Can Atheists Date Christians?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Can atheists date Christians?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Alan

    Absolutely they can. I married a Christian (and got married in a Lutheran church, though the ceremony wasn’t overly religious). I think as long as both people are respectful of the other’s beliefs, there’s no reason why they can’t be in a committed relationship.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com/ KevinKat

      Exactly what I was going to say (except the marriage part.)

  • Malcolm McLean

    The point of sex is to mix genes, so we’re attracted to “the other”. When you do sweaty T-shirt tests, you find that girls prefer the sweaty T-shirts worn by men with different immune system types to them. It’s very important to present varying defences to pathogens, so that when a plague comes along, at least one baby will survive.
    Whilst religious beliefs aren’t genetically determined, there’s probably an underlying genetic component to the attitudes which makes one person religious and another atheist, when exposed to the same American society. Even if this isn’t the case, psychology perceives a different religion as “other”.

    • UWIR

      While people instinctively avoid having children with close relatives, that’s quite different from them preferring people that they view as “other”. People have a strong preference for people who are like themselves. Short people tend to marry short people, black people tend to marry black people, rich people tend to marry rich people, etc.

  • Kevin

    Narrowing the question a bit to date a christian, and assuming that the purpose behind dating would be to find a life partner, I don’t see it being a good idea. I don’t know how I could spend my one and only life with someone who believes that I deserve, and will, burn in hell forever. I also don’t see how a christian could invest so much of their life into someone that they believe will eventually have this fate. How wonderful would that eternity in heaven be knowing that your life partner is being tortured due to the rules your god put in place?

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I’ve been happily married to a Christian for almost 20 years now. My wife, though, does not have the baggage of believing in original sin, damnation, and hell. Perhaps that is the key. If you date or marry a “cultural Christian” who doesn’t worship the bible, you can find a way, with a little give and take, to make things work out.

    We have actually said to our kids at the dinner table that mommy believes this and daddy believes that. If you are in a relationship where belief and non-belief can be casually presented as two valid options to your kids, then I think that is almost the definition of a working mixed marriage. With permission to equally consider both belief and non-belief, my kids are currently trending towards non-belief. If they trended towards belief, I would still love them.

    • Art_Vandelay

      Out of curiosity, have you ever asked her about the implications of not believing in original sin or damnation? I presume she believes in redemption via blood sacrifice and salvation for believing JC died for her sins, but without OS and hell…what does she think she’s being saved from? In other words, what does she think would be the ramifications of you or your children not being convinced of it?

      • Agrajag

        Many people self-identify as christian, despite not actually being christian by any definition other than “would like to marry and be buried at church, and thinks people should be nice to oneanother”. It’s not a rare thing either, for example here in Norway about 75% of the population are members of a christian church, and if you ask: “are you a christian?” you’ll get around 65% yes. But if you ask: “Do you believe in God?” you’ll get only about 35% yes.

        That’s absurd of course, if you do not believe God exists, then I don’t know what you are, but you’re -clearly- not actually christian.

        • Art_Vandelay

          So Norway is 65% Christian and 65% Atheist. That’s awesome.

          • Agrajag

            If you consider membership in a christian church enough to be christian, then it’s even 75% christian 65% atheist. Thing is, here most people use the church for lifes big ceremonies, and darn-near nothing else. A majority of christians here go to church less than once a year. If you ask them what difference it makes in their day-to-day life, they tend to reply with some variant of “don’t know” — or else give a answer a atheist could just as well give such as “I try to be nice to other people” or some such generality.

            The more specific you get, the more evasive they get. “Can you name one thing that you do regularly, that you do because you’re christian ? Can you name one thing that you *refrain* from doing that you’d do if you wheren’t christian ?”

            In my opinion these are christians in name only, they’re not willing to make any -actual- changes in their life due to religion, they live entirely secular lives, and don’t feel ashamed of that, but the prefer to keep the label, and the big ceremonies from church.

      • Helen

        I don’t know about his wife, but original sin at least is not a universal Christian teaching. My family are mostly Catholic, so I was surprised to learn from Greek Orthodox friends that the Orthodox Church has never believed in OS.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I dated someone who was heavily into The Forum (i.e., EST — Erhart Seminar Training), and it ended when she took a “Sex and Relationships” class.

