I'm not sure if I need relationship or religious advice, but here goes...

Some background: I’ve been seeing SuaveCaveman (sorry babe, if you read this. I couldn’t resist:)) for nearly a year, seriously/exclusively for most of it. I’ve been in enough bad relationships to recognize this as a very, very good one. We like a lot of the same things: dancing, reading science fiction, hiking, and making fun of the stupid people on reality TV.

His mother adores me.

My mother says that I haven’t seemed happier or “more like myself” in a very long time. And it’s true.

We disagree often, but never fight. I really see this going somewhere.

But (of course there’s a but) I’m a Christian. And he’s an Athiest. Capital-A, hardline Athiest. I think he’d like to believe in something, but he just can’t get past his own engineering over-analytical logic to do so. I’ve never pushed him on it at all (really), but we talk about it all the time.

For various reasons, I’ve been looking for a new church for about 9 months. Okay, so I wasn’t looking very hard at first. It’s hard to get out of bed on a Sunday morning when your partner is sleeping in.

The last few months, though, he’s decided it is important to him to support me in this, so he volunteered to go to the different new churches with me so I didn’t have to go alone. Now I’ve found a good church, a very small Southern Baptist, but the pastor seems genuine and I fell in love with the congregation immediately.

But he wants to keep coming with me. He says that he likes the community and the people. He likes listening to the sermon, and he wants to continue to “support” me in my faith. But I still don’t really think he’s going to convert any time soon, and I wouldn’t let him do it just for my sake.

Part of me is ecstatic that he wants to share this with me. But the other part feels like we’re lying to the congregation. As church-goers know, you can participate in most church social activities without ever needing to talk about your faith at all. It seems to be a pretty conservative congregation, so I know that if he “came out” he’d be pushed to make a decision by well-meaning members, and that would put him off religion even more.

Christian Dopers, or anyone else with a relevant experience, do you think it is fair to hide his lack of belief from my new church family? How would you feel if an Athiest wanted to attend your services and talk to you about your faith but refused to be converted?

Well…one reason I’m an atheist is I HATE it when well-meaning Christians try to convert me. Of course, I wouldn’t have anything to do with church in the first place (Sunday morning? Are you kidding me?), but I’d probably keep quiet about it just to prevent poking and prodding. Hopefully if they get to know your husband first, then find out, they’ll consign him to limbo instead of hell.

I don’t think you’re lying to them by not telling them about your husband’s opinions; I also don’t think you’ll be able to hang out there for long without those beliefs becoming known (without actually starting to lie, of course). That said, my own personal experience with organized religion is that any church that’s not having “work in progress” people around isn’t someplace I’d feel comfortable or happy for long (and this explains why I haven’t gone to more than a couple services at any given church…).

If they’re open-minded enough to realize that they come out ahead of the game by accepting both of you as-is, you should be fine. If they insist that they need both of you to be believers in order to attend, I think you should keep looking…

Thank you. That’s what I’m hoping for, except for two things:

  1. We’re not married or engaged yet. I’m pretty sure it’s a “yet” thing, but my ultrareligious parents are pushing for me to marry someone who is a little more enthusiastic about the whole God thing.

  2. Protestants don’t believe in Limbo or Purgatory, AFAIK. So it’s pretty much Heaven or Hell.

Ack. I just realized how point 1 sounds. I wouldn’t let my family dictate who I marry, but I do want their support. They have also been married for 25 very happy years, so I feel like I should at least listen to their advice.

  1. Erm…sorry. Anyway, you did say “My mother says that I haven’t seemed happier or “more like myself” in a very long time. And it’s true.” Politely remind your parents that your happiness is more important than his faith or lack of it.

  2. Oh. Silly Protestants. I guess you’ll just have to hope they’re the sort of people who can look past the fact that he’s Atheist and see that he’s a good person.

Speaking as a hardline capital-A Atheist, speaking as an avowed celibate who thinks relationships are for the birds, speaking as an ordinary guy… you’re crazy. This guy loves you so much he volunteers to go with you to church on Sunday morning, and then he wants to keep going voluntarily, and you’re worrying what people who’ll probably never find out would think about it if they knew? Let him come with you.

I think how a given church responds to a lack of belief depends a great deal on the denomination as well as the particular church!

For example, in my liberal, Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church, I’d be comfortable discussing my doubts and worries with both my fellow parishioners (many of whom have their own doubts; I know of one in a leadership roll who openly has a very deistic view of God) and the clergy. Participating in the community and sharing their longing for salvation are more important then believing exactly as they do. I’d feel perfectly comfortable bringing an atheist boyfriend along, and I’m sure he’d be welcomed.

But I’ve also seen churches where this would certainly be a problem!

