the past nine, she has not been.
Whenever someone learns that, the next questions are how and why she made that decision, and how much I had to do with it. The answer is simple: She became more curious about it, thought and read more about it, and changed her mind. Having a secular humanist around the house probably stirred her curiosity in a way it wouldn’t have been if we shared a faith, but I played no active, intentional part in the change.
I was reading a lot of Karen Armstrong and A. N. Wilson in the early 2000s, before the Four Horsemen had saddled up, and Becca began picking up the books herself as I finished. She also started tuning in to the conversations I would have with our kids as they worked through their own ideas. I noticed, but I don’t even recall that Becca and I talked much about it.
It was some time the following year that our daughter Erin, then 7, asked her point-blank if she believed in God. After a long pause, Becca said, “I don’t think there is a God…but I wish there was one.”
I had no feeling of having “won” anything. It was interesting to watch her make that transition, and there had been a few minor frustrations over our religious differences before, but I never needed her to change. I never for a moment needed her to be anything other than who and what she was. I loved and accepted her completely before, and I do now.
Becca’s 2008 post about her transition
Monday, 15. July 2013 by Dale
A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.
Continuing to mine Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace for useful insights, and it’s never-ending. What a great piece of work.
One fascinating bit is a “feeling thermometer” that charts how all the various religious and nonreligious identities in the U.S. feel about each other. Their findings, and I quote:
- Almost everyone likes mainline Protestants and Jews.
- Almost everyone likes Catholics, more than Catholics like everyone else.
- Evangelicals like almost everyone else more than they are liked in return.
- Catholics and evangelicals rate each other warmly.
- Mormons like everyone else, while almost everyone else dislikes Mormons. Jews are the exception, as they give Mormons a net positive rating.
- Almost everyone dislikes Muslims and Buddhists — more than any other group. Jews, however, are quite warm toward Buddhists, while cool toward Muslims.
Almost everyone dislikes Buddhists. Buddhists.
Mormons have the highest self-image of any group (a warmth rating of 87 out of 100), while those who identify as “not religious” have the lowest self-image (59). In fact, we rate ourselves lower than either Jews or Mormons rate us — 64 and 61, respectively.
We like ourselves less than Mormons like us.
I think somebody needs a hug.
Thursday, 27. June 2013 by Dale
Last year, while I was writing Atheism For Dummies on an insanely short timeline, I did something counterintuitive — I committed to a daily 5-minute blog entry about the process. As it turned out, that helped me structure my time and mark my progress, and I got to bounce ideas off my readers in a way that improved the book. (In case you haven’t seen it, here’s your shout-out.)
As I transition out of the heavy research phase and into the heavy writing phase for my current book on the religious/nonreligious mixed marriage, I’m going to make the same dumb commitment again. Starting Monday (he said), I’ll write a short, unpolished post at the end of each weekday as I work my way through this incredibly complicated project.
Thanks for coming along for the ride! I appreciate the company.
Take the mixed marriage survey
Share your mixed marriage stories
Friday, 03. May 2013 by Dale
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.
So if you’re in a religious/nonreligious marriage, what’s the story of your first discussion across that line? Sharing in the comments is great, but please be sure to also share on the story form. Your story might make an appearance in my book.
Friday, 26. April 2013 by Dale
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
Friday, 19. April 2013 by Dale
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.
Thursday, 07. February 2013 by Dale
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve reached a deal for my next book with the folks who did Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers — AMACOM Books in New York. The topic is marriage and parenting between religious and nonreligious partners. No title yet, and I hate even the working titles I’ve come up with. (More on that soon.)
I’ve been hoping to get this done for about three years now, but other projects kept butting in. Many of the most common questions I get from secular parents are about issues around this kind of mixed marriage. Though there are several books on marriages between partners of two different religions — including half a dozen titles on Jewish-Christian intermarriage alone — there’s nothing for the biggest belief gap of all. And since there are at least five times as many nonreligious people in the U.S. as Jewish, we’re talking about a much larger population, one that’s totally unserved.
The issues are also different when instead of two religious traditions, you’re blending natural and supernatural worldviews. Existing interfaith marriage books aren’t all that helpful with this different set of questions.
This is a complex project that will take all year. Since detailed data are sparse for the topic, I’ll be conducting a large-scale survey sometime in March or April, as well as a series of interviews with mixed couples.
Like the Dummies book, I’ll be blogging the process and asking questions along the way — just watch for posts with the “mixed marriage” tag. Thanks in advance for your help!