I’ve had this post in the works for awhile, and today’s Daily Prompt (which asks, In your imaginary award acceptance speech (yes, we know you have one), who’s the very last — and most important — person you thank?) just proved to me that now might be the time to share it. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I was raised a Christian. I went to Church every Sunday. I prayed before meals. I thanked God for all His gifts every night. I was serious about my faith. But now, I am dating an atheist, and I couldn’t be happier. You see, my atheist boyfriend saved my life. And if I were to ever have a chance to give an acceptance speech, he is the last and most important person I would thank.
The secularists among you might think this means that his influence turned me away from theism. Still others are wondering how an atheist could possibly save a Christian girl. Some of you might even be thinking that our relationship couldn’t possibly last – that I, or my boyfriend, or both of us, will come to our senses, break up, and try to find someone else.
I can assure you that all of those thoughts are wrong. I am still a Christian, he really has saved me, and we are not going to break up anytime soon, if ever. And I have many, many things to thank my boyfriend for.
The first, and most obvious, is that I am more open and accepting because of him. I think that this is something that many couples can relate to. Sharing your life with someone else will automatically force you to become a more open and accepting person, for the simple reason that it is impossible to date someone who is exactly like you. However, I think that sharing a relationship (be it a friendship something more “serious”) with someone who has a radically different worldview forces you to work harder on accepting the other person for who they are. I know that has been the case with my relationship. Assumptions that I had about atheists were challenged, and oftentimes, completely shattered. Opinions that I had on his worldview (for example, that atheism as a whole is morally lazy) were proven wrong. I had to learn to become more open to his ideas, to not make assumptions, and to accept him for him, instead of wishing that he could think just like me.
Coupled to this idea of acceptance and understanding, is that he has shown me that other people can be good people, even if they aren’t Christian. I find that it is common for Christians to believe that you can only be a good person if you are a Christian. I never used to explicitly think this, but being a Christian was such a huge part of my identity, that I found it hard to imagine how I could be a good person without that foundation. But when you fall for an honourable, loving person who just happens to lack faith, you abandon your subconscious assumptions about the goodness inherent in humanity pretty quickly. Before I met my boyfriend, I would have nodded in agreement with this poem that recently made the rounds on Facebook (read down for the “atheist” perspective, and up for the “Christian” perspective):
I live my life according to these beliefs.
God does not exist.
Its just foolish to think
That there is an all knowing God with a cosmic plan.
That an all powerful God brings purpose to the pain and suffering in the world
It’s a comforting thought however
It is only wishful thinking.
People can do as they please without eternal consequences.
The idea that
I am deserving of hell
Because of sin,
Is a lie meant to meant to make me a slave to those in power
“The more you have, the happier you will be.”
Our existence has no grand meaning or purpose.
In a world with no God
There is freedom to be who I want to be
But with God
Life is an endless cycle of guilt and shame.
Everything is fine.
It is ridiculous to think
I am lost and in need of saving.
But thanks to my boyfriend’s influence, I found myself angry after reading that (I also wasn’t particularly impressed about the Christian perspective shown here, but that is a post for another day!). The bottom line is that atheists can find meaning in their lives. Atheists can be good people. And being a Christian doesn’t automatically make you a good person. Life is way more complicated and nuanced than the stereotypical Christian vs. atheist perspectives. And I am so, so happy that my boyfriend was able to teach me that.
The main difficulty with dating someone who is different from you is that you are forced to discuss, and often defend, some of your most deeply held and cherished beliefs and customs with them. Because of this, he has shown me how to defend my faith with reason and compassion. Talking with an atheist about faith requires you to be clear, reasonable, and patient, especially when you are talking with someone who has had no previous exposure to religion. These were all skills that I thought I had, until I began discussing spirituality with my boyfriend. I learned so much about what I believed, and how to express my beliefs, just by talking and debating with someone who I felt safe with. No matter what I said, he would still love me, and he wouldn’t be offended, so I was free to explore my thoughts honestly and thoroughly.
Most of all, sharing my life with my boyfriend has deepened relationship with Jesus. Sometimes, I still have doubts, and I don’t think that doubts are unreasonable or uncommon among Christians. However, I am 100% honest-to-God serious when I say that I have a better faith life now than I did before my boyfriend and I began dating. The faith I practice now is a faith that I have no reservations about, because I am not asking myself to accept something that does not seem right just because it is written in a ~5000 year old book. I no longer blindly believe something simply because I was told to in Sunday School. I think, discuss, wonder, and learn about my faith. Dating someone who did not understand Christianity ironically helped me to gain a deeper understanding of Christianity, in all its crazy, diverse manifestations. It also helps that my boyfriend is amazingly supportive of me and my faith – he reminds me to go to church, asks me if I’ve been praying, and tries his best to participate in this aspect of my life, even though he does not believe in it.
The faith I practice now is a faith I have considered deeply and questioned thoroughly (though of course, I am not done questioning, considering, or growing!). I shudder to think of the sort of close-minded, proud, ignorant person I might have grown into without his influence.
All because my atheist boyfriend decided to give this Christian girl a chance.
P.S. If any of you out there find yourself in love with someone who has very different beliefs than you, I really do suggest you give that someone a chance. I won’t sugar coat this though – it takes a lot of hard work to get an inter-faith relationship to work. It requires a lot of openness, a lot of acceptance, a lot of discussion, and a lot of very clear boundaries and expectations. You are both coming from very different backgrounds, and so you need to communicate with each other in order to make sure you are both on the same page with your relationship. I am lucky – my boyfriend is very accepting of my faith, of my boundaries, and of my wish to raise our future children in the faith, and he comes to church with me every Sunday to show his support – but I made sure of all this before we started dating. Know what your expectations are, know what you are willing to compromise on (and then make sure you actually do compromise!), and know what your deal-breakers are (and stick to them!). Often, things won’t work out. But sometimes, they will, and you won’t ever know if they could have without giving it a chance.