Ask Richard: Atheist Looks Into Conversion to Keep Catholic Boyfriend

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

Dear Richard,

I met my boyfriend little more than a year ago. He is Catholic and I’m an atheist. I wasn’t raised in a religious household and I don’t believe in God. A couple of months ago my boyfriend and l had an argument about religion. He never goes to church and I frankly didn’t think he was very religious. However he told me that if I wasn’t ready to convert we might as well break up because there would be no future for us, as he wants his wife to be with him in heaven when that day comes. I was very surprised and a little hurt too. I love him and he loves me and I could see us spending the rest of our lives together. Trying to keep an open mind I told him that I would go to a Catholic church and speak to the priest and attend a mass to see what it was like. I went to church a couple of weeks ago and it was a nice experience. The priest spoke about tolerance and love. The woman who deals with people who want to convert was very helpful and sat with me for a couple of hours to answer my questions about converting and Catholicism in general. However this did not make me believe in God and I don’t think I ever will believe. I could never convert just for the sake of calling myself a Catholic so my boyfriend will be happy, but at the same time I don’t want our relationship to end either. I’m not sure how to handle this, and I feel he is being unfair and basically demanding that I convert. We both love each other and I have no problem with him being a Catholic so I don’t see why we can’t continue our relationship like this. I don’t want to end our relationship over this, but I don’t know if he will accept the fact that I don’t want to convert.

Thank you,
Isabel

Dear Isabel,

My heart goes out to you. Love can be both wonderfully sweet and terribly bitter. It’s interesting that the priest spoke in his sermon about love and tolerance, because these two issues are colliding here.

I try to help people to see things clearly when their vision might be clouded by desire, fear, anger, pain, and disappointment. Very often people who write to me describe how they are faced with an either/or choice, but they want both things. Sometimes there is a third option or a way to have both. More often there isn’t.

Often, underneath the choice between the two things they have described there is a much more important choice between two paths their lives will take, two different kinds of people they might become. They’re faced with a choice between being true to their principles or betraying themselves to please others; between having integrity and solidity or being insubstantial, like a ghost; between becoming an adult or remaining a child.

Making this choice usually involves pain. Choosing one way, the pain is immediate, but it fades as the person grows and matures. Choosing the other way, pain is avoided at first, but it returns to stay for a very long time because the person does not grow and mature. Their decision has prevented that.

Although you and I don’t agree with his beliefs, your boyfriend isn’t being “unfair.” He sees that your relationship has the potential to become long-term, and he’s being honest and up-front about what he wants in a marriage, given his present beliefs and values. The fact that you have no problem with him being a Catholic does not carry a requirement that he must show the same willingness to accept you as a non-Catholic, and he’s making sure that is understood well ahead of time.

You are being honest and up-front with yourself by realizing that even if you were to go through all the motions of converting, they would only be empty gestures, a charade that would be disrespectful and untrue to your boyfriend and his beliefs, and more to the point, would be disrespectful and untrue to your own convictions.

But that is only half the task. Now you must complete it by being honest and up-front with your boyfriend, as he has been with you. Tell him where you stand, and that although you love him, you don’t want to be false either to him or to yourself just to enjoy his company. If you both want to be together, you both have to be yourselves without any pretending.

Even if marriage is not one of its long-term goals, your relationship with him might be able to continue, or it might have to end now, but however it goes, it should be based on mutual frankness and honesty. Build all of your relationships on a foundation of frankness and honesty. Without that, relationships of any kind are not worth having.

I wish I could suggest a painless way around this. I don’t minimize your sadness. Believe in your own worth, and nurture your strongly principled character. People with similar strongly principled character will be attracted to you. You will love and be loved by someone who wants you to be all that you are, and accepts you just as you are.

I wish both you and your boyfriend well. Please feel free to write again, to let us know how this has turned out.

Richard

Related posts:

Ask Richard: Being Frank and Honest With My Girlfriend About My Atheism

Ask Richard: Clarity and Honesty in a Relationship With a Christian

Ask Richard: Will My Christian Boyfriend Ever Marry Me?

Ask Richard: Her Catholic Boyfriend is Uncomfortable Discussing Her Atheism

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

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

  • TheExpatriate700

    As Dan Savage would put it, she should DTMFA.

  • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

    I feel like her boyfriend basically just said “I don’t love the person you are, so I want you to turn into the person I intend to love.” I do appreciate his honesty, but I’m not very impressed with his tact. Surely there was a better way and a better time to bring this up than as an ultimatum in the middle of an argument.

  • Stev84

    The priest spoke about tolerance and love

    Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

      Like the tolerance the boyfriend has for her beliefs?

      • Stev84

        I was thinking more of the love the Catholic Church has for atheists. The Pope thinks secularism is a great evil and has compared it to Nazism. Or their love and respect for women and gays. That priest is clearly engaging in false advertising.

        • chanceofrainne

          I suppose he’d know, since he WAS a Nazi.

  • Rebecca

    I broke up with a guy over the same thing. He just got married to what I assume was a Christian, and I’m very happy for him. I decided to only date atheists after that breakup, and I’ve been dating the most wonderful man I could have ever imagined for almost three years.

  • Chris Kilroy

    If he cannot accept her for who she is, they have a problem. Richard is right, their relationship needs to be built on honest. I’m an atheist married to a Catholic. It strikes many people as odd, but we love each other for who we are. She would love it if I convert but doesn’t expect me to because she knows this is who I am. She wouldn’t want me to be dishonest with her, or myself, for any reason. If this girl’s boyfriend really loves her, then he shouldn’t either. The other problem to consider is if they have children. He will then expect her to essentially lie to the kids, which he likely intends to have raised Catholic as well. 

  • LeahLibresco

    If your conversion is a make or break issue for the boyfriend, you will probably not be able to stay together.  It’s up to you if you want to go on for a bit (if you both like each other and the opportunity cost from not being able to look for someone you could actually end up with is low).  You could set a deadline (say, three months from now) and  lend each other books and recommend online articles.  If neither of you has changed your mind in that time or thinks it’s likely to happen, then call it quits.

    Also, just as a matter of theology, your boyfriend isn’t guaranteed to see a Catholic wife in heaven, nor is he guaranteed to not see an atheist one.  You might want him to run that objection by his priest, so he can get corrected on that.

    • Marco Conti

      Indeed, that’s the Mormons that believe in heavenly marriage. He has no guarantee to spend the rest of eternity with you if you convert. 
      In fact, considering his brand of catholicism, when I was a kid I would have guessed you would have both been heading for purgatory. 
      Now I am not so sure anymore as I have heard purgatory may not be an option any longer. 
      Too bad because having to push giant stones uphill for millennia sounds hard, but you’d probably get a seriously ripped body in the process :)

  • Santiago

    Isabel, I think it would be dishonest to “convert” when you don’t believe in God, both to yourself and to your boyfriend. I hope he learns to love you for who you are now. If conversion happens later because you become convinced God exists then great, but I don’t think you should do it to “keep the peace”. Children may arrive some day an that normally can create complications between you and your future husband if things are not sorted out now.

    I hope you both will find a way to stay together.

    • ruth

      I think mixed marriages between religious and non-religious are very difficult and especially so if there are children and thus I am not so sure that I would hope they find a way to stay together.  

  • AndyTK

    The critical item here is the demand to convert.  My wife is an Easter Sunday Greek Orthodox, though she crosses herself every night before bed.  I’m an Atheist.  It works because we love each other and neither has asked the other to change.  I suspect that it’s also because we never had kids.  Given that the boyfriend doesn’t go to church I suspect that this has more to do with how he wants to raise his kids then with the Isabel’s Atheism.   My suggestion would be to have a deeper conversation with him.  Ask why things have changed?  Would he be okay if she didn’t convert and the kids went to Sunday school?  Would it be okay if the kids were exposed to other religions and the Atheist point of view in addition to the Catholic point of view?  Would he be okay if they were Unitarian instead of Catholic?  I’m not sure that any of these positions would be acceptable to Isabel, but they do represent the middle ground and it should at least be explored.  If none of those positions are acceptable then I’d run as fast as you can away from this guy.  If he’s laying down “my way or the highway” positions now then you should expect more such decisions later in life.  It also shows that he doesn’t value you as a person, and you need that for a happy marriage.

