“I love you in spite of your atheism.”
It’s a joke between me and my husband. But for a couple like us, who once gave god authority over our relationship, there is a whole lot of serious meaning in those words. We are not entirely in the same boat. Maybe we never have been. But, does it matter?
There was a time when being in sync spiritually meant everything. And, there was a time when I felt resentment over being the spiritual leader. Back when I believed it was the man’s role to lead his wife, I wanted my husband to step up and have greater faith than I had. I wanted him to be the one who cared most about managing our joint thoughts on god.
More than one Christian has pointed to this as the ultimate problem in my personal walk with Jesus; claiming a marriage cannot survive without Christ at the center. Yet here we are. Not only surviving, but happier and more committed than ever before. And Christ is nowhere to be found.
What if my husband had stepped up and made my faith his priority while I was still a believer? Would things be different today? Maybe. It’s possible I would have thrown myself deeper into church life and fought doubt harder for the sake of my spouse. I don’t know. It is more likely that in such a scenario my loss of faith might have broken us.
I’m still the spiritual leader in this relationship. You don’t see my husband writing any blogs about religion, do you? I am now perfectly content with that role. But I am also aware that my loss of faith still impacts his beliefs greatly. A few nights ago he said to me: “I’m not sure that I don’t believe in god. You probably think that’s stupid.”
“Unless you have suddenly become a fundamentalist who is unable to discuss possibilities outside of your narrow point of view, I support whatever you believe. But you never were that kind of Christian, so I’m not worried.” Which is lucky, because he was certainly raised to be that kind of Christian.
He is in a place that is all too familiar. He has lost faith in Christianity and the Bible, but is not yet convinced there isn’t something that resembles a god waiting to be found. When you take specific theology out of the equation, it’s a fantastic conversation. It’s exactly what I want our spiritual relationship to be about: The conversation of the unknown. It’s the healthiest spiritual connection we have ever had.
Losing faith in god was like waking up in an alternate universe I didn’t fully understand. I want to describe it and connect with others who grasp what I am talking about. Knowing how damaging religious dogma can be, I don’t have much tolerance for the conservative evangelical view points that shut down conversation. But I do not find the belief in god by itself to be either offensive or ridiculous.
I don’t enjoy talking about the existence of god with Christians because they are limited to defining god in one possible way. When I tell them it doesn’t matter if I am wrong about the existence of god, their heads explode trying to make sense of it. If suddenly I find evidence that a god exists, I don’t believe it could ever be the Christian version of god. I don’t believe there would be consequences of faith as outlined by a man-made interpretation. Why would there be? It would simply become another thing we discovered.
If a theist can remove those limits and think about god more openly, we are already on the same page. I don’t believe there is a god, but I don’t find it difficult to set that belief aside and rediscover how I got there. After all, what do I have to lose? The place where theists and atheists meet with open minds is the only place where the god discussion moves forward.
Is spirituality the glue that keeps people together? Of course not. What keeps people together has never been a secret exclusively held by religion. Two people coming together over a shared belief in anything is a useful ingredient toward bonding, but it isn’t everything. And it’s nowhere near as useful as two people coming together in spite of their different beliefs.
The Bible didn’t teach my husband how to say “I love you in spite of your atheism” and actually mean it. We figured out the most important lessons of love and spirituality all on our own.