    Should have seen that coming.

  • cipher

    Better question: why would s/he want to?

    • ThyGoddess

      Beeeeecause s/he loves him/her? Isn’t that usually why people date one another?

      Just because someone is religious doesn’t mean that said someone is an unintelligent, uninteresting idiot you would hate to live with.

      • cipher

        If the Christian is of a conservative variety, I disagree. In fact, I couldn’t disagree more.

        If the Christian is of a liberal orientation, then no, s/he isn’t necessarily an idiot – but we’d have little-to-nothing to talk about.

        • T

          Wow! You sound like a very interesting partner. So your only interest is not believing? That sounds like a blast. Please marry me! ;)

          • cipher

            Religious belief isn’t merely one facet of a person’s identity. It’s a worldview that influences all other facets.

            For the record, I wouldn’t want to be – I wouldn’t be able to be – with a secular conservative, either.

            I’m 56 years of age. I’ve experienced enough disagreement. I’d want to spend my remaining years with someone with whom I’d agree on all of the important issues.

            • 3lemenope

              I’m 56 years of age. I’ve experienced enough disagreement. I’d want to spend my remaining years with someone with whom I agree on all of the important issues.

              OK, but you do see how someone in their twenties or thirties might see it differently, right?

              • tsara

                Key word being ‘might’. I’m twenty, and I’d rather not-date than date someone who tells me I ‘can’t judge religious people the same way’ or doesn’t understand empirical epistemology or morality based on things in the real world.

            • Agrajag

              This varies. Plenty of people are christian in principle, yet in practice live their life almost entirely in a secular way, and don’t consider religion an important part of their life.

              • Renn

                Thank you for having an intelligent response. Those that are christian in principle are just as christian as an atheist. They should get along great in marriage and in life. The water gets muddy when we lump all ‘christians’ in the same category. There are those that follow what they believe and others that like the title and may even go to church once a year just to feel better about themselves.

                • Agrajag

                  True. The huge majority of Norwegian christians are christian in principle only. If you ask random Norwegians on the street: “Are you christian”, then about 75% say “yes”. But if you ask random Norwegians on the street: “Do you believe in God?”, then only something like 35% says “yes” — in other words, more than half the people who claim to be christian, also claim that they don’t believe in God. (which is absurd, but it’s religion, so what do you expect ?)

                  I wish those people would grow a backbone and leave the church, OR atleast protest loudly when church-leaders claim to speak on behalf of them, and say things they certainly do not agree with.

          • Renn

            Oh my…that was a shallow response :-(

    • Lurker111

      Exactly. If you want pain and suffering, beat your head against the wall. There are no restaurant fees or tips to pay, so it also saves a ton of money. And, when you stop beating your head against the wall, it feels so good.

      My alternative snarky answer: No. I understand the tree-ring method is rather painful, and I don’t care to hurt anyone.

  • viaten

    It’s not much different from asking if a democrat could date a republican. Just being a Christian or atheist by itself shouldn’t matter. Since it’s been said organizing atheists can be like herding cats, I’d wonder more about an atheist dating another atheist.

    • flyb

      I think it’s very different. People can make valid, reasonable arguments for things like more or less taxation, but no so much for the existence of a tortuous, eternal hell.

      • viaten

        That’s a good point I should have thought of. Beliefs related to political views could be much more real than religious beliefs.

    • Renn

      If you are comparing Christian/Atheist relationships to Democrat / Republican relationships I would suggest you learn more about Christianity. I am not trying to slam you at all. I’m just pointing out the fact that Christianity is very different than wondering who is in the white house and whether taxes are going to go up. Once deals with this world and one deals with the next…big difference.

      • viaten

        Sure there’s a big difference but what matters in a relationship is how well one can deal with the other person holding views where there might be strong disagreement, whatever the views are about. Some people might feel strongly about religion and less about politics or vice versa.

