Ask Richard: Praying at the Table Breaks an Engagement

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

I will try to make this short; I am a non-believer (atheist).

I recently got engaged to get married with the mother (Christian) of my son, I have known her for over 3 years. She as always known that I am an atheist, and our relationship has not always been easy at times, and is very hard, like now. I love her and respect her Christian beliefs. When we got together, I told her that I would support her in her religious beliefs and would also support her teaching my son about Christian beliefs. For example, I went with her to service, just to show support.

We broke our engagement, little over a month into it. As newly engaged couple, we where mapping our marriage rules. One of my rules that she didn’t like and was a deal breaker, was; I was not going to allow praying at the table. I told her that I did not forbid teaching Christian beliefs in my house, just not at the table.

So I said, “No praying at the table.” I did not want my son to ask, “Why isn’t daddy praying with us, mommy?” My son is too young to understand why daddy does not pray. I think this will cause more harm to my son than not having it at all.

So, I don’t know if I have made the right decision in not allowing praying at the table. I still love her very much, and sure she does too.

Thanks for any advice

Jason

Dear Jason,

I think you might be trading away a big thing to gain a little thing.

Praying at the table is a very important issue to both of you for the same reason: Everyone in the family sees everyone else either doing it or not doing it. You’re all on display. For believers, it demonstrably unifies the family, and for non-believers, it demonstrably separates them from the family.

You said that you support your fiancée in her religious beliefs and her teaching your son those beliefs. So you have agreed to structuring a family that has a separation built into it. He and she will have a commonality that you do not share. That is not by necessity a bad thing. It all depends on how you and she handle it.

I think you are anxious about how deeply that alliance they share might divide you from your son, and you’re also anxious about that scary first time he asks you about it.

You have traded your engagement for a brief postponement of that uncomfortable, eye-to-eye moment. When your son is old enough that he would notice and remark about your not praying at the table, very soon after that he will notice and remark about you having a different level of participation in the religion in general. Unless you participate in every other religious teaching, activity, rite, ceremony and ritual, including accompanying him and his mother to every service that they attend, he’s going to notice the disparity and ask questions. He’ll want to know how these differences affect Mommy and Daddy’s relationship. Kids notice hairline cracks in their world.

I don’t think his age is a factor in whether or not seeing this dissimilarity will hurt him. This isn’t about him not being ready, it’s about whether or not you are ready. What will hurt him is if you and his mother are not fully prepared to explain to him that your differences in belief do not affect your love for each other or for him. You will both have to credibly assure him that in this family, belief is not required for love. If that isn’t actually true for you and his mother, then it will ring hollow.

Praying at the dinner table could be a good place to demonstrate to your son that belief is neither universal nor mandatory, and that asking frank questions is permitted in this family.

“Yes, Daddy does not pray because he is not convinced about God the way Mommy is. And that’s okay, son, because we all get along and love each other even though we think about some things differently. What’s most important is that we care about each other and treat each other well.”

Most likely he will continue to believe along with Mommy, because of all that teaching and indoctrination that you have said is okay with you. What will be important for his well being is to know that he is not “betraying” one parent by siding with the other on this issue. That kind of conflict of loyalties can tear kids deeply.

Later in life he will probably begin to have some doubts about his religious beliefs, as so many normal young people do. If he has had a father who has always loved and respected him regardless of such beliefs, a father who has always encouraged him to ask the awkward questions straight out, even at the dinner table, then he will be more able to make up his own mind freely.

Jason, You have said that you and your fiancée love each other very much. I don’t know if the rest of your relationship with her is compatible enough to compensate for having to tolerate praying at the table. By itself, after all the other concessions that you have said you are comfortable with, it seems to me to be a trifling thing for which to sacrifice so much love. It may actually be just the tip of a larger set of irreconcilable differences. As you said, it has been easy at times and hard at times. I cannot tell from your letter.

Several weeks have passed since you wrote your letter. Take all of these things and balance them on your scale once again, and see if the “deal breaker” is still too heavy for you to bear. If it is, then it is probably part of larger divisive issues. If it is not too heavy, then allow it, get back together, and use the dinner table as a teachable moment for tolerance, open-mindedness, and asking brave questions.