If I were in your shoes, I’d talk to the pastor about it. If he thinks your boyfriend would be welcome, you’re set. If not, then you might want to consider looking for a church that would be more accepting.

Also, I wouldn’t question the sincerity of someone who says that they like attending church even though they don’t necessarily believe. Quite a few people are like that–you can get quite a bit of social and spiritual benefit from a church even without belief.

sigh I really, really wanted our local Episcopal church to work out, mostly because of you and our other Doper Episcopalians like (IIRC) Siege and Polycarp. The people and pastor were great, but there was no one under 45 attending when we were there.

That may seem shallow, but I think I need to be in the company of people who are in the same place in their lives as me. I also worry when I see a church made up of only young people, though. It’s missing a certain… groundedness? Is that the word?

Oh, I have. And they have as politely let me know that, while they will accept whomever I decide to marry, they will still be praying for SuaveCaveman to convert. It’s the best I could hope for, I suppose.

I’m not a Christian, but I go to a Christian church. I’m really more of a Universalist, but I’m also Quaker in some ways (and according to beliefnet.org, I’m also a neo-pagan). It’s not quite the same situation, because the church I go to is more liberal, and I know there are other people there with Universalist tendances (actually, the founder of the church was pretty much a Universalist, which would probably upset some people, including my mom). I think if your SO wants to be there with you, it’s a good place for him to be, and it’s not really anyone’s business what he believes. It could get a little bit awkward when other people want to talk about religion and he’s not on the same wavelength. It’s possible that in the future he won’t be so comfortable there, but for now, I think it’s good that he wants to go to church with you.

I don’t think it’s shallow at all; having and being involved in a community is one of the biggest points of having a church. If you’re not going to be able to find peers in a congregation, you’ll miss out on that very important aspect. But it’s also important to have a variety of different people–even those whom you wouldn’t normally hang out with–because they bring their own valuable set of perspectives with them.

Could you accept a more liberal denomination, or are you pretty conservative? If you could, you may also look at the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ, or the Unitarians (being a Christian and being a Unitarian aren’t exclusive!). Others may be able to add more disbelief-tolerant denominations to the list…

According to the Political Compass, I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but I think the social part is most important in finding a church. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable as a Unitarian, though: I may have the wrong idea about them, but I just can’t believe that every religion is equally valid. I should probably do a bit more research about the different denominations, as I’ve only known one Unitarian in my life, and he was an unimpressive wishy-washy invertebrate-type guy. I’m probably wrong to judge the entire religion on him alone.

I’d be willing to give the others a try, though. Thanks for the tip.

SuaveCaveman’s wouldn’t have the initials JT would he? Man he looks like a former colleague I lost touch with several years ago.

I hope it all works for you both; I say let him come along.

Frankly, if he’s willing to go and feels comfortable enough to continue attending, then I’d say go for it.

FYI, however: Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship: http://www.uuchristian.org/

Nope, sorry. And he’s 21 (barely), so it’s unlikely you know him from work in any case.

The thing is, eventually someone at the church will ask your SO about his personal Christian walk. Will they be surprised or shock if they learn that your SO actually isn’t a Christian?

The problem, I believe, is more with the church people than your SO. (BTW, your SO is really great to be so supporting). Have you ever see how other people in the church treats non-christians? Do they have evangelism events or other events where they interact with non-christians?

I’ve only been there for a short time. They have outreach ministries (on our local college campus), but I don’t know how serious/pushy these are. I don’t know the church well enough yet, really.

Isn’t he though? I’ve assured him that if he ever finds an athiest church where they stand around discussing random fluctuations in the space-time continuum and meaningless coincidences, I’ll be there for him, too. :wink:

Personally, I think you are overthinking the matter. You like the church, he’s willing to keep coming to church with you and he likes the church even if he doesn’t share your beliefs. Relax, keep attending the church and don’t fret about misleading people. Don’t lie- but I bet you’d be surprised at the number of people who attend a church, any church, for reasons other than deepest conviction that what the minister says is true. (Heck, I just left a church for geographical reasons that I liked for many reasons, but tended to tune out the sermon because the minister’s beliefs on the literalness of the Bible were not compatible with mine.)

A good church should be friendly towards people whose beliefs are not identical, so long as they agree on the majors. OK, your boyfriend apparently doesn’t agree on the majors, either, but if he likes the music, the sermon, the fellowship, the feelings that come from supporting you- I’m not seeing who’s being harmed. I mean, if he starts saying things like “I’ve spent twenty five hours doing something for you, now it is time for you to do something for me” that’s one thing but that isn’t the vibe I’m getting.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting a relationship with someone whose beliefs were incompatible-- but given that you’ve already started the relationship and you are otherwise happy with it, I’m really not seeing what the problem is.