    • AndyTK

      I meant if none of the positions were acceptable to him.  If they are not acceptable to Isabel the she should also walk away as she isn’t ready to be in a serious relationship with a theist.

    • Luther

       I also suspect it may be his parents. Maybe he is thinking of marriage or his parents are thinking of it and are laying down the law. Still not a situation she should want to be in.

  • jose

    The priest spoke about tolerance… he should speak to the boyfriend then, no the girlfriend. It’s the guy the one having a problem tolerating others.

    If someone isn’t willing to say “you are more important than my relationship with you” then they’re probably bad life partner material.

    • The Other Weirdo

       It’s not intolerance if you don’t tolerate those of other and no faiths. It’s Christianity.

  • Glasofruix

    What’s in for her? I mean her boyfrend wants her to deny her lack of belief while he’s not putting anythingt on the table. I think she should dump his sorry little ass.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, who listens

    dump him. sorry, but you should. do it now, take the pain, and move on. he’s only going to get worse about it as he gets older. he’s choosing to make an invisible sky fairy more important than your love. that says everything about him. move on. 

  • Matto the Hun

    If she has to convert for him, while he may lover her, but he doesn’t love her enough. If he thinks i will somehow be right for his oh so loving God to send her to Hell and leave him alone in Heaven… then he loves his (monstrous) beliefs more.

    This is atrocious and hateful. 

    To convert w/o believing is another play Pascal’s Wager. It may satisfy her boyfriend but would it fool his God if it turned out to be real. 

    What happens if she converts and plays along being the lightest version of Catholic light there can be and then they have a kid. Say this kid ends up not believing. Assuming her boyfriend now husband and father of her child has the same convictions, how will he react to a non believing child? There are plenty of heart breaking stories on this blog of kids tormented by their religious parent(s).

    • Glasofruix

      I know a guy whose father is an atheist and his mother is a re-converted hardcore muslim. So he ended up being a closeted atheist.

      • ruth

        That is me.  My husband is hardcore religious Hindu.  I am closeted.  Wish I had never married him.

  • Mel

    What a well-written response! I read this and thought that the writer of that letter sounds young, and in love, and a bit blind to the circumstances. Richard responded in an exceptionally tactful way that didn’t “talk down” to the writer for acting young (though he did respectfully touch on it) or chide her for not seeing the options she has already laid out.  Hats off to you, good sir.

    • eonL5

      Richard always replies with sensitivity, sense, and respect. He’s awesome.

  • Curt Cameron

    “Dear Leah,…”

    • Neil

      Heh…I was going to post:

      “Dear Richard,
        It didn’t work out with my Catholic boyfriend, but strangely enough I find I am still very interested in Catholicism.  After talking to a few people, I realized that somehow, even as an atheist, I believe that Truth is a Person who communicates to humans.   In light of this belief, Catholicism is starting to make more sense to me and I am seriously considering converting.  I guess that just because there is no factual truth in something doesn’t mean it can’t be true for me!

      Thanks anyway,
      Leah  (oops, I mean Isabel!)” 

      ….but that would be mean and unnecessary, and I’ve been trying to be nicer lately. 

  • onamission5

    My advice to the letter writer comes from my own past experiences, and that is, every time I tried to change who I was to fit another person’s criteria, I ended up miserable, resentful and feeling (often being) totally powerless. This is as much true in regard to my FOO and my friendships as it was with my romantic relationships. Do sustainable relationships take work and compromise? Sure, absolutely, but if a relationship is a healthy match the work shouldn’t feel like an endless, uphill battle and the compromise shouldn’t feel like you are in danger of losing who you are.

    Be honest, like Richard said. Your boyfriend may come around, or he may not. If he doesn’t at least you still have your personal integrity.

    • Kodie

       My experience also. There are compromises that you can live with and compromises that are “I wasn’t good enough the way I was and someone wouldn’t love me unless I changed” something important. I don’t know if everyone’s atheism is important to them as mine is to me. Just reading about this could be about anything, not just a conflict of religious beliefs. “But I love him.” And within a year or 3 or 4 or 10 or 20 years, you will realize your self has had to adjust to someone else’s vision for the future and not your own, but you are in deeper by then and it’s harder to leave even a terrible relationship behind the longer you let it. Just look at how deeply you feel after one year and what you are willing to compromise just to hang onto it.