  • flyb

    I agree with a lot of what Hemant said, but I have been finding it more and more difficult lately to grasp the “respect” concept with regards to nonsensical beliefs. If I’m dating someone and at some point she tells me she believes Smurfs live in her backyard, I don’t see how I can let that go. And I certainly don’t see how I can have an intimate relationship with that person without thinking something is wrong with her.

    Why does it seem to be different with religious beliefs? Why is it that nonsensical beliefs with a “religious” stamp on it get an instant pass? And not just in personal relationships, but in daily life? I think religions persist because people are not called out enough on their beliefs. In fact they seem to be rewarded by many others for having “faith.” I don’t get it.

    • 3lemenope

      I agree with a lot of what Hemant said, but I have been finding it more and more difficult lately to grasp the “respect” concept with regards to nonsensical beliefs. If I’m dating someone and at some point she tells me she believes Smurfs live in her backyard, I don’t see how I can let that go.

      I’ve never met a person that didn’t have a least one belief that struck me as completely nonsensical. I’m told, often, that some of my beliefs strike others as nonsensical. And, for what it’s worth, the atheistic worldview is utterly nonsensical from the point of view of a believer. I think all it really takes is a bit of provisional humility about one’s own understanding, to make room for the idea that seemingly nonsensical ideas can have value (if not to yourself than to others) and may not be as nonsensical as they initially seem. Even if you never see the value or the sense of an idea, it is enough to know that there is a possibility that you are wrong, and that in turn is enough to not cast aspersions on the person holding it or thinking them defective for doing so.

      • flyb

        Sure, but when a family denies their child potentially life-saving medical procedures because of their beliefs, I may be able to see the value of their idea from their perspective, but it is still wrong. I can’t respect that belief and makes it highly unlikely I will respect the person holding it. That’s an extreme example to some, but I tend to see all religious beliefs in the same way. Believing in the virgin birth is just as ridiculous as sacrificing a child for one’s god(s). I could be wrong in my beliefs, yes, but the chances of that are about as equal as finding smurfs in my girlfriend’s backyard. If someone says something nonsensical (perhaps I should have been using “irrational” this whole time) to me then I expect a reasonable argument or evidence to help back it up.

        • 3lemenope

          The border of tolerance is harm to others. I don’t need to understand or care about the value of an idea to someone else if by their acting on that idea avoidable harm results; I can oppose it on those grounds alone.

          But that is a far cry from treating all possibly nonsensical ideas as the same. Many such ideas, even if adopted and acted upon, are utterly innocuous. When there isn’t a built-in consequentialist motivation for discarding an idea, I don’t see the imperative in acting as though the idea is settled and the people holding it as irretrievably wrong.

          • flyb

            What I’m advocating is more questioning of peoples’ nonsensical religious beliefs, no matter how innocuous they may be, so that those innocuous beliefs don’t lead to beliefs that are not so harmless. This approach seems to be working well with the marriage equality movement.

            • 3lemenope

              Which innocuous beliefs are the marriage equality movement challenging?

              • flyb

                That homosexuality is a sin. It’s a harmless belief to hold, but when extended on by people that think they are doing good in the eyes of god, either at the voting booth or the local florist ;) it can be harmful. I’ve managed to convince a couple of friends that they can believe it to be a sin if they want, but not to extend that belief to affect others. It’s not perfect but it’s a start.

                • 3lemenope

                  I wouldn’t call that a harmless belief at all, because pretty much any action pursuant to it is going to be harmful. To my mind, a belief that isn’t acted upon isn’t a belief at all, merely an idea.

                • Renn

                  That is an interesting statement. The Christian faith is based on going forth and spreading the ‘good news’. Therefore Christians are being asked to go against what they believe because another wants to live a different life style. This is a catch 22 situation where the Christian looks like the bad person. Those that want to live a homosexual lifestyle shouldn’t be harassed for doing so. However, those that want to live a Christian lifestyle are harassed for doing so. Does one infringe on another? They both infringe on each other. I’ve seen pastors in the streets trying to ‘sell’ God. I’ve also seen Gay pride parades where people were dressed provocatively and making rude gestures in the streets of Boston. Both are not exactly what I would want to represent me no matter what my beliefs are (or lack of beliefs).

