What a horrible situation this is! But it’s not rare. I know at least a half a dozen atheists who are or were married to Christians. And most of them have children.
I catch a lot of flack for this, but it’s my considered opinion that nonbelievers should not marry believers, and vice versa. There’s just too much at stake for both positions, and I have a very hard time coming up with any scenarios in which two people can really be loving to each other when they are at opposite ends of this debate.
The woman in this video is feeling betrayed, cut off, angry, resentful, and scared. You can see it in her face, in the tight lipped way she grudgingly nods as Dr. Phil tells her she has to be loving and accepting of her husband’s newfound atheism. The thing is, these are appropriate feelings. She and her husband live in two vastly different universes. She truly believes that she’s not only lost a husband, but that she will lose her children, too. She believes in her heart that the people she loves the most are going to be tortured by her god for eternity. The god she loves and sees in the wind and irreducible cell structure, the god she hears when she prays, who answers her prayers — that same loving father is going to allow her husband and children to go to hell. And it terrifies her. Everything she wanted for her life is disintegrating in front of her.
We cannot fault this woman for feeling the way she feels. It’s appropriate to her belief system. We can — as Phil suggested — encourage her to keep an open mind. But we can’t expect her to do it. Why would we? Her worldview, her god, her church, and her friends all tell her that an open mind is the doorway to hell.
The poor man is in a horrible spot now. He’s got children he loves, and he wants very badly to do the right thing for them. You can see it in his eyes as he hops around what he really wants to say — that he believes his wife is wrong, and does not want to subject his children to her beliefs. But he can’t say that. He has to suck it up and work with her closed minded position. He has no choice.
These folks are stuck. They’ve got to choose between their own happiness and the children, but it’s not even as simple as that. From the woman’s point of view, maybe it would be better to divorce and marry a Christian. Maybe it would be the lesser of two sins. From the man’s point of view, maybe it would be better to divorce than be married to a cold woman who obviously hates what he’s become. But then he’ll only see his children every other weekend. Maybe if he stays and tries to tough it out, his children will absorb some of his open-minded skepticism and not accept their mother’s beliefs without question.
And what about the children? They’re not going to be raised in a happy, nurturing, loving relationship by parents who support each other and work together. They’re going to see the tension. They’ll hear the fights. On one side, they’re going to be taught that they’ll go to hell if they don’t believe their mother. (OH NO! Is Daddy going to go to hell?!) On the other side, they’ll see that their father thinks their mother is naive and gullible. But doesn’t he love her? He says he does, but why does he think she’s stupid if he loves her? These are real questions that naturally occur to children when they are caught up in this kind of “mixed marriage.”
And it’s not fair to them.
Naturally, it’s my opinion that children should be raised without religion until their brains are sentient enough to make a rational decision about the subject. But I also completely understand a Christian’s belief that it’s crucial to get the children converted as soon as humanly possible. After all, this is eternity we’re talking about. What kind of sane Christian parent would allow open-mindedness when it could only lead to eternal damnation?
The thing is, there’s really no middle ground here. How can a non-believer parent who disapproves of the heaven-hell Bronze Age mythology of hate be a loving parent while allowing his children to be indoctrinated? How can a believer parent possibly be a loving spouse to a person who’s dead set on not only going to hell, but taking the children with him?
We can’t blame either partner for doing what they believe is right. And we can’t in good conscience ask either of them to pretend. They both think they’re right, and they both believe that the other side is harmful to the children. This is a binary decision.
This is one of the real ways that faith based belief causes direct harm. Both husband and wife went in as believers, and through no fault of his own, the husband can no longer believe. And now it’s going to destroy a marriage.