Thanks for reading. My husband of one year doesn’t believe in God and I do. As we were both moderate people this never caused a problem before. I’m getting a bit alarmed though by his increasing involvement in what I would call “fundamentalist atheism.” I call it that because of the striking resemblance its members and community leaders (like Dawkins for instance) bear to the aggressive, cultish, right-wing elements of the church. Apparently they call themselves “skeptics.”
Don’t get me wrong- I have no problem with atheism. What I do have a problem with is these prejudiced blanket statements he has taken to parroting from his new friends. For example that Christians are homophobic, anti-science and that we all think HIV is God’s punishment for promiscuity. While all of these are grossly offensive, the anti-science one particularly gets my knickers in a twist because I am an academic researcher, and I resent being continually told by my partner that I have the wrong mindset for my profession when he doesn’t even have a science major, never mind a PhD.
I was sure this secular movement, like any other, probably has a quiet moderate majority so I set about looking for it and found this site. How can I direct him to more temperate versions of his new pet interest? I do not want to raise kids with a fundamentalist of any flavor- Christian or Atheist!
Ps. It also annoys me that the time he is spending reading the atheist books, listening to secular podcasts and chatting online to his skeptical friends is time he is supposed to be using to look for a job but that’s another issue! lol.
Dear Skeptic’s Wife,
Welcome. I’m going to do two things. Firstly, I’ll offer you some advice about your relationship with your husband, and secondly I’ll help to clarify some things for you about the wide variety of ideas, attitudes and terms about atheism.
I can completely understand your frustration and annoyance. Nobody should have to abide blanket statements of derision and condemnation just because of their inclusion in a broad category. We sure know about that around here. Atheists are painted as vile creatures en masse every day, and sadly, in their own frustration and annoyance, some of them return the abuse.
You’ve been married for one year, so even if you had a long courtship, you’re probably still learning a great deal about each other. There can be more assumptions between a newlywed couple than accurate understanding, so the two of you should develop a habit of having relaxed talks just to share all sorts of information about yourselves that perhaps you were assuming the other accurately knew. As a marriage counselor I was often surprised at how much spouses did not know about each other. They weren’t keeping secrets, they just never took the time to share things about themselves, and they took it for granted that the other one knew.
Sit down with your husband over a cup of coffee and have a nice chat. Tell him that he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s continually insulting you. You’re going to assume that it’s unintentional, but even so, you want it to stop.
Explain that you want him to use quantifiers when he talks about Christians. “Christians do such and such” is technically neutral about the quantity, but to most people it sounds like ”All Christians do such and such.”
The simple inclusion of “some,” “a few,” even “too many of those I’ve met” or similar terms allows you to not be included in the sub group about which he’s complaining. It sounds like he doesn’t really want to malign you, but this bad habit unfairly lumps you in with people who see these issues very differently from you. Turn it around and calmly ask him how he would feel if you started saying that all atheists do this bad thing, and all atheists do that bad thing.
Tell him that you wanted to understand him better, so you’ve been learning that there is a very wide variety to the views and attitudes that atheists hold. You’re not going to assume that he’s “just like all the rest,” and you want him to show you the same courtesy and fair treatment.
Now to the beliefs that you actually do hold. There’s a difference between respecting someone’s beliefs and treating them respectfully. He probably does not agree with your beliefs, and so he may not respect them in the strictest sense of the word. But he’s still capable of respecting your right to have your beliefs, and he’s still capable of treating you respectfully at all times, and he should. This of course also goes for your treatment of him, regardless of your disagreement with his views.
Introduce your husband to this blog, and show him this post. Your apprehension about the intensity of his involvement is well expressed in your letter. None of what you have said is an attack on him or his character. It is all legitimate concern from a loving and caring partner, and he should be honored that you have gone to this effort. He will see how much you care about your relationship, and how important it is to you to understand him and to find ways for the two of you to get along.
I recommend that both of you read a series of past posts published here about another “mixed couple” as they are sometimes called:
An Atheist and a Christian: A Love Story
An Atheist and a Christian: A Love Story …Update!
Remember Kate and Erik?
Kate and Erik dated for several years and have been married for four months. They still visit this site. We may hear from them in the comments.
Atheists are a very diverse category. They tend to be very individualistic and independent. I hesitate to even use the term “group,” because although they do sometimes form and attend groups, the ongoing joke is that getting atheists to agree on something is like herding cats. It’s not likely you’ll see anything as cohesive as a “cult” comprised of atheists.
Generally, atheism, the lack of belief in gods, comes from skepticism. Skepticism is not the refusal to believe something. It is the willingness to withhold belief in a claim until convincing and reliable evidence is found to support that claim. So the most common reason that atheists will say for why they have no belief in gods is because they have never been shown any convincing and reliable evidence for gods.
The “aggressive, cultish, right-wing” qualities that you’re concerned about with your husband are not specifically attached to the term “skeptic.” I’m a skeptic, and I’m not like that at all. There are a variety of terms: atheists, agnostics, agnostic-atheists, skeptics, freethinkers, humanists, brights, non-believers, seculars, and heathens are just a few. They all have different emphases, and it’s too lengthy to discuss here. In general, qualities like aggressiveness are individual in nature to atheists, rather than a characterization of any particular group.
You’ll find the same variety of personalities in a gathering of atheists as you’ll find in a church, on a bus, or at a theater. Some are easy going, and some are intense. Some have resentments toward religion and some simply brush it off. A few might want to convince religious people to give up their beliefs, but many more just want to be treated with the same common decency and respect as anyone else. Often younger atheists are a bit more contentious in their opinions, and sometimes they become more amiable as they grow older.
“Militant” or “fundamentalist” are unfortunate and usually inaccurate terms often used to describe an atheist who is more outspoken than others, but there is an enormous disparity between what is called a militant atheist and what is called a militant theist. The former will speak at a convention about the negative effects of religion on society, like Richard Dawkins. The latter will shoot a doctor in a clinic, or wear a bomb onto a crowded bus.
There are many myths about atheists spread by religious people, and you can read more about that here. I think Greta Christina does a very good job explaining them.
The atheists who haunt this blog lo-o-o-ve to argue. Today we may even hear one say “Oh no we don’t love to argue, and here are my reasons for saying so.” Although I’ve tried to represent us accurately, every single thing I’ve said here about atheism may be refuted by an atheist who sees it differently. Herding cats.
You’re going to meet a whole variety of personalities in the comments. Most I’m sure will be very warm, reassuring, and encouraging . Some will take issue with something you or I have said. Just relax and enjoy the roller coaster.
There’s much more, but I hope this at least gives you a start. I hope that your earnest and sincere caring about understanding your husband’s views helps the two of you to harmonize within your differences. It has been done before by other couples, and I think you have an excellent chance to make it work. Keep talking, keep sharing your thoughts and feelings, and asking about the other’s thoughts and feelings. Always make it safe for the other to be open and honest. Begin and end with “I love you.”
I wish you both a long and happy marriage.