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“My Christian wife” – a guest spot by Larry Tanner

A self-described “hard-line Atheist” interviews himself about his strong, loving marriage to a fervent Christian. A great read, and plenty to discuss.

beckyMy wife is the most special and wonderful person. She is a Christian of deep belief. She enjoys being part of an evangelical church. She likes the people of the church, the community, and the many opportunities for participation.

She and I are very different in some respects, but together we work. We met in 1995 and have been building a life together ever since.

I figure some might be curious about the relationship of a hard-line Atheist and a fervent Christian, so I put together a self-interview. That is, I wrote some questions and answered them myself below. If folks like the subject and format, perhaps I’ll ask the wife if she would be willing to answer questions from y’all.

1. Let’s start with an obvious question: How is it that two people of such different–perhaps even opposing–beliefs get together and build an apparently happy marriage?
My wife and I actually share many beliefs in common. Our values are fundamentally similar, and our differences are often complementary rather than contradictory. Religion and religious belief are places of difference between us, but in most every other place, we are in just the same place.

Anyways, I think people make more of religious difference than there needs to be. My wife and I are different people, and we always have been. We have different jobs and different backgrounds. We don’t always vote for the same people. We like different foods. Our tastes in music and art can be way off.

As far as I can tell, religion is just another difference. It’s something that each of us has and keeps in the household, but it doesn’t really define our home. It doesn’t dominate our relationship at all. Rather, our lives together are dominated by just living. We try to be together in the morning. I leave for work, and then I come home at night and we try to be together with the kids until their bedtime routine starts.

Maybe if we had both been Catholic or Jewish when we started dating, things would be different today. But since we started out with difference, I think that religion quickly and necessarily became bracketed as a personal thing and not a universal thing.

When we first met, my wife was a practicing Catholic and I identified as Jewish. I don’t remember the state of her belief, or my own. When we moved in together in 1997, she took a spot teaching Sunday school at the local church, and I eventually got involved with my local Hillel house. I even taught the kindergartners in Hebrew school!

If we ever saw our religious differences as a problem, we didn’t see it as a big problem or as a relationship problem. We wanted to be together; that was always the important point. We didn’t even need to say it. From the beginning of our relationship, being together was implicitly understood and not being together never entered our minds.

2. You both went through changes in religious thinking, right?
Very much. In the 2001-2003 timeframe, my wife started to move away from the Catholic church. We were back in the Boston area by then, and the child sex abuse scandal had started to hit. The response of the Church to these horrific acts perpetrated by priests and then knowingly covered up at the highest levels of the institution–well, it was too much to take. The Church’s position on homosexuality was probably also an issue for my wife. Our oldest daughter was confirmed Catholic–that was in 2003–but I don’t think my wife went to church very much in those days.

It wasn’t until 2006 that my wife found a Christian religious community that she liked. This community called itself non-denominational. She found many people there who were about her age and also having children. The religious message was personal and positive. The services were energetic and carefully crafted. I think my wife felt that this community had a lot of people who could understand some of her questions and problems in a way that I never could have.

I won’t go over my changes here, since they are pretty well documented in this blog.

3. Surely, you and your wife must have strong disagreements about religion.
No doubt. We don’t talk about it very much. She has her space to express what she believes, and I have mine. It’s hard for us to talk about these disagreements with each other because I am not able to convey the sense that I take Christian belief very seriously. I take it seriously to some extent. I know that lots of people call themselves Christian, and I am familiar with a lot of the history and background of both early and established Christianity.

But I have limits to the deference I’ll give ideas that I feel have been demonstrated faulty. I can’t make it sound as though the story of a virgin-born-of-a-virgin who was impregnated by a ghost and who birthed a miracle-working human sacrifice makes any sort of sense to me. And I know the arguments around the story and the history of some of its details. Once I feel I’ve thought through a question and seen it resolved satisfactorily, I generally prefer not to revisit it and rather move onto some other question.