                  Who is in the right? Who really cares? Things will change with time whether it is right or wrong no matter what the issue is. Shout loud enough and long enough and you will get your way sooner or later no matter what you believe. This world has gone beyond absolutes when it comes to rights and wrongs. We are now in the times of opinions and feelings. Only time will tell whether it is a great time to live in or not.
                  Be well and remember to smile. You only go around once so enjoy it :-)

  • Denise iz teh Weirdz

    Well…*ponders*…I think it just really depends on the two people. One thing from my (extremely) religious upbringing that I happen to agree with, that is noted specifically in the bible (2 Cor. 6:14) ~ and as applicable to this topic, I think that passage can cut a couple of different ways (of course!). Even being aware that this passage is (at least today) specifically speaking to marriage, there are a couple of things about it that are pertinent to the topic here.

    Looking at the subject from a xian perspective, it is a deeper topic than marriage, but of ALL relationships. However, depending on the religious philosophy, it is strongly applicable to interpersonal/romantic relationships and the biblical charge against being “unequally yoked” (and very specifically referring to believers with nonbelievers, and that is relevant to whether or not a marriage/friendship/whatever is workable in the long term.

    Looking at the subject from a nonbeliever perspective (and I can only speak for my own lived experience…I won’t presume to speak for anyone else’s), my journey to atheism spanned two previous marriages (together totaling 17 years) with believers of a kind. I had believed that the rest of the “aligned values” mattered more than the belief or nonbelief…but it turned out, it ALL mattered, in the end.

    When I remarried for the 3rd (and this, the final time), I came to understand that on this topic, shared belief/nonbelief IS critical to the long-term health of a relationship. If it’s not, you have a situation where, likely, the believer is trying (in overt and covert ways) to convert the nonbeliever, fearing for his/her everlasting soul, wanting to spend eternity in heaven together and on and on…and from the nonbeliever side, there is a likely underlying contempt. Again, this is MY experience…others may have experiences that differ from mine.

    Now…flipping the topic to our children…I have not raised my kids one way or another, insofar as religion. Unlike my upbringing, I’m simply teaching them to question everything, without indoctrinating them via sunday school in the way I was subjected. When my eldest (now 21 years) was in high school, he dated a lot of different girls…and we live in a particularly religious area. At one point, he began dating a young girl of Mormon parentage and faith. At first (and he insisted to me), it was no big deal. I didn’t argue with him, simply explained that when it comes to the Mormon faith, dating is NOT like in other traditions…it is designed specifically with marriage as an outcome firmly in mind. My son poo-pooed the notion, insisting his girlfriend wasn’t “like that”…and I didn’t argue, figuring some of these things have to be learned independently. And who knows? I could have been wrong.

    At her 16th birthday party, the girl’s father handed my son a booklet (and understand, this young woman and her parents are some of the nicest people in the world…I do not share this to disparage them in ANY way) ~ that booklet was a guide for young Mormons, in which topics such as hair, clothing, carriage and demeanor, expectations, etc…were laid out with utmost clarity. The young woman’s father never had to say a word of judgment or criticism…and if anything, he was as kind as he could have been about the entire situation. The message was, however, crystal clear… If my son was going to date his daughter, there most certainly WERE expectations. The father never once said a word about my son’s nonbelief, or his choice of clothing, or his piercings, or long hair…any of that. He didn’t have to.

    After reading the booklet, and having a long conversation with the young woman, they decided to remain friends, but that dating was simply not a realistic option. I never had to get into the topic of “equally yoked” — but I will say that, at the then-tender age of 17, my eldest child learned fully what it can mean.

  • viaten

    Some atheists can even date dinosaurs, fossils, and rocks. :) (OK, I’ll leave now.)

  • Tainda

    It all depends on the person. I would not, ever, never, no way, you have to be kidding me, no fucking way, oh HELL no, nope, nunca, niet, NOOOOOOOOOO, etc.

