Little Way of the Family


Marrying an Atheist
December 7, 2010, 1:49 am
Filed under: Atheism, Conversion, Marriage, Pre-Cana

I ran across this post
Could You Marry an Atheist today and it struck home. My wife – cradle-Catholic, lector, and regular volunteer at Boston University’s Newman House – had planned to do just that – marry an atheist – the atheist in question being me. It was all set to go. We had met with her priest and fulfilled all the Church’s requirements for a mixed-faith wedding. I had agreed to raise any children Catholic, and I respected her faith just as I respected all other aspects of her life.

We had a long engagement during which I lived in Italy for almost a year. During that time, I had a “road to Damascus” moment. God made himself known to me in no uncertain terms. (That is a whole other story.) Atheism was no longer an option. On a cold night – a cold Advent night, as I would later find out – I was given the gift of faith. I returned to the states, enrolled in RCIA, and finally entered at the Easter vigil just months before we were married.
So my wife became engaged to an atheist and married a Catholic.
Not a path I would recommend.

I don’t mean that it worked badly for us. I believe ours was a relationship inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the blessings have flowed from it. But I doubt it would work for others. And most importantly, I would not want my daughter to marry an atheist.

Really, there are only two options. Either the Catholic believes that their spouse will eventually convert (and sees themselves as a catalyst for the conversion), or the Catholic accepts that they will forever be married to an atheist. Both attitudes are dangerous.

As a Pre-Cana couple, we counsel our engaged couples not to think they are going to change their betrothed. Bottom line, changes come from within – or through the Holy Spirit in the case of spiritual changes – they cannot be forced. Believing you will convert a potential spouse is a recipe for disappointment and worse.

Worse yet is the decision to live ones life not only with someone of a different faith, but with someone who actively disbelieves in God. There are more problems with that than I can possibly list, but here are a few that, having been an atheist, are prominent to me. First, each parent has a unique spiritual role in the faith formation of the children. Numerous studies show that if the father is not strong in the faith, the kids will not be either. The father is essential in that regard. Mom is imortant too. She tends to bring in the compassionate side. While Dad may be a by-the-numbers type, Mom is the one more likely to teach the children Christian charity and neighborliness. Every night I bless my children in bed. I frequently lead them in the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. They see me singing at Mass, so they assume they should be singing too. What if they were missing all that?
Second, everyone’s faith goes through difficult dry periods. In our experience, when one of us is dry, the other provides the inspiration to work through it. I know that there are times when the sight of my wife praying pulls me out of a dark place. I know I do the same for her. Without that? How hard would it be for a spouse to keep her faith when her husband is getting along just fine, thank you very much, with his secular humanism that doesn’t require all that silly sacrifice, mortification, and acceptance of suffering?
Third, atheism brings baggage. It usually means a more amoral or immoral background. It did with me. I am still unpacking and disposing of that baggage, and it has caused my lovely wife more than her share of grief. I do not want to see my children dealing with that.

Anyway, I am running out of steam. Sometimes – as in my case – God puts an atheist and a Catholic together with a grand purpose in mind. More likely, however, the marriage is according to a human plan, not God’s plan, and as such will lead down a very dark path.

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