      Has a way of wearing people down, and lots of people do it, and lots of people either suffer the long haul or constantly fight until they end it. Lots of people put on a mask and realize they can adjust to being fake for the benefits, but it’s not how you should strive to live, imo. Should it be that hard to be married to someone? Will this really be the last thing he needs you to change to be happy to be with you? Will this adjustment make you bitter and resentful? It sounds like you would not be cheerful about it, and I think people should give cheerfully, and sincerely, not the forced, dutiful kind of cheer I hear about in so many patriarchal relationships. It is good that he put this out there and didn’t expect you to read his mind. Putting an ultimatum on you and see your reaction is manipulative. Asking someone for advice what to do is a good step. Lots of other people make it work because they know ahead of time the other person isn’t going to change their mind. It doesn’t work if one says “no pressure” when they mean it’s still really important to them, and/or the other one says, “wait and see” as if there’s a chance they’ll change their mind when they know they’re really never changing their mind.

      And just, I gotta say in general – I hate the early parts of dating where people have to be coy, and then they get attached, and then they start to open up and the other person doesn’t run away, and then want to see if it’s going anywhere for months on end or a year or more, and then right before they decide they can marry someone, they pull out their list of deal-breakers. They’re willing to hang out for a year but they won’t get married because they’re a goddamned dick, you know? Bottom line.

  • Marco Conti

    Let’s see how this would work if the shoe was on the other foot. Try going to your boyfriend and tell him that not only you find it dishonest to convert to his religion for the only reason that he wants you to, but on second thought, if he wants to stay with you and marry you, he needs to “de-convert” and renounce his catholicism, or at the very least promise to never impose his religion to your future brood and never to bring it up again.

    I would suspect that he is not going to be thrilled at the prospect, yet it is really no different than what he asked you to do. 

    As far as the priest, the sermon and the church, I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I was baptized in St. Peter basilica. Do you want to talk about impressive settings to grow up as a catholic? 
    I’ll be the first to admit that catholics put up some of the best cerimoni9es around, but there is a lot more to being a catholic than attend mass and participate in ancient rituals wearing funny hats.

    Some time ago, I changed my Cable-tv service provider. The priest-salesperson I spoke to was very convincing and made a beautiful speech-sermon about the benefits of their service.
    Yet, once I joined, I discovered that their customer service was sorely lacking. When I joined they made a mistake I did not realize until well into a month after I started the service and now to correct that mistake they want something like $300.

    Likewise, the church will expect all sort of things from you that I am not sure you will be ready to give. From your children education to your personal behavior.

    The fact that your boyfriend did not seem very religious means nothing. He is religious enough to want to impose his beliefs upon you. He did not offer to have you agree on one of the two positions, his and yours. He simply gave you an ultimatum to join his religion and that’s it.  That means that he does not consider you a full partner in your relationship, but he thinks you are obviously inferior to him.

    Of course, for many catholics it is a matter of cultural heritage. My own brother only went to church at weddings and funerals since he had his first communion, yet when I told him I had no intention of baptizing my daughter into the faith he almost went bezerk. His own 3 daughters are all baptized, confirmed and will marry in church even though all of them are non-believers. 

    That could be your boyfriend’s motivation as well, but it doesn’t make it right.

    I would think long and hard about marrying this person, but I would suggest that if you decide to continue the relationship, you make your stand now. making it later will be much harder and more painful. 

  • Laura Lou

    It sounds like something suddenly changed in their relationship. They were compatible coming from different faiths for a year, but then he demands she convert. My advice is to ask him what changed, or if he has always felt that way.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

      I agree .  He’s known she wasn’t religious for a year, so why did the “together in heaven” topic never come up before?  He’s just choosing a chickenshit way to dump her.

  • Lurker111

    Isabel:  Run like hell and don’t look back.  Advice from someone who almost escaped.
     

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    (Without reading Richard’s answer…)  Run, don’t walk, away from this relationship.  He is playing emotional blackmail with you and you do not have to take that.  If he loves you, he loves you for who you are and what you believe or don’t believe, regardless what he wants to think happens after you both dies.  His demand (basically) that you convert or end the relationship is demeaning, belittling, controlling, and dispassionate.  Is that really who you want to spend the rest of your life with?  If he makes this request now and you convert, even if just to make him happy, the demands will continue in the future.

