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23 October 2010

On "unequally yoked" marriage | Part 1 of ?

This is the first post among an unknown number of posts to come about "unequally yoked" marriage. Googling for "unequally yoked" produces an absurd amount of hits. I've found most to be about what to do before marriage. I'd like to write a bit about what it's like from within marriage.

Here's a link to the index for this series
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Note: This post got looooong. If you find you don't have the time or desire to read all of it, skim the "Summary" section and skip to the last two sections on "Current Developments" and "Reflections."
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As my blog tagline says, I want this site to be about remedying deficiency. One candidate for this is in my marriage. I'd like to start posting about my thoughts on being in a marriage in which one believes in god (Catholicism) and one does not. I have tried to read a lot about this topic in other blogs, sites, and forums. There is a lot out there. I don't know that I'd say much of it is helpful. I'll categorize my survey of the landscape like this:
  • Wishy washy: of the sites and people providing advice that actually try to be helpful, most of what is provided is not very concrete, direct, or specific. "Bear with it," "hang in there," "be patient," "respect one another" and so on.
  • Bail-out: A good number of posts and discussions simply ask/say this: "Do you have kids yet? No? Run for the hills." Nuff said.
  • My spouse doesn't care: The ones discussing staying together often do so from the point of relating personally with the type of situation but are often in a form of it in which the other spouse is only a believer for social or emotional reasons and doesn't actually care if the spouse believes or not

Sure, this is somewhat of a caricature, but I think you won't find it to be much of a stretch. I'd like to at least attempt something different. I'm not sure how this post "series" will continue as I develop my thoughts. For now, I'll simply "bare all" about how the last 10 months has gone and what my current thoughts are.


Summary


My marriage has been about the worst part of this entire "quest" for many reasons. I'll try to handle them in a reasonably organized fashion...


--( Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping... )--
For better or for worse, I attack subjects I want to learn about. It's been like this forever. I always think that when I'm done with "just this next thing" I'll finally be at peace and able to kick my feet up and relax and get to "what matters." Unfortunately, something always comes along and piques my curiosity so that I either a) don't even finish the current task or b) switch gears as soon as the current task is done. This has been, by far the most prolonged, involved, draining focus I've ever had. I'm tempted to call it a chore because my interests are usually things that are reasonably fun for me: taking my bike apart, studying cell phone plan prices, destroying a mutlilevel marketing scheme mathematically, installing FreeBSD on a dual-booting MacBook. Stuff like that. This one has never really been "fun." I've liked learning more and more, but it's never been fun. Mostly because it's been constantly saturated with emotional whiplash of various sorts and from various sources.

The point is that my marriage has suffered because of the time investment. I want to read at every moment because to me, the sooner I get this done (just like every other project, remember?), the sooner I'll be able to put this all behind me and "start anew." It's been extremely hard to be patient because I hate limbo land about things and this is so fundamentally life-altering that keeping it suspended feels like I can't do anything with my life's direction until it's done. What's my moral system? Do I give money away or not? Should I pray every day? How should paint the picture of how the world works for my children -- with invisible forces or without? Things like that. Not being able to definitively answer whether or not Christianity is true makes these things tough. Half of the whole point is that if it's not true, I want to get cooking on "re-learning" about other areas of life and rebuilding myself (see, I've already got another hundred projects lined up and this isn't even done).

My wife would quite appreciate if I spent more time with her and my children. I want to do that, and more so absolutely recognize that I should do that... but I often don't. I get caught in that "last" article or "last" comment to post, etc. Before I realize it, it's 7:30p and it's time to put the 2 year old to sleep. I can half make up for my time lapse by snuggling her to sleep... but that's not good enough. Anyway, I think this is enough to describe both why it's like it is and also not leave too many questions as to why it would make things tough in a marriage.


--( No one is "Pro-Me" )--
One of the hardest things about deconverting when the last seven years of life have been completely invested in Christian living is that I am soooo alone/lonely/miserable. There's hardly anyone who relates with what I'm going through... at all. When I tried to pose a hypothetical situation to my men's group leader in which god didn't exist, he didn't even let me finish the sentence before informing me that "he couldn't" imagine that god didnt' exist. I pointed out that it was just an exercise and restarted the sentence and he cut me off again and said that he simply/literally "could not" imagine such a scenario. I was somewhat stumped at that point.

Many of the smiles have become slightly strained. Not in a malicious way, just in a way that reflects the fact that things are awkward and no one is quite sure what to do with me. Conversations skate around various subjects when I know that they really want to ask about my "quest." Eventually I'm proven right: "So... how's everything going?" or "Any progress?" Stuff like that. It's understandable, but difficult. It's probably difficult because I don't ever have anything to tell them that will make them happy. My "progress" has consistently been in the direction away from the faith, not toward it.

Which brings me to my catch-phrase: "pro-me." The hardest part about the friendships is that for quite a while I've had friends who somewhat admired my geekishness. They liked my little research projects, computer skills, etc. They love hearing about my exploits as a research engineer at an awesome company (what sanitized details I can reveal, anyway). This brings us to quite a clash in how we view the current situation. I see this as an extension of who I already was: curious, detail obsessed, persistent, researching, etc. They see it as me losing a part of me. That's damn hard to be told by your friends that you're not who you used to be when you think you are. My gripe is that it doesn't seem like anyone is "pro-me." As in, "Yes! Go for it. I encourage to you to use all of the [god-given] gifts you have and get to the bottom of this. I've always trusted you and know you just want to understand the world more accurately. I'm confident that you won't stop until you've satisfied what you think you need to know to move on." No, everyone would prefer that I would have never even touched this subject. Cameras, computers, bikes, and pyramid schemes were fine -- god is not.

