NPR’s Morning Edition had an interesting segment entitled Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes In God.
In college, I dated a couple of religious girls and it didn’t strike me as a big deal that we had different opinions on the subject of God. I should have had more of a clue when the Pentecostal broke down crying one evening; she cared for me but was afraid because I would be going to hell. (True story: I dealt with this irritation by going home and drinking and playing Mario Brothers; a beer per level. I’m still a little proud of beating level 8 in that condition.) But, I didn’t have much of a clue because: a) I’ve generally occupied a clue-free zone when it comes to the other sex; and b) I drank a lot in undergrad.
Fortunately, I’ve always led sort of a charmed life when it comes to life’s major crossroads; and I fell in love and married my wife who sees eye-to-eye with me on religious matters. (I suppose there are gradations: I’m probably a bit closer to the agnostic/atheist divide than she is.) When we had kids, it became very clear to me that I would have had a very difficult time of it if my spouse had significantly different religious beliefs than me. I remember one incident where I felt my blood boiling when I learned that a preschool teacher had informed my child that the Big Bang theory wasn’t true. I’m not sure how you cope with that sort of chasm when it’s a spouse you’re butting heads with on what to teach the kids.
And, that’s where I felt a little disappointed by the Morning Edition story. They talked to a couple where one was Lutheran and one was atheist. They respected each other’s opinions, but neither was going to embrace the religious beliefs of the other. Nonetheless, they had a sort of “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” approach to the religious component of their relationship. And that’s laudable. (Some of my best friends are religious!) But they didn’t have kids. I would have liked to learn more about the approach of atheist/believer marriages in how they raise their kids. Probably this wouldn’t be a lot different than marriages where both are believers but from significantly different faiths. I suppose the spouse with the more ardent faith gets to lead the children’s religious upbringing.
Still, I imagine that’s very difficult. My wife and I are simpatico on most of the big issues, and I’m sure that’s made our lives much easier.