For my part, I have no desire to make Atheist arguments or to force Dawkins and Hitchens on my wife. What’s the point? She’s an intelligent human being and I’ve got my work cut out for me just defining the contours of my own thinking. We both have our own “spiritual” questions that we’re pursuing, and it’s enough that we support each other in our respective pursuits.

At the end of the day, our religious differences and our different rationalizations for our beliefs have very little to do with the practicalities of our love and our household. Maybe, after the kids have grown up and we’re retired, we’ll spend our days debating the lack of evidence for gods and the ridiculousness of all religious beliefs. I suspect we’ll rather spend our days having more fun together, but who knows?

4. How do your differences in religion and Atheism apply to the way you raise your children?
In terms of how we raise the kids, I don’t think there are any issues. I don’t openly scoff at Christianity or Judaism in front of my children. I also don’t push Darwin’s Origin of Species or Dawkins’s The God Delusion on them. The fact is that I don’t need to do this. The reality of my Atheism will become apparent to my children when they are old enough to see it. They’ll notice I don’t go with them to church and that some of the books in my library make cases for Atheism.

Parenting is a practical art. It’s hard to get kids to believe or to know things in the exact way you want. They develop beliefs and knowledge through their own doing and their own experiences. Neither my wife nor I is interested in controlling our children’s intellectual environment to the extent that they can only have these-or-those thoughts or only come to such-and-such conclusions about the world. So, we both parent in the day; that is, we try to handle each day as it comes and enjoy it as best we can.

Honestly, I don’t think personal religious or atheistic beliefs have much impact on what we parents need to do as parents. We need to be with our kids. We need to play with them, teach them, help them, encourage them, and show them we enjoy all that. To me, in marriage and in parenting, togetherness is the name of the game.It’s all about being in the same place at the same time.

It’s not about using the children as my personal social experiment. It’s not about making the children live out my dreams and my ideas. It’s not about coercing the children to think and act like me. It is about enabling and empowering them to grow according to their own reasoning and desires.

We parents are an extension of our children, not the other way around. We are their conscience until it becomes their responsibility to tell themselves what’s right and necessary. We are heir butlers until they are fully able to get the items they need and can clean up after themselves. We are their cheerleaders until they learn how to develop their own confidence and motivation. We are their counselors until they are able to take the lead in making the tough decisions that affect them.

My wife and I share this fundamental outlook in most ways, if not in every single way. We agree on the major things and differ in some of the details. We want the same seeds and are comfortable with however the flowers develop. This is why it has worked so far for us, and why I have no reason to be anything less than very optimistic about the future.

[First appeared at Textuality.]

Larry Tanner will now take your questions!
Larry Tanner is senior proposal lead for a New England-based robotics company. He is currently preparing a dissertation in Anglo-Saxon literature and textuality. A married father of three children, he teaches English literature and composition at a local community college. He can be contacted via email at lartanner[at]hotmail[dot]com.

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This was written on Tuesday, 19. October 2010 at 17:06 and was filed under belief and believers, diversity, mixed marriage, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. You seem to be taking a very accommodationist stance on raising the kids. You mention about not scoffing about religion and pushing Darwin. You also mention the kids go to church. Doesn’t exactly seem balanced. If your wife gets to take them to church you should get to talk about the problems with religion and the benefits of science. It would be a fair counter to what goes on there. Or do you think it is a church that just has nice things to say about atheism?

    Comment: citizensmith – 19. October 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  2. “We agree on the major things and differ in some of the details. We want the same seeds and are comfortable with however the flowers develop.”

    As an American married to a Japanese man and living in Japan, this is exactly where my husband and I have gotten to in the process of bicultural parenting (which can be challenging!). I really like the metaphor Mr. Tanner uses of wanting the same seeds–next time my husband and I are having a parenting discussion, I’m going to use that! It’s very easy to become overly focused on the day-to-day details and lose sight of what you really want for your children.

