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?


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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.