    You deserve more.  I know love is hard to find, but what he is displaying in this request/demand is not love.

    This is a deal breaker.

    • Sailor

       Yes, I got the feeling there was a certain power play here, rather than a genuine need. Ordering his girlfriend to change religion so she could “be in heaven” with him, rather than asking her what her feelings were, shows a distinct lack of respect. There are plenty of men out there.

  • Lenna

    My boyfriend is also a nonpracticing Catholic, and although he would never ask me to convert, it does make him incredibly sad to think about the prospect of me never going to heaven. He doesn’t want to spend eternity without me. If this is what Isabella’s boyfriend meant, I understand. 

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

      I understand as well… but none of that has anything to do with life here on this earth, the here and now, the living with each other and respecting each other NOW. 

    • The Other Weirdo

       Who wants to spend eternity with anybody? People barely get along for the less than the 100 years we have here. Can you imagine an eternity? He’d better be god’s gift to womankind to warrant the belief in spending an eternity together.

    • St. William of Gellone

      That’s a bit odd since a Catholic belief is that, like the protestants, the only way to heaven is through belief in Jesus, but that belief can be subconcious. In other words, even though you consciously profess atheism, if you do your best to do what is good, true, and virtuous, then you could subconciously be a christian and still go to heaven. Since I doubt you are a murderer, malicious liar, robber, or in any other way seriously messed up, I think the chances are pretty good that you two could see each other in heaven. And that goes for all the other atheists on this website. Hope this cheers him and you up.

      God Bless you,
      St. William of Gellone

      • Baby_Raptor

        How to word this politely…

        This belief right here is one of the main things wrong with religion in general, and one of the main reasons that Atheists tend to get on religion’s case…The claim that Christianity has a monopoly on being good, and that nobody can be good without god. 

        It’s especially provocative nowadays, since Christians are the ones out there lying about ponies, treating them as subhuman, ignoring laws when they’re inconvenient, and generally doing the one thing Jesus said not to do: Be a hooting dickhole. 

        Your religion is NOT the only way to be a good person. And frankly, it’s really not clear if your religion is a way to be a good person at all. The self-professing Christians who actually show the fruits of being a good person all have empathy, whereas the majority of Christianity today only cares about “Fuck you, I have mine” and tribalism.

        Further, you disrespect people when you make arguments like this. You strip them of their choice in one of the most personal and intimate things a human can decide: What they believe, or whether they believe anything at all. 

        Lastly, this is a giant slap in the face to people who have suffered harm from Christianity and the people that claim it. To turn around and insist that, not only can they not be good on their own but that the one thing making them good is the thing that hurt them? No. That’s wrong, it’s completely illogical and it’s Fucking daft. 

        If you honestly believe this, then more power to you. You have the right to believe whatever you want, just as the rest of us do. But please sincerely think about it.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          It also allows them to weasel out of having to deal with the moral implications of hell. In some ways, I prefer the people who are honest about the fact that they believe most of humanity is headed to hell. At least they own it. Catholics and others who refuse to commit can just pretend like hell isn’t even mentioned in their theology, or at least it’s saved for “really bad” people like serial killers.

          Speaking of which, I find it interesting that William seems to think the “murderer, malicious liar, and robber” all deserve to go to hell. IMO, this is the most disgusting part of Christianity, this idea that people deserve infinite punishment for finite crimes. William, are you really fine with robbers and liars being tortured for eternity? Or maybe your hell is so watered down that it’s the vague “separation from God” type?

        • St. William of Gellone

          Dear Baby_Raptor,

           

          Thank you for your concerns. I try to live in humility and
          so am very thankful when people, such as you, come along to point out a
          perceived arrogance in something I have said. I completely agree that if
          atheism is true (there is no God) than it would be absurd to talk about
          Christians being good people because it would be shown that we’ve been
          perpetuating a lie for the past 2000 years! Also, I agree that there are both
          many good atheists and bad Christians and so that what a person believes to be
          true does not depend how they act. This said, however, let me share what I do
          believe and the relevance it has to what I had said before.