    Very nice to see a guest post by Mr. Tanner, whose blog I’ve just recently started reading (and enjoying–lovely to take a break from Yahweh and read Mr. Tanner’s interesting insights on Whitman instead:))

    Comment: yokohamamama – 19. October 2010 @ 8:06 pm

  3. Citizensmith,

    Accommodationist? Maybe.

    If you have ever seen the great Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, you’ll remember the scene where Eastwood makes a blood pact with Ten Bears. In my house, on this issue, my wife is Ten Bears. She was a religious Christian before I was a serious Atheist. I don’t want to tear down my wife’s religious beliefs, but I give her the freedom to live with those beliefs and she gives me the freedom to live mine. And then we both help clean the house, do dishes, and get on with the important work of managing a household.

    I don’t feel the need right now to talk to the kids about the problems of religion unless a clear circumstance comes up. There was a time last year, for example, when my daughter realized that daddy wasn’t going to be in heaven with her and mommy. You can imagine how troubled she was by this. We talked it out, all of us. My kids have good minds and good hearts–and good parents. I have no issues with the balance we have now, but I also know that balance will change as the kids become smarter and more knowledgeable about the world. My oldest is 7 years old: we have a long way to go.

    Outside of specific issues, which come up very rarely, I mostly talk to my children about using good reasoning, about asking questions, and about finding things out. These are the skills that will serve them well no matter the subject of their curiosity. If and when each child is ready, s/he can go read my blog and/or ask me a question.

    I have no concerns for what any church tells my kids about atheists and atheism, because they have me. If I’m the good person and good father that I try to be, they will inevitably see that the reality of life is often very different from the stories of the church.

    Comment: LarTanner – 19. October 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  4. Thanks for the response. Hopefully your wife would have no issue if you suggested the kids skip church and go to the zoo/museum or something with you instead every once in a while. Only fair. And as you mentioned, at an age when we are still selling them on Santa/Tooth Fairy, etc it really is less relevant. Never could do the easter bunny though, I told my kids that one was just for make believe fun right from the start.

    My kids (only a couple years older than yours probably) picked up quite a few religious things from kids at school. We’d talk about it and both explain, no, X isn’t real, think about X and how it doesn’t even make sense, some people like to believe things to make them feel comfortable about things they don’t understand, but does X sound reasonable to you? Or whichever the discussion was. I’m just not sure how I’d take sitting in front of a wife and shoot down her beliefs. But I also wouldn’t be willing to be silent on the issue, they are just as much my kids so my opinion should have equal weight. Hence my reaction to the church but no Darwin comment.

    Comment: citizensmith – 19. October 2010 @ 11:26 pm

  5. “You mention about not scoffing about religion and pushing Darwin. You also mention the kids go to church. Doesn’t exactly seem balanced.”

    I would have to agree with this. From my perspective one parent is getting to lie to the kids and the other has to sit back and hope that the lies dont stick.

    There’s a reason churches love to get these ideas in while you are young.

    If both parent’s were neutral this would seem fairer. No church *and* no mocking of church. But as is… you’ll jst get christian kids who worry that Daddy is going to hell.

    Comment: gordongoblin – 20. October 2010 @ 3:01 am

  6. Very interesting post.
    I’d really love to read your wife’s perspective too, I hope she’ll do it.
    I agree with many points you make, I’m in a similar situation (though I’d call my wife only nominally catholic, she would probably disagree)
    But I do agree with citizensmith and gordongoblin about your kids, our (still very young) kids don’t regularly go to church but they are in a catholic school and more religion on my wife’s side of the family.
    This makes that I am more proactive about my atheism, both in reaction to the early indoctrination that is going on but I’ll also talk about skepticism and atheism with them unprovoked, religion does it so I do it too (in the nicest most gentle way like comparing the jesus/angel stories to other fairy tales and having books and tales about other religions and instilling a scientific mind, how do you know it’s true?) and I’ll also always be straight with them by saying that I do not believe it (not always adding that others, like mom, do)

    Comment: Belgian Atheist – 20. October 2010 @ 5:14 am

  7. “If both parent’s were neutral this would seem fairer. No church *and* no mocking of church. But as is… you’ll jst get christian kids who worry that Daddy is going to hell.”

