I've run into this disagreement with my boyfriend several times throughout the four years that we've been together. So here goes:

For all intents and purposes, he is an atheist.  To me, all this means is that when asked if he believes in a god or higher power, he answers, "no."  That aside, he regularly debunks christian thinking, listens to podcasts for skeptics and atheists, reads literature by prominent atheists and more.  I didn't learn until recently that before we started dating, he didn't think much about theism or skepticism.  Back then, he didn't go to mass or talk about god, so I think I just assumed.  He says that he didn't really share the faith of the catholic church, but that he saw more good than bad in the institution of it.  He says that dating me challenged him to look into the topic more and that now there's no way that he can go back.  Despite all of this, he adamantly refuses to call himself an atheist.  I tend to continue to bring this topic up with him for a number of reasons.  Some of these reasons are: 1) I find that this only gives the misunderstandings of atheists more power (the more we avoid the label the more we are saying that it is a bad thing that we won't touch with a 10 foot stick), 2) In our conversations, I see him acting out of fear for perceived consequences that may or may not be real, and 3) I will admit that, even though it might be silly, I feel a little hurt that he treats a label that I embrace with such passionate mistrust.

So the question is, do I continue to broach the topic or do I let it be?

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1) I find that this only gives the misunderstandings of atheists more power (the more we avoid the label the more we are saying that it is a bad thing that we won't touch with a 10 foot stick)

I agree with you, but, push come to shove, this is something personal.  When it comes to personal philosophy and labels, we have to account to ourselves first and foremost.  Has he disclosed the actual reasons he dislikes identifying as an atheist?  Reasons can vary.  I have always been an atheist, myself, but there was a period of time in my life where I dropped the word 'atheist' for the most part.  I was just tired of being pigeonholed all the time.  Perhaps your boyfriend has reasons you haven't yet considered.

 2) In our conversations, I see him acting out of fear for perceived consequences that may or may not be real,

As in backlash for being openly atheist?  I suppose you can lead by example here, but it's hard to force someone out of their shell when they are convinced that they won't be accepted for something.  Atheism is really common where I live, so admittedly, I have a bit of a hard time understanding this one with any depth.

3) I will admit that, even though it might be silly, I feel a little hurt that he treats a label that I embrace with such passionate mistrust.

I don't think it is silly, but that doesn't mean that it's correct either.  Have you asked him directly how he feels about you openly identifying as an atheist?  His feelings on how he identifies himself with the term and how he identifies the term in connection with your atheism may be two entirely different things.  If he says he respects your atheism, you'd probably just have to take his word at face value.

So the question is, do I continue to broach the topic or do I let it be?

Ultimately, it's his business how he self-identifies.  As long as he respects your views and your atheism, he shouldn't be expected to adopt a term that doesn't resonate with him.  I can see why you might want to continue the dialogue for at least two reasons. i) You're in a relationship with him, so connecting on these issues is quite possibly important.  ii) If you're concerned that he's simply avoiding the stigma associated with the term, then perhaps you want to help.  Perhaps I'm completely off the mark with both of those.  My point is only that I don't think it's wrong to want to pursue the topic, but at the end of the day, I don't think we're the ones to ask.  Have you asked him directly if it bothers him?  And if it does, have you asked him why the conversation bothers him?  If it does, I'd wager that this is one of those personal boundaries that you'd just have to respect.  If the conversation continues, it has to be on the terms that work for him.

Obviously that's all just opinion.  My understanding of the situation is incomplete.  Grain of salt and all. 


Absolutely good insight and great advice.  Thank you!  Ultimately he and I communicate well, it just sometimes takes us a bit of time to get to the core of the issue.  We revisited the topic today, and he admitted that the decision is most likely out of fear and that he doesn't like it but he's just not where I'm at yet - and that I can completely accept and respect.

Great video, thanks!  He makes some very cogent arguments (which I of course loved), but I don't know that he did a good enough job addressing the issue of fear.  Someone who is fearful of how others will react to the label may just turn a deaf ear to the "you're making us look small" argument.

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