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Should a Christian Date an Atheist?

unequally yoked

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Several years ago, a woman emailed Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, and asked her whether it was okay to date, love, and marry an atheist. Hendricks, a Christian fundamentalist, replied

Dear “I’m falling in love with an atheist,”

I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!

Let’s start with who a Christian is.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.

A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.

An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible . . .

You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.

Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?

I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust . . .

These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find virgin Evangelical girls they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual deviants, Satan worshipers, and eat BBQ babies on Fridays. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.”  In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists or hasn’t really thought about what it is atheists (and humanists) believe. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? Not a Christian God. Not a Muslim God. Not a Jewish God. No Gods, period. What atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God. What atheists do hate is when Evangelicals such as Hendricks misrepresent and lie about what atheists actually believe.

Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In fact, it could be argued that Evangelicals lust more than their counterparts in the world. Why do preachers preach so many sermons against sexual sin and lust if these sins are not a big problem in Evangelical churches?

One atheist commenter challenged Hendricks’ statement about atheists. Here’s Hendricks’ response:

Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.

I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.

This is a bit off-topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?

And then someone named Becca chimed in:

Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?

On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!

Typical Evangelical drivel, right? But here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan, and a sexual deviant.

Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend to the cause. Rarely, does it work out. And couples who ignore religious differences and marry anyway often end up in divorce court.

The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal, born-again salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call – excuse the bluntness – a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later, they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.

Atheists and non-Christians alike have completely different ways of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt nots. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun-loving, free people go to die — and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®.

Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouses, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants his or her unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouses. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouses don’t know that their significant other no longer believes. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons, all the while thinking it’s all bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouses and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.

Sadly, some of those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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11 Comments

  1. Avatar
    HeIsSailing

    Bruce, my wife and I were both Christians when we got married. I eventually left Chrisianity. My wife has kept her Catholic Faith. She is hardly a Fundamentalist, and she has a great sense of humor about her religion which helps things immensely. We love each other to death, but I won’t lie – sometimes our clashing views on Faith can make life difficult. Bruce, during your time as a pastor, did you ever see marraiges strain because one person appeared to leave the Faith while another remained in? Ever see the wife and kids come to Church when the husband refused? What were your views of such marraiges while you were a pastor? I would love to know your perspective.

  2. Avatar
    Jada

    My husband was always pretty ambivalent about religion, and I felt guilty for many years that I wasn’t living out the church of Christ’s brand of christianity. I really, really tried at one time to participate and wanted desperately to ‘feel’ something – anything. I wanted god to speak to my heart, and it Just. Never. Happened. I started having a lot of trouble with the fundamentalist ‘vocabulary,’ so repetitive and guilt-inducing and completely out of touch with the secular life I lived every day but Sunday.

    It was so easy to let it go when it finally occurred to me that I wasn’t the awful, sinful creature I had been brainwashed to believe I was. It was this revelation that ‘felt’ like what I had been wanting to feel inside christianity. I was fresh out of rehab and it was like someone turned my brain on, and I realized we were all broken, but repairable, and not by any mythical creatures. You have to save yourself. It has brought more peace than I had ever thought possible. It’s actually gotten to the point now that the lingering guilt is disappearing when I read some angry christain’s screed about submitting. Ruin your life with slavery to an ancient, brutal belief system, if you wish, but I’m embracing every day I can seize life and enjoy things that I’d always feel guilty about enjoying, and absolutely part of ‘this world.’ Good grief, it’s the only one I know. Why should I worry about some make-believe life that no one knows anything about?

  3. Avatar
    Jackie

    This may sound nitpicky but please add an “s” to the word “atheist” in the meme at the top of the page. This is something I see all the time and it bugs the crap out of me. “Atheist” speaks of ONE PERSON; it is singular.

  4. Avatar
    Friend

    Our youth ministers taught us that two souls become one at marriage, and the non-Christian’s dead soul would cause the Christian’s living soul to die. Idiotic pseudo-theology that still has me worried sick–about the fate of unity candles.

  5. Avatar
    grasshopper

    “An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.”

    I have heard it said of Rasputin that he believed that to be truly saved, one must have truly sinned. So I recommend that “I’m falling in love with an atheist” should save herself for someone of Jack Schaap’s ilk. There are so many to choose from listed in the Black Collar Crime Archives, and some of them will get out of jail some-day, shriven of their sickening sins. Atheists just can’t compare with such super-forgiven Christians.