    I don’t know that is a sound prediction, as there are plenty of strictly Christian families (mine, for one) that wind up with atheist children. To me, it sounds like Larry is less worried about raising “Christian kids” or “atheist kids” than happy kids. Richard Dawkins often makes the point that there is no such thing as a “Christian child,” because children are not equipped to make that decision. While they might follow mom to church when they’re little, being raised in an environment where religion is clearly optional will give them perspective to make a decision when they are older.

    I think Larry is providing a neutral situation: he’s showing them two adults who are going about their lives normally. Church is part of mom’s life, not part of dad’s. Not all atheists are actively motivated by science education or religious debates; many are just living out their lives without god. The children will grow up seeing that both their parents are loving, ethical, happy, and intelligent, and so clearly these traits are not a product of religion. In my mind, that is as strong an argument for atheism as Origin of the Species or a good debunking of Pascal’s Wager.

    Comment: Allison – 20. October 2010 @ 7:40 am

  8. citizensmith,

    “Hopefully your wife would have no issue if you suggested the kids skip church and go to the zoo/museum or something with you instead every once in a while.”

    No, I don’t think my wife would have an issue. However, I should mention at this point that I’m studying for my Ph.D. exams, so having the house to myself on Sunday mornings is pretty good for me.

    It’s true that I don’t push Darwin and Dawkins on my kids, but I really feel like my perspective gets fair time with them. The kids love to read about animals. We talk about different creatures all the time. We get into how life is connected and related. We discuss fossils and the age of the earth. I think what I do, generally, is give them facts and hedge off on arguments.

    We talk about many things. After all, my background is Jewish so the kids already have a sense that some people observe Chanukah, Passover and a Saturday Sabbath. They already know that there’s a world beyond whatever they think and know. So they’ve never gotten a single voice telling them with solemn authority that the world is according to whatever the preacher says.

    I agree that it’s important for me not to be silent before ideas that are (a) not true and (b) potentially harmful. I hope I’m not silent, but the noise I make is–by choice, necessity, and my natural temperament–perhaps more quiet and less dramatic than others. I don’t think it’s less insistent or effective.

    Comment: LarTanner – 20. October 2010 @ 7:51 am

  9. I would worry that the kids are being taken to church where relgion is being presented as fact *and* they are going as a family but without Dad. To me that seems like the impression isnt “one parent does one thing one does another”. It is “everyone does this but Dad”.

    When I refered to ending up with christian kids I meant kids with the poison of christianity in their brains. I dont see how the situation described could be called neutral so long as the kis go to church.

    Comment: gordongoblin – 20. October 2010 @ 8:37 am

  10. “We discuss fossils and the age of the earth. I think what I do, generally, is give them facts and hedge off on arguments.”

    So this is what I was wondering. Is your wife a creationist? Are your children taught the story of Noah as fact?

    I applaud your efforts, but when it comes to religion pushing bad science on kids as fact, I absolutely draw the line. As far as I’m concerned, there can be no accommodation in this arena.

    If in fact they are hearing creationist mumbo jumbo, then I think the responsible thing for your wife to do is mention that this is simply a belief, and not supported by facts or evidence. You certainly seem to be making plenty of concessions here; this would be one small and responsible concession to be made on your wife’s part (if it is indeed an issue).

    Thanks for your post – very interesting and informative.

    Comment: BrianE – 20. October 2010 @ 9:00 am

  11. “So this is what I was wondering. Is your wife a creationist? Are your children taught the story of Noah as fact?”

    I think my wife would say she believes what (she has been taught) the Bible teaches. But she’s not blind to current scientific evidence and thinking about the world. If I had to classify her, I would say she’s a theistic evolutionist.

    “I applaud your efforts, but when it comes to religion pushing bad science on kids as fact, I absolutely draw the line. As far as I’m concerned, there can be no accommodation in this arena.”