    But that’s just me :)

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    As an agnostic, I married a Lutheran. I wound up becoming a Lutheran, but after his death I went back to being an unbeliever, which makes me wonder how sincere my belief was in the first place. (But to be fair to myself, his death did compel me to think long and hard about religion and logic, and I spent a couple of years on the deconversion process.) My husband and I always had very interesting conversations about faith and nonfaith, though, and I never felt compelled to convert (nor did I pressure him to unconvert). I think as long as you marry someone you can talk to and debate freely, you’re fine. It’s when you marry someone who’s so dogmatic they can’t even acknowledge other viewpoints that you have a problem.

  • Jeannieinpa

    I used to think this was possible. I dated a wonderful funny man who was a fundamental Christian. He was okay with my lack of belief because he really doubted that I was an atheist(once a Christian, always a Christian). We had great conversations without rancor.

    However his friends, as polite as they were, expressed views like “atheists are the cause of America’s problems”, “I’m sorry, but you are going to hell,” “we don’t want your opinion”, “How can you be good without God?”, “it’s an awfully hopeless way to live.” To them I was a lesser life-form. It was dehumanizing. I’ve become The Grouchy Atheist.

  • Alyssa

    I have no problem with dating a Christian. But they guy I was dating (who is a Christian), decided that he just couldn’t date someone who didn’t believe what he did. I was actually floored. We got along in every other aspect, and yet I wasn’t good enough because I don’t believe in the same imaginary friend as him? (Obviously I’m still slightly upset…it only happened a week ago!).

    • Baby_Raptor

      Break-ups suck. Have some hugs and a Reeses brownie.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        This brings up another potential source for disagreement: brownies with or without walnuts? Relationships have died over this question.

    • Tainda

      And that’s the reason I won’t date a Christian. They eventually do this and it sucks badly. Sorry Alyssa :(

    • jgr4

      You’re good enough – don’t think that about yourself! This was my experience with most girlfriends, through 15 years of dating. I finally married an atheist.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Sorry but it has to be done.

    • renn

      Alyssa,
      I am a strong Christian (don’t hold it against me). His breaking up with you did you a favor in the long run. The issues you were having would have been much worse if it happened later on. It has NOTHING to do with you not being good enough. It has absolutely nothing to do with you at all. It was admirable of him to realize that this difference was going to be an issue for him. Do not put yourself down because of what happened. It is not a level of goodness that is being looked at…it is a difference of beliefs that is all. Christians are no better in God’s eyes than anyone else. We are all His children and loves us all the same. Your ex obviously has strong beliefs and should be respected for that, just as you should be respected for standing strong in yours. You could have easily given in and became a nominal christian just so you could have stayed together. There is nothing worse than a lukewarm christian (so says the bible).

      I am not sure of what you believe but…I will be praying for you and your future husband to be. Don’t worry…God does have a plan for you and that last guy just may not have been the one. Everything happens for a reason…just be patient. The next guy might be 100 times better :-)

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’ve done it a couple times. Most of the time it didn’t end well, but my current boyfriend and I are pretty serious. As serious as you can be after two horrible tries at marriage, anyway.

    It depends on how the personalities match up, in my experience.

    • Renn

      It also depends on how strong the faith is of the Christian. The stronger the belief in the God they say they follow the harder it is to go against what the Bible they profess to believe in says.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    I suspect the key would not so much be religion, as attitude regarding authority. Based on Altemeyer’s work on RWA, I’d conjecture a hypothetical (exceedingly rare in the US) high-RWA atheist would have an exceedingly difficult time getting along with any non-Atheist; but that the hypothetical (more typical) low-RWA types might be able to get along with (only slightly unusual) low-RWA Christian.

    Correlations on SDO make me suspect that male-atheist/female-christian may tend marginally more stable than female-atheist/male-christian, but I’m much less confident on that conjecture.

    • Renn

      I would believe that conjecture. The female Christian is taught to be submissive to her husband regardless of their husband’s faith. This would make the female-christian / male-atheist more likely to work out. It would also mean that the female didn’t do a good job of following the faith she says she believes in. It is clear for christians that shouldn’t marry outside of the faith. This is scriptural and not an opinion. Of course that is assuming the christian believes in the bible. If they don’t then I’m not really sure the term ‘christian’ would suit them (opinion).

