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Godless Marriages Godless Marriages

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Godless Marriages

Posted on Sun, Jan 22, 2012

 

Marriage, Gods, and Religion:


For many in modern American, religion and theism are central features not just in their lives as individuals, but also in their relationships with other people — and this is especially true with their most intimate relationships, such as marriage. It's common for people to regard their religion as a binding force in their marriage, something without which marriage wouldn't be possible. Just because marriage is a religious rite for some, though, doesn't mean it is necessary to all marriages.

Why Would Atheists Even Get Married?:


There is a common perception that marriage is a fundamentally religious institution — that it is based upon religious values and exists to serve religious ends. Thus, if a person is not religious, then it might seem natural for that person to avoid entering into marriage - and that would include many atheists as well. The truth, however, is that marriage isn’t inherently religious and that atheists have just as many reasons to marry as do religious theists. 

Are There Non-Religious Wedding Options For Atheists?:


Yes! There are quite a few options available for people who are uninterested or unwilling to have any of the traditional religious wedding ceremonies. Some are both nonreligious and without any real ceremony. Some include ceremony and ritual, but without religious elements. Finally, there are options which are religious in name, but not really in act. The popularity of non-traditional, non-religious ceremonies seems to have been growing in recent years. 

Mixed Marriages Between Atheists & Theists:


This question is asked equally by both atheists and theists. Marriage is one of the most intimate and serious relationships a person can have in their lives; it is thus understandable that people wonder if the gap between atheism and theism will create further differences which prevent individuals from making a marriage work. If both partners make the efforts, however, such a marriage is not only possible, but very fulfilling.

Are Atheists More Compatible?:


It is reasonable to wonder whether an atheist and a theist would be as compatible as two people of the same position — two atheists or two theists. After all, even if an atheist and a theist can make a marriage work, it may not be worth all of the extra effort required if an easier and more productive marriage can be formed elsewhere. There may be something to this, but it really depends upon the character of those involved. Sometimes, an atheist and theist may be better together. 

Growing Godless in Marriage:


Everyone grows as they go through life. Indeed, they should grow and develop — intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally. Part of that growth must entail reconsidering past beliefs and calling into question past assumptions. Perhaps they won't be discarded, but they should at least be brought into the light for close examination. Thus, it’s possible for someone to abandon a religion which their spouse holds on to. What can be done? 

My Spouse Has Gotten More Religious Since We Got Married:


For some, the result of the process of intellectual and personal growth may be a deepening of past religious faith or the adoption of a new religion entirely. If that person's partner is not religious at all or is merely superficially religious, conflicts and difficulties can readily appear in the marriage. This is a possible problem any time people grow apart, not just in the context of religion, but the absolutism of religion can make these problems worse. 

Telling In-Laws About Atheism:


So, you've decided that you cannot rationally or reasonably continue with the religion which you used to follow and to which your spouse's family continues to belong. Your in-laws, however, are believers — perhaps even devout believers — and you don't know how they will react to your atheism. So, now what? What do you do? There aren’t any easy choices here and almost anything you do will lead to at least some conflict. Perhaps you should just keep quiet? 

Religious In-Laws vs. Your Atheism:


Unfortunately, not every family is very accepting of people rejecting their religion. Rejecting belief in a god altogether can be even more problematic. Sometimes, they will even denigrate those who reject their religion and their beliefs, and you will find yourself in a very uncomfortable position. An important consideration here is whether they know you are an atheist or not — the answer to this will have a significant impact upon how you choose to proceed. 

Godless Marriages vs. Religious Marriages:


The fundamental importance of religion to many people's marriages can make it exceedingly difficult for them to understand how or why religion and gods might be entirely absent from other marriages, but the prejudice in favor of marriage having to be religious in orientation has proven to be harmful in the United States. Religious beliefs about the nature of marriage and the roles allowed for men and women have oppressed women, warped marital relationships, and restricted people's ability to find happiness within marriage itself.

In the past, for example, women have been treated as little more than property and were denied any real property rights within the marriage. Divorce was illegal, preventing women who were abused and mistreated from any opportunity at creating a life on their own. All of this was done in the name of religion. Self-righteous defenders of traditional "morality" continue to inveigh against divorce as a threat to marriage, not recognizing that some relationships probably deserve to end rather than endure no matter what.

The various limitations and prejudices which religion has caused to be smuggled into civil marriage have even caused many to reject the value of marriage outright. This fact effectively demonstrates that the real threat to marriage, if any exists, lies with its erstwhile "defenders" and not with those who seek alternatives to traditional roles and relationships — including gay couples who seek to be married.

Many people find strength, comfort, and inspiration in their gods and their religion, and this may indeed help them in their marriages. There is quite a lot to be said on behalf of godlessmarriages, however, because the absence of gods and religion also means an absence of the heavy weight of traditions, assumptions, and prejudices which can do so much harm and cause so much grief for all those involved.