    That’s a nice posture, but I’m not afraid of my kids being exposed to bad ideas. There’s lots of them out there, and I can’t as a practical matter enforce a “there can be no accommodation” policy.

    “If in fact they are hearing creationist mumbo jumbo, then I think the responsible thing for your wife to do is mention that this is simply a belief, and not supported by facts or evidence. You certainly seem to be making plenty of concessions here; this would be one small and responsible concession to be made on your wife’s part (if it is indeed an issue).”

    Bull-pucky. If my wife thinks the “mumbo jumbo” is true, then she has every right to say so. Of course, I think the “mumbo jumbo” is “mumbo jumbo,” and I have a pretty good case for that–and that case gets expressed often and well enough.

    Folks have talked here about “concessions” and “accommodation” and “fair.” I’m sorry, but my wife and I are not in a competition for atheist/religious “soul” of the kids. We’re trying to raise them to flourish–to be happy, fulfilled, independent, successful, and productive people. And we’re trying to enjoy the experience as it’s happening. And we’re trying to continue developing our love for each other. Against all this, the atheism/religion thing is in reality a minor issue, for them and for me.

    Comment: LarTanner – 20. October 2010 @ 9:29 am

  12. I don’t let my son watch horror flicks on Saturday nights. I’m sure not going to let him watch them on Sunday mornings.

    Comment: Charles – 20. October 2010 @ 11:56 am

  13. This was a beautiful and well-written post. Thank you for sharing this, Dale and Larry! Larry, I also went to check out your blog, read several posts and enjoyed it very much.

    I think it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and then open the floor to questions as you’ve done here. I have a comment/question, but am honestly very hesitant to do so, given that I deeply respect what you’ve done here and (more important) I am very aware that there is a flesh and blood person behind that heart-felt post. A bunch of strangers testily criticizing one’s most intimate relationship choices (in this case, balancing individual philosophies and parenthood) isn’t as harmless or lacking in danger as we might all want to believe. You have taken a risk in order to share your experience with us.

    I’m guessing that you have already steeled yourself for the scrutiny, since you’ve invited questions. I hope, though, that there won’t be any unexpected repercussions for your emotions and peace of mind. 🙁

    My comment/question (I’m not sure which it is), is this: as a cradle Catholic (but lifelong agnostic) myself, I think it is more important than you seem to say that your wife moved from Catholicism to an even more conservative and Biblically- literal church. Catholicism does not deny evolution and does not teach the Biblical creation story as an actual explanation of our origins, so your wife has had to move from acceptance of evolution and an allegorical understanding of the Biblical creation story, to at least some sort of undoing of that belief stance. So, it sounds like your wife is moving farther away from you on the Belief continuum, if you will. I don’t know what I am trying to say exactly – perhaps just that I hope you are as alert to the possibility for problems therein as you seem to be alert to most everything else going on around you.

    Having witnessed the hysterical reaction of a child raised with Xian fundamentalism to a night terror based upon the idea that her little Catholic friends were surely going to hell because they were not “saved”*, I guess my question is, have you given much thought to what the effect of the fear which is likely being instilled in your children at that evangelical megachurch might be? Hell is a Xian concept, and you were no doubt not raised with such terrorizing in your Jewish family: are you quite confident that exposure to absolutely all and any “ideas” is going to be harmless, even enlightening, for your young children? Your wife was raised Catholic and was also, unless raised in an unusual parish, probably not terrorized with talk of hellfire, damnation and the probably horrific fate of the “unsaved”. As an adult, she can filter out most of that, but can your children? Perhaps this particular church avoids all such talk completely (although you mentioned your child’s concern on that score, so this is doubtful), but if not, how can you or your wife be sure that what seems like nothing to you (because neither of you had that fear inculcated in you at an early and very vulnerable age) won’t leave a very deep and possibly lifelong impression upon your children?