Married or separate, you will be linked to this woman by this boy for your whole lives. Whether or not you share a roof, you share a treasure. You will both want to enjoy life with him, to guide and to witness his development, and to instill some of your values in him. The two of you can cooperate, compromise, and show him how people who have differences can work together for a common precious goal. By focusing on his benefit, both of you can learn to be less self-centered and more solution-centered.

I hope that all three of you can give each other your very best.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Jim

    You seem to be assuming this child is a religious child already. You say that the fiance and the child will have commonality, but that should not be the case. If she has the right to teach him Christianity, Jason should have the right to teach skepticism about Christianity and in general. And until the child is old enough to make the decision that he is a Christian, that “commonality” and bond should -not- be taken for granted.

  • Bob

    I was wondering if the ‘praying at the table’ was a small issue being conflated to justify breaking off the engagement – a bit of deflection.

    The odd thing was, even being raised in a Catholic household, my mother rarely insisted on saying grace before meals. Manners and your conduct at the table expressed thanks to both her, for cooking the meal, and to God, for the overall providing of various blessings, etc. without a ritual that would quickly become ‘let’s get this over with so I can eat’ process.

  • Hitch

    I think it’s an interesting point. I see the reason why it’s difficult.

    Certainly there has to be a give and take and there has to be space for his identity and his limits.

    For example one could compromise that half the time there is prayer, the other half there is saying thanks to each other that everything is fine in a secular way.

    But yes, I think it’s difficult because ultimately there is a kid that needs parents, and negotiating the space, when kids are at stake is really really tricky.

    The less flexible person has a lot of leeway to dictate the terms of the relationship. I think Jason is very good to consider where his limits are. He certainly can be a great dad without being married, or he can find a way to be married.

    I think it is rather good that they have these discussions now rather than a number of years into a marriage when disagreements have built up and burst out in one of those unpleasant ways that we see way too often.

    Ultimately Jason has to find the answer, and I do not fault him for trying to stake out the space where he and his world view has a sensible share in what is going on.

    I would suggest further discussion, offering compromises, flexible solutions and so forth.

    I think this is not just self-centered even. To be concerned that the kid learns to see both parents as pulling the same larger lines is worthwhile and it is for the kid. To find if one can find that space, or has to expose the kid to conflicting pictures, really is about if one can learn to negotiate differences in a marriage. I hope the both of them can, and if Jason always have to give in, there may be a much deeper problem than just whether or not there will be prayer at the table.

  • Tim

    I am wondering exactly what concessions she is making. I understand that you are making what seems like a rather large set of them, but is the reverse true?

    If she is not really conceeding anything in this relationship than it’s not balanced and that more than praying at the table or not seems like a real deal breaker.

    I honestly think you are better off by not worrying about the praying at the table but instead being properly prepared to have the discussion with your son when he starts to ask the questions. If you think about it now, and express that it is your desire to teach your son this side of things in the same way that she will teach him her side of things, then he can make up his mind for himself in the end.

    What is more important than any other detail is that you show both your son and your future wife that you love them, care about them, and want to work with them to build a good family. All the rest is details.

  • Blair T

    If you think it is too much to sit quietly for 20 seconds before each meal for the sake of something very important to your spouse, you probably have no business getting married.

    This idea of making rules for marriage where you forbid something is a really bad precedent. You should be thinking about what you can being doing for your spouse not listing all the things you won’t do.

    She made the right decision to break it off.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    If she wants to pray at the table then let her. It give you time to nab all the best bits of food. Let the Christians have their silly rituals (as long as they do no harm).

    I’d also echo what Blair T said above. Setting rules for what you can’t do doesn’t seem very wise. Thou shalt not… seems like a recipe for failure to me. I will… just seems much more positive.

  • http://sacredriver.org Ash

    Prayer is a compact technique for instilling and maintaining belief. It isn’t a trivial thing, so I can understand the father’s concern. If the wife really was willing to compromise, she could pray silently or quietly to herself at the table without insisting on including the child in the ritual.

  • Jim

    I agree with Bob. I think this was probably inevitable, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Marriage is stressful enough when you’re both atheists. I cannot imagine trying to be married to a believer.

