Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


In atheist discussion groups, I often hear people saying they could never date or marry a theist.  “I value rational thought too much,” one woman commented.  “It would raise questions for me about their judgment,” said a single man.  “And what if we had kids? I would never allow my kids to be indoctrinated.”  To all of these concerns expressed by single atheists, let me just say this: Pish posh.

I am a dyed in the wool liberal and committed atheist.  My husband of eight years, the father of my child, is a conservative theist.  And guess what? It doesn’t matter.  It probably helps that he is what I would call a lapsed Christian in that he hasn’t been to church once in the 10 years we have been together (and probably for many years prior) and he isn’t a fundamentalist – he knows evolution is true, for example.  But he says prayers regularly, believes in heaven, and says he is “blessed” to have the life he has.  Do I think that makes him irrational? Not nearly as much as how he stacks things in the dishwasher or “organizes” his closet.  I mean really, does that bowl look like it’s going to get clean sitting there right side up?

From a strictly practical standpoint, limiting the pool of potential mates by taking all theists out of the running is going to dramatically limit one’s options.  Just as a person in her mid-30s or older will have a much harder time finding a mate who doesn’t already have kids, an atheist of any age will have a tough time finding a large sample size of non-believing singles who will also need to be compatible on many other, arguably far more significant, levels.  And what if you develop an attraction to someone over time, someone with whom the topic of religion wasn’t appropriate to discuss for some reason, or was otherwise irrelevant, and you learn only later that the object of your desire believes in god? It will be harder to cast someone aside when that person is real and possessed of other lovable qualities and not just a theoretical caricature.

Then there are the moral considerations.  Is the statement “I would never marry a theist” fundamentally different from “I would never marry a divorced person,” or “I would never marry a black person,” or “I would never marry an atheist?”  I submit that there is no difference whatsoever, as all positions assume a single, negative set of characteristics for a broad category of people based on assumptions and stereotypes.  If you have ever known any actual people, then you know that they are not so easily categorized.

Let’s face it: Finding a compatible mate is hard, and remaining successfully, happily married (or committed long-term) is a lot of work, no matter how much two people love each other or how strong their commitment.  There is no perfect mate, and even if you think you’ve found one, give it 5 years and see how perfect that person remains – there will always be qualities in your partner that you find annoying, mystifying, maddening, incongruous, or downright strange.  And guess what?  Your partner will have the same hang-ups about you.  You may agree on religion, sure, but if you don’t agree on how to manage money, raise kids, treat one another, or install the toilet paper roll, your shared lack of belief in god will not close those gaps.

Do I understand why my husband holds some of the views and beliefs he holds? Nope.  Do I need to? Nope.  Because we see eye to eye on the things that matter to us: Our core values, our belief in personal responsibility, our commitment to honesty and communication, and the vision we share for our future and our child’s future.  And in a broader sense, our “mixed marriage” is part of the long and slow process of dismantling the wall between atheism and theism, allowing each side to see the other side as being comprised of a whole person – a complicated, intelligent, feeling, flawed, wonderful person.

5 Responses to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

  • "functional end result ", sounds consequentialistic!!Consequentialism is not my favourite source of ethicity!

  • I am also in a long-term relationship (almost 10 years) with a theist. It's really as much of a problem as you make it…we have had WAY more fights about the "right" way to load the dishwasher/organize the kitchen cupboards than we have about god.

    People who say things like "I would never be with a (Christian, Republican, insert descriptor of your choice)" are fundamentally contemptuous and disrespectful of those groups. They are using whatever descriptor they dislike as a shortcut for judging a person's true character, which can only be determined by behaviors, actions, and communication. Sure my guy is a conservative Christian…he is also one of the most considerate and respectful guys I have ever met, and is more supportive of me than many who agree with my philosophically. Labels can be useful, but they blur things, they overgeneralize *by definition*. You end up disregarding and throwing out great things/ideas/people along with all the bad things/ideas/people. It is totally worth it to take the time to sort through and find the good stuff. (And it really doesn't take that long…the amount of time it takes to figure out if some person, label be damned, is a jerk is usually mere minutes.)

  • How can you not challenge his belief? My wife is a lapsed-Catholic-Deist. We can handle it pretty well, but we throw sparks occasionally.

  • Wonderful post, Tracey.

  • Thomas Straley
    6 years ago

    As always, Tracy. Excellent article. It isn't the source of beliefs that must be reconciled in the mind of a naturalist or materialist, it is the functional end result. Thinking otherwise, to me, is actual against the practicality in the entire human condition.

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