Hey all, just wanted to see if I could get your advice. I came out to my wife as an atheist this past January and now I'm struggling to figure out how I handle this issue with my children.
To give a bit more context... historically, my wife and I were very devout evangelistic Christians. I came from a pentecostal background, my wife grew up non-denominational.... she is also a missionary's kid. We met in bible school; I was also a music minister for a few years. God has basically been the focal point of our lives and the concept that we organized ourselves around. About two years ago I went on a personal journey to understand more about my faith, and unexpectedly it ended with me discarding the idea of religious faith and god altogether.
I still love my wife very much and I don't expect her to be on the same page as me on religion, especially since I didn't even expect this for myself. My wife begged me, for the children's sake, to continue to go to church and to keep my atheism to myself. For the moment, I've agreed to continue going to church; I use that time to journal and reflect (oddly, as a result of a lifetime of conditioning I still find that there is something very serene about being in the church sanctuary...). However, I realize that this arrangement is only temporary. I'm not sure how to approach this issue with my wife... trying to be true to myself while respecting her feelings and beliefs on the matter.
I've been working on my children indirectly for the last 3 months by stretching their critical thinking skills and challenging them with a broader worldview. My hope was that over time they would come to see religion as I do, but on their own terms... Or if not, at least they would be more rational about their faith (if that is possible).
Anyway, what has your experience been, and what ideas do you all have about how I should handle this situation... if it was just my wife it would be a lot easier, but having children in the mix complicates things quite a bit.
A man is judged by his words, actions and deeds. Trust in your children, be honest with them and finally show them the Love you have in your heart for them.
…unexpectedly it ended with me discarding the idea of religious faith and god altogether.
Good for you Israel.
….trying to be true to myself while respecting her feelings and beliefs on the matter.
That is a two-way street. You could explain to your wife why you are no longer a believer and that your view is equally worthy of respect – that is, your right to hold it and not the belief itself. Bear in mind that because she has so much of her “self” invested in her faith that it will be an emotional process at the start before any real intellectual debate starts. I have met people with similar stories. I would suggest that it might be better for you to wait it out until she asks you to explain. It should always be a discussion and never an argument.
You are trying to be honest. Keeping up the pretence will eventually get to you, especially when you really see how transparent and false it is. Christian neighbors will always be the first to judge and gossip about you!
I would not worry too much about the children. I assume they are still quite young. You approach to the development of their critical thinking skill is the way to go. If they ask you if God exists, get a bit Socratic about it and ask them what they mean by God or what do they think themselves. In 10 or 15 years’ time most Americans under 25 will have no religious affiliation anyway. It won’t be a thing. See first article in today’s Sunday School.
…if it was just my wife it would be a lot easier, but having children in the mix complicates things quite a bit.
Don’t over complicate it. Remember you have not lost anything. You have gained the freedom to think freely and to be able to give your children a viewpoint that they are probably not getting elsewhere.
Daniel Dennett talks about the “Four R’s” when it comes to teaching children. So after “Reading, Riting and Rithmitic” comes Religion. We should teach children about all major religions from a historical perspective and how different people have different religions. This should allow children to grow up with a better understanding of the world and with a greater respect for what makes us different.
I may be stepping over the line here so excuse any presumptions. I suspect your wife may be more concerned about what the impact of you “outing” yourself would be to the family’s social standing. I am assuming most of your family and friends are of the same faith. Unfortunately I know of too many cases where people have been shunned as they almost feel a sense of betrayal.
Sometimes people think they are being rejected. They take it as a personal affront that someone has “rejected God”. They don’t quite grasp that it has nothing to do with them. Recently I had a person that I have been doing some charity work with for a few years refuse to work alongside me because they found out I was an atheist. In three years we never discussed religion or atheism. What is really going on is that I have inadvertently challenged them to consider their own beliefs. It is easier to dismiss me and think I am wrong than to question for themselves how someone they know could be an atheist.
I suppose my main advice would be to continue as you are for now. Let people see that you are happier and more content than ever before. Let them see nothing bad has happened to you. Then allow them to question you in their own time.
There are several good resources linked here.
As Reg says, don't over think it.
LOTS of people have "mixed marriages" over politics, religion, sports teams, race, etc.
The main problem with religion is that SOME people hold it in a different category, as they were brainwashed to consider it a gauge of if you are a good person or not, and other silly concerns such as you going to hell, what will the other people at church think, etc.
Kids DO tend to believe whatever their parents do, as a strong tendency. Some (yourself for example), reached an age of reason, and essentially said "I have decided that there's no Santa Claus, mom and dad are buying the presents".
Some never reach it, some reach it ONLY when they feel safe.
They are made to NOT FEEL SAFE, by brainwashing them that they are bad people who will go to hell if they stop believing, etc.
So, think of it as similar to the kids finding out there's no tooth fairy, easter bunny, santa claus, boogy man, etc....even though they were told THERE WAS.
They do adjust.
As to the specifics of how you do all that, including get along with the wife, raise the kids, etc, there is no one perfect answer, as woman are not all the same, all kids are not the same, and not all relationships are the same.
You will have to do it the same way you have already muddled through your life until now...trial and error, epiphanies and fights, etc.
The important thing is not to try to "win" the argument...its to win the right to have your own beliefs.
So, if married while both still religious, she MIGHT think of it as bait and switch...it STILL IS a pivotal part of HER life.
Think about how YOU would have reacted if SHE had declared herself an atheist after your marriage but before YOUR coming out.
Act/react accordingly....taking that into account, and thinking about what would help if SHE said or did/did not do it, etc....so YOU can.
If you can imagine/picture YOURSELF reacting to the news of HER atheism when YOU were still religious...and what YOU might be feeling/thinking/worrying about...it will help you to anticipate here concerns now, and comfort her.
Don't try to convince her to be an atheist, just that you ARE...as her acceptance of it means she can love you as you are.
These things are sequential/phased....nothing will be settled on an immediate basis along these lines.
Do not panic is an INITIAL reaction is to say she's leaving you, etc...as she may think, at the time, that she HAS TO.
Later, she may reflect on it, and come around.