Can You Love the Religious Parts of Your Partner, Family Members, or Friends? If So, How Do YOU Do It?

UPDATE JULY 7, 2012: Something went wrong when I originally posted this yesterday and only half the post went up and none of the links contained in it. I was busy at CONvergence, a comics convention where Freethought Blogs is hosting a party room and where today I will be participating on a panel, and so I did not see and fix the error until just now. SO, the first 24 people who commented did not see the full post below.

I have written several posts in the past on reasons anti-theist atheists should, could, and actually do go about loving religious people in their lives. One of the things I wanted to stress is that it is hard to love someone when you wish that the kind of person that they are in fundamental respects simply did not exist. It is for such reasons that I argue that “hating the sin and loving the sinner” is not an acceptable or workable compromise when it comes to gays (only acknowledging that there is nothing inherently sinful about homosexuality will work).

And it is for such reasons that I suggest that we atheists should see about psychologically balancing our criticisms of bad theistic ideas, values, and institutions, with a simultaneous ability to appreciate religious forms and behaviors insofar as they can be understood and engaged with independently of the ideational content they traditionally express, and apart from undue respect or acknowledgment for the troubling institutions which create and use them. I took a first stab at working out some of these intricacies in the post, Can You Really Love Religious People If You Hate Religion? And then I explained some of the ways that I love the religiosity of people whose explicit ideas, values, and institutional allegiances I strongly disagree with. Later I would explain why and how we should think about loving religious people in general.

This week, these topics came back to mind when I got two comments in a short span of time. One was from the newly atheistic husband of a Christian minister. He was seeking resources for people who struggle with the sorts of challenges he has right now. I mean, are there any resources besides Friendly Atheist’s sage, humane, and pragmatic “Ask Richard” column by Richard Wade (who gave his views on anger in families over disagreements between atheists and believers and on the wisdom of marrying believers as part of his longer series of interviews with Camels With Hammers). You all already read “Ask Richard”, right?

In the comments let me know about other blogs, forums, books, or real life meetup groups that help people who have conflict or loneliness in their marriage (or ex-marriage) related to one partner’s non-belief.

And, what are your ways of loving religious people in your life even if you disagree with bad beliefs, values, and institutions they embrace? I’ve already explained some of mine. And in reply the other day, Larry Tanner wrote about his experience loving his religious wife:

If my experience is an indication, it is possible to love someone’s religiosity. My wife of 12 years is a devout Christian. I think Christianity is not only false but crazy.

But my wife needs Christianity in her life. Going to church does something for her. She likes it. She likes going to Bible study, too. Shel likes ideas such as holiness, sacrifice, and worship.

She knows what I think of religion generally, and hers specifically. We could make a big deal of it if we wanted to, but the fact is there’s so much more to our lives. We have children, and we’d like them to grow up to be happy, decent people. We have a house that we would like to be more or less clean and secure. We have neighbors, families, stuff to do. On most everything about how we actually go out and conduct our lives–we agree completely and complement each other.

There are plenty of couples who live together wonderfully despite being totally opposed politically. Many couples manage despite one partner being cat and the other dog. Marriages stay together even when one person has a temporary or permanent health/physical issue. It happens, and it’s no big deal. I really can’t understand why people think it is a big deal.

My wife loves me, but more importantly she gets me. She appreciates my personality and is my biggest fan. She thinks I’m attractive enough. She’s interested in my point of view on things going on in our life. I feel the same way about her.

So, yeah, I facepalm every now and again with my wife’s admiration for Lord Jesus. But she also doesn’t like seafood. She ain’t perfect. But I never asked for or wanted a perfect spouse. I wanted someone who was smart and cute, someone who thought my jokes were funny, and someone who would take care of me and let me take care of her.

If she ever wants to drop God, Jesus, and Church, I don’t think I’ll mind. It’s not a requirement; heck, it’s not something I really think about, much less want. Right now, however, my wife is a Christian, and a devout one. In her religion, she is the same passionate person I fell in love with years ago and the same one I come home to every night. Her religiosity is a fact. It’s the reality of who she is right now. I can live with it. It does absolutely nothing negative for me. It doesn’t change me or what I think. It’s no threat to me.

 Your Thoughts?


About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • dogeared, spotted and foxed

    My aunt is a born-again Christian, the in your face kind. Every family gathering will have a moment of “Have you accept JC into your heart as your Lord and Savior!?” In my 20′s, I had a variety of smart-ass answers (But Satan promised me a new car!) and other deflections. These days, I just say “No, but you’ll be the first I’ll call if it happens.” and we both leave it at that.

