The bibles confusing message
It is not easy to read your scripture and figure out what the bible thinks of marriage. Whether or not you should even get married as a believer is brought into question in 1 Corinthians 7:32-40. That section of scripture is full of confusion. Paul goes back and forth on the benefits of staying unmarried, and going ahead and getting married. Paul even goes as far to say that you are not sinning if you go ahead and get married (v. 36), but that he would recommend you not get married (v. 38). Paul does leave us with a little levity in this thought that he says “I think that I also have the Spirit of God” (v. 40). Well, at least he only “thinks” he has the spirit of god. Maybe, he is talking out of his ass. Maybe, he is speaking with the full inspiration of god.
Then there is the issue of what to do if you are a believer, and your spouse is an unbeliever. My wife, who is a believer, has been told from “Pastors” that she has the right to leave because I am unfit to lead my family spiritually. Here is the thing, when you look at scripture it is easy to see both sides. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 makes it clear that a believer must be separate from unbelievers. However, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 makes it clear that unless the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, then the believing spouse “must not divorce” (v. 12 &13) that spouse. To be clear, I think a divorce should be the freedom of an individual, not a fairy god in the skies opinion. However, for my wife she values what is morally right within the context of the Christian bible, and this is no doubt a difficult place to find the answer. For her, she has simply had to decide personally what she feels is right, and why our marriage matters.
Why it still matters
Marriage has to matter to you personally. One of the most offensive things I hear as an atheist is that I must not care about life anymore. I have also heard the question of why my marriage should matter as well. Personally, all I can think when people suggest such outlandish things is that their indoctrination must run really deep. The strange thing to me is that Christians are always talking about how much they long for Jesus’ return and to be with Jesus in heaven. It seems to me that the Christian has more to answer for why this life matters, and why their marriage matters, if all they long for has to do with this apparent next life. Nevertheless, marriage matters because relationship matters. Even other species are social creatures. I have an amazing dog who will not even let me go to the bathroom by myself, and loves to be with me and our family as much as possible. Community simply makes things better, and this is true no matter what species you belong to. It seems to be only humans really that can manage to be alone entirely, but even humans do not seem to do it very well. Relationships are challenging, and rewarding. You can certainly end up in some very bad ones (I have had my fair share of bad ones, even being divorced), but you can also end up in some amazing relationships. I am not even necessarily talking about specifically marriages on that point. People can be amazing, and yes they can even be horrible. You cannot really know until you get out there and try to meet others. You will meet the most amazing people ever, and then you will meet the most horrible people ever. Marriage is worth it because of the connection that you can have with another individual. The level that you can get into through that commitment of marriage is something that is simply not possible with a one night stand.
Finding common ground
Creeds are an important part of most cultures. Throughout history, creeds are something that people of all walks of life and religions have used to hold their society together under a shared set of values and beliefs. Often times we consider these creeds to be parts of our core character, and whether or not we hold to them dearly, we would rather risk dying then to let go of them. When I think of creeds, and the importance that we allow them to play in our lives I cannot help but think of when I was a teenager out on my grandparents farm. I always found it interesting that with several hundred acres for cows to roam, in general, they would always take the same paths when moving around to graze. They actually would take the same path so often that the grass would no longer be able to survive and ultimately with thriving grass around this path, where they walked most often, a trail with only dirt would form. We all seem to be creatures of habit. I believe that when it comes to our creeds this is the dirt path we have formed in our minds. It is the most comfortable, and the most familiar. I have spent the majority of my life walking a path of the Christian creed. The majority of the rest of my family is still on this path of the Christian creed. It seems as though, more often than not, many choose to stay on a path for social reasons more then actual committed beliefs in those creeds.
In marriage, what is important is that we find areas where our foot trodden paths cross. Hopefully, and most likely, our paths cross more then what society, and the bible would like us to think. When we hold different creeds this can seem to be an impossible task, but if both are willing to put in the work to make the marriage a priority then this is possible. For my experience, my wife and I came from two completely different backgrounds. The ironic thing is that I was the one that came from the fundamental ultra-conservative background, while she came from a more liberal view of Christianity. This has made the process a lot easier to navigate. I want to glean two things from our experience to share with you for hope. First, I was the fundamental ultra-conservative baptist spouse. I was not just believing in these things, but even preaching the fundamental message across the world. I point this out to give you hope, whether you are the same as me, and have become an atheist that you are not alone. I also point this out if you happen to be the liberal Christian who became an atheist and are concerned that your fundamental spouse will never change, it is possible for them to change their views. The second thing I want us to take away from my own experience is that having different beliefs in the big questions of life is not a nail in the coffin in your marriage. At first, it may seem that way, but if you can find common ground you can move forward with this different set of beliefs. This has not been an easy transition, but it is possible to come out the other end still together. Now, this is still very new in our marriage, so I do not speak from guaranteed knowledge that it will 100% work out despite our differences in beliefs. However, what my wife and I know is that differences in beliefs is a silly reason to end a marriage that is based on love and friendship. Because here is the reality, with or without the same beliefs, it is the same kind of hard.
After all, it is the same kind of hard
Let’s be honest, marriage is not built on religious beliefs, but rather the morals and values that we hold dear. More often then not, someones religious beliefs likely lines up with what their morals and values are, but this does not mean that this is why they necessarily have those morals and beliefs. There are definitely big issues that people allow their religious beliefs to cloud like homosexual marriage, abortion, interracial marriages, etc. However, surprisingly the statistics do NOT support that these are mainstream beliefs of most Christians. So, chances are, when you break it down to what your spouse believes instead of what their particular religion holds in their doctrinal statement of beliefs, it is likely going to be drastically different. Marriage is hard, no matter what you believe, no matter what age you get married, no matter what your finances are. The problems of relationship conflict likely have very little to do with what you believe about god, and more to do with what you believe about your spouse. Couples counseling, individual therapy, and even medication are all things that could help a couple work through their issues. I want to recommend a book to you by Dale McGowan called In Faith and in Doubt. This book is wonderful for helping you navigate the waters of a secular/religious marriage. Keep on keeping on, and keep working at your marriage. After all, it is so totally worth it.
The godless Pastor,
Billy J. Crocker