 

There is a common perception that marriage is a fundamentally religious institution — that it is based upon religious values and exists to serve religious ends. Thus, if a person is not religious, then it might seem natural for that person to avoid entering into marriage - and that would include many atheists as well.

The problem is, this perception of marriage is rather inaccurate. It is true that religion has a lot to do with marriage as it is commonly practiced in many countries, including the United States, but that doesn't mean that this relationship is inherent ornecessary. The key to this question is understanding that the way things are normallydone is not necessarily the way they must be done or the way you should do them.

Marriage ceremonies have two related aspects: the public and the private. The public can be regarded as the legal realm where marriage is sanctioned by the government and where married couples receive certain economic and social benefits. The private realm involves the creation of a new family unit: when two people marry, whether that marriage is official or purely personal, it is a serious expression of love, support, and commitment between two intimate individuals.

Both the public and the private aspects of marriage have their importance; neither, however, requires a religious basis or even religious involvement. Although there are many people in society who will try to act as though religion — and, in particular, their religion — is an indispensable factor in both the public and private realms of religion, you shouldn't believe them.

With the private realm, some will argue that reliance on God and adherence to various religious doctrines are key ingredients for creating a successful and happy marriage. Perhaps for members of those religions this is true — if one is a devout believer, then it seems unlikely that they can participate in such an intimate and important relationship as marriage without their religious beliefs coming into play.

However, that does not mean that two people cannot build a solid, long-lasting, and very happy marital relationship without religion or theism playing any sort of role at all. Neither religion nor theism are necessary in order to be intimate with another person. Neither are necessary in order to love another person. Neither are necessary to be committed and honest with another person. Neither are necessary to create a sound economic basis for a relationship. All in all, neither religion nor theism add anything to a marriage unless those involved already rely upon them in some fashion.

With the public realm, some will argue that particular religious conceptions of marriage are and have always been necessary for a stable social order; as a result, only those conceptions of marriage should be officially recognized by the state. Because of this, not all committed relationship receive the economic and social benefits of marriage.

The fact of the matter is, however, the current Western notion of marriage as being only between a single male and a single female is culturally and historically conditioned - there is nothing very necessary or obvious about it. Other types of marriage can be just as stable, just as productive, and just as loving. There is no reason to eliminate them from the category "marriage" except, perhaps, as a means to promote religious or cultural bigotry.

None of this means, of course, that two people in a committed and loving relationship mustget married. There are important advantages to having the marriage certificate and there seems little reason not to do it if you are able, but if you continue to have philosophical or political objections then that is perfectly fine. Not being married is no more a barrier to having a deep and meaningful relationship than is not having religion.

 

Question:
Are there non-religious wedding options for atheists?

 

Answer:
Yes! There are quite a few options available for people who are uninterested or unwilling to have any of the traditional religious wedding ceremonies. Some are both nonreligious and without any real ceremony. Some include ceremony and ritual, but without religious elements. Finally, there are options which are religious in name, but not really in act.

As for the first option, couples always have the choice of a purely civil wedding, performed by someone duly appointed by the state like a Justice of the Peace. All you need is a license and a couple of witnesses, and the latter are sometimes composed of whoever is right there, just standing around. There need be no religious element at all — it's just a simple statement of contractual vows which many atheists have found adequate to their needs.

Of course, such weddings lack so much of the ceremony and ritual which people (theists and atheists) have grown up believing are necessary for such an event; thus, it isn't surprising that a relatively small number of couples opt for it. Most want something special done to commemorate the day, some series of rituals which will help mark the transition from being single to being a couple. As a result, a number of non-religious wedding options which move beyond the simple civil wedding have developed.

Some of these are religious in appearance or name, but not really in act. What this means is that the wedding itself may take place in a church and may contain many of the familiar rituals which have a religious connotation for some. However, there is no actual religious substance or theme to the wedding. There are no religious readings, there are no religious songs, and for the participants the rituals themselves have a wholly secular meaning.

Finally, there are also wedding options which dispense with the general trappings of religion, even in appearance, but are not quite so plain and simple as civil wedding ceremonies. Such weddings are normally referred to as humanist weddings. The vows are written by the couple or by a humanist celebrant in consultation with the couple. The theme of the vows will focus on topics like love and commitment rather than religion or God. There may be rituals (like a unity candle) which have religious meaning in religious ceremonies, but now have a secular meaning here.

Humanist weddings are becoming more and more popular among atheists in the West. Such wedding ceremonies provide much of the emotional and psychological benefits which might be derived from religious ceremonies, but without all of the baggage which can otherwise come along. Such weddings also provide a familiar context which can make it easier for religious relatives who might be disappointed with a simpler civil ceremony.

 

 

Question:
Can mixed marriages between theists and atheists work?

Response:
This question is asked equally by both atheists and theists. Marriage is one of the most intimate and most serious relationships a person can have in their lives; it is thus understandable that people wonder if the gap between atheism and theism will create further differences which prevent individuals from making a marriage work. Similar questions are legitimately asked with regards to gaps created by social backgrounds, race, and many other issues.