           

          1.      
          I believe in God who is Good.

          2.      
          I believe there are people who do more and
          better good things in life (“good people”) and there are people who do more and
          worse bad things in life (“bad people”). I don’t believe that what a person
          professes has anything to do with whether they are good or bad (it all has to
          do with what they do!) Therefore, there are bad people who profess Christianity
          and good people who profess atheism (and the converse is also true).

           

          3.      
          I believe that after death the good people will
          live in eternal happiness with God who is Good (Heaven). I believe that the bad
          people have the opportunity to share in this joy but will, by their choice,
          reject God because his goodness is so pure that He cannot allow any badness
          left in the person. Not willing to forsake their bad habits, the bad will
          reject God and Heaven and, by their choice, live in absence of God in Heaven
          (Hell).

           

           

          4.      
          So far, I think my beliefs have been simple and
          just. Even if you don’t believe in God, doesn’t it make sense (given my above
          beliefs) about what I have said about Heaven and Hell? But to complicate
          things, I do believe the only way to God is through Jesus Christ (a part of the
          Christian message). Now, I can either say that this means that good people=
          those who profess Christianity, no matter the very terrible things they might
          have done, and will therefore go off to Heaven scott free. Also, it would mean
          that bad people= all those who never did profess Christianity and all of them
          would be going to Hell. This would include all those who lived prior to Jesus’
          life as well as the many, many people living in China and India and the world
          who are not Christians (possibly for no other reason than they were born in a
          certain culture) as well as all atheists, no matter how saintly a life they
          might have led. I think what I have described above is thoroughly unjust and in
          conflict with my belief in God who is Good (supremely just). To harmonize my
          belief in a just, good God and that the only way to God is through Jesus
          Christ, I think that belief in Jesus is not just belief in Christianity but in
          his message, in brief: that we ought to be sorry and seek forgiveness when we
          do bad and instead do good. People can live this message whether they lived in
          B.C. live in different cultures, or are atheists. And so, all these people can
          live with God in Heaven. But, this will happen after their death when they
          encounter that God exists. If you still wish to be an atheist upon that
          encounter, then very well; you have the power to exercise your free choice.

           

          Finally, I had meant my initial post as an encouragement to
          Lenna’s boyfriend so he wouldn’t be sad. I am very sorry that I upset you so
          much. I hope that this explanation, though lengthy, will put your heart at
          rest.

           

          God Bless you,

          St. William of Gellone

           

          P.S. to Anna: I don’t believe that a murderer, malicious
          liar, or robbers deserve to go to
          Hell. I believe that all humans have goodness in them and that some of us may
          deserve Purgatory before Heaven but that none of us deserve Hell. Nontheless, I
          do not believe that a person will go to Heaven against their will. Also, I
          believe that what a person does reflects what sort of person he or she is. So,
          the above list of people although they have inherent dignity have chosen to bad
          and live life unrepentant of that. Meaning, that I think they also will not be
          willing to admit their wrongs and to live in holy goodness in Heaven. Hope this
          clears things up.

          • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

            William, you seem to be a kind and just person, and I admire you for that. I also completely agree with you that we are what we do, not what we profess to ourselves or to others.

            I think that people are attracted to concepts of God that reflect their own inner character, and so your concept of god is one that is kind and just.

            Please understand that some atheists react to Christians whose personal inner character is vain, narcissistic, vindictive, and cruel, and who therefore have concepts of God that are just as nasty. There are plenty of parts of the Bible that support their view.  You seem to be disregarding those parts, just as they are disregarding the parts that you might be using to support your kind and just concept of God.

            So it would seem that every Christian is practicing their own custom-made version of Christianity, yet almost no one will admit that. Most Christians will try to claim that their</em custom-made version is the correct, true, and real one.  The character/God concept link becomes a feedback loop, so that for good or ill, their religious ideas perpetuate their character traits, and their character traits perpetuate their religious ideas.

            So you can probably understand that from an outsider's vantage point, the bickering and infighting between the versions makes them all seem absurd, even though versions like yours are far more preferable for the good of society.

            I hope that your kind and just, quite humanistic way of being, doing in the world continues, with or without the theistic concepts attached.

  • http://twitter.com/davehodg Dave Hodgkinson

    The comment here about “imagine the boot is on the other foot” is spot on.