    Even though you relish your Sunday mornings (I totally get that! :D), would it be completely out of the question to accompany your family to the church one or two times to see and hear for yourself exactly what messages your children will be absorbing? Perhaps you have already done this and you are confident that this megachurch, unlike most, does not go in for the early inculcation of god-fear. In which case, forget I said anything! 😀

    I really hope my questions won’t offend you and will be taken in the spirit in which they have been posed – which is to say, you of course are the expert on your life and I expect you to give my or any outside opinion the weight it deserves (hardly any!) if you wish.

    * The child in question was visiting our family with her mother from another town. The visit occurred over a weekend and her mother took her to a megachurch here. That evening, she had a horrific nightmare/night terror – the screams brought us running – with this 7 year old cowering in the corner of the bedroom she was sharing with our daughters screeching that the devil was coming for her, was right in the room. When she finally came to her senses, she sobbed wretchedly because her friends (my daughters) were going to hell (not “saved”) and now she was in trouble too because she was staying in our house.
    Yes, she was possibly an extremely sensitive child (though I hadn’t noticed so before this), but that was an experience that seared me as a mother, and which, in fact, was the beginning of my awareness of the dangers of Christianism and was the spur which launched me into learning about fundamentalism and its influence and effects on individuals and society.

    Sorry so long, Dale.

    Comment: niftywriter – 20. October 2010 @ 4:04 pm

  14. niftywriter,

    Thanks for your comment. I think I know exactly what you are saying. There’s every chance that both family and marital problems, severe ones, will crop up. Maybe I will become more “militant” in my atheism, as some have suggested. Maybe my wife will want to make our home a shrine to Jesus. Maybe one of the kids will decide to dabble in Scientology.

    No, I am not offended at all by your comments or anyone else’s. I really do appreciate the arguments and the ways that people would (or do) handle similar situations. We’re all Atheist’s long-term–that is, Atheism is what I’ve concluded after long reflection on its many issues, and I don’t foresee my ever becoming either a deist/theist or any sort of religious person. So for me, the question is “what now?” How do I get along with all the other people I want to see and need to interact with, but without being fake or false or anything other than the person I’ve always been?

    My personal application of Atheism is to accept life as it is and to worry only about the things I can influence. When the Red Sox play, I no longer do that “let him hit a home run” pseudo-prayer because my wishes don’t count for what David Ortiz is about to do at the plate. Similarly, if I am not feeling well or have a pain in my body, I remember that it’s my responsibility to take care of the one life I have.

    To return to the points I think you are making and the questions I think you are posing: I have a good idea of what gets preached in church every week and to the kids. My wife brings home the church programs and I read them. Occasionally, I’ll register surprise at something, as when the pastor seemed to be overly full of praise for Martin Luther, a man who in my opinion planted the seeds that centuries later became expressed in the Holocaust.

    But in the end I don’t worry too much about it–which isn’t to say I never worry–because I do have control over how I interact with my wife and kids. We spend time together and we talk. As much as possible, we have fun. I really think this trumps the bad history and the bad science in church. The great thing about church is that it’s a factory for cognitive dissonance. I like to think that we have a home where people are equipped to recognize it, to figure out the source of the inconsistency, and to understand which arguments may be flawed.

    Comment: LarTanner – 20. October 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  15. Larry, thanks for the response. I have a feeling that you and your wife may be one of the rare couples who avoid severe conflict over this issue, and I salute you!

    I hear you on Martin Luther. As a girl I admired him (the Reformation was thoroughly and even-handedly covered in my Catholic school and Luther was presented as a sympathetic – even admirable- historical figure!), but later reading brought his seldom-discussed dark side to light.

    Comment: niftywriter – 20. October 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  16. In life, we need people with whom we can share our deepest, innermost thoughts. I think being married to a fundamentalist makes this impossible. Are my expectations for marriage too high? Am I being unrealistic?

    (I don’t ask out of curiosity. I’m in a similar situation as you.)