  • http://pinkydead.blogspot.com David McNerney

    I have 3 children who we are raising as Christian (that was part of our deal) – but they know what I believe (or don’t) and I think that forces them to deal with the reality that just because they are told something, doesn’t mean everyone believes it.

    Praying at the table wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me – but I couldn’t promise to be respectful of it.

    A deal breaker would be not being allowed to criticize scientific inaccuracies or letting Leviticus 18:22 etc slide.

  • Matt

    When I go to family Thanksgiving, they holds hands and say grace. I look around the room at all the bowed heads while they pray, but I respect their ritual. It’s silly, but it’s important to them. Now if my brother was spouting off some hateful anti-gay diatribe, I’d interrupt him. Pick your battles.

  • CeJuan

    I’ve been happily married almost 14 years to a Catholic Woman. My recollection is that before we were married we agreed that she would be allowed to teach the children how to be Catholic without interference from me and I would sometimes go to church, but in exchange the children would be free to make up their own minds when old enough. I recently asked her if she was still planning to hold up her end of the deal and I couldn’t really get a straight answer. She says that what she recalls is that I told the priest in the pre-marriage interview that I would go to church. I vaguely remember this, but didn’t take it as serious as what I thought I agreed to with my wife. So, I need to do a little more probing to figure out what she’s thinking. We don’t have good luck discussing religious issues so I have to be careful. I think the kids are about half way to old enough so I want to get some assurance that we still have a deal because I’m starting to feel guilty about selling my kids out with the deal. I failed to realize how thorough the church is at brainwashing. I certainly don’t want to completely uphold my end if she’s not planning to uphold hers. I’m not talking anything drastic, just being a little more free to point out inconsistencies and explain why I don’t believe. I also am starting to realize that I didn’t think enough about how she could possibly go about making them feel free to be not Catholic after all the years of telling them they must. I don’t expect her to tell the children they don’t need to go to church. I think the best she will be able to do will be to just bite her tongue at times when she’s tempted to pressure them.

    Anyway, she does say prayers at the table and by example I make it clear that grownups don’t have to. I don’t interfere or start eating, but I don’t bow my head either. I usually just look around and keep my hands at least 1′ from each other. I keep waiting for one of the kids to say “but dad doesn’t do it”, so I can clearly state that grownups don’t have to, but my wife is too smart for that. She doesn’t push them hard enough to get them to say that. I think they get it anyway though.
    I don’t know that I have a point. I’m just throwing my experience out there for people in Jason’s shoes.

  • 5ive

    It could be that the payer at the table is just a way for Jason to have his voice heard. It seems that she is getting the lion’s share of imprinting a world view on the child and Jason doesn’t really have a say.
    I can see where he may feel obligated to stick to that one area he has asserted his beliefs. I think he needs to look at the bigger picture and see if he can really live with someone who is telling his child the lies (in my view) of Christianity.

  • http://Religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I’m married to a Christian but we don’t pray at the table. It would bother mee if she insisted on it. We do say a family blessing whenever we visit her parents but not at our house.

    If I were in your situation I would probably agree to a moment of silence before each meal. Anyone with kids would appreciate this. ;)

  • Justin

    It sounds to me like Jason is someone who is very willing to seek a compromise for the good of his family. And, while it is admirable, there is a certain problem attached to it – if the other side doesn’t reciprocate, this seemingly admirable quality turns a person into a two-legged doormat.

    I’ve read about concessions that Jason is prepared for. How about the other side?

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    Praying isn’t brainwashing…even for a little kid. It’s talking to someone that isn’t there.
    What’s important is whether or not the kid knows that dad doesn’t believe in the imaginary friend that mommy talks to. If the kids realizes early on that there are options, he/she should be just fine.

  • Hitch

    I dont’ agree with Blair T and hoverfrog.

    There are two people here with world views.
    To me too it would actually be important that the household is largely secular. Sure we can go to church etc, but being an atheist does not mean that the only space we get is the one that is not filled by Christian ritual.

    There are two people with world views here and we can turn the table with equal force and ask, if the partner is not able to concede that dinner is secular “for the sake of something very important to your spouse, you probably have no business getting married.”

