DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 24 year old man, dating a 27 year old woman. As it happens, I am an avowed secularist, and I very much consider that an important part of my identity, and I ultimately have little respect for religious belief. I generally view it as a social ill, and yet, I ended up in a relationship with a religious woman.
I absolutely don’t consider her bad, or mean, or what have you for that; in fact, she’s amazingly kind and sweet, and is a very level-headed and empathetic person; we also share a lot of other tastes, and she doesn’t really consider many mundane interests “sinful” either, so that’s not at all the problem. The issue is more with how the disconnect in beliefs is making me feel.
We didn’t discuss beliefs at first, but I mentioned my stance in a story while we were chatting about a week ago, and we discussed it up to a minor point, where she said that she was raised in a fairly traditional Evangelical Christian family, but doesn’t really know much about her tradition. By contrast, I was born into a sort of progressive, “social gospel” Mainline Protestant family, but after a lot of thought in terms of the sciences, philosophy, and ethics, decided that I could never be religious again. As it turned out, she is fairly okay with LGBTQ+ people, has severe doubts as to the existence of hell (and I would have broken up with her had she answered otherwise), and is also fairly sexual and not against sex before marriage. That being said, she still holds a lot to anti-science views, and that is something I feel uncomfortable with as well. She has had little occasion to question those views, and I want to bring it up, but her words are a bit ambiguous as to whether she’d be receptive to much discussion of that at all.
This does matter to me, quite a bit, because I believe that one must reconcile scientific findings and realities with their beliefs, and that it is wrong to deny things like evolution, modern geological science, etc. because these things absolutely impact our daily lives and ignoring them is a way of getting screwed over on a personal and also systemic level.
The other issue I have here is that, as mentioned before, I have severe issues with Christianity as an ideology, for multiple reasons, which I don’t have time to go over here, and while I can deal with it in family who still believe, after all, they’re family, I have reservations about letting a new person into my life with those beliefs. I fear if I only try to talk about the anti-science stuff, then that will create the impression that that was the only problem, and leave the root somewhat unaddressed, only to cause more problems later.
With all that in mind, once again, it seems to me that she has simply never been confronted with much in the way of doubts or objections (that she is from a much rural area than me is another factor in that, no doubt), and I wonder if a frank discussion about my views and my path there may be productive; she is also quite level-headed, caring, and understanding (she had no objections to me not believing, she told me). I very much want to dissuade her from beliefs that I am firmly convinced are making her life and the world as a whole worse, but I’m not so sure that’s what I should want…
So, what do you think? How should I approach all of this? Should I try to see if I’ll accept a compromise? Should I broach the topic at all?
DEAR OATHBREAKER: Here’s my question, Oathbreaker: what’s the actual problem here? Thus far, it seems that she’s fairly open-minded and non-dogmatic. While I’d be a little concerned with “is ok with LGBTQ people” (depending on what, exactly, “ok” means in this case), it doesn’t sound like she’s of the stripe that wants to force others to live by her rules. If her relationship with God and Jesus is just that — her relationship — and she’s cool with other folks doing their own thing, then where’s the conflict? I have a number of religious friends of many different faiths and traditions — pagan, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu — and while I may find some aspects of various beliefs to be… well, let’s just say, not something I would believe in… we don’t really have any conflicts in terms of what we do or don’t believe.
To be fair: most of what we discuss tends to be in the abstract; we’re all in agreement on things like religious belief doesn’t get to dictate who gets rights and who doesn’t. We may discuss whether Jesus actually fulfilled the prophecy of the Jewish messiah or not, or the validity of the gospel of Paul, whether “druidic” traditions are a scam or not or if Nordic pagan traditions are suspect because of the intersection of white-supremacists… but we’re also cool with the fact that they may believe one thing that the others don’t, and vice versa. Much as people will say “your kink is not my kink and that’s ok”, their faith (or lack thereof) is not MY faith (or lack thereof) and that’s fine.
(Now debates about cuisine are another matter; gotta be careful there, or you’re gonna have a fight on your hands. Food is serious business.)
I mention this because going by your letter, it seems like your only real issue is, well, that she’s Christian. Not that she’s tried to impose her beliefs on you or others, not that her faith has interfered in any meaningful way with your relationship or even that you’ve argued about how to raise your kids. Just that she’s religious and holds some anti-science views. Which, hey, potentially problematic, sure. But what is she doing with those views? Is she, say, refusing to mask up when going out? Does she protest against teaching geology or evolution at school? Or does she hold these views without actually trying to impose them on others?
If it’s the former, yeah, I can see that as being an issue. A lot of people who are anti-science are helping COVID have it’s surge here. If it’s the latter, then while I can see it as being annoying or frustrating, I don’t know if it’s that big of a deal. Someone can not like vaccines or think they’re bulls--t and I’ll side-eye the hell out of ’em for it, but if they and their kids get their pertussis and MMR jabs anyway, then side-eyeing is as far as I go.
If I’m being frank, you sound a little like an evangelical atheist, and those always stick in my craw. Trying to compel someone out of faith isn’t any less obnoxious than someone who keeps badgering you to find Jesus; the only real difference is which team you’re on. And while we could go on about the evils that people have done in the name of faith and dogma… if the issue is just that she has beliefs you don’t approve of, then that’s more of a you problem than a her problem. And while I can understand wanting to draw someone away from something you fear may be harming them, that’s literally the same rationale for preaching the gospel.
Not to mention, you really don’t seem to be taking her feelings about it into account. If belief in God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, the Tao, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the Lion Turtle from the age of Ravaa brings her comfort, security or happiness, trying to argue her out of it because you don’t approve is a pretty presumptive and kinda s--tty thing to do. Especially if she’s not pushing her beliefs on others. She’s respecting your choice; why shouldn’t she get the same courtesy?
The way I see it, you have two choices. You accept her faith as part of who she is — and what made her into the person you fell for, I might add — and agree to live and let live. Maybe over time, her faith will change (without your direct prompting). Or maybe it won’t. Either way, she may not have problems with your not believing now, but if you keep trying to change her faith, she may well start having some.
The other choice is that you end things now, chalk it up to a fundamental incompatibility and find yourself a nice atheist to settle down with.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org