      Tough choices people have to make today. Stick firm to my beliefs or let my emotions carry me away.

  • SeekerLancer

    There are a lot of things you can disagree about with your spouse but if those things are either politics or religion you’d better be willing to work hard on that relationship.

    For some people this might work but there are views I can respect and views I can’t.

    Ultimately though it really depends on exactly how Christian the person is and how much of an anti-theist you are.

  • NoraR

    Believing in the supernatural would be a deal breaker for me. I’m only attracted to intelligent men with a wicked sense of humor. I can’t help but think that you can’t be all that smart if you truly believe that stuff. Fortunately, I’m 60 years old and happily married so I don’t have to think about dating these days. (shudder)

  • GubbaBumpkin
    • 3lemenope

      An advice column with good advice.

      Mind. Blown.

  • Michaela Samuels

    Compatibility, open-mindedness, and understanding are key facets of a successful relationship. Specific theories on how the world works are nearly as crucial, at least, in my opinion.

  • Tobias2772

    There are lots of stories here of people who have done it, but I have to say that I don’t see how. The disconnect from rational thought and empirical investigation would come up over and over again. How could I respect my mates intellect when she refuses to use it on such a large and significant part of her life ? I’m not knocking anyone here, I just don’t get it.

  • ganner

    Depends entirely on the two people, their particular beliefs, as Hemant said how they form their moral decisions and other life decisions, what their values are, and just what their approach to their beliefs are. Most of us here take this very seriously – we wouldn’t be reading and commenting on atheist blogs otherwise. But there could be a very apathetic “Christian” who just figures yeah a God probably exists and that junk’s probably kind of true but never does anything with it or goes to church outside of Christmas maybe, and an apathetic atheist who could care less about religion. They’d probably do fine together. You could have someone like my friend, Brad, who is an extremely progressive person who I’d most accurately describe as an agnostic Christian humanist. He’s not of my preferred gender in a dating partner, but I could absolutely date someone with similar opinions as his. My girlfriend is maybe sort of kind of Christian, not really and never goes to church but believes in god. Pretty similar to the above mentioned apathetic sort. We’ve talked about kids and agree that we wouldn’t raise them in a church. It can be done. But I know the majority of Christians I know, we wouldn’t work out. But that’s true also just of the majority of PEOPLE I know. Finding someone that really works for you is a special thing and doesn’t necessarily follow any rigid set of rules.

  • VCP

    When my daughter was in high school, on two occasions she was quite forcefully told my the mothers of mormon boys that she was to ‘stay away’ from them. She rarely dated and certainly didn’t ‘chase’ boys; it was the nice mormon boys that were interested in casual friendships with her. She wasn’t an outspoken atheist, but certainly wasn’t mormon. So the answer in this town, is no.

  • Richzorz

    I’m an atheist dating a Christian – we seem to have a lot more shared values than a lot of atheist-atheist or Christian-Christian (etc) couples I’ve come across!

    Of course it helps when both sides make the effort to understand each other and neither are too “hardcore” in their beliefs…

  • Cake

    “Can atheists date christians?”

    Only ironically.

  • Grotoff

    It’s a bad idea.

  • Renn

    The question should be….Can Christians date Atheists. In this relationship it would seem that the Christian would have everything to lose. The Christian belief is that they should not marry outside of the Christian faith (scriptural, not opinion). Therefore, the Christian begins to go against their own belief with such dating habits.

    On the other hand, the Atheist has everything to gain in this relationship. They are gaining a partner that has strong Christian values and commitment to their partner. They have a foundation for their moral beliefs as well as their spiritual beliefs. I’m not sure the Atheist can say the same. Their morals rests solely on their personal beliefs.

    I guess my question would be…What would a Christian be looking to get out of a relationship with an Atheist? If they are a Christian in more than just a title then they believe their partner will not be with them in heaven. What kind of relationship would that be? I think there needs to be some soul searching on the Christians part (obviously since the Atheist doesn’t believe they have a soul).
    Can they coexist and date? Sure, but to the detriment of the faith of the Christian.


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