    Jason has not automatically the blame for there not being a compromise at all.

    To me the table doesn’t tell the whole story. The whole story is, what is the discussion/compromise culture.

    If it is that Jason has to concede everything, well there is a problem that is unfair to Jason and in fact fair to the children and to say that he has the wrong priorities for actually having some strong views too, well, how about considering this a partnership and his partner in the equation?

    But what is really going on is hard to judge. Jason has a better view.

    But I for one would have a really really hard time accepting marriage where my only vehicle for compromise is to always concede.

  • http://hryun.com Vinícius Egidio

    This is one the reasons I will probably never marry a believer.

    I can tolerate the praying but I can’t tolerate someone brainwashing my children and teaching them how they will burn in Hell if they don’t don’t follow an imaginary being.

  • Krista

    My biggest question is who actually ended the engagement? Him or her?
    If he did, then yes, perhaps he should sit down and really consider whether not wanting to hear his wife and child pray at the table is really worth ending an engagement. After all, he’s worried about the child asking why his father doesn’t do the same thing, but that question could be asked just as easily about why he doesn’t go to church like mommy.

    However, if *she* broke off the engagement, then his consideration should be why he’s really bothering to stay with her if she’s unwilling to compromise on this when a) she’s clearly willing to break her christian ways for things she likes *ahem* sex before marriage *ahem* and b)she’s getting to teach her religious beliefs throughout the rest of the day.

  • Darlene

    If you want to have an impact on your child’s life being a full-time father would be a way to start. And that means sucking up and doing what is best for your family, not what is best for you.

    A dealbreaker is finding out my spouse is abusive, or a felon, or is raping children. It’s big stuff that cannot be overlooked. Now, if your child is not worth taking a few minutes to be quiet and let your spouse pray then it’s best that you not be involved in his life.

    I would never forbid my spouse to do something, not would I tolerate his trying that nonsense on me. You want to pray? Go ahead and pray. I want to read him Dawkins before bed. Whatever.

    Think of it this way: if you are there it opens a conversation about different people having different beliefs and still being able to love each other. Or, you can not be there.

    The question is: how important is your family? If a prayer before meals is enough to have you walk away, I would guess the answer is “not very”.

  • Aj

    Praying at the table seems pretty trivial. I can see why a Christian would value it, but not why it would be the one point of contention for an atheist considering how much has already been compromised from “Jason”. I don’t see what the problem is with letting a child know their father is an atheist. Unless of course they have been indoctrinated to believe in hell, or that atheists are bad people, which shouldn’t have been compromised.

  • Michael

    I’m in a very similar position. My wife is Christian and I’m an atheist. She doesn’t pray at the table but takes my sone to church. I don’t go and my son see this. I don’t push atheism on him, but teach critical thinking, questioning authority and most importantly not to accept beliefs or opinions without evidence. No idea how he’ll turn out but ultimately it’s up to him.

  • BioBeing

    I’m married with 3 kids. My wife is a liberal Christian. While we have never prayed at the table, my wife does sometimes take the kids to Church, and she wants to go more frequently. I made a promise to my wife before we had kids that I would not interfere with her teaching them religion, but I would not be silent about what I thought either. Recently, this has become more of an issue with us. While I think that I have lived up to my end of the bargain, I don’t think that she has fully accepted my atheism. Basically, she expects me to keep quiet about it. As my kids get older (and religion gets wackier) that isn’t possible, let alone desirable. It is fine for her brother to lead service at his Church; it is not fine for me to waste a bit of time on secular websites? I was seen as being militant and aggressive for putting a scarlet A in my facebook profile for A week; yet it is fine for half my friends to post bible quotes every day? It’s not that my wife sees me as being evil for being an atheist, but there is (as she says) a social stigma about it. [Which is why A-week and the Out Campaign etc are so important!]

    My advice to the letter writer would be to think very carefully about the role religion is going to play in the lives of all 3 of you before getting married. Have a very frank and honest discussion with her about it. Even if you do not get married, hopefully you will still be involved in the boy’s life, which also means dealing with his mother. Prayer at the table sounds to me like a symptom of the bigger problem, not the problem itself.

    Good luck!