    I love her because she’s an amazing person who is smart, loving and empathetic. She’s incredibly liberal, supportive of immigration rights, pro-choice and all that. Her religion is a part of her, not the whole of her. There’s a lot we can discuss that isn’t contentious. Yes, just like many deeply religious people she cherry-picks the Bible to bolster her own beliefs and is too quick to defend other, less humanistic Christian sects. That is annoying but people are not perfect.

    There are other family members who are just as religious but far less liberal. I don’t speak with them because the racism and sexism that goes hand-in-hand with their beliefs makes me sick. (Literally, I get migraines around them.)

  • lurker

    You may have forgotten a few paragraphs :P

    • Daniel Fincke

      Somehow WordPress ate them on me. I’m baffled. I’ve restored them now.

  • drdave

    Daniel, being married for 44 years to a radical Catholic lady who despises the church hierarchy, yet has her social community within the church, has been an interesting journey. We are quite comfortably compatible on most matters, and the church has almost no influence on her pragmatic sense of ethics and morality. I have always given her her head, encouraging her to pursue her interests. That is, perhaps, the reason we get along well.

    As for myself, I gave up any pretense of being religious at 16. I gave it a good try, being the oldest and only son of my parents (two sisters). After that, I didn’t think much about it for 40 years (apathetic atheist). But the past decade of religious fundamentalist idiocy has made me a bit more open and outspoken. This has led to a number of interesting conversations with my wife, who now has, in house, the ability to “ask an atheist”.

    I kid her from time to time, as she declaims against the insanity of her church, that she is a half step from “graduating”. But she has for so long identified her sense of wonder of the unknown as associated with “the divine”, that it is likely to stay that way. It’s a minor thing to me, and she is not out prosylitizing or defending the church or religions, so I mostly ignore it.

    Like I said, we are wonderfully comfortable with each other. And 99 out of 100 is not a bad batting average in a marriage.

    • Tâlib Alttaawiil

      ‘graduating’ is just the right word. well said, sir!

  • roggg

    Well, I’m the only atheist in my family, but fortunately, nobody in my family rises to the level of fundamentalist in their beliefs. Most of my family are vaguely theistic, and just following along with the traditions they inherited. I used to argue religion with my brother, but we stopped years ago, as once the cognitive dissonance became obvious he’d get angry with me for pushing the matter.

    But back to the question, I dont “love” the religious part of any of my family, but there isn’t much there to love. I dont hate it either, but rather view it as a character flaw. With my friends, there’s some self-selection going on, as a high level of religiosity tends to be a filter for me. Most of my friends tend to be atheist or atheist friendly.

    • Iain

      substitute “dad” for “brother” and that’s pretty much my answer.

  • rikitiki

    My fundamental-religious sister used that “hating the sin and loving the sinner” bit on me, saying that’s what Jesus said.
    Know what? Google it.
    That’s a Ghandi quote, NOT Jesus or ANYBODY Christian.
    Next time I’ll as her when she became a Hindu.
    - Riki

  • baal

    It’s simply not an issue for me? I’m lucky to be fairly self sufficient and don’t have a reliance on anyone that I can’t avoid. I’m also big on compassion. Compassion means that you accept people for who they are; disagree civilly and go full shitstorm only when merited (specific facts and circumstances; not just guessing on minimal information).

    I don’t have the problem at all so far as I can tell.
    I like or dislike individuals based on all I know about them; the whole person. I do have a set of what I consider ‘deal breakers’ and avoid individuals who refuse to engage fairly on those points (or certain topics if I can’t avoid the persons). I don’t necessarily hate or have strong negative emotion for how other people are even when I totally disagree with them.

    Disputes are disputes I; my family and other loved ones are Civil.
    My parents went from largely a-religious to very Catholic over the years and my Texas sister went full Bush (GW.) republican as well. We do mostly avoid religious topics but from time to time they express views I don’t agree with and vice-versa. There aren’t angry expressions, throwing things or other huge problems. We also don’t agree on all non-religious matters and those disagreements are largely the same. Another sister is a liberal activist; I’m sure our entire family must be on a watch list of somekind due to her protests. Can’t say I’m overall pleased with it but we’ve talked enough that I understand her reasons and it’s her life to live. The side effect on me aren’t great but they are far from unbearable. I, and my family, rarely if ever engage in the ad hominem, straw manning, name calling, making fun of, or other abusiveness we see in the comments in FTB toward the faceless religious idiots. Civility is a good thing.

