Last time we talked about how church leaders and teachers have been pushing the false idea for years that marriages must be “based on Jesus” or else terrible things will happen to the couples involved. Today we’ll talk about some of those terrible things, and then we’ll talk about the real reason that these leaders and teachers fear mixed-faith marriages.
First let’s recap a few things. A mixed-faith marriage is what we have when the people involved have different beliefs about religion–and that includes people who have no beliefs at all in any religion as well as people who don’t care to label whatever they feel. Today we’re specifically talking about a marriage that began with both folks being Christian, but then one of them left the religion, or deconverted. Now one person is Christian and one person is an ex-Christian (which includes atheism, agnosticism, “none”-ness, or even joining a different religion altogether). And a lot of times, the couple is really scared now–what does this deconversion mean? What will happen? Does it mean the end of the marriage? (I’ll spoil this shiznit for you now: “as much as the couple takes it to mean,” “a lot of things will change about external activities, but the really important things won’t change at all,” and “oh dear god, absolutely not.”)
Though Christians get taught from infancy that this sort of marriage is very bad and impossible to maintain, the simple truth is that more and more of them are happening as time goes on. Christians tend to marry young, especially the really fervent ones, and that’s when people tend to deconvert the most often. That fact alone would explain why there seem to be so many unequally-yoked marriages happening–and why so many of those marriages seem like they’re failing. Age at marriage is also the strongest predictor of divorce there is, so we can consider young marriages to be rather conflict-prone, and the rather pagan belief in “soulmates” is another source of problems for young partners. Of course, none of this stops completely irresponsible Christian leaders from pushing the idea of early marriage onto their overly-trusting flocks (donotlinks provided), because obviously Jesus will bless people who do that and keep them from divorce–except when he doesn’t.
But people still fall in love, and as more and more folks identify as non-Christian we’re going to see more and more couples dipping their toes in that water. Sometimes it’s just simple demographics; here’s a Christian writer who’s discovered that with the serious gender imbalance in Christianity, which skews in that writer’s estimation as 3:2 from men to women (honestly I’d say it’s even more skewed than that), women in the religion have some very tough choices ahead regarding just how much they want to be married (a topic which disgraced now-ex-pastor Mark Driscoll addressed in his typically misogynist fashion a while ago). And as more and more folks deconvert, couples that once thought they were going to live their whole lives together as Christians suddenly discover that the river has taken a very new and different turn. Mixed-faith marriages are a thing, and they’re not going to slow down just because Christian leaders denounce them and stomp their little feet about them. As Christians do with most commandments, they mold what they’re taught around what they really want to do anyway (not that I view this trait as a bad thing necessarily!), and marriage is certainly not going to be where most of them suddenly get super-obedient. Reality trumps dogma for quite a few religious people, as well it should; I suspect that deep down, the Christians getting into and staying in these mixed-faith marriages kinda know what’s really important.
Incidentally, when you go hunting for statistics around mixed-faith marriages, one thing you’ll notice right off the bat is that a lot of the statistics you’ll encounter deal with Jewish mixed-faith marriages. Judaism has very good reason to fear this sort of marriage; at this point about half of all married Jewish people have non-Jewish partners, resulting in a serious shortage of Jewish children to continue the culture once their elders have passed on. According to that link, some Jewish leaders are calling this whole mixed-marriage thing a “silent Holocaust” because of the impact they see such marriages having on their religion. Some even think that such marriages may well spell the very end of the religion in the next century. I look at those statistics and cries of doom and I can’t help but think about Christianity–how about you?
Statistics about Christian mixed-faith marriages are still coming in, with initial surveys indicating some hard facts about them: the older the couple is at marriage, the more likely they’ll be mixed-faith; mixed-faith marriages tend to have more conflict in them than same-faith marriages; and evangelicals married to non-evangelicals have the highest divorce rate of all. (So much for following the Bible, huh? The only moral divorce is their divorce, I suppose.) Meanwhile, Christian leaders pull numbers right out of their goddamned asses to support their contention that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ simply never divorce, making mixed-faith marriages all the more scary and unpalatable and unthinkable to their flocks.
So what exactly is the threat here? What exactly is the problem that Christian leaders see and teach regarding mixed-faith marriages?
If you remember that blog post we looked at a bit ago, the writer of it very foolishly lists exactly what he views as the big threats to a mixed-faith marriage. We’re going to look at his post again because it’s one of the few to explicitly spell out the dangers that Christian teachers generally threaten their flocks with. What he’s talking about here is nothing I didn’t learn in church, and if you listen to Christian leaders talking, you’ll hear surprising allusions to this stuff in their teachings.
First, he sees a mixed-faith marriage as being disobedient to what he thinks is his god’s demand for hierarchy. We’ve seen this bizarre fixation on hierarchical relationships and societies before out of Christians–here’s the lowdown on the basic idea, and it’s damned good–and it’s simply not true that a couple needs to focus on this hierarchy to survive. Egalitarian marriages–where couples equally share duties and don’t conform to rigid gender roles imposed upon them by authority figures–do as well as hierarchy-based marriages, and among older folks (like me) they may even be much happier and more stable. So that’s one myth shot down.