  • Trace

    *”I did not want my son to ask, “Why isn’t daddy praying with us, mommy?”

    I can see your point, but I don’t think this will traumatize your son in the long time. In time, he will figure it out by himself, that it is OK not to pray (my son for the most part, has).

    What I would ask your wife-to-be (maybe) is how she is planning on responding when/if your child asks… If she vilifies you (hopefully not) then be weary. By the same token, how do you plan on answering if he asks you? How will you approach this from an age appropriate perspective and how will you do it so your answer does not offend his mother?

    *”I still love her very much, and sure she does too.”

    If this is all there is stopping your both from marrying, what are you waiting for? After all you have given her many concession and so it seems to me that praying at the table seems a rather trivial point. Ask yourself. Will you be sorry 15 years from now that you were not a larger part of your son’s life over this?

    I really wish you luck.

  • UltimateDelivery

    Darlene said, ”
    If you want to have an impact on your child’s life being a full-time father would be a way to start. And that means sucking up and doing what is best for your family, not what is best for you.”

    I’m not so sure you have to be married to be a full time father.

    What if this woman ran off to Vegas and gets married? Does that mean he can’t be a full time father now?

  • UltimateDelivery

    Also, he needs to get a formalized custody arrangement before things go south and the mother’s family try to limit his access to his child.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Praying at the table is like having your imaginary friend to tea. It is a bit strange but ultimately harmless. You don’t have to play along, you don’t have to cut them a slice of cake and you don’t have to take it seriously. As an unbeliever it seems like a trivial eccentricity that some odd Christians adhere to, much like someone with OCD straightening all the cutlery before eating. That is why I think it should be ignored.

    I could understand a Muslim or a Jew objecting because the ritual is incompatible with their belief systems. With us atheists we don’t have the burden of those kinds of belief systems. We can ignore it as another silly superstition that some Christians buy into.

    Also “”I did not want my son to ask, “Why isn’t daddy praying with us, mommy?”” is not something that I agree with. I think that my lack of religious beliefs is an accurate way of looking at the world and it is appropriate that children (and adults) question things that seem incompatible with reality. Allowing prayer and not joining in highlights this incompatibility and brings it to a head. That undermines the ritual and the beliefs that empower it.

  • TychaBrahe

    Will someone please tell me why people do this? Why do people form long term relationships and have children with someone they can’t live with? I mean, I know this guy says he wants to marry this woman, but he cannot respect her beliefs or the fact that she has them enough to sit by and watch her pray with their son.

    Is sex education really that bad that people don’t understand that one of the potential consequence is children, and that you are then tied to the person with whom you created that child for at least the next 18 years, and probably quite longer?

    Back in the paleolithic, teens were admonished:

    “You should only date
    Someone who’ll make a good mate.”

    OK, I get that most people aren’t willing to think that far in advance, but how about a new version:

    “You probably shouldn’t screw
    Someone you don’t want raising kids with you.”

    And the fundies think it’s gays getting married that are going to destroy families.

  • DeafAtheist

    The mother of my son is also a Christian. We were never engaged but we were in a long term relationship that we both hoped would eventually lead to marriage… it didn’t.

    Praying at the table never came up with us. I assume she might do it with her other 3 kids from her 1st marriage but during the course of our relationship I never actually met her kids in person and when the 2 of us were eating alone there was no prayer unless she thought one privately.

    I didn’t like the idea of our son being indoctrinated with Christianity and his mother knew this but reached the compromise that we’d let him make his own decision about religion when he was old enough but meanwhile as a child he’d go to church and be taught the Christian ideology. That wasn’t a compromise at all really because indoctrinating children from a young age is what makes the belief so unshakable in adults. But I agreed to it for the simple reason that I am an atheist and I figured that even if I’m not actively atheist around my son he’d still pick up on it. I told his mother that I would not lie to my son and if he asked me about my belief I would share it with him and tell him that no, I don’t believe in any gods and why. I figured that would tip the scales a bit even if he’s being indoctrinated with religious nuttery.

    But it’s all moot now anyway. My son’s mother and I have broken up more than a year ago and we reside in different states halfway across the country. I have full custody of my son and she rarely ever sees him so it is up to me to raise him how I see fit.

