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I Am Married to a Catholic Woman (and We Get Along Just Fine)

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 12 - Secular Summer Fun.

Recently, the SSA eNews published an article by Dalton Alache Vasquez, where he discussed how conflicts between his atheism and his wife's Catholicism ultimately led to the end of their marriage. Dalton ended by advising readers to look for a mate with similar religious beliefs. You can read the original article.

Eric Last is a 47 year old business man, married, with no kids; he's an outdoors enthusiast, a big music fan, a skeptic, an atheist, a political lefty, a slightly disabled person, and a stem-cell research supporter. His article shows a somewhat different perspective:

I am an atheist, although I was raised Catholic. Like Dalton Alache Vasquez, I too have a Catholic wife originally from Mexico. Our different religious beliefs cause some friction sometimes, but not too often. My wife, Astrid, is for the most part tolerant and accepting of my beliefs, and likewise I am of hers. Fortunately, she is not at all dogmatic about her Catholicism. In fact, her overall religious philosophy strikes me as being as close to Buddhism as to Christianity, but she still loves the rituals and ceremony of the Catholic Church, and she still enjoys attending mass, although she skips it more often than she attends.

We were married in a Unitarian Universalist church, which seemed to be a fair compromise, respectful of both of our beliefs. I remember visiting various churches in search of a place that would marry us in a manner that would not be offensive to my sensibilities - I insisted that our vows not include the concept of God. I was not willing to lie at my wedding. When we made our wishes known at the Unitarian Universalist church, we were delighted to find a refreshing attitude of acceptance and understanding. I'm eternally grateful that they helped make Astrid's dream of a church wedding a reality.

I occasionally attend Catholic mass with Astrid, because she enjoys my being there with her, and I consider it only a small sacrifice to make for her. She and I have no children, but we've considered adopting. If we do, we will no doubt have some issues with how the children are raised, but I'm confident that we will find a compromise that we both can live with. I have promised that I will allow her to give any children a Catholic upbringing, but I will not pretend to be a Catholic. I've agreed to hold off on letting any children know of my atheism until later - perhaps their teenage years. My wife accepts that ultimately the children would make up their own minds and we would both accept whatever choice they make. I have no problem with children receiving religious instruction, in fact I think it may be beneficial. It's hard for me to imagine how a child could ultimately make an informed choice to be non-religious without experiencing what it is to be religious.

Whatever objections to any religion I may have, I also recognize that for many people, their faith is a source of great comfort to them, and I do not seek to take that away from anyone. I try not to argue with believers to convince them that I'm right and they are wrong. However I do ask them to accept my beliefs, to realize that not believing in God does not equate to bad values/morals, and I do argue that faith and public (political) policy should be entirely separate realms, and that any governmental promotion of faith over non-faith is inappropriate.

I think Astrid's family accepts my beliefs and I think I've opened their eyes somewhat to a different perspective on issues like prayer in schools, God in the pledge, etc. I have become "godfather" to 2 of my nieces. My brothers/sisters in law have asked me to be a godfather in full knowledge that I'm an atheist. I've agreed to this as a commitment to accept responsibility for raising these kids if anything should happen to the parents.

My wife and I enjoy celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, although it's much more about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny than about Christ's birth and resurrection. I am able to regard these as traditional American holidays in a secular sense, and to mostly ignore the religious roots.

With acceptance, tolerance, and respect, there is no reason that couples from widely different beliefs systems cannot get along just fine. I was saddened to read Dalton's article. Of course a mixed-religion marriage is likely to be doomed to failure when the parties are unwilling to respect each other's viewpoints. I have no doubt that many people of faith would find it inconceivable to be married to an atheist. But many believers are sufficiently open-minded for such a marriage to work.

As for the kids, they will end up making their own choices, regardless of the wishes of the parents. I see no reason for an atheist in a mixed-religion marriage to be unwilling to accept a religious upbringing for the children. If they grow up to be religious people, that is their choice. They will be in a better position to make an informed decision as adults if they have been exposed to religion in their youth. Atheists should never fear a person freely choosing to exercise their religious beliefs however they see fit, as long as it does not infringe on our right to hold a contrary view.

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 12 - Secular Summer Fun.
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