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Questions: Can a Mixed Marriage Between an Evangelical and Atheist Succeed?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Michael asked:

Based on your deep learning and long experience, what do you see as the primary obstacle(s) in a marriage involving an evangelical (who came to the faith well after marrying) and an atheist/agnostic? And, given the scriptural warnings against such a union, how would you evaluate the chances for such a union to succeed? Thank you.

How often have you heard the statement “opposites attract”? Polly and I are very different from one another. She was a wallflower when we met, while I was, on the other hand, outgoing and talkative. Forty-three years later, Polly is still quiet and reserved, while I am, well, not that. 🙂 Over the years, an interesting thing has happened. Polly and I each developed hobbies and likes different from those of the other. But, we also developed hobbies and likes we share.

Both of us were Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christians when we married. Twenty-nine years later, we walked hand-in-hand out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. Today, I am an out-and-proud (and vocal) atheist. Polly is an agnostic who rarely talks about her unbelief. I can say this: her dislike of organized religion is much stronger than mine. I know, I know, hard to believe, but it’s true. I may be the outspoken atheist, but if I ever said to Polly, “let’s go to church today,” she would blister the paint off walls with curse words her IFB mother has never heard her say. 🙂

Our marriage has survived all these years because I am awesome. Or maybe I am delusional. 🙂 That was a joke, by the way. We share many common goals and ideals. We enjoy one another’s company. Our politics and religious views are similar. But, ultimately, it is the things we hold in common that are the glue that keeps our marriage together.

It is commonality, not differences, that typically attract one person to the other. This is why I recommend that people marry men or women who hold similar values, morals, and beliefs. Sure, all of us know couples with disparate values, morals, and beliefs who have been married for years. Such couples find a way to make things work. However, we also know numerous couples who divorced over dissimilar values, morals, and beliefs. No couple wants to spend their days arguing about politics, religion, or any of the other things that people argue about. And no couple wants to compartmentalize their lives, unable to talk with their spouse about certain things. (I deliberately paint with a broad brush. I know there are exceptions to the rule.)

I would never, ever recommend that an atheist marry an Evangelical Christian. The risk of conflict is too great. I am not suggesting that an atheist should never marry someone religious. It depends on the religion, how devout the person is, and the likelihood the person will become more religious over time. I know atheists who are married to mainline Christians. Their marriages seem to be successful and happy. Typically, the mainline Christian spouse is a universalist, so there are no worries about threats of Hell or evangelization. I have had two atheist friends die over the past two years. Both of my friends were outspoken atheists. What did their Evangelical families do after they died (one person was married, the other was not)? They ignored their final wishes and had funeral services for both of them. I have no doubt my friends were screaming and rolling over in their graves.

What about marriages where one spouse becomes an atheist or an Evangelical years later? Can such marriages “survive”? The short answer is yes. I know that some of the readers of this blog are in “mixed” marriages. They entered marriage equally yoked together as followers of Jesus. Then, years later, one of them lost their faith and deconverted. Some of the people I am talking about are “secret” atheists. Many of them even attend church on Sundays with their spouses and children.

That said, I have corresponded with numerous atheists who were/are married to Evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for me to receive another email from them months or years later that says they have either separated or divorced. They either found they couldn’t make their mixed marriages work or decided that they didn’t want to spend any more time in a relationship where their significant other didn’t share their interests, values, and beliefs.

I have written several posts on this subject:

Let me conclude this post by addressing the “Scriptural warning against believers marrying unbelievers.” While I don’t care one wit about what the Bible says on anything, I do recognize that the Good Book occasionally offers sage advice. In the case of mixed marriages, the advice given in the Bible is generally sound.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Your Questions, Please

i have a question

Greetings, earthlings and residents of other galaxies.

It’s been a while since I asked readers to submit questions for me to answer, so I thought I would, once again, open the call lines and ask readers to submit their questions, along with $66.66 donations to help me reach Evangelicals throughout the universe. Reason — praise be to Reason! — has called me to evangelize Evangelicals, and your donations will help me take the gospel of critical thinking and skepticism to infinity and beyond. Just kidding. While donations are always appreciated, what I really want are questions; your pithy, short, erudite questions. Please try to ask questions that you think I haven’t answered before.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, please ask it in the comment section of this post. I will answer questions in the order they are received; that is unless you are a bigly donor. Readers who shower me with cash, checks, gold bullion (ouch), Bitcoins, and restaurant gift cards just might be moved to the front of the line or be sent a 13×19 glossy photo of me pole dancing at the Big Bear Strip Club — “might” being the operative word. (Long-time readers who know and understand my humor, sarcasm, and snark know whether I am speaking factually. Everyone else? Keep on dreaming of Bruce Almighty swinging on a brass pole wearing only his shorts, suspenders, and wingtips.)

