altogether he's one of the nicest people I know."
-- authentic quote from the journal of a fifteen-year-old Mormon girl.
Actually, that's a quote from my own journal (as you might have guessed): December 6, 1986. It's kind of hilarious to think that once upon a time I saw virtues such as "perverted," "Democrat," and "atheist" as faults. But I think that having met nice (and intelligent and otherwise virtuous) liberals and atheists -- none of whom attempted to convert me -- affected my willingness to question my own position. So for blog friends who have called "witness by example" a passive-aggressive tactic: If your position has merit, "Let your light so shine" really works!
A lot of atheists recount stories about how people of faith are horrified by atheism -- that the faithful see other religions as merely wrong but regard atheism as shocking or unthinkable. Yet back when I was a believing Mormon, I didn't perceive it that way at all (and I have my journals to back me up on this). A number of my friends self-identified as atheists, thus I saw it as a common worldview (even a reasonable one, as I explained in my post If the church weren't true I'd be an atheist). Was my high school (or my circle of friends) that unusual?
The one thing I remember being surprised by was learning that my first real boyfriend's parents were atheists and that he'd been raised as an atheist. And they seemed like perfectly ordinary people, unlike the parents of the guy in the above quote who appeared (to the teenage Republican version of me) to be hippie weirdos. Of course the most shocking aspect (to the sheltered Mormon me) was that his parents let him drink coffee and beer! This was completely contrary to my usual assumptions about parenting (that it normally should involve a great deal of making the kids do odious things for their own good such as enforcing church attendance).
I don't know if this is unusual or not, but I've never had a serious (romantic) relationship with someone who believes in the existence of God. I've had a number of different boyfriends in my life (including a few minor flings with believers), but all of the real relationships have been with atheists.
Some of you may be wondering if that means that this guy was an atheist. Indeed he was (or is? I haven't kept in touch as you might imagine...). I had one conversation with him that illustrates the kind of atheist he was: after a long tirade about how incredibly stupid it is to believe in astrology, he turned around and said, "but Chinese astrology -- there's really something to that..." And he was serious!!! It just goes to show that most people just go along with whatever they've heard other people say, so in a country like France where atheism is basically the default position, even stupid people are atheists.
When I met my (now) husband, one of the first things I did was "test the waters" on this question. Since I thought he was cute and everything. He was a new arrival in grad school from on of those decadent countries in Europe (France), thus probably an atheist, but you can never be sure. So in one conversation at a party I made some sort of line involving the Pope and condoms to see how he'd react. I don't remember exactly what I said -- it probably wasn't even funny, but of course that's not really the point. There are things you can get away with saying as a joke that can help you determine what sorts of things might be appropriate to say in more serious discussions later. I'm not sure if that sounds cynical or Machiavellian, but honestly I think it's one of the reasons for the existence of humor in our species.
(Note: if the chronology of these stories is confusing, I actually met my current husband before I ever started learning to speak French, but even though I liked him from the beginning, I didn't get together with him romantically until several years later.)
I know a lot of you out there in blog space are in mixed-faith marriages and making it work, but -- inspiring as the stories often are -- I'm really glad I don't have to deal with that in my life. One non-trivial point is this cute little blog. I'm doing this for fun and love doing it, and I'd hate for my sweetheart to view this hobby as working for the bad guys' team. As it is, my husband views my Internet habit as kind of a strange hobby, but he understands that this is important to me and is basically supportive. He sometimes even takes photos for my blog and will read my articles and give his opinion when I ask him to.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my apartment-mates back when I was at BYU (this friend currently blogs as Floating in the Milk). She'd read a study that same-faith marriages are more successful than mixed-faith marriages (I guess in length or marital satisfaction or something). The topic came up because she'd been in a mixed-faith relationship back then and had chosen to go with her LDS suitor, but in the long run that didn't keep her from being in mixed-faith marriage since she no longer believes. Anyway, I protested (back then) that probably having a matching activity level is as important as having matching beliefs, but she said the study didn't show that at all -- activity level was found to be irrelevant.
After just a few minutes reflection it hit me that it was perfectly obvious that that should be the case. If you do anything at all related to your beliefs and traditions -- from simply celebrating the same events to church activity or belief-related volunteer work -- whether your spouse is physically there with you doesn't matter as much as whether your spouse is with you in spirit, supporting and agreeing with what you're doing.
That's not to say that mixed-faith marriages are inferior, but rather the people in them have that much more work to do to try to be understanding of one another. Personally I think that would be very, very hard for me to do. I've said this before, but I am ridiculously possessive of my private space and thus have a terrible time getting along with roommates. I've never had a roommate that I've gotten along with (just ask FITM -- she and I got along fairly well, but it helped that we weren't actually sharing a bedroom). I try to make an effort to get along with roommates, but I'm just not good at it. This is one of the many reasons that back when I was a Mormon I never had the remotest desire to go on a mission and thought that any girl who would choose to do it (since it's not a requirement for girls) must be crazy. There is absolutely no way I could tolerate having to be within sight of a particular person twenty-four-seven for months on end. If my companion were the nicest, most easygoing person on the planet I'd still be ready to strangle her by the end of the first week, and if she failed to be the nicest person on the planet, it would probably be more like the end of the first day...
Yet weirdly I've lived with various boyfriends, and I've never had a problem getting along with them on a day-to-day basis. I think it's largely psychological: a boyfriend is like family -- mentally absorbed into my intimate space -- whereas a roommate is an outsider limiting my privacy.
And this is the main reason why I'm glad I'm not in a mixed-faith marriage: I'm sincerely interested in trying to understand the perspective of people who believe differently, and I can see that believing differently than I do is not a manifestation of being crazy or stupid or unreasonable or anything like that. But it takes effort to try to see things from another's perspective, and I think it's an effort that would be hard for me to make on a daily basis in my intimate space.
In concrete terms, when I get home from a hard day at work, I want to be able to kick off my shoes, grab a beer, and relax. I don't want to hear my husband telling me that he's praying about this or that or about the progress he's making in trying to get intelligent design taught in schools, etc. At the same time, I wouldn't want to be married to someone and have him feel like he can't tell me about things that are important to him because I wouldn't agree or be supportive. That's not to say that we have to agree on everything, but at least on the fundamentals and basic values...