    She and I eventually broke up mainly because I told her that while I was willing to go to church with her and stuff (although not as an active participant) I couldn’t promise that I would always be okay with it and at some point I might one day decide I no longer want to attend church services but it was something I was willing to do with her for now.

    I do wish things had worked out for us, but I’m also glad that it’s over. I won’t date another Christian because relationships are about compromising and I really don’t want to compromise who I am in order to accommodate a relationship. It makes me feel like I’m selling out. That I’m condoning nuttery in my life for the sake of a relationship and I just can’t do that.

  • stephanie

    So, lemme get this straight:
    This person would rather not sit at a table every night with his wife and child than sit there patiently for a minute or two? Because there might be an uncomfortable discussion one day?

    Parenting is all about uncomfortable discussions and I doubt this one will even register compared to some of the ones that will happen along the years. This is an easy concession, no one is getting judged and no one is getting hurt. Save the battles for the issues that will really matter, like parochial school or who has to teach driving…

  • Darlene

    Ultimate Delivery says: “I’m not so sure you have to be married to be a full time father.

    What if this woman ran off to Vegas and gets married? Does that mean he can’t be a full time father now?”

    Seeing a kid on alternate weekends does not a full-time parent make. Being there everyday, that is a full-time parent. Because you are only there part-time.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I love her and respect her Christian beliefs. When we got together, I told her that I would support her in her religious beliefs and would also support her teaching my son about Christian beliefs.

    Teaching your son about Christian beliefs, or teaching your son to be a Christian? Those are two very different things. If you’ve agreed to the latter, then I can understand her wanting to include the child in prayer at the dinner table. If it’s the former, then why can’t she just pray silently at the table herself? Why does she have to include your son?

    I told her that I did not forbid teaching Christian beliefs in my house, just not at the table. So I said, “No praying at the table.” I did not want my son to ask, “Why isn’t daddy praying with us, mommy?” My son is too young to understand why daddy does not pray. I think this will cause more harm to my son than not having it at all.

    I don’t think this is an unreasonable request. You have already compromised a great deal. It seems like you are allowing her to raise your son as a Christian. She’s taking him to church and teaching him to pray. And yet she can’t compromise and leave prayer out of one little thing? What is she having to sacrifice in the relationship? It seems like she’s getting to indoctrinate your son and force her beliefs on both of you.

    In any case, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for your son to ask questions about your lack of religious involvement (quite the contrary), but IMO, a family dinner table should be a place that’s comfortable for everyone in the family. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask to have a place that’s secular so the three of you can enjoy it equally. If she really wants to pray with your son, and you’ve agreed that she can, there are many other opportunities for her to do so throughout the day.

  • Dan W

    If I were in this type of situation (and I am not), then I think I’d be less concerned with praying at the dinner table and more concerned about other concessions like a future wife taking the son to church where he could be indoctrinated with her religion. I would not want that.

    We’ve heard some of the concessions “Jason” has offered to make to the mother of his son, and they seen to be pretty large ones. I’m curious what (if any) concessions the mother of their son has offered to make in order for them to get married.

  • Zla’od

    I am multiple-identified (but skeptically-inclined) and married to a woman who describes herself as non-religious, but in fact follows the Chinese folk religion.

    Do you want to be married to this woman, in your heart? If you do, then I would urge you not to give up on her. Considering that you already have a son together, this is all the more reason to forgive each other as much as you can, and find a way to work together.

    Of course marriage entails being able to trust each other, and respect one another’s beliefs. Both of you may have to work at that, preferably in a spirit that unites you according to those ideals you do share. If you are open with your son about what each of you believe, then he will make his own choices down the road.

    Good luck to all of you, and best wishes.

  • MaryLynne

    Along with others here who are in this situation, I think allowing praying at the table might not be as big a deal as you think, unless this is the tip of the iceberg on other issues that show inflexibility or control issues or lack of tolerance for either of you.

    My husband and I married Catholic and I started questioning and then lost faith about 10 years ago, when my older daughter was a toddler. When I chucked the whole thing I told my husband that if he wanted to have the kids raised Catholic, he needed to step up and do it because I could not fake it any more.

