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A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

maze1While I’m writing this one, I’m continuously “finding the book” — trying to refine my own sense of what the finished product will look like. Harder than usual, since this is mostly new ground.

The chapter structure has been one of the challenges. The book is not just tips for having the baptism conversation or dealing with pressure from the mother-in-law. That’s part of it, but there’s also a lot of big picture content that needs to be layered around those issues.

Here’s the current plan:

1. Intro/Big Pic
I start with a snapshot of my own wedding and the thoughts in my head as I married the Southern Baptist woman of my dreams. Pull back to examine the scary literature on mixed-belief marriage. Dissect that lit to find a strong tendency to exaggerate or spin (or completely disregard) research, or use research well past its expiration date, in order to sustain the idea that couples must share beliefs. Replace that hypothesis with a more positive one supported by current research. Establish the unique framework of the secular/religious marriage.

2. Meet the Believers
What it means to be an individual believer today, and how that differs from the popular perception. The wide spectrum of actual belief and practice (as opposed to official doctrine), and the enormous and growing overlap with secular values.

3. Meet the Nonbelievers
What it means to be an individual nonbeliever today, and how that differs from the popular perception. The wide spectrum of approaches and tone among the nonreligious, and the enormous and growing common ground with religious progressives.

4. Meet the Mix
This sprawling middle section is where my survey data will spread their wings. A frame-by-frame look at the secular/religious marriage as revealed in that survey and in individual interviews. How the flavor of the mix (Catholic vs. Jewish vs. Evangelical vs. Mainline Protestant vs. Hindu vs. Islamic on the religious side, anti-theist vs. academic atheist vs. ritual atheist etc. on the nonreligious side) and the intensity with which those labels are held affect the issues that arise.

5. The Issues
A series of short sections describing individual issues in the secular/religious marriage, including extended family pressure, wedding, churchgoing, family identity, parenting issues (from baptism to child autonomy to rites of passage and churchgoing/Sunday school for the kids), communication, divorce, and funeral/memorial planning.

6. For Better
Survey respondents were asked to name any specific positives or benefits they have derived from being in a marriage that bridges the widest belief gap of all. After the long section on challenges, the book ends with a look at the very encouraging responses to that one question.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.