    My father-in-law is ultra-religious and has that smug smirk that you see in the youtube, “atheists can’t answer this ONE question” videos. He likes to play gotcha and then has a laugh to himself on how foolish you are. Him, I just flat avoid. He’s impervious to rational thought and thinks that winning in his head is the entire game. He’s also mentally conflicted internally; it’d be pretty easy to set up substantial connotative dissonance in him. I don’t do that out of respect for the people he lives with and has access to. I don’t know (and don’t want to find out) how he’d handle that level of stress.

    Disputes are disputes II; I’m generally open in my dissent.
    I have a gay aunt who has had a commitment ceremony (no gay marriage in Missiouri, shocking) and been with her current partner for 15+ years. She’s shunned at weddings by some of the greater family; when one of them wants to slur my aunt, I speak up and say that I support my aunt and we can have a discussion about their concern. It shuts them up. It’s not solely a ruse on my part, I’m happy to have that discussion.

    I skip certain group activities
    Most of my family knows I’m an atheist and all of them know that I’m seriously disinclined to attend a group activity (regardless of kind) for any of a number of reasons. Adding church services to the list of things I’m not going to do isn’t that much of a change. fwiw, I burn in winter sunlight in about 15 minutes; sunblock isn’t enough unless it is literally concrete blocks. It’s a big limiter.

    So I think that by being civil, clear and compassionate I can’t think of a time when it’s been a problem for me that loved ones hold odious views. I push for what change I can but there are some very strong practical limits to what you can effect in another person.

    • baal

      My reply is mostly off-topic now that the rest of the paragraphs are there. I haven’t had the relevant experience / problem to solve (and I’m not likely to).

  • eric

    Religious family and friends; why shouldn’t you love them? I have friends who waste far more time and money on their hobbies – be it a sport or video games or collectibles – so if someone wants to spend $20 and a few hours on a sunday standing up, sitting down, singing and chanting with friends, what’s it to me? Let’s see, compared to football that’s the same time wasted. Same ritualistic behavior. About an order of magnitude less money spent per week. And a lot less alcohol consumed.

    Think of an alien, visiting earth, and looking at the two ritualistic behaviors. Those church-hobbyists would arguably look more rational and healthy than those football hobbyists, wouldn’t they?


    Not sure the comparison (with ‘love the sinner…’) works. What’s odious about applying that to gays is that fundies obviously don’t love the sinner in any meaninful way. They don’t treat gays the way they treat divorcees, adulterers, people who take the lord’s name in vain or who don’t keep the sabbath, unruly children, etc… they treat them exceptionally worse.

    The second reason its not comparable is that few atheists would consider participating in a religious fellowship to be profoundly immoral. Waste of time and money? Yes. Irrational? Sure. A crime worthy of punishment? Probably not; most atheists don’t want anything like a Chinese or Russian-style government opposition to religion. They do not want their personal religious preferences enforced by the power of the state. Anti-gay fundie activists do.

    About the closest atheists get is saying that certain religious organizations fund bad causes, so you shouldn’t contribute your money or your time to them. But that’s no different from a pro-choicer saying don’t buy Dominos pizza because the owner Monaghan (up until 1993) was virulently pro-life. Asking your friends to stop buying Dominos pizza (analogous to what PZ, Dawkins, Hitchens said or are saying) is really not comparable to saying anyone who personally eats Dominos pizza is evil (analogous to what fundies say about gays).

    So for me, one can very rationally say that the fundie treatment of gays is wrong but (example) PZ’s treatment of the RCC is perfectly fine; they are not comparable actions.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I generally work on the assumption that the best way to advocate for my views is to be a good example of an atheist who lives a good and moral life. I’m deeply skeptical (due to having more than a passing acquaintance with social and cognitive psychology) that arguing about religion is effective enough to start burning relationship bridges, and due to some complex family history, that’s not a fight I wish to engage in.

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that engaging in criticisms of theism is rather like trying to move a 10-ton pile of dirt with a hand trowel. I dont’ have the skills to do it right, and I’m not interested in making it an avocation to learn.