The post’s author talks a big game as well about conflict resolution, making the rather remarkable claim that non-Christians just can’t figure out a way to maturely resolve disagreements:
Knowing that sin seeks to cause strife does not mean that you can avoid conflict. When you distinguish indwelling sin from the person, however, you can more positively reconcile arguments because you focus on identifying sin’s lies rather than attacking one another. A second important aspect of resolving conflict is allowing Jesus Christ to live His love through you. Allowing Him to meet your need for security and significance diminishes your motivation to attack or manipulate someone else.
And now we need a nice CITATION NEEDED label for these claims. First he’s claiming that because Christians know what sin is and can “hate the sin but love the sinner,” when conflicts come up such Christians focus only on stamping out sin. Show of hands, ex-Christians? How many times, when you were Christians, did fights with your Christian spouse revolve around identifying sins and repenting of them and then, having figured out what sin caused the conflict, everything was totally fine again?
Cuz I can’t remember a single time a fight of mine with Biff involved anything resembling that process, and of all the fights I saw Christian friends having, I don’t remember anybody talking about sin and piously, sanctimoniously trying to stamp it out. If sin got brought up at all, it was usually done by Biff as part of repeated efforts to try to strong-arm me into doing whatever he wanted me to do by trying to “convict” me into obedience to his awful “leadership.” An emphasis on sin certainly benefits the privileged. But it’s not going to resolve a conflict, because in the real world, in the real, lived experience of a couple’s life, conflicts don’t arise from sin but rather from personality conflicts, misunderstandings, and even from misdeeds committed against each other. And a prayer meeting won’t fix those problems.
See, Jesus no more tells people how to resolve conflicts nowadays than he told anybody about Germ Theory in the Gospels. Becoming Christian, even a longtime Christian, doesn’t magically confer any special powers to anybody that help resolve conflicts. Some of the oldest Christians I’ve ever known were shockingly childish toward their mates and scarily, eerily incapable of behaving like grown-ups when challenged or frustrated. And some of the youngest atheists I’ve ever known were shockingly mature and capable of handling all of that. It’s almost as if a god isn’t needed for any of it, isn’t it?
What really will surprise this guy, then, as well as surprising many mixed-faith couples taught this sort of nonsense from their earliest years, is the fact that non-Christians are perfectly capable of resolving conflicts. In fact, I’d say they’re better at it because they’re not trying to shoe-horn religious dogma and rigid roleplaying into their conflicts.
Unburdened by reality, the blog post writer goes on to say in his second claim that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are sooooo holy and pious that they won’t even feel the need to get into fights or manipulate their spouses, and that actually made me just hoot in laughter. If that’s how he’s defining TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, then 99.9999999999999999999yougettheidea% of Christians aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™, because every single ex-Christian alive (and more than a few honest Christians, for that matter) knows of a time when a supposedly TRUE CHRISTIAN™ did exactly that to them. And if he’s claiming that his imaginary friend can do more to meet someone’s real need for “security and significance” than a loving partner ever could, then his god’s got a lot of explaining to do to all the ex-Christians who cried out to that god, wept, begged, pleaded, screamed, and groaned for some kind of touch, some kind of affirmation, some kind of god damned attention here… and got nothing at all, just silence. Maintaining the act of religiosity works for a while, but not for forever. Eventually reality has to catch up. And if it doesn’t, then that’s about where many of us begin wondering why this totally-for-realsies god doesn’t seem to meet our needs the way his religion’s teachers say he does.
I’ve heard other Christians try to claim that a mixed-faith couple will have trouble because they won’t have “shared values” and will have a tougher time combining their lives because of that lack of common ground. But is religion really a “value?” I’d say not. Jesus can’t be a “value” in and of himself, and neither can “Christianity.” Being Christian doesn’t mean someone is honest, fair, brave, kind, or loving. Those values are not found solely in those Christians who actually show those traits, either. The values underlying one’s religion are the, well, values, not the religion itself. The religion is just the window-dressing, the label, put on those values. And it’s a wise couple that realizes this truth and focuses on that instead of on the fact that the window-dressing is different for each partner.
Look. The real threat to a mixed-faith marriage, for a Christian, is not that the couple won’t be observing proper rigid gender roles. The threat doesn’t come from them being incapable of resolving issues without chirping Christian platitudes at each other. It doesn’t even come from not having “shared values.”
The threat comes from simple familiarity.