    Run, don’t walk. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Just find the really good one. I did. Second time.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Having been through a similar experience, though I was never directly asked to convert, I was told I had to go see a priest about marrying a Catholic woman. Which sort of puzzled me for a while because, after all, what does a Catholic priest know about marriage? In any case, it turned out it wasn’t for counseling, it was  to tell me that the only way he’d allow it was for me to let any children of ours be raised exclusively Catholic.  It was an easy lie to make.

    In the end, though, I couldn’t do it.  For all that I loved the woman, I couldn’t look another man and lie right to his face. And again, there was the issue that if I lied then and there, how would I deal in the future with my children being raised Catholic?

    You have to ask yourself whether a relationship, any relationship, is worth lying about. Because that’s what a conversion without belief is. It’s a baldfaced lie that has no defense. It’s technically against the Christian religion, though of course there are many hypocrites.

    Additionally, do you really want to be in a relationship with a person who is already planning your afterlife together before you’ve even had a life together?

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Be completely honest and talk to him about it.  Ask him what he would think if you only went through the motions of a conversion (but never believed) so that you two could have an official Catholic wedding but then after you were married, you slacked off and stopped doing all Catholic things like going to church.  If he is fine with that, then you may be OK as far as childless marriage. 

    Kids, though, are a different matter.  He would probably want them brought up Catholic.  Then ask him if they could be brought up Catholic kind-of-like you are Catholic with freely telling them that their mom doesn’t really believe that stuff – it is just stuff people have to do to be able to call themselves culturally Catholic.  See if he would be OK with that.  See if you would be OK with these things. 

    Talk it out.  If either of you are not OK, then it might be better for both of you to move on.   If you are both OK with just the pretense of being Catholic, then it might work.

    Perhaps he has it in his mind that if someone goes through some particular Catholic ceremonies, then they are a lock for heaven… and after the ceremonies, it doesn’t really matter what they do.  But you have to talk to him about this. 

  • SJH

    I agree with your advice to some extent though I think there is the potential that the boyfriend is not being unfair. He may be expressing his belief that in order for the marriage to be successful both husband and wife must agree on the definition of “successful”. The purpose of the sacrament of marriage is to help each other get to heaven. Can she honestly say that her goal is to help him get to heaven if she does not believe in heaven? This is not to say that she would not be a good wife and, in practice, actually help him be a better person who still makes it to heaven. The fact still remains that they do not have the same goals.
    Also, as a Catholic perhaps he does not believe in divorce. Can she say the same. Does she see this as a spiritual bond that is inseparable?
    Should two people get married if they do not even agree on the definition of marriage?
    Finally, the option that you do not discuss is the option of her looking into the faith and potentially converting because she comes to the conclusion that her boyfriend is correct.
    My advice is that both individuals should look into the opposing view and each should develop their beliefs in light of their new knowledge. If, in the end, they still disagree then they should consider ending the relationship. If, in the end, they can agree, either atheist or Catholic, then they should continue the relationship. Neither should fear truth. After all, truth will set you free.

  • Margaret Whitestone

    Anybody who demands you convert isn’t worth it.  What else are they going to demand under threat of leaving you?

  • Carla

    I was in this position once, and I chose a path that felt untrue to who I was. I ended up in an abusive relationship that I’ve regretted every day since, and five years later am still recovering from. I’m not saying that your boyfriend is abusive–I have no idea what his intentions are, and neither does anyone else here–but the consequences of not being true to yourself are bad enough. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person, and if he doesn’t want to see you for that, then I’m sure someone else will. Hopefully he comes around. Best wishes.

  • Karen Locke

    This issue has to be hashed out with total honesty, as many other commenters have said.  Sometimes thoughts that people have been keeping carefully to themselves come out in the heat of an argument; maybe that’s what’s happened here.  OTOH, this could be no more than an attempt  by her boyfriend to control Isabel, which would be a Red Flag.  To Isabel I say, tread very carefully.  Be totally honest about who you are and who you are willing to be.  If he wants to call it off after that, you’re probably better off for it.  If he decides to live with your unbelief, it’s a victory for both of you.  If he flies off the handle and tries other means to control you, RUN.

