The fact that I'm an atheist and my fiancée is Shinto has never led to arguments or doubts about our commitment to each other. Unlike the Abrahamic religions that I grew up around which spawn fear and violence, Shinto seems fairly harmless. This doesn't make it true, but it is interesting to note that there isn't a "book of Shinto" which purports to contain a divine truth. Dogmatism simply doesn't exist in the Shinto mainstream because most Japanese don't take it that seriously. They visit shrines every now and then and enjoy the ceremony but on the streets of Tokyo, Shinto takes a backseat to...just about everything  Shinto is irregular because while other religions try to ignore their fairytale nature and embrace the "message", Shinto does not. This is because, with the exception of some minor sects, Shinto has no official message, no book. It only has its mythology. Any proverbs or teachings in Japan are just cultural.

My love is an example of a devout Shinto. She takes it very seriously and for her, the kami are a big part of her life. This is a result of her very traditional upbringing by her mother (a woman who was in many ways a mother to me in the short time I knew her, as well as a friend). But the only religious beliefs she has is that everything will turn out for the best and it's not good to litter. Naïve, yet eco-friendly. This is the extent that religion has on her world views. She also attributes natural phenomena to the work of the kami, but in the way that a Christian fundamentalist might believe that God caused a tsunami because he hates gay people. No, she understands that the Earth is cooling and that the continents sit on tectonic plates that rub against each other. I've explained the scientific laws that show the causes and effects that make the world go round. But to her, since the kami created the world (more accurately, they are a part of it), they are responsible for the laws that govern it. This is neither an idea that I can disprove to her, but neither do I see it as a "dangerous idea"

And here's my dilemma. I don't want to disprove it. Her faith helped her through a difficult time in her life. From infancy to the day she escaped her abusive father, she had hope. That was because she had the irrational notion that things were going to turn out alright when pragmatically they wouldn't. She believed every day is a gift from the kami. That life is a beautiful blessing. I can't exactly look her in the eye and say "No it isn't the kami aren't real" Now I'm able to spiritually enjoy the objective complexities of nature and derive aesthetic pleasure from scientific discoveries. But she wouldn't. So of course I'd never flat out tell her the kami are a myth but we come dangerously close to that topic whenever she asks me about something science related. I'm not a genius but I have a better than average understanding of nature. So she likes to ask me questions if she doesn't understand something or we look it up together if she asks me something I don't know. She's very curious and loves to learn. I just don't want my atheism to rub off on her because I think her faith is actually beneficial in a way. I want to preserve it. Is that wrong? It feel kind of wrong. If she was of any other faith I would try to "redpill" her. Is this a double standard, or would that be submitting to the fallacy that we should treat every religious belief in the exact same way? Am I guilty of trying to maintain her ignorance for the sake of bliss or would I be guilty in overstepping my bounds and destroying something important to her?

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Hi Cato,

My girlfriend is Greek Orthodox so there is also a disparity between our views. She is very intelligent but also emotional. I believe it is mainly this emotional side of her that ties her to the religion. As you probably know religion is a very important part of the Greek community and this is particularly the case in Cyprus where her mother is from. She hates the preachy atheists like Richard Dawkins because, as she puts it, they care far more about it than she does. What she means is that she just incorporates going to church (albeit rarely) and wearing a cross as part of belonging to a community and does not wish to engage in strong arguments about the existence of God or the truth of the bible. That is not the parts of religion she is interested in. She made me realise that not every religious person is evangelical.

I understand you said your girlfriend is more devout than this but my point is that it is only worth tackling something if it is causing a problem. Plenty of my friends believe in ghosts but I don't spend my time arguing with them about it because their viewpoint causes no problems. Now, of course, religious beliefs can cause problems but they don't always cause problems. It seems to me that your girlfriend's views are benign. I would advise that you live and let live in this case. My only caveat to this would be if she allowed these views to start negatively affecting her behaviour. For example, if she refused to take medicine because the "kami" are against it, etc.

