Help! I am a Believer, but my Husband is Not

good question

Recently, a new reader sent me several questions she would like me to answer. Her questions and my answers follow.

How do you help a loved one even if you still believe? I am okay with my husband not believing in Christianity, and I want to be supportive, even though I remain a believer. I still love him and don’t want anyone shoving religion down his throat.

This is an interesting question. I think this is the first time a believer has written me to ask how best to help his or her unbelieving spouse, Usually I get emails from unbelievers who need help as they try to live with spouses who are still believers.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are really are okay with your husband’s unbelief. You say that you love him, and I am sure that you do, But, do you love him enough to grant him intellectual and psychological freedom? You don’t mention the sect that you are a part of, but if you are part of a Christian group that believes in eternal punishment and hell, you must be honest with yourself about whether you are really okay with your husband dying without becoming a Christian and going to hell.

Each of us should grant our significant other, along with family and friends, the freedom to walk their own path, even if doing so results in those we love end up far from where we are, Sadly, many unbelievers aren’t granted this freedom, and their spouses subtly attempt to evangelize them or coerce them into attending church. I know countless unbelievers who attend church every Sunday because it keeps peace in their families. These unbelievers suffer silently because of the love they have for their spouses, children, and extended family, While doing this is laudable, it does force them to surrender their intellectual integrity for the sake of others. Many unbelievers can’t do this, and often their marriages do not survive.

I encourage you to let your husband know that you really do want him to be happy. Make sure he understands that you want him to be intellectually honest and true to self. Of course, your husband should desire the same for you.

How do I deal with uber-religious family members and friends? How do I protect him from those who will try to force him to reconvert against his wishes?

First, your husband must be willing to stand his own  ground. You mentioned in your email that your husband is “a real people pleaser.”  Predatory Christians love to target people who are not assertive. These evangelizers will likely view your husband’s easy demeanor and politeness as openness to their preaching. Either your husband must avoid those who see him as a prospect for heaven or he must develop the necessary intellectual skills that can be used to combat their evangelizing efforts.

Second, You could tell family members that you don’t want them trying to convert your husband, that you are fine with his unbelief. Those who refuse to do as you ask are bullies. Personally, I would cut such bullies out of my life. Life is too short to allow religious zealots to treat family members as people in need of fixing. Those who value their beliefs more than having a personal, loving relationship with you and your husband are people not worth having in your life. Religion is by design divisive. All religious sects believe they have the truth. When a group believes they are the depository of truth, this necessarily means that they view others as inferior or in need of “correction.”

It is crucial that you and your husband have an open, no-subjects-off-limits discussion about his lack of belief, your belief, how best to live life in a way that grants both of you intellectual and emotional integrity, and how best to deal with evangelizing family members who don’t respect either you or your husband. Remember, if they respected you they wouldn’t continue to preach, witness, and evangelize. Sadly, many Christians believe that obeying what the Bible says or what they think God has told them is more important than respecting the personal space of others.

How can I get some good information about the truth behind Christianity from the atheist perspective?

Here are a few books that I would recommend for you to read:

In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families by Dale McGowan

Atheism For Dummies by Dale McGowan

The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails by John W. Loftus

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John W. Loftus

The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True by John W. Loftus

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

I encourage you and your husband to read these books together and then discuss them. And when I say “discuss” I mean have open, thoughtful, calm discussions. The goal is not winning an intellectual battle or converting the each other to a different viewpoint. Both of you must  come to terms with what you have learned. When confronted with new facts/data/evidence/information, it is important to honestly and openly wrestle with what you have learned. Sadly, many people, when confronted with new knowledge, try to make it fit previously held beliefs or they ignore it hoping that the problem is just a lack of understanding. Many religious people are taught to never question or doubt. When confronted with contradictory or conflicting facts, such people dismiss them and run to the house of faith. DON’T do this. Be intellectually open and honest, doing business with each new bit of knowledge as it is presented.