  • elizabethwalls

    I know you’re talking about people, but for me this concept extends to art as well. I still like touring inside gargantuan cathedrals when I visit very old cities, because regardless of what they stand for, I can’t ignore their gorgeousness. Similarly, I still play Bach on my cello and allow myself to express through the music, even though he spent his life writing for the church and I sometimes wish that weren’t the case. I can appreciate those things while taking issue with the institutions that traditionally use them, and while wishing circumstances were otherwise. (Though now I wonder if, in the case of music and centuries-old art, my appreciation isn’t helped by temporal distance; e.g., when I left religion, I did drop a couple contemporary composers who write mostly church music.)

  • Al Stefanelli

    Yes, you can. My wife of over twenty years is a Christian – albiet a progressive one. Find common ground and agree not to discuss the topic. There’s plenty of other things to talk about.

  • sumdum

    To be honest, I can’t connect with them in any way, shape, or form. I’ve got two brothers who don’t believe in silly shit either, but the rest of my family is pretty damn religious.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    If my partner worshipped me, I think that would be alright.

  • F

    No, I don’t love the religious parts. As a matter of fact, I didn’t when I was religious. What’s there in particular to love about the religious bits?

  • Robert B.

    I have friends who frame some of their own virtues (real virtues, things I agree are virtues) in religious terms. For example, helping friends in need because it’s a “Christian thing to do.” I’m not sure I agree that’s typically Christian, and I certainly don’t think it’s necessarily or originally Christian, but they call it Christian and it’s something I love about them.

  • Shplane

    I am allowed to not like something about someone that I otherwise love. Religion is no exception, and is not something that I could ever possibly view as positive in any way.

    • Shplane

      I continue to stand by this statement even after you put up the full article.

      I thought something was off when it ended with a comma, and without two hundred paragraphs to explain something that could probably be said in five. >.>

  • rturpin

    The question seems backwards to me. I don’t choose friends and colleagues for their religious or political views. Most family we choose least of all. So rather than asking whether I value them for such views, it seems to me the question is whether I will listen and try to understand those who are friends, family, and colleagues.

    Partners and spouses are a bit different. There, we have a greater desire for sympatico, and choice is more in play and less narrowly focused. I’d think twice and hard before partnering with someone who was religious.

  • Joey Maloney

    Interesting question. I guess for me, bottom line is I can’t be friends with (much less love) a person whose belief system – whether religiously-based or not – leads them to deliberate malicious acts. But I have lots of religious friends who are, in my estimation, good people. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not that actually comes from their religious beliefs, or whether or not they believe it does.

    Sort-of related, I recall reading somewhere that most believers are first introduced to religion systematically at age 5 or 6, which is the age when the concepts of “fairness” and “following the rules” first become operative. And thus the attraction to a prerational mind of a system which promises ultimate fairness and a relatively simple set of rules is extremely powerful. So I tend to look at lifelong believers as suffering from particularly effective brainwashing. Though I would never want to be the kind of condescending jerk that says that to their faces.

    • jenny6833a

      Sort-of related, I recall reading somewhere that most believers are first introduced to religion systematically at age 5 or 6,…

      Actually, from birth. Newborns are prayed over, and by age two the bedtime ritual is “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Or someting quite similar.

      Parents point yonder and say “chair.” They point up and say “God.” The kid treats both as equally existant.

  • Michelle

    I love people who believe in something bigger and better than themselves. I have always had a soft spot for Jehovah’s witnesses and other weekend doorknockers. They are constantly mocked and treated with contempt and abused, but they keep giving up their time and comfort for the remote hope that they might actually help save a stranger’s soul. Annoying as it is there is something special about that.

    • Shplane

      The thing about Jehovah’s Witnesses is that, no, not really. They do the whole door-to-door thing because they believe that they have to in order to achieve “salvation”. It’s entirely self-interest that drives these people.

  • sumdum

    I don’t see it as special at all. They’re trying to ‘save’ a ‘soul’. Both words mean nothing. They spend all that time doing pointless useless things. I don’t see it as special, (unless you mean speshul), I feel sorry for them. Such a waste of time, they could spend it doing actual things. Go ride a bike, visit a gym, see your family, learn a language, paint, write or do something, anything but pointless useless actions such as ‘saving souls’.

  • jesse

    I wasn’t sure if a few paragraphs are missing, but…

    Look, I married a person from a religious (though not intensely so) family. (It varies — her mom goes to church, so does dad, the kids seem indifferent). Honestly it seems to me that for most people in this part of the country, religious activity and religion generally are more of a social club than anything else.