  • http://twitter.com/Outcast_Kyle Edgar

    The solution is simple. Ask him the same thing, show them some proof that his god is fake. If he is smart, he will become an atheist; if he isn’t, then dump him. Because then it’s obvious that he doesn’t love you enough and that he is just another religious jerk and you deserve better.  Just remember: stay strong and kick him in the groin.

  • Jenn

    Is it worth pointing out to him that since he never goes to church, he has effectively been excommunicated “Latae Sententiae” and is hence hell bound according to his own belief system. As an ex-Catholic it can sometimes be enlightening to people to point out exactly what’s being a Catholic means according to the Catholic Church.

  • ReasJack

     What is this? Pascal’s Dowry?   Say you believe, and you’ll be married.  If it turns out the belief was false you’ll lose nothing?

  • RobertoTheChi

    All I can say is RUN! Run as fast as you can! He is not worth it no matter how much you love him.

  • HughInAz

    Call his bluff. Leave. NOW.

  • Keulan

    I agree with several other commenters here. She should dump him. He’s made it pretty clear that the relationship is going to work unless she give in to his demand to change who she is (or pretend to do so). I wouldn’t want to continue dating someone who made that sort of demand to me, and if she has any common sense she shouldn’t either.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    Trying to keep an open mind I told him that I would go to a Catholic church and speak to the priest and attend a mass to see what it was like. I went to church a couple of weeks ago and it was a nice experience. The priest spoke about tolerance and love.

    Yikes, Isabel seems pretty naive. Is she not aware of what the Catholic church teaches? Everything might have seemed “nice,” but there are quite a few horrible beliefs lying under the surface.

  • David McNerney

    While I admire RW’s continuing attempts at resolving this relationship problem – the obvious imbalance here suggests that boyfriend isn’t mature enough in the first place to get married.

    If she asked him to “deconvert” for her I doubt he would even consider that. But the reverse is OK?  Marriage must be about an equal partnership (or more importantly, striving towards equality), otherwise it’s a sham.

  • Good and Godless

    Brain chemistry is an amazing thing that challenges our perceptions when oxytocin, endorphins and maybe vasopressin start flowing. This is evident in the serious challenge to your established mindset and is likely contributing to your sense of urgency/panic. While your BF is going through the same mental rollercoaster his dedication to religion is tied to similar chemical signals and the argument is is elevated by fear and subconscious need to measure commitment.

    Unfortunately the “sense of community” amongst Atheists can rarely compete with the brain chemistry of the flock mentality. Even if it was even odds religions would naturally fade.  

    Put shortly you have a tough row to hoe, but hoe it you must.

    Drop him.  Sorry for how wracking that is going to be emotionally. Brain chemistry is a bitch for what was once a good reason.

    Otherwise you risk becoming one of the thousands of hypocrites who knows the truth and goes through the motions without regard for the damage being done to society and your offspring.

  • Thegoodman

    We all make sacrifices for the ones we love. We have to personally decide which sacrifices are worth it, and which are not. Not being a catholic is important to me. It is less important to others and more important to some. You have to decide which side of the fence you want to be on. If your love for him is strong enough for you to be ok being associated with bigotry, sexism, and child abuse; convert. If it is not, then you should talk it out with him but it sounds like his mind is made up.

  • chanceofrainne

    Oh, Isabel. Get out. Get out NOW. If he can’t accept who you are now, and he wants you to change to fit the vision of who he wants you to be, he isn’t going to love who you are when it comes time to make joint decisions about where to live, how to raise kids, etc. how will you feel in 5 years when he demands that your kids be indoctrinated? And also – this is going to sound bad, but – in cases of divorce, most judges will give custody to a religious parent over an atheist, and claim that the atheist is imcapable of teaching the kids to be moral and upstanding.

    Don’t do it, honey. Better a little hurt now than a lot of hurt later.

  • Marigold

    Stop wasting each other’s time. You and your boyfriend are like water and oil. You will never mix. There’s no future in this relationship. Obviously, your boyfriend places his faith above all else. I can’t blame him. I will do the same. If you can’t convert, just leave. Give him a chance to be happy with a Catholic girl. You are better off finding an atheist boyfriend so you have something in common. Now, if you really love him then you make the sacrifice, otherwise just leave. Sooner or later, he will find a Catholic woman to spend his life with and have his children with. It is just a matter of time…


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