Doing what I have prescribed here can be dangerous and disconcerting for believers. In your case, as the believer, you have a lot more to lose than does your husband. What will you do if, after reading these books, you conclude that your religious beliefs are false? Are you willing to join hands with your husband in unbelief? Perhaps your beliefs will survive. I know a few believers who have read some of the books mentioned above, yet they still believe. All of them would say that reading these books radically changed how they view Christianity and unbelievers. All of them left Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative sects, seeking out inclusive sects that don’t neatly divide the world into two groups: saved and lost. Are you willing, based on what you have learned, to seek out a more friendly, inclusive expression of faith? Unitarian Universalists, for example, would gladly welcome both you and your husband into their churches.

I hope my answers to your questions are helpful. If I can be of further help, please let me know. I hope you will continue to read my blog. I think you will find that many of the readers of this blog understand your struggles, having once walked similar paths.

8 Comments

  1. J.D. Matthews

    I’d like to speak to this a little, as I am an atheist, and my wife is a believer. Let me first say that we started on our spiritual journeys together as fundamentalist Church of Christ members. As I began to pull away from our denomination, she was a little cautious. She wasn’t on board with leaving, but she watched me, not pushing me or anything. I will admit that it did delay us starting a family, but eventually, she began to see some of the things I was pointing out about our denomination. We both became progressive Christians together. It took a combination of my wife living abroad, having gay friends, and experiencing different types of religion.

    It wasn’t long before I studied my way into atheism. She has been extremely patient with me in this process, even though she is currently in the progressive Christian camp and doesn’t really feel the need to go further. But she does not denigrate my disbelief. She doesn’t try to make me see things her way. She treats me better than I deserve. She talks religion with me, but she does so without trying to win me to her viewpoint. It has led to some pretty great intellectual and philosophical discussions. The main thing we’ve learned is that, the God thing aside, we agree on vastly more than we disagree. I can see that she is a good person, and she can see the same about me.

    I don’t know if it’s the letter writer’s goal to win her husband back to Christianity, but let me tell you how it’s NOT done. If you want to lose your husband to Christianity (and to you, eventually) forever, you should do the following:

    –Act like he’s attacking you personally by not believing in your religion.
    –Make him feel guilty all the time.
    –Pressure him to go to church with you.
    –Be a shrill harpie when he won’t. Cry a lot. Pout. Be passive aggressive. Be overtly aggressive.
    –Try to drive a wedge between him and his children.
    –Threaten him with divorce.
    –Make him read the Bible with you.
    –Don’t 100% accept him for exactly who he is.
    –Don’t honor your marriage vows, which included “for better or for worse.”

    My parents are currently trying the exact wrong approach. I’m banished from their home. I’m not allowed to talk to them without them trying to proselytize me. I won’t be allowed to be in fellowship until I not only claim Jesus, but also repent before the Church of Christ. The love is conditional. They attack me. They slander me. They treat me like a damn dog.

    The truth is, your husband is exactly the same man that you married, he just has a different belief now. Are you willing to have your relationship be a lie in the name of religion? Think long and hard… and if you are going to put him through some shit, I suggest you do him a favor and just divorce him straight away.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      No, my goal is not reconversion. I don’t want him to be miserable. I want what he wants for him. My father in law was a cool guy and he was an atheist,and he took a ton of crap for it. He was bothered even while dying. My biggest fear is people doing that to my husband. I kind of want to prevent anyone from pushing anything down his throat. Ok I did not know that there were various atheist perspectives. That is kind of cool actually. I guess I just want to protect him, and I am not quite sure how to do that. We agreed to read and discuss the books together. I don’t know what I will do if I lose my faith too. But,my husband is a good man, and I just don’t want anyone to hurt him.

      Reply
  2. Oldbroad1

    My husband left Christianity approx. 10 years before I left. It was very difficult for me to understand why he left Christianity for Reform Judaism. I unfortunately reacted as J.D. Matthews said by “–Act like he’s attacking you personally by not believing in your religion.” It nearly destroyed our marriage. Please resist the urge to go that route.