    I simply can’t get that upset over my wife’s religious leanings (which aren’t that strong anyway). I’m an atheist, basically, and a cultural Jew, so I suppose she can’t be too upset about it either. I don’t think I could have married a born-again Christian. But avoiding someone with any religious leanings at all would have been difficult to do and that wasn’t what I was focused on in a relationship.

    In fact, as I get older I find that a lot of the important stuff in a relationship — be it with friends or whatever — can’t be boiled down to whether someone is religious or not, or shares my politics, even, though the latter helps. It’s just more complicated than that.

    I know a guy whose politics I do not share. Probably not his religious leanings either. But he and his wife have been unfailingly nice to me. THey have helped me out a lot when I needed it. We’re friends. Does it make sense? Probably not — and had we not been in the karate class together we mightn’t be — but so much in life makes no sense at all that I just accept it.

    Also, I can’t treat religion as a completely negative bit of insanity or simple irrational thing for dumb people (which is part of the problem I have with a lot of scientific atheists, per PZ’s description). I’ve dealt too long with marginalized groups for whom religion is a marker of identity and an important part of facing the dominant culture. I can’t ignore that reality. Heck, for Jews it’s pretty damned important (this is why you’ll meet a lot of Jewish atheists who still go to Seder). So my smugness at being a rationalist atheist disappeared a while ago.

    So when I go to my in-laws house I don’t get on them about how there is no God and they are all silly to believe it. That would make me a bigoted bully. And I have learned to phrase opinions on other matters more diplomatically, and carefully avoid insulting people. I always hear atheists go on that “I am not insulting you, just your beliefs” but if religion is an identity-marker then you are damned well insulting them and don’t pretend otherwise. (And where that line is drawn is complicated. It will differ between groups, and among them. White Catholics in the US will often feel differently than Latinos and African-Americans have a different relationship with their churches than either of those).

    And you know what? My in-laws are good people. They are nice to me. Why should I not be good to them? They’re nice folks who have been good to me. What’s the downside?

    Which is why Daniel’s formulation above (missing the paragraphs, anyway) makes me a mite uncomfortable. To paraphrase the Black Skeptics blog, I can’t just go around saying those religious folks are just a bunch of silly false consciousness [insert here] — which is the implication of a lot of people like Dawkins and even PZ sometimes. And that affects how I view friends and the people who are really important to me.

    It is true if partner A is deeply religious and partner B is not, there’s a loss of intimate space. But there are work-arounds if the relationship offers other areas to make up for it.

  • jesse

    BTW Daniel I wanted to say that what makes me uncomfortable is not your position on the matter — that seems fine to me — but the approach to the question. (Maybe it as b/c he talks about the difficulty of loving a certain kind of person, which seems… weird to me for reasons I can’t fully define.

  • Emburii

    I don’t agree with this at all. Would you love an alt-medder? Or a racist? Or a flat-earther?

    Religion is magical thinking, the same as those, and it’s just as demonstrably wrong. To refuse to challenge someone when they are wrong is to disrespect them, to my mind.

    Now, there are gentle ways to do it, but in the end I think it’s worth doing one way or another especially if I care about someone. If as a person at their heart is are kind and passionate, chances are that they will remain that way even if you make a convincing case against superstition and wrongness. If your relationship is strong enough, it should be able to survive any crisis of faith. And if they aren’t or if it doesn’t, then maybe it’s for the best.

  • Onamission5

    Religious belief is so pervasive in society that if I actively hated it and rejected every person who subscribed to it, I would be a lonely person, indeed.

    My criteria for whether or not I want someone to be involved in my life and me in theirs has much more to do with what we have in common than what we don’t. When it comes to friends, our common humanitarian values and liberal politics are what bind us. They tolerate my lack of belief in their deities and I tolerate their religious or woo-woo leanings, so long as our other commonalities take precedence. I do not feel the need to dissuade them from attending church or practicing rituals because I feel no need to drive a wedge into our friendship, when the things we do not have in common are so few, and are less important to me than our shared values.

