My wife and I are having an ongoing disagreement. I’m sure that many of you have dealt with similar situation, so I am curious to hear others’ advice or comments.

Quick version: Atheist dad (me) and generally agnostic/ deist-leaning wife and two kids. She recently starting wanting to begin bringing the kids to church, I’m against it. We are both somewhere between strong-willed and stubborn. Unhappiness ensues.

Long version:
I’m a zen buddhism-influenced strong atheist and a research scientist, raised in a Lutheran home, and have been a non-believer for about 20 years, since I was in highschool. I’ve known my wife for 15 years, and been married for 10. We have two great kids, ages 6 and 3. I work long hours, but keep family as my top priority.

I talked about my non-belief years ago with my parents, but it’s kind of a don’t ask-don’t tell situation with them. They know we don’t go to church but don’t talk about it, and I’m willing to go rarely with them on Christmas eve or Easter, things like that, just to be respectful of them. Even went with a church wedding because it was a lovely building with well done music, accomodated the crowd well, and it made wife’s terminally ill father and the rest of our families happy.

My wife is somewhere between agnostic and vaguely deist if I were to give her a label. She was raised as a fairly liberal Italian-American Catholic, so she fits into the common deal of being culturally Catholic, she thinks most Church teaching is idiotic and out of touch with reality, hasn’t attended as an adult any more than me. Thinks that evangelicals and fundies are a bunch of wackjobs and nuts. She also works full-time, so our time with our kids is very important to both of us.

About a year ago, she started talking about wanting to bring the kids to Church and get them enrolled in Sunday school. I was quite surpsied and opposed. Rather than direct confrontation, I stalled and procrastinated, we got busy, and she let it drop. This past summer she started up again. I remain very opposed, but wife not letting go either.
My side: I am opposed mostly because it don’t want my children exposed to people presenting the myths and fairy tales of bronze age goatherds true and a good basis for making life decisions. Plus I feel strongly that Sunday morning is for sleeping as late as the kids allow, slow breakfast with the newspaper and much coffee and non-hurried unstructured family time.
Her side: she isn’t able to articulate a clear answer to why she wants this, but she thinks it would be a good idea. She has said that it would need to be “theology-lite” and some other things about people being able to “religion in one area and reality in another”. From these and other comments she has made, she had fun as a kid going to Sunday school and youth group stuff (so did I at times…) As best as I can tell, she wants the kids to go to church but doesn’t really want them to believe in any of it. I think it is more of a cultural thing than religious thing for her, but she doesn't even seem entirely sure. The compromise of she takes the kids but I don’t need to come with doesn’t really work for me. That would take away the lazy Sunday morning family time that I value to much, and not address my major complaint of about not wanting my kids exposed to such a load of silliness. So there is not easy solution, I’m trying to be respectful of my wife, even though I have little respect for christianity and cannot see a way to support them going.

Views: 16

Replies to This Discussion

Have you checked out the Unitarian Universalists? They embrace all faiths.
If it's about exposure you might be overthinking it. They are being exposed to religion in some form all the time. It may not be noticeable but it is all around us. The nature of exposure is more important from my way of thinking. I'm an atheist but my wife is a life-long Catholic. I agree that our two boys, 3 and 8, would be raised Catholic. I did stipulate that they understand it is only one way of thinking. I've only had to correct our older son once. I made it clear the Bible is not the literal word of God. Neither know that I'm an atheist and I prefer they not until they are old enough to make decisions on their own. I don't go to church. I have not discourage it. Already my oldest has expressed doubts about aspect of church and the various stories from Sunday school.
In the end I guess I'm say that you have to do what you think will work for your family. Just remember that attendance does not equal belief when it comes to church. And having different views on faith does not have to lead to any serious conflict within your home. Wish you the best. :)
DOS and Kate, I have seen your type of compromises work for others also, but it is not for me, nor do I like the idea of exposing children to various faiths with the idea that they can make up their own minds some day. There is an important distinction between what people are passively exposed to and made aware of, and what you actively bring them to. My kids are caring, smart, compassionate and have many close friends of different races. I could bring them around white supremacists and am confident that they would quickly recognize the hateful nonesense for what it is. But I'm not going to do that. I don't want my children to take up smoking, so I'm not going to bring them to a tobacco shop and introduce them to cigarettes, pipes and cigars. I see christianity as potentially dangerous and harmful. By bringing children to church, there is an implicit message that you endorse it. I'm well aware that attendance does not have to equal belief. But why would I deliberately send such a mixed message? Particularly when my wife really doesn't care about having them believe the religious message either.

