Things That Have Gone Missing Because My Husband is an Atheist

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When Jason came out to me about being an atheist, I assumed that there would be a litany of shared interests that would be missing due to his lack of faith. Some are what you would expect, like attending church together regularly or having a singular vision for our children’s spiritual education. To be sure, there are times when I absolutely miss these moments.

But I have also discovered that because of his deconversion, there are other things that have gone missing, many that I didn’t expect.

  1. My assumptions about what atheists think about Christians. Obviously I don’t know all of the atheists in the world, but my interactions with the bulk of the atheists that I’ve met online and those I’ve met in person through Jason have pretty much shattered how I assumed that group felt about Christians. I thought that atheists believed that all Christians were stupid; most simply feel that Christians are wrong. I thought that atheists hated Christians; most don’t have any problem with Christians. I thought that atheists were angry; most are considerably more laid back than some of my evangelical friends. Over and over I’ve found that my assumptions keep being proved wrong and are slowly disappearing.
  2. My assumptions about how Christians would treat us. When Jason came out to me, I asked him not to talk about it because I was afraid of how the Christians in our lives would react. I knew that people were going to treat us (and more to the point, me) differently. What I found, however, was that when we finally told people, most embraced us with even more love. I almost never felt like someone’s project, and I’m certain that at least a few times when I did feel that way, it was more perception than reality. I know that plenty do not have such a positive experience, but I do believe that we need to be more generous with our assumptions about people in general.
  3. My assumptions about hell. Before I was close to someone who had no beliefs about an afterlife, I never really gave it much thought outside of “believers go to heaven, unbelievers go to hell.” In the past two and a half years, I have read considerably more about hell than I did in the previous 30-something years. I still haven’t completely settled on what I believe about the afterlife, but I no longer accept that things are as black and white as I’ve always been taught. I’m far more hopeful now, not just for me, but for everyone that I meet. Which leads me to the next thing that is missing…
  4. My assumptions about life now. Because my beliefs about the afterlife are in flux, this has affected how I view the here and now. When I was sure about who was in and who was out, my primary goal was simply to make sure that everyone ended up in the same place. Now that I’m less convinced of this, I am far more interested in knowing everyone’s story. When I can demonstrate that I care about the thoughts of someone I previously saw as being on “the outside” without an agenda, we are able to have a more honest dialogue.

Letting go of assumptions can be difficult. They can feel as comfortable as many of the more positive areas of our relationships and when there’s already a lot of upheaval, our instinct can be to cling to that which is familiar. But I’ve found as I loosened my grip on my assumptions, I haven’t really missed them as they’ve slipped away.

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If you’ve had a relationship change, what kind of assumptions did you notice no longer applied? Even without a change, what assumptions do you need to release today?

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  • http://sarahaskins.com Sarah Askins

    I love this, Alise!

    Too often, we rely on stereotypes rather than our experiences(granted, stereotypes do have an element of truth, but never the whole truth). It is so much easier to live in a world of flat, stereotypical caricatures than a world of real people who don’t follow(thankfully!) their preset roles. 

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Truth! Don’t get me wrong, there is anger and dismissal and what have you in the atheist community. But it doesn’t take long into a conversation to see reasons behind it and to then begin to move the conversation into ways where we can find common ground. If we live in our assumptions, we can miss the ability for understanding.

      • ruth

        Well, depends on the atheist community, to the extent that there is any.  Just like groups of Christians vary, atheists vary as well.  So, some people are angry, whether Christian or atheist, for one reason or another, and some are live and let live.

        I have no problem with Christians provided that they do not try to force their beliefs on me and my loved ones in schools, at work, or in governmental policy.  

  • http://www.justcris.com/ Cris Ferreira

    Alise, it would be wonderful if all christians could go through an experience like that. We should love people, not judge them. And our love, not our words, should be the strongest testimony we have about Jesus. Then, in my opinion, the world would have a much different perception of God.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Amen. 

