Should Atheists Date Religious People?

Should Atheists Date Religious People? October 4, 2019

When I was in college – and I really have no idea how I did this – I worked at YVR airport. I had a full academic course load and then went to the airport at night and cleaned planes until morning. I do not recall if sleep really ever happened. I do remember, however, being in such a sleepless stupor that my boss once appeared to me as Hulk Hogan… but that’s a whole other story.

I also had the extreme pleasure of peeling the NHL’s used condoms off the ceiling of their plane. The exact jet I speak of flew none other than the Number 99 into Vancouver when he played with the Kings. I was excited waiting on the tarmac. I held onto the bottle of degreaser in my hand as the LA Kings disembarked before me. Then I saw him. The Great One. Canada’s pride and joy. Gretzky rushed past me with barbecue sauce on his shirt, leaving a trail of overpowering, expensive cologne in his wake. I couldn’t wait to tell my brother.

My excitement soon turned to horror when I saw how Gretz had left his plane. I don’t know what it is about human beings, but it would appear that once you’re 30,000 ft in the air, y’all turn into beasts of unbridled filth. Even Wayne Goddamned Gretzky and his royal pals had no chill in the air. 

Regardless, though, of how much of your vomit I had to ladle out of sinks, seat pockets and overhead bins, I truly loved the job.

A few weeks into it, I was sitting in the lunchroom with Sitara, the woman who loved me so much that she brought me homemade Fijian food for lunch every day. Shovelling roti in my mouth and moaning in absolute unparalleled pleasure at how incredibly good the stuff was, I looked up to see a man I thought was Goran Visnjic, the Croatian wet dream from TV’s ER. It wasn’t uncommon for us to see celebs on the job, coming and going from planes, but in the lunchroom? That was strange.

Before I could get up and wipe the spinach off my chin, I was being introduced. This was not Goran. This was his extremely close look-a-like, and my coworker, Ramzi. He’d been off with a broken hand longer than I’d been working there, so I had never seen him before. I stared, spinach just resting there. He must have thought I was… slow.

After I said “hi” for the third time, Ramzi finally asked if I was okay and then promptly told me the spinach on my chin was hot. In a silky Middle Eastern accent, no less. So, naturally, I ignored the spinach once again and asked him where he was from. He said Iraq, grabbed a napkin and wiped my chin. I was in love.

From that point on, we were pretty inseparable. The job, which was officially titled “groomer”, had a lot of downtime. Some days we’d have an 8-hour shift and one 5 minute turnaround clean during the whole 8 hours. Ramzi and I would talk and talk and talk during all of our downtime.

He told me the story of how he, as a Kurd, escaped Iraq under Hussein’s rule. It was pretty intense and involved him leaving his Mom behind at the Turkish border, walking through Turkey to Greece and eating wild plants just to stay alive. All when he was only 15-years-old and alone. It was gut-wrenching. I told him I wanted to write his story for him.

He started to come to my apartment to work on the story, and before we knew it, we were officially dating.

It did not last long.

One night, he told his mother about me during a phone call from Iraq. She was fit to be tied that he’d picked one of the only two non-Muslim girls at our job to date. She kept telling him any time they spoke that he could not marry an infidel.

When he told me this, I just about jumped out of my skin.

“Marry? Who the eff said we were going to marry? I literally just met you!”

He agreed that it was silly to be talking about this so soon, but as time went by, he would speak about Islam and marriage more and more.

It became increasingly uncomfortable.

Finally, one day, during a discussion with him about Islam, I referred to the prophet in a way he deemed disrespectful, and he lost it. He got so upset that he let it slip, “If you can’t even respect my wishes about my own religion now, how will you ever make a good Muslim?”

I was in complete shock.

“Ramz, I’m not going to become a Muslim. It will never happen.” I tried to be gentle.

“Then why are we dating?”

“You tell me.”

And with that, it was over. There was more to it, unrelated to religious belief, but ultimately, that’s what came between us. 

Ramzi is a beautiful human being, inside and out. He was hilarious, fun, and so open-minded and willing to learn about the new culture he had found himself in. He did not attempt to hide me from his family and jumped at the chance to tell his Mom about me despite knowing how she would react. The way he would look at me, with his soulful brown eyes, I knew I meant a lot to him.

But it still didn’t work between us because indoctrination is hard to shake. Ramzi adored me and didn’t even behave like a devout Muslim, missing prayers on most days. At one point, he also told me he didn’t think he believed anymore. Despite all of these things being true, he still let these ideas come between us. Ideas that didn’t mean much to him anymore but that were pounded into his mind so well, he couldn’t let them go.

In the time since I’ve thought a lot about how things ended with Ramzi. I’ve done a lot of thinking in my life about how relationships are affected by conflicting positions on religion. Much of it because I’ve been asked for advice by many readers who are in interfaith relationships.  

Just the other day, I got this one: 

I’m dating a man from a Muslim background. his parents are very religious, they never met me, and he is always fighting with his mum and lying to her where he is and who is he with. I’m trying to explain to him that I respect his faith; however, if we move forward and decide to have children, I don’t want our kids to be raised Muslim. I’m happy for them to be introduced to all of the religions and once they are old enough to decide themselves, I will support them. What are your thoughts on dating a religious person with even more religious family? Is there even a change of this working out? 

I think the first thing that is important to recognize is that we tend to view these sorts of situations through rose-coloured glasses. You are attracted to this man. You care about him. You wouldn’t be dating him and talking about kids if you didn’t want this to work out, and so you are definitely looking at it all with a bit of a bias. One of the ways I like to try to strip myself of my own personal bias is by imagining a friend in the same scenario and sorting out what advice I would give him or her. 