    I justified it to myself by saying that at least they were being raised with more open viewpoint than I was, and I figured it out. I think I was really not ready to deal with the implications of disbelief and not wanting to disrupt my marriage and family. I did not actively undermine or contradict his teachings because that would have been hurtful to our marriage, but I was honest when they asked questions. Any question of faith I answered, “Well, some people believe that. Some people believe this . . . and some believe that . . . I believe . . . Your dad believes . . .”

    Guess what? It all worked out. My older daughter is by nature a skeptical, critical thinker, lost faith in Santa at age 3 and in God at 12 or so, and refused to be confirmed. My younger daughter still believed in Santa at age 8 and I suspect will have God-faith a little while yet – she is by nature a magical thinker and not a skeptic. She knows, though, that different people have different beliefs and she gets to decide for herself.

    I don’t think just exposure to religious thought is the most damaging factor, it’s being told that is the only truth and lack of exposure to critical thought. I would welcome the “Why doesn’t daddy pray?” question, same as I welcomed “Why doesn’t mommy go to church with us?”

    “You’re right, son, mommy thinks it is important to talk to God, and I don’t. People believe different things. Some people pray to other gods, too. When you are older you get to decide for yourself.”

  • UltimateDelivery

    @Darlene

    Ok

  • Annie

    Given that you have a child to think of now, I think praying at the table is not a big deal. Anne above said that everyone should be comfortable at the table. But IMO the atheist is less uncomfortable with the prayer than the theist is with its avoidance.

    What I think is a much much bigger deal, in fact a deal breaker in case of relationships, is taking the child to religious instruction. I would rather have any number of prayers in the house than allow the child to attend Sunday school. On this issue, you should tread carefully or stay silent entirely before the wedding if you want to stay involved in the child’s life. And I think you owe it to your child to do so.

    Like others, I do not understand having children with people whose worldview is based on complete nonsense. This seems to be much more common with atheist men, who perhaps are overcome by the raging sexiness of Christian women, while possibly atheist women are more interested in what is between the ears of the men she is dating when it comes to reproduction. I dunno. I just know that I would have no interest in “supporting” or otherwise catering to someone’s belief in imaginary sky daddies, bigfoot sightings, rightwing lunacy, conspiracy theories or other bizarre ideas.

    I also think that if I were so crazy as to have a child with a believer in some such nonsense, I would adamantly oppose his being taken to religious instruction. At the very least I would make sure to find a humanist or atheist group with children and attend its meetings with the child, even if I had to travel far and wide to find one.

  • gsw

    oh boy, for the first time ever, I have to disagree with this answer.

    Prayer at table it a BIG thing. Even just “for what we are about to receive … “.
    God did not provide the food, people did.

    Sunday school is just what happens, maybe because mum has a bee in her bonnet, but family prayer requires the atheist to ACTUALLY CONDONE a lie, i.e. that the child should show gratitude to a hyperthetical something the atheist does not believe in.

    Sunday school failed to convert me to religion.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Given that you have a child to think of now, I think praying at the table is not a big deal. Anne above said that everyone should be comfortable at the table. But IMO the atheist is less uncomfortable with the prayer than the theist is with its avoidance.

    Just because there’s a child to think of doesn’t mean that the poor man should have to let his fiancee have her way about everything. It doesn’t sound like she has made any compromises, nor does it appear as though she is willing to make them. I mean, it sure sounds like she has received permission to indoctrinate their son into Christianity, and she’s freaking out because he wants a secular dinner table? She can’t even let him have one secular space? It seems like he’s allowed prayer everywhere else.

    Personally, I was not raised around prayer and I would be intensely uncomfortable having to go through a religious ritual every time I sat down for a meal at the family table. That’s just me. Maybe others feel differently. But I completely understand the feelings of the letter writer. If he swallows his feelings and allows prayer “for the good of the child,” maybe he will eventually get fed up with having given up any say in the relationship. Maybe this will all end badly in 5-10 years time. IMO, if she’s not willing to make concessions, he shouldn’t have to make all of them. If she’s not willing to make any, then it doesn’t bode well for the future of the relationship.

  • Jeff B.

    bio being…divorce is imminent…make it happen…


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