You can also email your questions to me via the contact form.

Please do not answer the questions. In the past, well-intentioned commenters have answered the questions, making my responses moot. Once I answer the questions, feel free to give your own answer.

Let the fun begin.

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bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Does Atheism Lead to Criminal Behavior?

atheists-wallow-in-sin

A common refrain from Evangelical zealots is that atheism leads to immoral, unethical behavior. (Please see Do Atheists Really Love to Wallow in Sin?) When asked for evidence to justify their claims, Evangelicals provide none outside of saying THE BIBLE SAYS! Back here in the real world, we expect facts and evidence to confirm the claim that atheism leads to immoral, unethical behavior; that atheists are more immoral and unethical than born-again Christians. Can atheists behave badly? Absolutely. However, their behavior is no different from that of Christian people. All of us are, drumroll please, human. And as humans, we are capable of good and bad behavior. Our goal (except for narcissists) is good behavior. As a humanist, I try to love my neighbors as myself. I try to do good works, treating others as I would want to be treated. Sometimes, I fail to live up to the humanist ideal. I can, at times, act badly. The arc of my life is towards kindness, decency, love, and goodness, and eating good food, but sometimes I can be an asshole. All I know to do is try again to be a better person. There is no God in Heaven or Devil in Hell. There is no sin or judgment, just good, bad, and indifferent behavior.

Yesterday, NPR published an article on the shortage of Muslim chaplains in federal prisons. What piqued my interest was a chart detailing the self-identified religious makeup of prisoners. What this chart made clear is that atheists are not the bad people Evangelicals claim they are.

religion federal prisons

Almost 71,000 out of 118,000 inmates identify as Roman Catholic or Protestant Christians. This chart also shows that Protest Christian — often Evangelical — clerics make up the vast majority of prison chaplains. This is true at the state, county, and local levels too. This should come as no surprise. Evangelical chaplains see prisoners as targets for evangelization; not all Evangelical chaplains, of course, but many of them do.

I spent countless hours “ministering” to prisoners at the Perry County, Ohio Jail, and Ohio state prisons. My goal was not evangelization. I chose, instead, to befriend prisoners. When I, along with another pastor, the late Larry Rue, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in New Lexington, Ohio, showed up on Tuesday nights at the county jail, we were there to listen, not preach. Other churches would come to the jail, stand outside the cells, and preach at the men. The prisoners hated these churches. So Larry and I went into the cells, sat down, and talked with the men, listening to their stories, wants, and needs. (Beavis and Butthead was always on the TV when we were there.) Sure, if they asked questions about God, Jesus, or the Bible, we would try to answer them. And we would pray with and for the men. We never led anyone to Jesus at the Perry County Jail, but I like to think we showed these troubled, hurting men a different side of Christianity (I plan to write about my jail ministry experiences someday).

As this chart makes clear, atheists are not more likely to commit crimes. What the NPR story also made clear to me is that we atheists need to do a better job “ministering” to incarcerated atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nonbelievers. The problem, of course, is that Protestant Christian clerics and ministries are often the gatekeepers in prisons. At our local jail, Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio (CCNO) — a multi-county facility, Evangelicals rule the roost. I plan on contacting the facility to see what opportunities atheists and humanists might have to help inmates (as chaplains and other religious people do). I previously held services and talked to inmates one-on-one at CCNO when I was pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, from 1995-2002.

The complete U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General report can be found here. There’s a hilarious (and ignorant) footnote on the atheist group that says “According to the BOP [Bureau of Prisons], it considers atheist inmates to be represented by its chaplaincy because, as trained religious experts, the BOP’s chaplains of any faith could provide counsel to atheist inmates if needed.” And all the atheists said, BULLSHIT. Using this logic, Christian chaplains could provide counsel to Muslims. Just imagine an Evangelical chaplain “counseling” an atheist inmate. When I sought out a counselor a decade ago, I deliberately avoided Evangelical counselors. I knew their approach and counsel would be horribly skewed towards their religious beliefs. Fortunately, I found a secular counselor, one of the few in rural northwest Ohio.

Do you know of any atheist/humanist prison ministry? If so, please share their info in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser