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Could You Marry an Atheist?

Could you marry an atheist? I'm asking this seriously because someone I know is seriously considering doing so and he asked me what I would do. He asked me seriously. I answered quickly because it was easy to me. I'll say it right now that there's no way I could marry an atheist. He asked if I could think of an exception. By that he meant if she were really really really gorgeous but I told him I couldn't.

Looking for exceptions in my own mind I wondered to myself that if maybe I viewed the marriage as something akin to gaining the beachhead with the end goal being conquering her atheism with the ceremonial lowering of the atheist flag and raising high the banner of the cross on our fifth or tenth anniversary. But you know what -not even then. Because I couldn't live in a marriage like that. I would be exhausting because I'd never stop questioning her or challenging her. And I can be really really badgery and annoying. Then she'd eventually kill me and that wouldn't be good for anybody.

Now I know enough of my own mania and all around looniness that my inner thoughts don't often match others. Like I also know that I couldn't marry a Democrat. Seriously. I couldn't. Just the battle between watching Fox News or MSNBC would be ugly.

Just to show that I'm not soooo rigid I'll just tell you that I could marry someone that didn't cheer for Notre Dame football (as long as they weren't a University of Miami fan but I think that's just common sense.)

I'm openhearted enough to have forgiven my wife for not being a NY Giants fan because she was raised in Philadelphia and she just doesn't know any better, poor thing.

But anyway I'm getting back to the point at hand. I seriously could not imagine myself marrying an atheist and I can't even imagine how it would work.

I knew a woman who was a devout and wonderful Catholic who was married to an atheist who she says was a very good man and they were married for decades and decades and raised good children. So I know it can happen. I just don't know how.

I couldn't marry an atheist because she wouldn't see our children as miracles, she wouldn't see our finding each other as God's plan, she wouldn't look at the stars or the sunset the same way, there'd be no Christmas, there'd be no...gratitude for living because there would be nobody to be grateful to. And I need gratitude in my life. I do.

So my answer is no I couldn't marry an atheist. What about you?

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50 comments:

Ben said...

Nope. I read the first two paragraphs, and got your drift.

I could not do it either, for the same reasons you mention. It would be impossible...

Anonymous said...

True beauty is not just external appearances, it is what is in the heart. Thus no woman is truly beautiful who does not love God.

priest's wife said...

My policy was- don't even go out to coffee with a non-Catholic....because there are plenty of really great non-Catholics and I didn't want to fall in love with one of them. But then, God still surprised me with a man who would be a Byzantine Catholic priest :)

Anonymous said...

The #1 greatest joy in my marriage is our shared faith. My husband is my "spiritual sherpa," helping me haul my baggage on my spiritual journey. His love for me is a peephole through which I can experience God's love for me.

So no, I could not marry an atheist. I have dated a few atheists. Those relationships were fun, loving, and good...but now that I know how AMAZING a Catholic marriage can be, I would NEVER make a lifelong commit to cheat myself out of the greatest joy I have ever known.

Anonymous said...

I could see myself marrying a woman of any race, older or younger than me, heavy or thin, but never a non-Christian.

Jeff Miller said...

Well I am glad that my cradle Catholic wife did marry me. Though my longtime atheism was not a good thing for her and certainly made things more difficult in our 30 years of marriage.

There would certainly be a lot a caveats in marriage to an atheist. If they were one of the breed of new atheists and would resist and education in the faith for the children, the answer would certainly be no. In any case it makes for a more difficult situation since raising children in the faith when one spouse is not a believer will introduce all kinds of problems and will undermine faith formation. So as a general principle, not a good idea.

Gerry said...

You may want to point him here where I'm having a conversation with an Atheist about marriage on his blog (it's actually his wife's blog (they were married (de jure) last month), but he wrote the post at the link above).

Liz said...

no way. not even sure if i would want to marry a non-Catholic

ludovico said...

As a former Catholic and current atheist, I would definitely marry an atheist--as soon as they legalize gay marriage in my state!

Brian Walden said...

I married a Protestant. If I hadn't married her, I probably wouldn't be a practicing Catholic today. Still, I wouldn't recommend marrying a non-Catholic (who takes their faith seriously), let alone an atheist, to any Catholic. It's so difficult.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

If they're REALLY an atheist -- not agnostic, not a phase -- goodness, no. The gap in world views is just way too big. Basically ANYTHING that is a huge philosophical difference about the basic nature of reality would be a deal killer.

Jason Ward said...

It is a bad idea to marry someone of another religious faith. It is a VERY bad idea to marry someone who completely denies the existence of God. There may be examples of couples that have made it work.

Even so, wisdom teaches us not to plan for the exception.

Kim said...

I'm with you--no way would I marry an atheist--can't imagine having much in common with one--but to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure there really can BE such a thing as an atheist.

If the wonder of Creation doesn't convince someone that God is real, then how about the existence of a commonly recognizable moral code? Seriously!?

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Kim-
John C. Wright would be a good person to ask; I think he's mentioned it before. (He use to be an atheist. He's now Catholic. I can't find the link where he talks about his reasoning in depth, but here is a good start.)

nyokodo said...

Not only could I not marry an atheist, I could only marry a traditionally minded faithful Catholic woman who was at least open to my very libertarian politics.

nyokodo said...

My faith, very specifically my Catholic faith is such an important part of my person that I simply could not relate to a woman romantically who did not share it strongly. Added to this I will not put myself nor especially my children through being raised in the faith by only one parent. What a horrible thing to have your mother or father not part of the faith you're taught is absolutely necessary! What a terrible temptation to fall away or become a relativist! Additionally I can only marry a woman to whom contraception, sterilisation and divorce are completely and utterly NOT an option! This kind of woman only exists amongst traditionalist Catholic women.

Anonymous said...

Matthew,

It is difficult to marry outside your faith. Even if its a little bit outside... because there is no such thing as a little bit, when you think about it. It is either your faith or it is not. I am a Roman Catholic married to an Eastern Orthodox woman. My wife is wonderful, but I deeply feel the pain of the schism at every family function. And the schism rears its head with decisions on baby names (i.e my veto of Photius (to her a saint, to me evil)), different demands on where to baptize etc.... not mention where to attend sunday divine liturgy or mass. People need to know what they are getting into. I love my wife, but I suffer. I suffer inside over the spiritual gulf between us. It hurts alot, because I am forced to make compromises on faith to appease my spouse for the sake of the marriage. She also has to give in to this false "spirit" of compromise.
My advice to your friend is to find a Catholic. Or make your demands up front on child-rearing, and practicing your faith.

priest's wife said...

Anonymous writing to Matthew- it sounds like your wife is hard-core (ultra-orthodox saints name)- but maybe you can find the nearest Byzantine Catholic church to visit and be a visitor- she might like you relating to her spirituality

Anonymous said...

Presbytera,
Thanks for your advice. My father was Byzantine Rite Greek Catholic. But as you probably know, there are very few of these churches. So its a geographical impossibility.

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

I don't think I could. However, I do take issue with:

I couldn't marry an atheist because she wouldn't see our children as miracles, she wouldn't see our finding each other as God's plan

Because in the narrow sense I don't really think it's God's plan either, in the sense that I'm not at all convinced that the person I will marry (if any) is being willed directly to me by God, as opposed to being in the general trajectory of God's plan for my life in terms of vocation and permissibility of my choosing to marry her and vice-versa.

Jacobitess said...

If our culture was decent enough, commonality of beliefs might be something one could work around. A couple might not have been united by religion, but mores could have cemented their union. However, in our culture, premarital chastity is prudery. Being pro-life is anti-choice. Being liberally-minded is scoffed at, as any 'intellectual' is Liberally minded.

Going to Mass is a matter of feelings, not duty (can you imagine how an atheist will side with the children when they don't feel like getting out of bed)? Saying the rosary ('Why are you torturing the kids with that long prayer?') NFP in the times of financial pinches ('Why must we deny our appetites when a pill can be popped?') Or what if a really dreaful revelation came along ('You know, we really cannot afford the baby from this pregnancy.')

Marrying an athetist in a depraved culture is courting tragedy.

√Čamonn said...

I couldn't and didn't! I met a lovely girl after Mass at a parish I was visiting and the rest as they say is history. As for marrying a Latino or Latina - I'd be very careful about equating uneducated with "stupid". They're not the same thing. In addition I know two very devoted and happy couples who when they were four singles couldn't any good marriage-minded Catholics. Two word solution: Catholic Match.

Anonymous said...

My atheist daughter has married a Christian and is trying to participate in raising Christian children. It's not easy to answer "but why don't you take communion, Mommy?" in a way that's both honest and respectful.

√Čamonn said...

@Helen: Properly speaking, it's "fewer and fewer" educated people. Less is used for amorphous stuff, like flour or sand. Thus there is less flour in the bag but fewer bags of flour in the cupboard. Also God "exists" rather than "exits".

LarryD said...

Who's Helen?

kat said...

Actually, fewer is used to compare things you can count, "Fewer children attended daily Mass," while less is used to compare things you can not count, "Mother used less sugar in her pie." (Seton Home Study School 7th grade English)

I have met too many people who are serious about their Catholic faith and married non-Catholics to recommend it to others. The believer feels constrained in their practices and the children can easily end up without much faith in anything. We need daily spiritual assistance from our spouses to persevere and that can only occur with a spouse of the same religion.

Anonymous said...

I believe it's a fact that the biggest predictor of divorce is when the spouses have two different faiths (and I consider atheism/agnosticism a belief system). It's just not a good idea for anyone of faith, Catholic or otherwise.

ceciliamschwartz said...

I'm with you, Matthew. I wouldn't marry an atheist, but I've gotten to the point where I would be open to an ecumenical football marriage. Of course, being an Ohio State fan AND a Notre Dame fan, I consider anyone who cheers for UofM an atheist.

In all seriousness, my faith is who I am. Marrying a man who didn't share my beliefs would mean denying the very core of my identity. I'm going to pass on that one!

Ben said...

Your wife is a Conservative Catholic Eagles fan? Does she have a sister ??? E -A -G-L-E-S!!!!!

Anonymous said...

No way. I married a lukewarm Protestant (whom I dearly love) who is open to converting to Catholicism but it is very difficult to reach her on some of the teachings of the Church. She has also fallen somewhat for the lie of indifferentism and that is exceedingly difficult to penetrate. Imagine if she was an atheist. Could never have married one.

Anonymous said...

be very careful about equating uneducated with "stupid".

True - it's usually the other way around.

Dave said...

My wife did and her model as a Catholic helped me to convert 4 years later. To be fair though I was not hostile to religion at that time, rather I didn't believe and wouldn't pretend. We hardly ever spoke about it and I never gave her grief about going to mass, in fact I went with her but didn't receive.

Christina said...

I would agree with the points by Jacobitess and would extend it to most individuals, whether atheist, Christian or even Catholic. For me personally, lacking a healthy sexual ethic is more of a dealbreaker than the exact religion.

Think about it. Will he stop things before they even start to go too far...or will he blame me for getting him aroused and try to guilt me into "finishing what I've started"? Will he respect my femininity as a gift and try to build it up, or will he mock and treat me like a child for those feminine traits? Will he participate in NFP or will he argue for the "easy way" of breaking my body with drugs? Will he rejoice even in the unplanned gifts from God, or will he fear and urge for their death?

Will he be willing to lay down his preferences, his sexual desires, his life for my salvation?

It's hard to be strong when you're "in love" with the person - those emotions can be blinding. You think now, "well, I'll just have a backbone and it won't be a problem..." but what if they have a backbone as well and an argument begins?

Why are we here? To know, love & serve God in this life so we can be happy with him forever in the next.

What is marriage? The union of a potentially procreative couple to provide a healthy and stable environment so their potential offspring will learn (and accept) why they are here. (not official - I just formed this on the spot and it may need improvement)

Therefore, if the potential spouse will actively fight against your growth in knowledge of God, or a child's growth, the marriage will not fulfill it's purpose and will harm you, your spouse and your children.

This makes it extremely unlikely to find a good spouse (ie: partner on the road to salvation) among atheists or even non-Catholics, no matter how "good" the person is, they will harm your relationship with God. It's hard enough even with the stacked deck of dating only those who say they belong to the Church, why make it harder?

Sarah said...

I think this situation is completely fact driven- it depends on the two people involved.

I always swore I would never marry a non-Catholic, but God had other plans for me. I'm engaged to a wonderful man who is an agnostic- we will be married in 4 months.

My fiance did not have parents who were raised in any faith tradition, and so he was never raised in a faith. As a result he honestly never thought about God until he met me.

From the very start of our relationship I made it clear to him that my faith was the number one priority in my life. He has attended mass with me every Sunday since a week after we officially began dating. I have always been upfront with him about what the Church teaches with regard to marriage, sex, birth control, openness to life etc.

He has promised me that he will agree to raise our children Catholic, and I know he means that.

While I regret that we do not share faith (at this point) through discernment I've realized God is not calling me to marry a Catholic- He wants me to act as St. Paul did- and convert the Gentiles. (That's been true in all aspects of my life.) And He has decided that evangilization will start in my home.

I pray every day that my fiance will join the Church. And I don't doubt it will happen- he always asks questions about the Faith, and is open to learning about it.

Sorry this is so long, but I guess my experience is just that you can't make a blanket statement on issues like this- it depends on the temperaments of the two people involved.

I don't think its fair to block out people, who through no fault of their own, have never had the opportunity to see the beauty of the Church.

And Christina- while I understand your concern about will he blame me etc, my experience has been that my fiance respects me so much that he's often the one stopping things before they go too far.

Perpetually Pregnant Papist said...

I object to the oversimplification that I'm seeing here. In the abstract, yes... it could be obscenely difficult and disastrous to have an orthodox Catholic married to an atheist. However, there is a difference between the general rule and the particular situation. While a "Catholic" should not marry an "atheist," I refuse to presume that God isn't calling Betsy to marry Bob.

It would also depend on why that person is an atheist. If you're talking about a "new atheist" hateful towards religion belief system, yeah that's pretty much a no brainer. But it's not so clear when you're talking about someone who was so traumatized by poor religion (think extreme Mormons in the FLDS, for example) that a personal and loving God just is beyond his or her ability to comprehend.

It is clear that from a strictly prudential light, Catholics should not marry atheists, however sometimes prudence isn't the main virtue that someone is called to. I refuse to preclude a vocation to the heroic, but it needs to be embraced as what it is: a cross, filled with suffering and martyrdom but still a place where some people are called to die to self. It's not a non-issue, and a Catholic pretending that it didn't matter clearly do not understand what they're talking about.

So, a Catholic marrying an atheist because it isn't a big deal? Not getting support from me. A Catholic marrying an atheist, knowing the sacrifices involved and feeling called to those sacrifices anyways? I would support them there.

Sabine said...

Not all these relationship differences carry the same weight. Disparity of cult is a huge divide (think Grand Canyon) in the spiritual life of married people. I have been living it for 21 plus years. Another anonymous poster mentioned about not sharing your faith being very deeply, spiritually painful even though that poster has a sacramental marriage. A couple validly married in the Church through a special dispensation for disparity of cult does not have a sacramental marriage.

One can insist, as I did, upon entering into the marriage that Catholic Church teachings will be abided by and children will be brought up in the faith. However, time goes by; 15, 16, 17 years pass, now we have teens and the still non-Catholic parent (who despite many signs of possible conversion) is still non-Catholic and sees the children growing into young adults. He wants to share his faith or world view with his children. It is possible but becomes increasingly difficult to keep standing the Catholic ground in regards to keeping a non-Catholic/Christian parent from exercising what that parent sees as their legitimate rights in regards to instructing their children.

But like Jeff Miller pointed out, who will be brought into the fold through this type of relationship? I believe, even with as incredibly hurtful this journey can be, it is possible to form a good, healthy, strong marriage with someone who is a non-believer and through your own continuing effort at being good example of Christ through the grace of God possibly bring about the salvation of that person whether or not the practicing spouse ever sees the conversion or not. (Oh - how I dislike that aspect!!!)

Anonymous said...

My wife married an atheist! Our marriage has flourished for 40 years; we have two wonderful, well-adjusted, grown children who are very happy with the choice their mother made 40 years ago. You are absolutely free to believe whatever you wish to believe, and I respect your right to do so. I would never presume to know what's best for you in your life; I would ask the same in return.

Subvet said...

I married two lukewarm CINO's and went through merry Hell with both. Boy did it suck!

Met my present wife when I was outside the Church and trying to be a generic Christian. She was a devout Methodist, which I tried also (it didn't take).

I then came back to the Church, a few years later she followed (it came after she realized the Methodist Book of Resolutions wholeheartedly endorsed "reproductive rights").

But until she decided to cross the Tiber the tensions got "interesting" at times.

My advice would be for someone to first get their own spiritual house in order, then find someone of equal conviction and a deep fervor for the Faith. FWIW, my wife currently has that fervor (why is it so many converts outdo us in that area?). Her passion for the Faith keeps me from backsliding.

Karen M. Patrick said...

I couldn't, I can't even go out for coffee with my atheist friends without trying to explain my faith to them doesn't really bode well for me marrying one. I don't think I could even manage a date with a protestant...Oh well, since I don't want to get married until after I have my bachelor's degree at 16 I still have plenty of time to find a nice Catholic guy who wants 6+ kids. :)

Leonard said...

It's a great article and the timely one too. We've all heard that story about a couple who set up an online poll, asking whether or not they should keep the baby. That's pretty much what the consequence could be if one marries someone who doesn't share his/her beliefs and values. And, considering that in our day and age, father's views don't count, the men should be extremely cautious.

Wine in the Water said...

I put it this way:

As a general rule, I think that Catholics shouldn't marry non-Catholics. If your faith is really central to your life, imagine the pain of having your spouse excluded. Imagine the lack of true unity in your union.

On a more practical level, mixed marriages almost always end up in conversion. Sometimes the spouse comes to God and the Church. But far more often the marriage ends up in a lowest common denominator of faith to which the Catholic converts even if the Catholic doesn't formally leave the Church. For women, there is another concern. Research has found that one of the primary determiners of the faith of children is the faith of the father. So Catholic women marrying a non-Catholic man is playing not only with her own faith life, but the faith life of her children.

But I have to say, this is only a general rule, not an absolute one. There are examples of spouses coming to God through their marriage. I think it is highly dangerous to assume that your marriage will be one of them (because most of them are not) but it is also stupid to deny that it happens.

The answer is discernment. The question isn't "Should I marry an atheist?" The question is "Is this the person that *God* created for me to marry?" If you have taken the effort to discern - and I mean discern like priests and religious discern, and not just fall into it by default - not just the vocation of marriage, but the person for that marriage and God points you to a non-Catholic, then follow God. And remember, it is the exception and not the rule.

Anonymous said...

Who cares? You cannot count on faithfulness anyway.

Glad I do not waste my time getting involved.

Amy said...

When I met the man who became my husband, I could have married an atheist; I was -- for all intents and purposes -- one myself.

Then I changed.

Now, I could not marry an atheist. I apologize, but I just couldn't. My faith is too deeply a part of who I am to marry someone who thinks it's nonsense/fake/oppressive/unenlightened...

Anonymous said...

One of the ways Catholicism spread in pagan socities was via marriage, typically of (newly) Catholic women to pagan men this happend in the Greco-Roman ancient world. In the middle ages pagan warlords who converted as a mater of diplomacy to marry girls of Catholic royal families sometimes ended up as truly devout (St. Vladimir of Kiev, King Jagello of Lithuania, etc.) In the Americas the French Jesuits typically had much greater success converting women native-Americans and through them the faith would spread to children and occasionally husbands. Also I think Eric the Red and even John Wayne come to mind as examples of people who converted to Catholicism at least partially due to a Catholic spouse.

Anyway I know athiests are diffrent than pagans, but the precedent of spouses being drawn to the faith, even if the journey takes many decades, is there.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Folks... he's not asking if it's OK, he's asking if you could do it.

Leah said...

I converted mine first! Although he was only a functional atheist (believed that God existed, but it didn't have an impact on his thoughts or actions). If he had not had the seeds of Catholicism already (he agreed with a lot of Church teachings, such as sexual ethics), I would have kept looking for someone better.

I think in general if the guy weren't Catholic or almost Catholic (as in extremely likely to convert in the near future), I would not bother, and that's what I'm going to tell my kids, too. I had a former boyfriend who was an agnostic pay my religion lip service, and lead me down the primrose path telling me that he would convert or that things would be fine if he didn't, but eventually I found out that he had no inclination to agree with just about anything Catholicism teaches, and it was a dealbreaker.

Marriage prep classes these days really emphasize that both couples should be on the same page about really important and fundamental things, especially how to raise children. I understand that some people can come to the same conclusions as the Catholic Church without being Catholic (see G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy), but as for even considering dating an atheist... why set yourself up for probable failure?

renaissanceguy said...

What is the purpose of marriage?

It is not to be united with an attractive person or even to a "nice" person. It is not to be united to a person who will merely *tolerate* our religious views.

First, it is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His Bride (the Church). Second, it is to propagate a godly heritage, if God blesses the couple with children.

I think any discussion of marrying an atheist is completely missing the *point* of marriage.

Evelyn said...

I am way too devoted to the Eucharist to consider marrying even a non-Catholic. I converted while married to a Protestant, and it was Catholicism that set me free from the abusive insanity that being married to a fundamentalist can be. I do have atheist friends, but there is a big difference between my relationship with the ones who think I'm deluded, versus the ones who can acknowledge that my completely different reality might actually be valid.

lisag said...

For me the problem with marring an atheist would be knowing that my spouse would go to hell. Our Father in heaven may show mercy on their soul, but I couldn't rely on that.

justanothercatholic said...

I was an atheist when I proposed to a beautiful Catholic girl. It all worked out according to God's plan, but I can't imagine most having the same experience. You inspired me to blog about it at littlewayofthefamily.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/marrying-an-atheist/

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