By James Fielding —
About seven years ago, I decided it was time to tell my partner that I no longer believed in God. We had been dating for around two years and I wanted to be sure my new-found freedom wasn’t going to cause issues moving forward. Neither of us had been overly religious during the relationship. In fact, he claims to be “spiritual” more than religious. We just recently celebrated our 9th anniversary, so, spoiler alert, my revelation wasn’t catastrophic. However, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been a learning process for both of us along the way. That is what this story is about.
We were on vacation in New Orleans and a few cocktails into a gorgeous night on a balcony on Bourbon St. He could tell I had something on my mind and was pressing me to share. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and blurted out “I think I’m an agnostic!” I don’t know what he was expecting but I could tell he was braced for something bad. His response was “Oh, I kind of figured that.”
Needless to say, I was relieved. At the time, I didn’t have a grasp of how agnostic and atheist were non-exclusive terms. I thought agnostic was a stepping stone and it felt safer than admitting I was an evil, morally bankrupt atheist. At least that’s what I was told atheists were. He eventually asked a follow up question that would shape our future interactions on the subject for many years. He asked, “Well, you believe in SOMETHING, don’t you?” I remember just shrugging in half agreement. I didn’t honestly know at that time and probably just wanted to move on from that conversation.
I will give my partner credit for not being weird about our differences in belief systems. I can’t say others would have been as tolerant. For the first few years, the topic only rarely came up.
About a year after my confession, we decided to finally cohabitate. I made one request. I asked that he try to keep the religious décor to a minimum. He was moving into my bachelor pad, which needed some personality. However, he had a thing for crosses and verses. He obliged and I have loosened up a little. Recently, he bought this large, framed art piece that had the verse “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I was not okay with this situation. Thankfully, I held my tongue while trying to decide how to express my feelings without causing too much conflict.
Before I got around to saying anything, he let me know that he bought it as a present for his cousin (she’s a religious fanatic). He could tell that I was concerned about the situation and wanted to reassure me. He’s been pretty amazing about the whole thing.
My views have changed dramatically over the past few years. By that, I mean that I have become a much more fervent atheist. I see the damage that religion can cause in the lives of so many and I want to do what I can to help.
Needless to say, my partner has noticed this more agitated state. I used to just roll my eyes and make snide comments. Now, I was expressing myself with actual logical arguments and historical facts. This was getting serious. Over the past year, I have really dug in. I was introduced to The Atheist Experience and Talk Heathen on YouTube and Podcast. I also started volunteering for Recovering from Religion. My partner could no longer ignore that I wasn’t just an agnostic. I think it was starting to bug him a little.
I don’t remember what started the conversation but one day about 8 months ago, he came down into the den and we started talking about my atheism. He asserted again that he knows I believe in something. By now, I was able to honestly answer that I didn’t think that was the case. I then explained that I wasn’t saying there was no god. I was simply saying that I am withholding belief until I have sufficient evidence. For some reason, that seemed to calm him a little.
I also explained how agnosticism was about knowledge and atheism was about belief. It was at that moment that I officially identified as an agnostic atheist. I don’t KNOW whether or not a god exists but I don’t have reason to BELIEVE that one does… yet. As a skeptic, I remain open to evidence. However, history has shown that it will likely never come. It may have taken years to get to that point but I was finally able to properly articulate how I felt about things in a way he could accept.
The Surprising Revelation
About 2 months ago, my partner and I were driving home from a meet up event for an LGBTQ group in a nearby town. I had been looking up several people we met on Facebook and friending them. I made the comment that one of the lesbian couples I had chatted with were very openly religious. I have always been fascinated at how gay people reconcile religion. It’s one the main reasons I began to question my beliefs. Why support a system that wants to see you dead or feels like you must be changed in some way? I digress.
I began regaling stories of my time at the private Christian school I attended from 4th grade to graduation and how they looked unfavorably on movie theaters and pop music, among other things. Thankfully, my parents and church were not as strict as the school. I guess I didn’t realize that we had never really talked about my religious upbringing.
My partner was completely floored by what I told him. He said something to the effect of “no wonder you hate religion so much. I had no idea you had to deal with all that.” He actually felt bad for me. I assured him that I was fine but that indeed, my education and indoctrination were a direct cause of my anger toward the damage I see religion causing. I myself am a casualty of that war and still bear psychological scars.
That conversation was a real turning point. It gave my partner a deeper understanding and respect for my position. He even admitted that He might feel the same way under similar circumstances.
My goal is not to convert my partner to being an atheist. He only marginally believes as it is and just enjoys the more inspirational nature of religion. I don’t see any reason to take that away from him. However, I am glad that he has a better grasp on what it is I believe and why. I have broken the stigma of the A word and given him clear reasons why I am on this path.
He doesn’t have to agree with me to support my journey. We do still have a cross or two on the walls at home and there are a few religious references here and there. I usually just roll my eyes and move on. Life is all about compromises. I am sure he feels the same way about my 600+ movie collection as I do about his crosses and collection of Joyce Meyer books. Nobody is perfect. The important thing is that we have talked through these issues and come out the other side much stronger.
If you are in mixed relationship, and want to stay together, be willing to communicate. Compromise where you can and find some middle ground. If you really love each other, you will find a way to make it work.