    When it comes to family, that’s more complicated. I have had to put physical distance between myself and several members of my family of origin, due to their harmful and inflexible politics of religion. Debating isn’t an option, agreeing to disagree isn’t either, the only satisfactory option for them would be a successful conversion to uber right wing christianity of me, my spouse, and our children. Thus the distance. Still, I can admire my mother’s strengths and talents while disagreeing adamantly with, for example, her opinions about gay people and environmentalism. We can talk about gardening or the weather and I can get off the phone when other subjects are broached. I can choose not to fight with someone who is important to me, whose mind will not be changed, because I love her dearly, in much the same way that my spouse loves his racist joke telling grandma but cringes when distasteful views fly out of her mouth. I can protect my kids from my family’s strange, narrow, conversion oriented world view in the same way that my spouse shuttles the kids out of the room and shushes his grandma when she starts in. I can explain why they think the way they do, why we don’t subscribe to those views, and what we do to combat ideas like dominionism, fundamentalism, sexism and racism without turning our family members who subscribe to those views into Bad People/the enemy, because they aren’t. It’s not them. It’s their bad ideas. I can try the best I can to teach my kids to take what they need, leave the rest. It’s what I hope for them to do once they reach adulthood when it comes to the values their dad and I have tried to instill, so the very least I can do is model it myself when it comes to my own family.

  • smhll

    Personally, I tend to care more whether a person is kind than whether a person is correct. I’m not prostelytizing. (Because I can’t even spell it!)

  • richardnorris

    Edward Feser recently posted an article about your comment on Leah Lebrisco and teleology. I thought you might want to know about it in case you wanted to reply.

  • michaelraymer

    My grandparents raised me, so I love my grandmother like a mother. She’s a very religious Catholic, always talking about some saint or another when she seeks divine assistance. She’s not just religious though – she also believes in pretty much every woo-woo thing out there. If it has no evidence to support it, she believes it. UFOs, ghosts, Mayan prophesy and the Bermuda Triangle – you name, we’ve talked about it at some point, haha. As much as those beliefs frustrate me, in some way I’m glad because it helped my journey to not just atheism but rational thought and scientific skepticism as well. Growing up hearing about all this junk made me a very fearful child. I was always sure the aliens were going to abduct me, or I would see some scary ghost or what-not. Once I got into my teen years, these fears started to fade since I had seen nothing unusual yet. I started taking an interest in science, and discovered the Bad Astronomy blog which clued me in to skeptical thinking, and the last vestiges of my irrational beliefs (including religion) faded away. So like I said, I am who I am today because of my grandmother’s beliefs. And even though those beliefs bother me and we debate it from time to time, I can’t really hate her for it. We all are who we are, just like I can’t pretend to still be religious for her when she asks me to pray. We’ve kind of agreed to disagree on God since she doesn’t bring up her faith much anymore, but every once in a while she lets some of the other woo-woo stuff slip in like “Oh, I was just thinking about you when you called, it must be ESP!” and I reply “Or you probably think about me several times a day, so it’s not that amazing I would call while you were.” That kind of thing, haha…

  • Deepak Shetty

    All my comments from my gmail account are being swallowed. Not sure if this is a bug or moderation is on or something else

  • Dean Marold

    I wasn’t indoctrinated into any religion when I was growing up and that made it pretty easy to figure out that god didn’t exist. But I was very surprised that even though my Mum didn’t have any formal religious beliefs or go to any church, she still has very strong spiritual beliefs.

    Just last night we had a really good chat where both of us (particularly me) just gave up arguing our corner and tried to explain our stances as best we could. I think her spiritual beliefs grew out of losing some people very close to her in her late teens and she has no desire to give up something that gives her comfort. I also got to explain how my own views can be comforting to me, and my eventual death doesn’t have to be constant source of depression without an afterlife to look forward to.

    We agree on so much apart from some religious views, and share a love of science. I’ve made my views clear, and she’s done the same, and I think I can just accept that we disagree, and love and respect her anyway.

    I also have to give her points for not having a problem with me arguing my sister and one brother around to atheism!

  • Michael R

    Charles Darwin and his wife managed it, so it’s not impossible. Here’s a song from the Darwin Song Project from the perspective of Darwin’s wife Emma:

    Personally, I think of religion as mostly a cultural activity, so I have no problem respecting it from that angle.

  • jesse

    Daniel, reading the rest of it, I think of the last two lines. “It’s no threat to me.” (I liked this much better with the missing part added).

    I’m gonna offer the TL; DR version for atheists: DBAD if you love someone, and if it’s that important to you to be right all the time and demonstrate how smart you are (I’m looking at you, scientific atheists) then maybe the problem is your beliefs are the ones threatened.