This isn't an easy issue to address because so much depends upon the particular situation which people find themselves in and the nature of the people involved. Thus, the most direct answer must be: "it depends." A mixed marriage between a theist and an atheist can work, but their success depends a great deal upon their ability to overcome certain barriers which may, but need not, arise.

Importance of Respect & Tolerance

    One barrier which can prevent a marriage between an atheist and a theist from working is the issue of respect and tolerance. Without some minimal amount of those two factors, it is difficult for anyrelationship to survive; when such fundamental matters like the existence of god(s) is at issue, they become even more critical.
Differences over Religion & Religious Doctrines

    If anything comes between an atheist and a theist it probably won't be theism itself. Instead, one of the things most likely to cause problems will be religion - not every theist is religious, and not every religious person is a theist. What this means is that specific doctrines and dogmas are most likely to cause problems and will have to be watched closely.


Of course, most marriages are preceded by dating and courtship, a time in people's relationship with each other when matters are less serious and more provisional. At this stage differences over theism and religion are less likely to cause problems, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be watched closely.

 

 

One barrier which may prevent a marriage between an atheist and a theist from working are the issues of respect and tolerance. Without them, it is difficult for any relationship to survive; when fundamental matters like the existence of god(s) are involved, they become even more critical.

Obviously it is not necessary for a married couple to agree on everything — if they did, the marriage would probably end up very boring, intellectually speaking. Instead, what we are talking about is a willingness not just to agree to disagree, but also to agree that the other person isn't evil or stupid for the position they have adopted but you have rejected.

Your partner might be mistaken and they might not be rational about it, but they should not be treated as if that mistake is for anything other than honest and fair reasons. After all, you aren't perfect either and there are surely things you are mistaken about or ideas which you have adopted for less than perfectly rational reasons.

A very important aspect of this is not spending all your time trying to convert one another. Exploring differences is certainly good and there is nothing wrong with debating the issues where you disagree, but going to great lengths to try to change the other person is often a bad idea no matter what the topic.

When it comes to theism or religion, trying to change your spouse is likely among the worst goals you can have. It makes much more sense to focus on what you already have in common rather than trying to manufacture new agreements. If you love a person, you should love them for who they are rather than for who you wish they would become after you have had some time to work on them.

 

To be fair, if anything comes between an atheist and a theist it probably won't be theism itself. Instead, one of the things most likely to cause problems will be religion - not every theist is religious, and not every religious person is a theist. What this means is that specific doctrines and dogmas are most likely to cause problems and will have to be watched closely.

As discussed previously, in order for a marriage between a theist and an atheist to work it is necessary for both to be able to not only tolerate one another’s position, but to respect them as people as well. An absence of respect for the person you are married to will kill a marriage quickly. Because of this, the doctrines which are most likely to interfere with a marriage are those which encourage or cause the religious believer to lose respect for their spouse.

For example, there are many religious people who believe that a marriage must be based on God and/or that a married couple must always put God first — but a marriage between an atheist and a theist obviously won't be able to do that. Another example would be the common Christian belief that only Christians will go to heaven and that atheists certainly will not, an obvious problem if such a Christian is married to an atheist.

There is a very good chance for conflict in a marriage if such doctrines come into play. It isn't unreasonable to argue that when a person makes their religion a significant basis for a marriage and their (prospective) partner doesn't share that religion (for whatever reason), then the marriage is in trouble from the beginning.

If you are concerned that your differences with someone might prevent a possible marriage, it would be a serious error to focus solely on the fact that one of you is a theist and the other not, or even that one of you is religious and the other not. Instead, it is necessary to take a closer look at the specific doctrines and dogmas which the religious person holds and consider how they might affect that person's perspective on non-adherents and a marriage with a non-adherent.

 

Of course, most marriages are preceded by dating and courtship, a time in people's relationship with each other when matters are less serious and more provisional. At this stage differences over theism and religion are less likely to cause problems, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be watched closely.

When it comes to dating, you must step back and decide what you are looking for in the relationship: is it just for companionship and fun, or is it a prelude to something more serious and permanent? If the former, then as long as the differences in religion and theism aren't already interfering there should be nothing wrong with ignoring them and continuing to find happiness one another's company.

Let sleeping dogs lie, as the old saying goes, and enjoy the relationship for what it is.

However, if your general goal in dating is to find someone with whom you can build a long-term and permanent relationship, then you cannot afford to ignore differences on such serious matters like religion. Obviously that isn't something you want to bring up on the first date (at least, if you are still hoping for a second date!), but at some point you may look at the relationship and realize that it could become very serious.

At this point you will need to take stock of how compatible the two of you are before matters progress much further. If you have questions or concerns, the two of you will need to sit down and talk about them. It is unlikely that you will be able to resolve any differences immediately, but if you are both otherwise committed to each other and approach your differences with love and respect, then you should feel confident in your ability to work things out like adults. If you do, and if you can manage similar resolutions to other differences, then if you get married your marriage will be much stronger for it.

 

   Discussion: Godless Marriages

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