As I see it, my role and duty as a parent is to protect my kids from harmful influences as best I can, while teaching them to think for themselves and be able to make good decisions. As they grow, they will be expected to gradually take on more responsibility for themselves. My kids know that they have and always will have my unconditional love. But, if they make poor life-choices like being racists, smokers or christians, they will also know that I don't approve of their choices, and will not be support those decisions.
Wow. Are you really comparing all Christians to White Supremacists? You seemed to have made up your mind about this so why seek advice?
Sorry- I seem to have been misinterpreted. I am not meaning to equate christians to white supremacists. I used supremacists as an example to make my point that it sends mixed message to bring children to a group, encourage them to participate, but hope that they don't believe in the group's message. The vast majority of christians and generally nice, well-meaning people, just like most everyone else in the world, and I did not mean to imply otherwise. The harm of white supremacists is in no way comparable to the harm of christianity, particularly liberal-leaning christianity, which is what my wife and I are operating with. I do think that christianity and other theistic beliefs are ultimately unhelpful to people's well being- it is always better to deal with the truth than falsehood.

As to my closed-mindedness, I actually am seeking common ground in my relationship, which is why I brought the question here. I'm a stubborn SOB who fixates on truth. It's why I am professionally a scientist. I deal in what do we think we know to be true and why do we think it. To me, holding to falsehood instead of working with truth is harmful. In abstract principle this is great, but meshing my principles with real-world practice and action, and melding my principles with my wife's equally-deserving-of-my-respect principles is where things become more difficult. My fixation on truth is one of my personal strengths, but it is also one part of why this is difficult and is one aspect of the problem. I did not come here seeking advice for how to change her mind because she must agree 100% with me. We are both part of the problem and will both be part of the solution ultimately.
Sorry I misunderstood. I actually agree with you on the points above. I can't say I'm thrilled with the kids going to church. It was the compromised I believed to be best given the circumstances. Like I said in my first post, you'll have to do what you feel is best for your family. My wife is a youth minister. I generally support her with it for only two reasons; it means a lot to her and I'd rather teens be taught by a goodhearted person than some narrow minded zealot. My oldest is already questioning the church which puts a big smile on my face. :)
I don't regret my Christian upbringing. Makes me a more formidable opponent in my discussions with Christians. And, they are unable to use the excuse, "If you gave Christianity a chance, you would understand what we know."

Christian doctrine is its own worst enemy.
I second the vote for UU..not all accept atheism, but many do. The one we attend has a thriving atheist group, with secular services led by members of our group. I like especially that all aspects of humanity are respected...non believers, pagans, GLBT, different skin colors and accents as well as elderly and little ones.
My son attends RE..their version of Sunday School. They've learned about Islam, buddhism, etc, and gone to services at a local "mainstream' church. He's made friends and enjoys going. It's his call if we go on any given Sunday...we look up the sermon and who is running the service that week, and decide to go or not. We're not going this week. ;o)

I've heard that other UUs are less accepting of us, but ours is a good one.

Regarding the sunday school issue..what about going every other week? And signing them up at different faiths every 4-6 months? Catholic SS for 4 months, then presbyterian SS for 4 months,
then something else.
Based on what you have said, your wife doesn't seem terribly interested in the religious aspect so I would guess that what she's looking for is a greater sense of community. It seems like for you what is confusing is that she can't really identify what it is she hopes to gain from church. I would work on gently trying to help her better nail this down and then you might try compromising by having other suggestions at hand.

Look into whether there are community events or organizations in your town or area that you can participate in as a family. If your wife insists that it's the church community she wants then I think Cowpunk's suggestion is worth looking into. Because UU's are welcoming of all faiths including atheists, their kids programs are not indoctrinating but more comparative in nature. I have a feeling that your wife would be extremely comfortable in this environment and you might find it tolerable. I totally understand not wanting to give up those lazy Sunday mornings, but perhaps the compromise can be that you do something once or twice a month.

I hope you can figure something out that will work for both you and your wife.

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