    • Gwynnyd

      “maybe the problem is your beliefs are the ones threatened.” –

      headdeskthud – there is a *huge* difference between “needing to be right all the time” and my own lack of belief in god. I love family traditions and food and feats and get togethers. I was happy to make believe with my kids and go all in for the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. If it’s important to any of my friends or family, I am happy to be social and allow friends and family to believe in their god, and be respectful at their ceremonies, or interact with them however without turning every moment into a apologist’s debate or a lecture on why there is no god, but *I want the same consideration.*

      If they get to constantly “bless me” and “pray for me to see the light” and mourn at me that I am going to hell, and turn every action they do or phrase they say into a religious moment then I *will* demand equal time for them to listen to me and my scientific atheism.

      I’m not *threatened* by their theology, I’m bored to tears by it and heartily sick of mentally editing it out of our conversations.

      Can we move on to talking about and doing things we have in common?

    • jesse


      That’s sort of the point I was making — be respectful, and don’t get into debates over religion all the damned time. And I don’t know entirely what your interaction with family is like.

      What gets me — and maybe this comes from reading a lot of Arthur C Clarke and PZ’s comment threads — is that a lot of scientifically-minded atheists just plain ignore that if you are white and male the whole being an atheist thing is hugely different from someone who isn’t. And there is a certain smug attitude I always detect that rubs me the wrong way. Especially when they talk about people who are less powerful in our society. (I had something of a discussion about this on Ed Brayton’s old blog space when he said some things about Jews that could be read as insulting if you’re not careful).

      Anyhow I don’t disagree that it can be annoying when people say you should come to Jesus or whatever all the time. My in-laws have asked about my religious leanings and I have been polite about it. I don’t talk politics with them often either. The point is to create situations where, as you say, you talk about what you have in common.

      Are you right about their being no god? Yup, pretty darn likely. Does it matter? In most day to day things I find it doesn’t.

      I’ve even gone to Mass with the in-laws. And aside from being a bit long (I don’t speak the language the sermon was in) it didn’t mean anything to my being an atheist, you know?

      Again, I don’t know what it’s been like for you. Certainly I’d get annoyed if the in-laws said every day I should convert. But I couldn’t get mad about it. “Yup, not converting. next topic.”

      To put it another way, I’m sure my wife tunes it out a bit when my dad goes on another rant about Socialism/WOrkers/Politics. (He’s a full on red diaper baby). It’s part of the deal when we got married. I zone out too sometimes. And I agree with him most of the time. We can still hang out together and things are all right.

  • mudpuddles

    My brother is a non-believer, though I am aware that he has some vaguely wooly spiritual leanings which I don’t know or particularly care too much about. He and his wife of 7 years recently had a baby daughter, who was baptised recently. He asked me a couple of months ago would I be her Godfather. I was delighted with the offer and the opportunity to be a guide and mentor to this beautiful little person who has come into our family. But I said to him straight up “You know I’m not a believer and you and your wife would both have to be happy that I won’t be upholding any of the standard Christian elements of godparenting”. He said absolutely, he was the same way, and to him the christening ceremony was just some nonsense to go through and the words didn’t mean anything but it was tradition and not going through it would create more difficultues than it would prevent (upset parents and parents-in-law and questions and confusion from the wider family and friends).

    So I went through the ceremony, and kept my mouth shut when expected to recite the answers “I do” or “I will” to questions of belief in Jesus and rejection of Satan etc. (which was easy, as there were 7 baptisms happening at once so no-one noticed my silence).

    But I have a huge problem with my niece being brought into the membership of a vile, disgustingly evil organisation that would cover-up the details in a heart beat if she was raped by one of their own leadership. An organisation that will call her an abomination if it turns out that she has been born gay, or later identifies herself as trans. An organisation that considers her to be “born with sin”, and says she is a sinner (even though she can’t fucking feed herself, never mind harm another person or utter a profanity), bearing the iniquities of people who allegedly commited crimes against god many thousands of years ago. My brother and his wife don’t see the Catholic church in that way, but such is the fog that religion descends on societies (none more so thain Ireland).

    I love my brother and his wife though I see them as being greatly misguided in their perceived need to keep everyone else happy and just get this meaningless ceremony done to avoid difficulties within the family. Because it was not meaningless. It means they have subscribed her to membership of a despicable cult, and it perpetuates religiosity in otherwise secular circles of Irish life.

    I love my niece, and will do my best to help her explore the realities of the world and the wonders of nature, and to introduce her to the realms of freethought and humanism. And hopefully she will leave the church formally, as I have done, when she is old enough to realise what this club she is in is truly like.