  6. Avatar
    Southern Lady

    I don’t know the percentages, but the wife attending church and the husband staying home seems to be a pretty common thing. I can see where that could cause fireworks when you’re young, but maybe be fine when you’ve been married a long time and are more accepting of each other’s differences in what they like to do.

    It would be great to know if the writer and her boyfriend did marry each other. (I hope they did and lived happily ever after!)

  7. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    By the time I got married I had chosen to leave evangelicalism though I was still Christian. I ended up with a nominal Catholic. He didn’t know that much about Christianity which was a good thing. We wandered around looking for a church for awhile because that’s basically what we thought was expected. We ended up at an open and affirming progressive social justice type of church that was about being a better person by helping your fellow humans. We were there several years before we both realized we didn’t believe in Christianity anymore. My realization was a lot more traumatic than his was because I had been more steeped in Christianity. He was happy to roll over into science, whereas I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me and my whole upbringing was based on untruths. I hadn’t shared with my husband the details of the most unsavory parts of evangelicalism, and when I did he was shocked, like, your family members still believe that garbage, then looking closer and seeing they did and how far off the deep end some are in conspiracy theories, anti-science, pro-authoritarianism, Trump worship.

    So were we unequally yoked? Maybe, but I was purposefully on my way out anyway and we shared important values outside religion.

  8. Avatar
    BJW

    I believe I have mentioned that in the far past, my husband and I were both strict Christians blah blah blah. We had major disappointment and hurt, which caused us to leave the church. But we still believed. I think going through that emotional shock, though, opened our minds. I’m sure someone in my former church might characterize our leaving due to bad feelings. But those feelings have been gone for a long, long time. Instead, we both thought and read and ended up outside of Christianity. There are a couple denominations I might go to, as they are liberal and open-minded. But seriously, the only place both of us could go would be the UU denomination, as they are totally open to everyone, no matter what they believe.

    I get annoyed at these Christians characterizing atheists as “hating God.” I actually feel more comfortable with atheist thought than Christian. I started spending a bunch of time at this blog and for several years, read the Friendly Atheist blog* to get a good idea of what atheists actually thought. So it’s just my experiences and not data. BUT…I found that atheists were people who could not believe in what they thought was impossible. Many of them started out quite religious, but examining the Bible cured them of believing in God, as it showed an angry, jealous God who did impossible actions that couldn’t be proven.

    Most atheists of that type could not find any of Christianity believable or good. Nor could they believe in any religion. So the idea that atheists are angry at the idea of a god is ridiculous. It would be like being angry at the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, or Santa Claus.

    *I do listen to the Friendly Atheist podcast on Soundcloud, it’s quite good. It largely concerns separation of church and state and politics intersection with religion. Definitely liberal and/or progressive.

  9. Avatar
    Hosroh

    Well, it makes sense to marry someone with your same beliefs. Also if Christians are so ignorant as atheists claim, is not that a good thing?

    Atheists can marry many men / women. World is full of nihilists and self-proclaimed rational people to pick from.

    God is supposed to be the most important in your life. I would not love an atheist as a husband or wife, but because of his or her atheism but because the implications of their materialism and positivism. Also marriage love is developed, not a stupid feeling that goes away or cames like some people want to believe.

    Not to mention most western atheists are liberal or leftists unlike Eastern atheists who are conservative. I cannot agree with leftism in key issues.

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      It’s not that Christians are ignorant per se, and my goodness there are plenty of dumb atheists, it’s that Christianity, especially of a fundamentalist nature, can lead to an irreconcilable clash of cultures. I was married into a family in the UK that was fairly staunch Salvation Army, and had my wife followed their lead I would never have got married. She actually continued as a cultural member of the CofE, even attending church, but it was never a divisive issue. Unlike what Bruce is describing, where Christian fundamentalism descends into ignorant superstition.

      I’d also take issue with your comment implying that atheists are nihilists. I’ll not bother with a lengthy discussion of nihilism, which isn’t necessarily so bad, but I would dispute your point. Who is more the nihilist, the Christian who won’t listen to music, go to a dance, wear nice clothes, have sex, or accept science, but insists ‘Jesus is everything to me’, or the atheist who enjoys life, goes to parties, helps out at local charities, gives advice to women needing abortions, and even audits the accounts for his local church?

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