    Comment: Charles – 21. October 2010 @ 8:22 am

  17. Charles,

    I don’t think you are being unrealistic at all. We do indeed need people with whom we can share our deepest and innermost thoughts. In my experience, the differences between my wife and I on a/theism have not prevented us from being able to share.

    In fact, I don’t think there really are any barriers between my wife and me in terms of what we can or will share with each other. On the other hand, I don’t think that belief or non-belief in gods is especially deep. When I have the chance to share deep thoughts with my wife, I tend to focus on things like how the kids are doing, plans for the distant future, different experiences I want to have, and so on.

    Since my wife and I started out as a mixed couple, she identifying as Catholic while I identified as Jewish, I always knew that my love for her was based on her difference from me. I’ve never asked and never wanted her to “come over to my side.” I love her, and I promised to love her across the different she, like me, was bound to undergo. It’s been an easy promise to keep.

    I should say, however, that it would be just as easy to blow up the marriage if either of us felt that we wanted to. There’s all sorts of interesting ways to make something fail or to sabotage something good.

    The point is that, in my opinion, any two people can not only get along but flourish together. What matters is whether they want to.

    Comment: LarTanner – 21. October 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  18. “In fact, I don’t think there really are any barriers between my wife and me in terms of what we can or will share with each other.”

    I think this is a key. There are topics of great importance to me (having just gone through a painful de-conversion) that my partner is either uninterested in or actively hostile about. I don’t even bring up anything “controversial” now.

    Comment: Charles – 21. October 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  19. Reading through all the comments and answers has been as interesting and as enlightening as the post itself:)) Mr. Tanner lives, I think, by my mother’s creed– life is short, don’t spend it fighting with your family.

    Comment: yokohamamama – 22. October 2010 @ 6:05 am

  20. I really enjoyed reading this. My husband and I have gone through several faith-changes during our marriage, moving from evangelicals to Catholics to atheists, but we’ve been fortunate to both times have been in the same place and able to talk through it. The last change, to atheism, we both kept from each other for a long time and finally made our “confessions.” It was funny to realize that we had both lost our faith at the same time!

    I think starting out in different faith-places made a big difference for the two of you, as compared to one partner changing from a mutual or similar faith.

    One thing too may be that your wife, if raised as a typical American Catholic, likely has more of a pick-and-choose mentality to what is presented in church. So if she hears something that sounds goofy at her church, I’m guessing she can shrug it off and think, “Nah, I don’t believe that” without any major internal conflict.

    My son attends a liberal Protestant preschool and we have found that reading many mythology books does a nice job of balancing out the “God” from school. He’s decided that god is named “Lord” or “Jesus,” and he’s not nearly as interesting as Thor or Athena. He’s also invisible and lives in your heart, so he must pump your blood.

    He seems to think that gods occupy a place somewhere between fairytales and reality, at the moment. The decorative skeleton in our yard “used to be a god” and he thinks that stories like Noah’s Ark and Pandora’s Box are definitely not true.

    He’ll be in public school after this year, but being that we’re in the South, that may present more Christianity for discussion!

    Comment: rebecca – 23. October 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  21. L. Tanner,
    In short, I’m a middle-age non-believer and something of an atheist activist starting over again in the relationship world. Your essay opens up a possibility for me that I hadn’t considered in many, many years – the possibility of a deep and lasting relationship with a believer. It is, of course, somewhat unlikely, but having read your piece I’ll now be more open to the idea of going forward should I come across a believing woman with whom I’m otherwise very compatible. So thanks! And thanks, Dale, for posting this on your blog!

    Second, I think your last few paragraphs are truly wonderful descriptions of the best kind of parenting. And I’m glad that your wife is apparently on the same wise wavelength. Congratulations to you both! Conversely, my experience growing up in an evangelical environment was that instead of the wise priorities that you (and Dale, too, of course) express, the priority was all-too-often on heavy-handed inculcation of belief and obedience above all else.

    Comment: Brad – 26. October 2010 @ 8:31 pm

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