    • John Moriarty

      Not knowing what part of the country you hail from, here in Dublin I haven’t found the Church to be meaningfully intrusive in my life since childhood many years ago. Weddings and funerals, well you would have to show some respect for others; I’ve managed to zone out of the religious stuff for years. The rest of the family more or less knows where I stand but don’t really bring it up, except for my wife occasionally.

  • mudpuddles

    @John Moriarty

    Hi John, I’m a Dub too, northside. I never found the church to interfere greatly with my life to be honest. In fact, growing up we were surrounded by the church in many ways, since my parents both volunteered locally and both were somewhat religious. I was even an altar boy for several years. In fact, the reason I am an atheist is because of some very positive experiences I had with our local clergy (a long story and perhaps one for the “Why I am an atheist” posts on Pharyngula…). So I don’t expect the church to actively intrude on her life, but I do detest that bringing a child into the membership of a morally bankrupt cult where homophobia and bigotry is rewarded is seen as “normal”.

  • No One

    Short answer, no. I cannot love the religious part of a human being. Disinterest, pity, irritation, disgust, amusement… but love for a neurotic delusion? No.

  • eric

    After reading the whole thing, I have a question – did Larry Tanner say how they were raising their kids in terms of religion? Does mom take them to church? Seems to me that could be a sticking point, though by no means an insurmountable one.

    • Larry Tanner

      They are being raised Christian. Back in 1999/2000, my then-fiance and I agreed on it. It was a hard conversation, but I felt (and feel) it was right.

      They all go to church every Sunday. I don’t. I have explained the situation here:

      Maybe the key point relevant here is that, for me, “The real ‘prize,’ as it were, is [my] kids pursuing the education and professions that excite them. The endgame is for them to find love, happiness, and well-being. If they think kneeling before a cross is part of this, then I won’t squawk. I just happen to think that supplication before imaginary beings is unnecessary. On the other hand, I imagine that church may provide professional networking benefits for the kids–and for my wife and me.”

  • blotonthelandscape

    I was going to say something interesting on this thread about being married to a christian, but then your quote from Larry summed up my sentiments pretty much perfectly.

    I thought about this during my conversion process (we had been married 2 years by that point), where I was reassessing everything I valued. That included the value in my relationship. Was it all built on our shared religious views? Like everything else in my life at that point, if it had no value outside of the religion I had left, I wanted to let it go, and this was the biggest dilemma raised at that point. A big part of me thought it might be, but I realised that it was unfair of me to call it quits right then, and to not at least explore the possibility that there was more to it. On reflection I was projecting my insecurity that she wouldn’t want me any more onto the relationship, and that the simple daily acts of sharing a life and a home and a child together, of leaning on each other and working out a life together meant far more than some religious notion of sanctified sex. 3 years on and we’re still happily married (a few sketchy months aside). I have absolutely no expectation that she will follow me (even as christians our faith was expressed differently, mine much more open to rationality and outside influences). I think she hopes I’ll reconvert, but she manages to keep her religiosity to herself, and when the subject is brooched, it normally ends with make-up sex, so it’s all okay!

  • Stevarious


    I’ve a large family and nearly all of them are deeply religious. It’s taken years for some of them to be able to talk to me at all, and there’s a number that won’t (or even look me in the eye at family get-togethers). The only family members that I ever even talk about religion with are my oldest brother (a recently converted Jew who only did so to please his new in-laws and has no religious beliefs to speak of) and my father (who can’t stop arguing with me about these things.)

    I love my mother but I hate that she doesn’t seem able to even decide for herself what she believes, but constantly looks to her husband to tell her what to believe. I love my father but I cannot stand that his religious beliefs keep us from having anything resembling a meaningful discussion about politics or… well, anything. Since I’m not a christian, he believes, than it’s not possible for me to be right about anything else, so there’s no point in discussing it – except to use as a bludgeon to convert me.

    As far as my son’s mother is concerned… well, we broke up long before I became an atheist – though if I were ever inclined to get back together with her (I’m not) then I’d have to examine things more closely.

    All in all, religious differences are the primary source of tension and strife in my family and I don’t love any of it.

    • eric

      It’s taken years for some of them to be able to talk to me at all, and there’s a number that won’t (or even look me in the eye at family get-togethers).

      Well, but keep in mind that the question Daniel asked was “can you love them,” not can they love you. :)

      Without question, there are some religious sects or beliefs that promote hatred or rejetion of atheists. This fact, however, has little or nothing to do with whether atheism is consistent with becoming socially close to people who have very strong, core beliefs the atheist may find irrational.