  • http://randomreflectionz.com/ Christie

    I especially like #4.  I think that an open and honest faith dialogue is essential to bringing people together, rather than creating religious divisions.  Christian, UU, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, or otherwise – we should all strive to break down assumptions and stereotypes by learning more and reconsidering our own believes in light of new information.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      It’s tough to do, but it can be really rewarding. And it certainly works with any “other” not just between Christians & atheists.

  • ShandaSargent

    Thank you SO much for walking this journey openly, vulnerably, and honestly. I know you are bringing a greater understanding and compassion to many (including me) with the light you bring to this topic through your experiences. Hugs and blessings to you, Alise!

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Thanks, dear one! I so appreciate your kind words. 

  • http://renewing-your-mind.blogspot.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

    I’ve had to rethink my thoughts on heaven/hell as well (based on the friendship I wrote about for your blog the other day), and while I don’t have a specific conclusion I do know that it can’t be as black and white as many people make it out to be.  And I am ok with that.  I am ok with leaving it up to God.  As I’ve thought, prayed, and read, I have come to understand that escaping this world and going off to the next is actually not very Christian/Biblical at all; that it is more about the Kingdom of God coming here and recreating and renewing life here.  While that may not be as “exciting” to some as a “rapture” and all that kind of theology entails, I do think it is more consistent with Jesus’ teachings.  Why would he teach us so much about a way of life if it just disappears when we die?  

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Yeah, I’ve definitely abandoned my former views with the in/out. And certainly my view of the “timeline” has been altered a good bit. But regardless, I think a faith that is only for “then” is kind of pointless. I’m far more concerned with an abundant LIFE than simly an abundant afterlife.

  • http://reconcilingviewpoints.com/?page_id=243 Dan

    Great post, Alise!

    The difficult thing for me is finding a way to ‘live the gospel’ while at the same time acknowledging that my beliefs/assumptions vary from the “norm”. On the one hand, I know that God really did change my life (this life, on earth) when I went through the experience of being “Born Again” – joy, peace, etc. where there had been none– and a significant part of that process was the submission/laying down of selfish desires that comes with repentance, which comes partly as a response to the ‘in/out’ question. 

    On the other hand, because my beliefs about hell and who’s in/out vary from the Christian norm, I’m very reluctant to share the gospel in the “repent of your sins and you’ll be saved” format, even though it was through that process that my life changed. The dichotomy drives me nuts, oftentimes leaving me feeling as if I’m selling the good news short.

    “Oh what a wretched man, I am.  Who will save me from this body of death?” (Thankfully, Jesus does, as Paul goes on to say.)

    It’s that dichotomy, and the desire to reconcile it (both for myself and others) that is really the only reason I blog.

    Thanks, Alise. Your post struck a resonant chord with me today (as you can probably tell!)

  • http://www.JanetOberholtzer.com Janet Oberholtzer

    I love how you looked for and shared the positive in this experience of your life. Recently, too often I’ve found it is easier to be a critical whiner and point out the negative (thanks menopause!)

    So thanks for this kick in the butt to find positive things. 

  • http://cindyholman.com/ Cindy Holman

    Great thoughts here.  Greg and I have both been raised in Christian homes and had a lot of ideas “man-made” from our denominations.  It has taken years to sort through these – including what we think about divorce and homosexuality – and we cannot forget the other scriptures on what God says about pride, a haughty spirit and lust being in the heart – and then not thing correctly about sin being in the heart of man – with none that is greater than another.  It’s been a hard journey for us and I know our family members would be shocked if they knew that we have changed many of our views on what we thought we believed.  I agree with you.  We should love people and know their story.  Period.  Get involved with others and let God be God.

  • http://xcartwright.blogspot.com/ Josie Bisett

    Hi Alise,

    Terrific post! There are so many assumptions flying around – I guess born from ignorance and lack of experience across all the different groups in society.. How can we fully understand everybody else, when our personal experiences are so limited?

