The last few days have been … eventful, you could say. This is a long post, so bear with me.
On Saturday morning, January 19, 2013, I revealed to my wife that I’m an agnostic atheist. It should be noted, however, that I didn’t call myself those words. ”I no longer believe,” was the specific words I used after giving a little bit of a back story and run up to the conclusion of my internal deliberations over religion. I was holding her hand as we sat on our bed.
She cried. It didn’t matter that this didn’t come as a total surprise. She knew I’d drifted away from church activities, prayer, and my overall spirituality. It still hurt her to hear.
Then her sadness turned into a bit of resolve.
“Just let me know how you want the kids to be raised,” she said to me.
“It’s not like that. You and I are still a team. We are still equals in raising our kids. I just want for us to make sure that they have a strong education in science and are able to come to their own conclusions about our universe.” I gave some examples of how things are and can continue to be. ”I don’t mind if you all still pray over the food. I’ll sit quietly and respect that. I don’t mind you going to church. It’s a great place for you all to be able to socialize and have friends. I’m not opposed to religion, I just don’t personally believe anymore.”
She seemed satisfied with that.
I raised an issue that I was most terrified about, if you remember from previous posts: A major condition under which we were married has changed. We were both Christians. Now we’re not.
Even a couple of evenings earlier I was reminded how difficult this may be on our marriage. I went alone to fill up our minivan with gas. She’d had the radio on a Christian station and I listened as a preacher talked to college students about five things to make sure of when you get married. Number one on his list was that both spouses are on the same page religiously.
“We never were,” she chuckled through tears. True. She is a conservative Christian and I was … more moderate.
I told her that the preacher went on to say that a believer should NOT marry a non-believer.
“Are you saying you don’t want to be together any more?” She asked the very pointed question.
I assured her that I very much do want to be married, but I knew it would be difficult and I wasn’t able to predict how she’d react to my announcement.
What a relief!
I shared with her that I’m completely open to pursuing couples therapy about this. This is a huge deal, and I told her that I feel it’s completely appropriate to talk with someone and work through things together.
No decision was made about that, but we did reaffirm our love for each other and concluded that we’ll continue to talk about all of this.
In a later conversation on the couch, she made it clear to me, “Just so you understand, I still know that God is real.”
“That’s fine, Honey. I’m not going to try to convert you away from that. I can’t prove that God isn’t real, so it would be arrogant for me to try to change what you believe. I’m just saying that I can no longer believe unless something changes and I have more evidence going forward.” She seemed willing to leave it at that.
The next morning, I helped the kids and her get ready for church. I helped get the kids into the van and waved to them with a smile on my face as they drove away. While they were gone, I got some grocery shopping done.
When they came home, my wife told me that she hoped it’s okay that she talked to the minister who married us.
Phil — not his real name — is probably more conservative than my wife is. That said, he’s willing to have a respectful, reasonable discussion with people who do not agree with his beliefs. He and I have had some lively discussions on Facebook before he ever knew I’m a non-believer.
I told my wife that it’s fine that she talked to him. In our first discussion on our bed, I emphasized that she has every right and should feel comfortable to talk to anyone she wants. It would be unfair for me to ask her to keep my status a secret if she feels she needs to talk to someone. Since he was the person who married us, she wanted to get his input.
She relayed to me that he doesn’t see why we couldn’t make our marriage work and that I’m “still a good person.” He reportedly offered to talk with us anytime if that’s what we desired.
Last night I went to another session of the community meeting I spoke about previously. Phil is another one of the people who assists with the organization of the meetings and distributing the food. He and I spoke (in the following paraphrased conversation) about my newly-found lack of belief and he asked me some direct questions:
“So what led you to come to this decision?”
“How much time do you have?” I quipped. “Seriously, it was a conclusion that I finally came to after several years of doubt and being a lukewarm Christian. I just realized that what I knew of religion and God was just too inconsistent to continue believing in.”
“Okay, I can respect that,” Phil replied. “But now the question is what’s the alternative?”
I was confused. “What do you mean, ‘alternative?’” I wondered if he was going down the route of “what will happen when you die?” He didn’t.
“Well, by ‘alternative,’ I mean what explanation is there for everything? What is there beyond ourselves?”
I looked around the room, motioning with my hands. “What you see is what you get? Reality is what we can observe and test,” I said.
“Sure, but what about where everything came from? How did it come to be?” He was being calm and respectful, but genuinely wanted to see if I’d thought all of this through.
“Well, I rely on what science has been able to make theories about, test, and replicate results for.”
“Okay. I just wanted to make sure you were continuing to keep searching for answers,” he replied.
We talked more about my continued commitment to my wife and kids, wanting to be a respectful non-believer because there are a LOT of disrespectful non-believers out there — as there are very disrespectful believers out there, which he acknowledged.
It was a good conversation, and one I’m sure we’ll continue at another time.
So now my wife knows and we remain committed to our marriage and each other. We will continue dialogue about all this and probably get some counseling. The man who married us is aware of the situation and we will likely talk more about this in the future.
Now it’s time to figure out when and how to tell others.