Let’s take this Christian blogger who wrote that rock-ignorant post about how to have a good marriage. If he actually believes that someone has to be Christian to resolve conflicts, and he gets involved with someone who isn’t Christian (or who becomes ex-Christian) who still manages to resolve conflicts without resorting to religiosity and spiritual displays, that’s going to shake his beliefs up a little. If he discovers that his non-Christian spouse is also supportive, honest, loving, kind, and all those other things he thinks only Christians can be in a marriage, then he’s going to be shaken up even more. If he finds out that his conceptualization of marriage as a rigid hierarchy is actually bullshit that doesn’t work for way more people than it works for, too, that might make him reel a bit. He might even discover that his conceptualization of a Christian as spiritually superior to a non-Christian isn’t true at all, because of course he thinks that a Christian and a non-Christian are unequal, and sounds downright sad that he can’t “improve” a non-believing partner to bring her up to his level–seriously, how arrogant! (No wonder his first marriage, to a deconverted person, failed. I’m guessing that divorce had next to nothing to do with her beliefs changing, though he doesn’t seem to understand that point quite yet; self-awareness is not among the chiefest of Christian virtues.)
And if a Christian like him discovers that the religious observances and beliefs he thinks are rock-solid, necessary, vital, and totally essential to someone’s life are not any of those things at all, and that lots of people get along just fine without them, he’s going to realize that those observances and beliefs are superfluous. He might even get brave enough to question his indoctrination, the longer he hangs out with someone who doesn’t seem worried or frightened at all of the things he is worried and frightened about.
Worst of all, though (at least from the point of view of Christians like that), just getting to know non-Christians can make a Christian second-guess a lot of the dehumanization and demonization the religion does to people who aren’t in the tribe. And it can make a Christian seriously question really awful doctrines like the idea of Hell and the concept of Original Sin–because once you get to know and love someone, the last thing you’ll stand for is someone threatening that person or worse yet hurting him or her. The real barbarity and cruelty in Christianity can get highlighted in glaring relief as believers mingle with non-believers and discover just how decent and normal they are. I’m very fortunate in that I knew a lot of atheists in college, so before my church could really indoctrinate me into the “atheists = EEEEBUL” mindset, I already knew better when I heard them try–and their attempt fed into my eventual leaving of the religion. Indeed, I’ve heard from many Christians who had to revisit these doctrines they’d once believed after a spouse deconverted and they came face-to-face with those divine injustices.
It’s almost funny that Christians seem terrified that a non-believing spouse will somehow shatter someone’s beliefs. Nothing could ever be further from the truth. If something’s true and genuinely necessary, nothing can make someone leave it. When I had a boyfriend looking into Wicca, I wasn’t even halfway tempted to join that religion. I learned about it so I could support him better in his spiritual journey, but I wasn’t interested in joining him there. And he didn’t demand that I join him because he’s a grown-up who doesn’t need me to validate his life decisions. That’s the most extreme example I could list, but there are lots of others–like Mr. Captain still being vegetarian over ten years since his marriage to a lady from Texas who does love her some beef ribs barbecue. Differences make good sparks, as elf-chief Kahvi said once in Elfquest.
But if something’s false, then being around someone who isn’t paying lip service to it can be enough to make a zealot into a questioner. Really fervent Christianity just about requires a circling of the wagons; it just about demands a very insular, very cocooned way of living. If everybody is not totally on board and clapping for Tinker Bell, then she can’t survive. It’s not a matter of “dragging the believer down,” as the saying goes, but a matter of the believer seeing exactly how totally superfluous and unnecessary (and even how harmful) religion is in the conducting of a marriage. That’s why, if a couple can just hold it together for a little while after a deconversion (in my direct observation of friends in the UYC), the Christian in question usually calms down and starts focusing on reality instead of on the shared roleplaying experience they thought they were signing up for when they got married in the first place. Though I’ve heard of Christians staying with deconverted spouses for a year or two and then springing the D-word* on their astonished partners, it doesn’t seem like it happens that often. The lack of religious unity may well be a bit of a thorn for a long time, but that thorn becomes less and less worrisome as the couple moves past the event of the deconversion itself–as the Christian begins to see just how little has really changed.
And every single couple who successfully steps out into the water is another brick that gets torn out of the wall of toxic Christianity.
Of course, truly zealous Christians may well find that this challenge to their worldview simply cannot be brooked, and they well feel that the roleplaying experience they wanted matters so much to them that the person behind that other role can be switched out for someone else. There ain’t much that can be done at that point. But I’m hearing more and more often about Christians who are daring to question what they were taught–and who can’t imagine living without their beloved spouses even if it means living a totally different life from the one they thought they were signing up to lead.
So yes: Christian leaders have quite a lot to fear from all this love being expressed between believers and non-believers.
But they’re the ones who must fear, not the couples themselves.
Love’s one of the most potent forces in the entire world. And it will succeed where indoctrination and fearmongering cannot.
Mixed-faith marriages are more of a threat to the status quo of Christianity than they are to the people involved in those marriages. So we can expect Christian leaders to speak out against them more and more fervently as time goes on, though hopefully their flocks will have plenty of examples around themselves at that point to know that what is being taught to them is just so many buckets of horse-apples.
* Divorce. Stop that giggling.