    My hubby and I, although cross cultured, are pretty similar in our religious views – not in that they are absolutely non-existent – but definitely somewhat lacking. It’s hard for me to hear labels applied i.e Atheist, or Christian – see I’m neither – I’m just me, and I’m not comfortable being pigeon-holed as an Agnostic either… 

    I’ve found moving from the UK to Texas has brought a whole lot more assumptions to the table – and smashed quite a few too! It’s unfortunate how media tends to overly focus on the more extreme views and stereotypes – not the norm! Atheists and Christians most certainly can live and play together in harmony and learn a LOT from each other too. All it takes is an open mind – no matter who you are.

    I wrote a personal piece entitled ‘Losing my religion’ a while back – exposing some of my own unfair assumptions and misconceptions of the assumptions of those around me..  Here’s the link if you’re interested http://bit.ly/N6BnKK My writing is a little ‘tongue in cheek’ (definitely a bit more immature than yours!)  

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    The most loving thing we can do for a stranger is often to just listen. Thanks for sharing these lessons you’ve learned.

  • http://sextonsongs.wordpress.com/ Shawn

    Thanks for this. I’m sure that there is a lot more to this story than you can write here, but I hope you continue to tell of it what you can. My wife is a Beautiful Believer and I went to church with her for her birthday – it wasn’t so bad.

  • http://randomlychad.com Chad Jones

    This resonates with me, bevause I believe strongly in the importance of shared story. But for myself, the experience was very much the other side of the coin: I was the lone Christian “coming out” to an essentially atheist family. There was even talk at one time of hiring a deprogrammer. Fortunately, I was 19, and of age.

    But, yeah, my wife and I certainly felt like 2nd class citizens with members of my birth family for a great number of years. I had to have a hard conversation with my mom, and cut my dad off entirely. Because, you know, it’s not my wife’s fault I became a Christian. I better stop–I feel a post coming on.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=664715808 Anthony Hernandez

    1) Every single Christian is both ignorant and a capital criminal by well-established legal principles. The difference between stupid and ignorant is that the latter is curable.

    2) Try reading your own book sometime; I submit these people are not real Christians.

    3) Gray is a lovely color, and redemption for your capital crimes is as easy as leaving the organized criminal institution you are a part of.

    4) Excellent, now see #3.

    • http://randomlychad.com Chad Jones

      Wow, friend! Your enlightened, non-judgmental, fair-minded tolerance is abundantly on display. I’m sure we all bask in the glow of your obviously superior intellect and wisdom.

      Remember: freedom of religion is not freedom from it. Have a nice life.

    • ReadsInTrees

       Annnnddddd…there’s one of the loud ones making the rest of us atheists look bad. As the author of this piece discovered, few of us really feel this way about all (or even most) Christians.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      Anthony, if you want to help someone see more clearly, it’s best not to start by poking them in the eye.  I concur with ReadsinTrees that this kind of comment makes all of us non-believers look bad.  If you need to vent, go do it on Pharyngula, or write your own blog, or something.  Alise has let go of some assumptions, and that’s a big step which should be applauded.  Bravo, Alise!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EODM45N2R75PI57HLZQIF5C3XA Mark

    Man, compassion and wisdom abound.  This story is beautiful and inspiring in an everyday sort of way that I, personally, find more satisfying than any revelation.  It must feel wonderful to feel like things are getting better as you grow.  We can all have that if we can just open our eyes and our hearts.  Keep it up !!

    Mark Welch

  • http://twitter.com/kt_writes Kristin T.

    Yes! I’ve come to understand that many of the things in my life that I take on in fear—that I put on like a suit of armor, to protect myself—ultimately end up weighing me down and keeping me from moving forward. In some cases they even do the opposite of protecting me—they harm me. I’m so glad you’ve taken the time to shed the armor and bravely explore these new territories.

