Good news for folks in the UYC! Dale McGowan’s newest book, In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families is coming out soon. I wanted to start talking about it, since I have a personal connection to this book due to being one of the folks featured in it. (Also, I’ve come to consider him a friend and think he’s a really awesome person as well as a great writer. Consider that your disclaimer.)
Observant readers may notice that yes indeed, “Cassidy and Bill” are featured in the book and a few posts from my blog have been condensed and reprinted therein. This is completely with my permission; Dale asked me if he could use my writing with attribution and I eagerly consented because I’m really excited about this project.
As you may know, I began the UYC series on this blog because I noticed how few really accurate and respectful resources are out there for couples who find themselves in mixed-faith relationships. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of people writing about mixed-faith marriages–it’s not hard to find bloggers aplenty as well as books and other media materials talking about it–but they are geared toward Christians in relationships with deconverted spouses. And these materials are in my opinion not only worthless in terms of practical value but also hugely disrespectful and even insulting toward the non-believing partners. In some really egregious cases, these materials even seem like they’re deliberately trying to get couples broken-up; it’d be funny to read them if one didn’t remember that way too many people take their idiotic chirpings seriously and don’t realize that they are written for bubble-dwelling Christians wearing Bible blinkers, not real people living with other real people in the real world and trying to get along with each other.
Generally speaking, the goal in those existing resources is to get the non-believer reconverted so that Everything Can Go Back To Normal Again, not to find equilibrium in the relationship as it is now. They’re about recovering the Happy Christian Marriage facade, not finding or rediscovering common ground. I don’t find this to be an honest way to conduct a marriage. I’m not really enthused with those illusions in the first place; even when two people who are fervent Christians engage in these facades, there always seem like there are cracks in it that show the real people behind it struggling to fit themselves into those plastic molds and be happy with that life script whether it suits their individual natures or not. But when one person deconverts, or even just changes a little in how they once practiced the religion, it can tear down the whole illusion and expose the marriage’s very faulty foundation-blocks.
It’s not respectful to treat someone’s deconversion like it’s just a road-bump in the journey, a detour that must be worked around so that the vacation can proceed. It’s not loving to demand that a deconverted spouse sacrifice his or her integrity and sanity just to make the still-Christian one comfortable again in the facade. But that’s what these materials usually suggest that Christian spouses ask of their mates.
And for people who follow a holy book that makes its feelings about divorce fairly clear and which makes its opinion of mixed-faith marriages crystal-clear (1 Cor 7:12-17, which advises Christians absolutely not to divorce disbelieving spouses unless they choose to leave first), Christians are very quick to leap to the idea of divorce should their mate refuse to reconvert–or at least indulge them in the Happy Christian Marriage facade often enough to make things seem like “normal” again. I’ve even heard about ministers who advised panicked Christians to dump their deconverted spouses or kick them out of the shared home to make them suffer, which is thought to make the spouse reconsider converting to get his or her family back together again. I can’t imagine a more monstrous thing to do to ex-Christians than to hold their family hostage like that, but when someone’s desperate and doesn’t recognize boundaries, it’s not inconceivable that that person might grab at any straw no matter how monstrous. As Biff said… well, you know by now, right?
All that said, though, there are so many rays of hope–and sometimes folks in the UYC don’t know about them. This book showers a whole rainbow of them down upon people who might be feeling a little trapped. I found my eyes pricking with tears from time to time as I read because some of this stuff is new even to me–and very welcome to see.
I am really liking how Dale describes situations from a bird’s-eye view. I liked his characterization of “high-tension” dynamics and how couples might seem like they’re in danger of getting into one of those dynamics–and how to perhaps either avert that tension or short-circuit it so it doesn’t get so extreme. That idea really illuminates a lot of things I’m thinking about lately and comes in very good time to explore a few topics we’ll be covering soon, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.
For folks who are maybe new to my blog, Dale doesn’t talk much about what happened after the story, so I wanted to kinda fill you in: After a period of increasing tension, I ended up leaving my Christian spouse, who did not, ahem, take my leaving all that well. Things worked out for the best; my ex-husband remarried very quickly after our divorce and as far as I know is much happier. Obviously I’m fine as well and am in a very stable marriage.
Biff and I had no business being married in the first place, being that we fit into quite a few of the categories that Dale describes as being “high-risk factors” for divorce–we married way too young (20/22), had extremely different ideas about having kids (I didn’t want any; my spouse wanted at least a few if not more, though this was many years before that Quiverfull bumnuggetry got popular), had a history of divorce in our own parents, one of us had an addictive personality, we had disrespectful communication styles, and low life satisfaction and especially low marital satisfaction (at least on my part).
We’d always had a very dramatic and tumultuous marriage in our ten years together, but things came to a downright explosive head when I deconverted.
At the time, nobody really knew anything about ex-Christians or deconversion. There’s a lot more about the subject nowadays, even if a lot of it is about as low-quality as the mixed-faith-marriage stuff I’ve mentioned, but this was in the mid-90s and I was the only person I even knew who’d definitely and explicitly walked away from Christianity. We were all flying by the seat of our pants without any kind of plan; we were all sort of figuring it out as we went along.
If most of the advice for mixed-faith marriages is horrible now, think about what it would have looked like back then! Then make it even worse than you’re imagining and you’re about halfway there to how doomed my marriage was. So I’m really glad that more people are talking about how to really find peace and happiness within a mixed-faith marriage and how to really find a graceful approach to communicating and living together that honors and shows respect to both parties involved.
I’m still devouring this book–I’m about halfway through it so far–and I can already say that I really think that UYC members will find a lot to like about this book. Dale uses a lot of actual facts to support his ideas, and he’s expressing those ideas in a way that even the most religious people will likely find respectful and inoffensive. I haven’t seen anything in it that looks questionable or seen any arguments that aren’t solid. The case studies he presents are gloriously multifaceted, with a number of different types of couples represented. They’re not even all Christian/atheist matches. Some don’t even feature deconversions; as in his own marriage, some of these couples married knowing they were mixed-faith in some way.
In today’s world just as in yesterday’s, the conventional wisdom is that mixed-faith marriages–the Unequally Yoked Club–is automatically doomed the second the people in it realize that they don’t believe the same things. But this so-called wisdom was wrong in my Christian days, and it’s wrong today. Religion doesn’t have to divide us unless people, in their ignorance, shame, and fear, let it do so.
- The Unequally Yoked Club: What Changed, and What Didn’t. (www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve)
- Why I Write About My Deconversion (patheos.com)
- After I Deconverted: I Was Deeply Ambivalent; What Was I to Make of Sex, Love, Alcohol, Bisexuality, Abortion, 9/11, Religious Violence, Marxism, or the Yankees? (patheos.com)
- The Unequally Yoked Club: The Bargaining Table. (www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve)
- Dale McGowan’s New Book About Interfaith Relationships Now Available for Preorder (patheos.com)