    I no longer believe in a god, but continue to go to a roman catholic church for the liturgy as I am a cantor (I detailed my reasons in another thread). I am very close to just finally leaving it all behind, especially now that my youngest (15 yr old) told me he doesn’t believe and he has been asking why am I still going…. Sometimes the boy makes sense, but I love to sing the liturgy. Ego, I know.

    I found the Loftus books very helpful. Good luck on your journey.

    Reply
  3. Michael Mock

    The one big thing I’d like to emphasize is that your husband is still the same man you married. This is sometimes hard for Christians to grasp, especially if being a Christian is a strong part of their identity. (It’s also one of the reasons that losing faith is often difficult and scary: if your sense of identity is built around Being A Christian, then losing your faith feels like losing your sense of who you are.) But the truth of the matter is that your husband’s identity hasn’t changed; if he was smart, funny, and caring before, odds are he’ll still be smart, funny, and caring now. He hasn’t become a different person; he’s just come to a different view of how the world works.

    (I end up saying this sort of thing a lot to parents who are panicking because their children have lost/left their faith. There’s a common fear that they’ve somehow lost their children, that the children are no longer the same people they used to know and love; and that simply isn’t true.)

    For the uber-religious family members, the best thing you can do is set firm boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable — and make sure you and your husband agree on where those boundaries are, and are both willing to enforce them. It might (or might not) help to point out that your husband is already well aware of what Christianity teaches, so his loss/lack of belief is firmly between him and God; they aren’t going to be able to tell him anything that he doesn’t know already. Above all, avoid getting sucked into unproductive arguments; your husband is allowed to say, “I don’t care to discuss this.” He’s not obligated to explain himself to nosy or pushy relatives, and he’s not obligated to listen to their views on his beliefs, and he’s certainly not obligated to produce logical rebuttals to Christian Apologetics.

    It’s probably also worth noting that there is no single atheist perspective. Our perspectives are as individual and varied as Christian perspectives. The one unifying bit of perspective that defines atheists is that we don’t believe that God (or gods) actually exist.

    Reply
  4. JR

    Maybe this is not the best approach but I have decided to politely point out the hypocrisy of my friends/ family in their approach to my doubts.

    They don’t want to listen to me talk about scholarly views of the bible – and I don’t force them to or make them feel guilty for not listening – so why should I always have to listen to their preaching?

    I have a family member who gives out christian evangelistic books to people all the time – but he thought it was wierd when someone gave him a book on humanism.

    Open and honest discussions are fine but both ‘sides’ need to be shown equal respect even if you dont agree. It can’t be one rule for one and one rule for another. How would christians like a Muslim family member to keep pestering them to read the Quran and pray 5 times a day? They would say that is rude. So ask them how they justify the same approach. After all Jesus said ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

    Reply
    1. J.D. Matthews

      You’re right, of course, but they simply justify it with an “I’m right and they’re wrong.” And it’s just that simple. Of course you don’t need to be bothered with Muslim doctrine, because everyone knows that’s wrong. But Christianity is right! And if I don’t say something to him, he’s going to Hell! And that’s why there are absolutely no boundaries in play. The Christian looks at you and sees your imminent destruction, so violating social norms and trampling through boundaries is of little consequence to him, just as he wouldn’t worry about scraping your knees or getting your clothes dirty in the act of saving you from an oncoming train.

      The problem is that you’re dealing with a very warped mindset. You’re also dealing with an incredible amount of privilege. In most cases, the Christian position is the default position, so they’re legitimately surprised when anybody sounds offended. They’re not aware that there are those out there who don’t believe as they do, or if there are that they are so statistically negligible that they’re unlikely to run into such a person.

      What I’m saying is that there is no winning with these people. And there is certainly no logic to be used with them.

      Reply
      1. JR

        Sadly you are right. And as you say – they think they are doing it for your good. I used to do the exact same thing.

        Also for christians it is not a matter of ideas, reason and opinion – it is life and death, good v evil. Athiesm isn’t a reasonable option – it is rebellion against God.

        But the person asking the question in this post shows that you can be a Christian and disagree with someone AND still respect the oposing view.

        If you are reading can i ask: What helped you see your husband’s point of view?

        Reply
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