Well yes that was my conclusion as well. For a long time I was happy that we could just not talk about it in serious terms. And she'd never not do the right thing because of her beliefs. But recently it seems like she's been probing me. Not in a conscious way, I know she has no ill intent. But she steers our conversations towards an inevitable confrontation. As I said, she likes to ask me questions about things. Just any sort of thing. For instance, the other day she asked me what the difference between a lunar and solar eclipse. The stuff that people nowadays whip their phones out to Google, she runs by me first. And you know how children ask "why?" questions, and when given an answer, proceed to ask "why?" that is the way it is. She does a variation of that. It's actually inspiring to see persistent curiosity and thirst of knowledge when other millennials are content with reading a Huffington Post headline and calling it a day. But several times her inquisitive regressions have come dangerously close to touching on whether or not the kami exist. And it is at this point that I don't know what to do. I could explain to her that a scientific and logical conclusion would determine that, given the present evidence, no they do not. But I worry that instilling doubts may be detrimental to her character. If say, tomorrow she were an atheist, the sunrise would just be a sunrise and not as she may have previously interpreted it as a "blessing". Now to me, a sunrise is a brilliant illusion that reminds me of the awesome fact that I am standing on a pale blue dot orbiting a nuclear fireball which is just one of many in our grand and mysterious cosmos, about which we are constantly learning new things. This realization of scale is humbling and inspiring. But I don't think she could share that with me. So I am faced with the opportunity to keep the status quo (which is really great right now) by silently reinforcing her beliefs by not letting science challenge them. Is it "ethical" as an atheist to reinforce faith if it means someone being happy? It's one thing to let people believe what they want but it's another to go out of your way to maintain their ignorance.

I understand your dilemma. I generally like to live and let live but if someone presses me on these issues I will stand my ground and say what I think. However, I try not to sound aggressive or defensive, merely matter of fact. My approach is normally two-fold:

1) How would I choose a religion if (for whatever reason) I had to do so? I do not believe in any of them and none of them can be proved or disproved as they require faith so as a neutral my best position is to just carry on as I am. There's nothing for me personally to be gained from subscribing to one or another. 

I remember an atheist comedian once saying something like "Both Muslims and Christians think that their religion is the true one and the other is completely false. I think they're both half-right."

2) I explain that there are many things that are non-disprovable (I often use the examples of ghosts, psychic abilities, astrology) but life goes on the same for me whether they are true or not. Therefore as an atheist I do not (day-to-day) actively deny these things but simply do not consider them.

It's not easy though. When someone is genuinely curious you can feel a sense of responsibility that maybe your answers are going to shake their world-view. However, in my experience it does not happen this way. If someone is going to move away from a deeply embedded position (like a religion) this happens gradually over a long period of time. Some conversation, or book, or idea may be the final straw but that person had started that journey a long time ago inside their own head. 

That's a good point. I suppose it's a little arrogant to think I could, without even trying, convince someone that their religion is false overnight. But Mizuki trusts just about everything that I say. And it's not overnight, I'm going to be spending my life with this person. I can only hope that after a while, we just sort of get comfortable with that idea. and stuff like this wont really matter.

Have you thought about when/if you have children?

Well that isn't really something we've talked about. We can't have our own kids and I wouldn't feel comfortable adopting.

Does her faith harm anyone? (It seems like the answer is no.) Does her faith cause her to support and/or defend others who harm people? (It seems like the answer is no.) Is she open to learning?  (It seems like the answer is yes.)

If those are the correct answers for her, then why try to change her mind? Through her openness to learning she will potentially become an atheist in her own time. Since she is not harming or helping others do harm, there is no need to curb her belief. This is why it's not a double standard.

Moderate Christians and Muslims help and/or defend the fundamentalists who are a danger so indirectly the moderates are a danger too. If a moderate Christian has no dangerous tendencies of their own and actively works against the fundamentalists, then they too are fairly safe to leave alone - although it would be better if they were open to learning about the real world.

So I see no dilemma.


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