  • Ndonnan

    We are all on a journey arnt we Alise,sometimes i carnt wait to die to find out what is absolute truth and what has been taken out of context or manipulated for control ect.I was raised in a conservative family of which im glad i was but like you ive learned some things that were taught as absolute arnt.Now i believe God judges the heart of a person,not “youve said the sinners prayer so your in”.I really do believe God loves all people and is a right and fair judge so people who have never heard the gospel can be right before Him,they just dont know Jesus yet.I believe when we get to heaven we will be surprised who is and isnt there.God bless with your journey, and i hope your husband finds true faith again.I will pray for him.Norm 

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  • Jacquelyn Choate

    I’m so glad to see that all the things you’ve noticed to be missing are negative assumptions!  This speaks volumes of the love present in your life, and not only for your husband.
    I too am in love with an athiest, and we have been married for over 15 years.  Until recently we would both describe ourselves as athiest, and now I am the one finding myself coming out to him as a Christian due to some recent experiences through which He has entered my life.  I assure you that many athiests are intelligent, moral, hilarious, loveable people.  I see that for many people beliefs are constantly in flux throughtout life as we grow and change, and personal belief is just that – intensly personal.  Even within the context of a marriage realationship.  At the heart of our relationship remains a deep, mutual respect, as we allow each other to be ourselves.
    Glad I found your blog!  Just love him, like you always have!

  • EivindKjorstad

    I’m an atheist. Hell is the single concept among my religious friends that is the most problematic to me. Consider the following:

    * Someone is my friend, and cares about me.

    * They believe in a God that they say is fair and loving.

    * They also say that this God has decided that when I die, I will be tortured for eternity.

    In other words, they are saying that it is *fair* to torture me for eternity, that this is something I deserve. Sometimes, I’ve asked if they -personally- think that I deserve to be treated this way, or what crime of mine makes me deserving of such harsh punishment.

    It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that eternal torture is *fair* punishment for the horrible crime of “not believing”.  The idea: “you’re my friend, I care about you, yet I pray to, and admire a being that is going to torture you for ever” is *really* hard to come to grips with.

    It’s not as if I could change it even if I wanted to – I don’t, and can’t consciously *decide* what I believe. And I’ve given Christianity a very fair chance I feel. (I’ve spent several weeks in christian summer-camps, I’ve read the entire bible – twice, I’ve visited more than a dozen churches and spent certainly hundreds of hours reading about many aspects of it. I do feel I’ve done my due diligence)
     

  • Mikaela

    We should treat others with love regardless if they believe in Christ or not and pray for those that are unbelievers. You may recall that it is we, NOT God who broke up with Him. He wants us to all be with Him and hell was created for Satan and his legion of demons. If this were not so then why did God send Jesus to us, to save us and NOT condemn us to give us life more abundantly. This choice of accepting Christ wasn’t for Satan and his demons. What I derived from your post is not an open-mindedness but of lukewarm faith which is worse than not believing. You can have a passion for Christ and still love those who persecute and who are unbelievers. You indicate you are a parent. Suppose you have several children and one of them CHOOSES to act out to the point of being emotionally, sexually or physically violent towards his siblings causing trauma to the other children who may be younger or weaker, would you continue to have that child in the home? I would hope not. So how different is this from a Heavenly Father’s point of view? Why should He allow those who DON’T want to be with Him and CHOOSE to inflict pain on the children that DO want to be with Him into His home. We have a free will choice to love God or love the world. Those who do not want to believe in Christ CHOOSE to be a friend of the world which is Satan’s domain. Those who have yet to hear of Christ but have in their heart a desire that cannot be explained, my Lord will judge and these people will have a choice to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior or not. God is extremely loving and kind and only He can judge a person’s heart. A prostitute can still be hooking but God can be working in her heart just like He can with an atheist. Christ came to me WHILE I was sinning, drew me to Him and it has been the hardest and yet the most wonderful time of my life. I LOVE HIM and refuse to live without Him. Until you experience a personal relationship with Jesus the whole religion thing of going to church and just following commandments won’t mean anything because you won’t be able to see the love behind it all and understand His passion to have us in His life.

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