With that said, I want you to put aside your differences in religious perspectives for a moment. Let’s just take a look at the fact that your boyfriend is actively lying about you to his family. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not eager to share you with them, but what it does mean is that he’s capable of repeatedly lying to people who are important to him. 

In the future, it could be you he ends up lying to. 

You cannot build up a relationship, something that requires trust, on a pile of lies. 

For this reason alone, I would forget him. It doesn’t matter if the lies are inspired by someone else’s religious bigotry. These are lies. Period. Lies have no place in a successful, happy relationship. 

What’s more, if we look at why he’s lying, it makes everything much, much worse. Essentially, he’s demonstrating for you the fact that he’s not willing to stand up to his family. You have to see that if he can’t stand up to them about dating someone outside of his faith, he’s not going to be able to stand up to them when it comes time to marry someone outside of his faith. He’s not going to be able to defy their wishes when you have kids with him, and you want them to be raised in a secular way. 

Once his family does find out, what is their reaction likely to be? Even passive-aggressive comments get to be too much to handle after years and years of them. Are you always going to be trying to prove your basic decency to these people? Will they ever truly see your value? Think of every holiday, every milestone, standing amongst a group of people who think you are corrupting their son and the reason he might not find his way to paradise with them in the afterlife. One dinner is easy to endure. Maybe even a handful. But you’re looking at a lifetime of being looked down upon by your significant other’s family. You had better believe this is going to be a very abundant source of conflict between you and your boyfriend for the entire length of your relationship. 

You are being given a rare opportunity to glimpse your future with him, and I can assure you, it’s not going to be easy. 

Something that also must be considered is the fact that people change. I’ve said this in each and every piece I’ve written offering advice about interfaith relationships. Change can be a great and wonderful thing, but for someone who is a moderate believer now, change can come in the form of increasingly devout adherence to dogmatic religious beliefs. One of the most significant catalysts for personal growth is becoming a parent. When you have a child, you want to give your child the absolute best you possibly can. Your priorities automatically change. 

For me, I was doing a lot of travelling, living in other countries and meeting new people, learning new languages. I thought for sure that when I had baby, I would raise him as a fellow globetrotter, maybe on a sailboat as we floated with carefree abandon from port to port exploring this world. But that’s not what happened. Everything changed when he was born. Everything. Suddenly roots mattered. I recalled looking back on my own childhood and wanting to give something like that to my own child. All of my priorities shifted when my baby boy came into my life, and I could never have possibly predicted these changes before I was a mom. 

For people who are just moderately religious, these changes can and often do come in the form of taking their religion more seriously. Now, they have a whole other soul to protect from eternal damnation. What’s more, they can tend to, like I did, look back on their childhood and want to give to their children what was given to them. For people who grew up religious, this looks like worship, prayer and religious tradition.

What all of this means is that no matter how moderate your boyfriend is now with his religious beliefs, when you have kids, these things can change. They often do change. Of course, that change can be in the other direction, and your boyfriend could end up becoming more secular, but people are creatures of habit and tend to cling to that which they know. Especially when it comes to parenting. We often become the sort of parents our own folks were. 

What this means for you, is that though your boyfriend might assure you now that his religious background will play no part in his parenting, that sudden and life-altering sense of obligation and responsibility that washes over us all upon becoming a parent may be just the thing he needs to start taking his religion more earnestly. It means you might be heading into a future tug-of-war between raising your babies Muslim and raising them secularly.  

You have to ask yourself the tough questions: 

What will your response be if he asks you to pretend to be Muslim to appease his family? 

What happens if he insists on sending your children to a private Muslim school? Can you cope with that if it’s a deal-breaker for him? 

You also need to think about how this might look in a custody battle. I know it’s unpleasant to think about that, but, realistically, your differences could be a threat to your relationship down the line, and if it happens after you marry and have kids, you’re going to be sitting in front of a judge explaining your atheism. I’ve had so many messages from so many heathens out there who are sure they lost custody of their children, at least in part, because they were non-believers. They just got really unlucky with judges and found themselves arguing their case in front of justices who had old-fashioned ideas about what good parenting entailed. In many parts of the world, not taking your child to your local place of worship is on the same level as not feeding them. 

I loathe the old saying that the heart wants what it wants. Sometimes what the “heart” wants is not suitable for our future children or us. Sometimes what the heart wants is a recipe for disaster. 

Today, I’m with an atheist man, and though I cared a great deal for Ramzi at the time, the feeling of being accepted for exactly who I am with my significant other is unbeatable. I do not have to worry about how I speak of religion. I don’t have to argue with him about what we teach our children. When my daughter came out of the closet to us and told us she had a girlfriend, I am so, so glad I was standing next to a secular man. Our reaction was pure joy, and there was not a moment of discomfort. The two of us beamed with pride in a united front, equally overjoyed to stand behind this perfect, beautiful girl.

So, if you’re asking for my honest reaction, it would be to tell your boyfriend it’s over and look for a man with whom you share the same core beliefs. Of course, the possibility exists that things will work out just fine between you two, but the reality is that at some point, it’s going to cause conflict. You have to be honest when you try to imagine what that conflict might look like, how it might manifest, and how well you and your future kids are going to come out of it. 

If we’re being realistic, you don’t come out on top. The atheist rarely comes out on top.

My opinion would be the same if he were a Christian man lying to his family about you. For me, the biggest red flag is lying. I think my position might differ if your significant other weren’t lying about you to his family. 

I want to know what advice you’d give to this kind-hearted lady. Let me know in the comments! 

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