Not necessarily a question in general about how to talk to women, but a particular woman: my wife. She and I are not openly religious; in fact over the years I’ve grown to become an Atheist. She doesn’t really have much beyond a belief of a heaven and an afterlife and has a general belief in God (without much in the line of reading the Bible). She’s experienced loss early in her life, losing her father at a young age, and since we’ve been together, our niece committed suicide, my grandfather, and my aunt had passed. We have two small children about to turn 3 and 4. Anytime the conversation of religion comes up, I share my thoughts and all it does is make her upset. Is there an easier way to have this important conversation together without making her feel hopeless? I feel perfectly fine with my beliefs (or lack thereof) but she thinks differently than I do and certainly doesn’t see the role in the same way. I’m also on the fence about deceiving our children with tales of Santa or the Easter Bunny and don’t know how to have this conversation without it turning into some kind of argument. Any help here would be most welcome. I’ve tried reaching out to other Atheist groups for advice on the matter, but no responses yet.
Bit of backstory on myself: grew up in a divorced family, father kept a Christian house and forced us kids to accept JC at an early age. As I grew, so did my skepticism. By college, I felt more agnostic than Christian, and more into recent years, moved towards a more Atheistic approach and have felt liberated in my thoughts ever since.
At a Loss for Words
Dear Loss for Words,
I’m humbled that you would reach out to me with such a heavy and important question, especially because I am completely unqualified to answer it—I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and literally the only time I have consistently gone to church was when I was getting paid to sing in church choirs in college (which is a bomb gig with a mad donut perks FYI). So if I give you terrible advice and ruin your family…I’m sorry?
In my family, religion was mocked and scorned to the point where calling someone a Christian was equivalent to calling them an idiot. My parents were such zealous atheists, that when I was 16, instead of smoking weed or listening to death metal, I rebelled by attending a weekly Christian youth group with a super fine straight edge guy I met at Pier 1 Imports.
That’s right…I picked up a guy at Pier 1 Imports. #DontHateThePlayaHateTheGame
Pier 1 guy (let’s call him Kyle) spent a summer trying to teach me about the resurrection, and I spent a summer trying to get my hands on his res-ERECTION in my papasan chair. When my parents found out I was going to a Christian youth group, they were furious (way more furious than they would have been if they found out I was trying to pop it in my papasan). My dad even staged an all-out intervention sit-down where he told me I was being brainwashed and that I would end up a Republican – which in my household was worse than ending up in prison.
All that resistance did was make me more interested in this forbidden thing called religion. I started listening to Christian rock, wearing a cross, I even read like 7 pages of the Bible (non-Phil Collins related Genesis is mad boring so I didn’t make it very far). Like many teen rebellions, my interest in Jesus faded when I realized Kyle wasn’t interested in me (Kyle was in fact interested in other Kyles, and he now practices a religion called “gaytheism”).
Anyway, not the point.
The point is that when I sat down to answer your question, I immediately thought of 10+ other stories to tell you about my own relationship to faith – from my disastrous accidental first communion to my darkest moments spent praying to a god I’ve never believed in. Some of my stories about faith are embarrassing, some are funny (come on, that res-ERECTION joke was a good one), and some are deeply sad and incredibly personal.
Your wife has her own stories.
Her relationship with faith is so so so much more complex than simply whether she believes some bearded dude woke up from a death nap. It is mired in personal history, family tragedy, culture, economics, politics, sex, and death. Religion is so mixed up and ground into who we are, that we as a species continuously kill each other over it. What we’re killing each other over, is a right to our stories.
So, my advice to you, is to allow your wife to keep the faith, whatever that means to her. Respect her stories. You do not need to agree on whether all dogs go to heaven or Mary boned the holy ghost. All you need to agree on is that each of you has a right to your stories.
You have children, and it is understandable to believe you need a united front when it comes to whether to raise your kids in a faith. But I actually think the most beneficial thing you can do for your children is demonstrate that two people can believe different things and still love and respect each other. Seriously, what a fucking fantastic lesson for them!? Parenting achievement un-fucking-locked.
So, now I’ve spent all this damn time talking about religion, when actually I don’t think your question is about religion at all. Your question is basically “how do I talk to the person I love the most about something big that we disagree on”. This question applies to politics, money, sex…literally anything big and hard (like a res-ERECTION LOLOLOL…sorry). The good news is, the answer to your question is pretty simple:
Listen without interrupting or pointing out where you disagree. Listen to the whole of her experience, her beliefs, and her feelings, her stories, and then when it is your turn….
Let me say that one more time:
Share your own stories.
Oh, and re: the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, both are creepy AF but kids seem to like that shit. Let your kids have a little holiday fun, but for (maybe-nonexistent) God’s sake, don’t engage with that nightmare-inducing Elf on the Shelf monstrosity. That shit is twisted.