So, to conclude this section. Bring this under the homestead roof. It's unbelievably difficult to feel like the quality of your relationships has deteriorated, you're being judged (mildly or more severely), that it's not okay to pursue what you want to know, etc... and have that also be the case with one's wife. The one place where I would really, really, really appreciate support is in my own house with my own wife. But she's "one of them" (I write that phrase with levity, not malice). We're completely on other sides of the canal on this one. She thinks I've abandoned her. I think she's stopped supporting me. She thinks I'm free to just "choose" to "come back to the faith" and I think she's wrong for thinking so. We both feel misunderstood. From my perspective, it's tough to have her in the class of people who are not "pro-me." I would love for her to be able to see what I'm doing and trust that it's a good thing and place whatever reliability on my answer to this question as she's put on my answers to the other questions I've really invested in answering.

This has all been to say that I think this "grudge" has kept us distanced. We just don't "rest in each other" like we used to. I don't really feel "at peace" with baring my heart to her and I'm sure she doesn't either. She feels like we've lost the spiritual/religious ground we used to share and I feel like she judges me unjustly, doesn't respect me, and doesn't trust that I'm just doing what I have to do. She's in the category of those who think I should never have embarked down this path. She's explicitly stated that she wishes I would have considered what I was getting into and simply stopped. That's frustrating as I don't think I had a choice and thus feel misunderstood.


--( I'm kind of an a-hole )--
Yes. I'll say it. I've "slipped" in a lot of ways and completely see it and acknowledge it. My stress level is high and I burn out. This makes me prone to want to "escape" into media, goofiness, or technology (like reinstalling my OS, encrypting my hard drive, etc.). My language is quite a bit worse than it used to be, and while I think some of that is legitimately that I don't really think there's a cosmic being judging me for it, I think some of it is simply due to a shorter fuse. I'm a lot more on edge and it makes me prone to take out my frustration with all of this on those around me, which typically means my wife. I'm more argumentative, more pouty, more sensitive, and more prone to lash out. This obviously hasn't helped the relationship.


--( Interactions )--
I'll wrap up by saying that our interactions are quite a mixed bag. There are a lot of reasonably good times, but an awful lot of hard discussions. She always wants me to go to the religious stuff I used to attend (Mass, praise and worship opportunities, etc.) and I don't. This gets us on the merry-go-round. "But I wish you would be there with me." "But I hate going to stuff like that; I feel like people are watching me during prayer time." "No they're not." "No, I'm pretty sure they are -- I've seen people staring at me during prayer time!" And so on...

Or about children. She wants to raise them Christian and I want to raise them "neutral" (if such a thing is possible). If she does teach them [about] religion, I want an equal say as well. But she doesn't want that. I don't even want to dogmatic. I think it would be as ridiculous to indoctrinate a child in religion as I do to indoctrinate them in atheism. I simply want them to be open to answer this question when they're old enough and curious enough to do so on their own time and don't think that injecting dogma into them at an early age helps that. In fact, I'm fairly convinced that no other occurrence makes one less able to try and be unbiased in the first place.

We have a lot of recurring discussions that often involve the phrase, "I wish you just..." That could be "believed," "understood me," "were open to doing x," etc. There's lots of things like this. Essentially, I think we're constantly revisiting the central issue which is that both of us feel alone, alienated, and misunderstood. I think we both think we're more of "the victim" as well which isn't helpful. Two victim-challengers fighting for the title. Not a healthy recipe.


Current Developments


Despite how horrid all of the above might sound... we actually have had a pretty darn good week. We had a fantastic conversation last week (or weekend) that really helped things out. I wish I could remember more of it. I think some of it simply occurred because of us both softening to one another. My wife was out of town the previous week at her parents' house. Some relatives were visiting from AZ and she went to spend the week with them while they were here. I think it gave some time for reflection and it was during that time that I made another pass at the current state of "advice" on unequally yoked relationships.

To get it out there straightforwardly: divorce has absolutely come up in discussion and entered both our minds at various points. I can't see how it wouldn't. At least on one occasion, I brought it up completely rationally: would my wife be happier were we to be apart? I really think it's something we needed to consider. While immediate pondering and reflex push one to say, "No," it's a valid question and deserves facing. If I put on my 10-years-in-the-future glasses, do I think one or both of us would be better off without this marriage? At the time, I wasn't even thinking about me. I just wondered if she had someone who was religious if she'd be happier down the road. She said no. That was that.

Kids also came up a lot in my reading during that week. I went out to several Minnesota Atheist Meetup events that week and some had asked about my marriage. I said that it was definitely not very joyous at the moment and that things were probably worse than the last time I talked with them about it. Kids came up and one thing that struck me was that separation wouldn't fix that issue. It'd still be an issue. Do we both "fight" to indoctrinate them? Agree to keep it "neutral"? Do something else? That'd remain. And that's probably one of the hardest facets of future-thinking. Given that, perhaps separation was a pointless thought-investment after-all.

Divorce/separation really hasn't come up all that much. I'm mainly getting it out on the table for the benefit of anyone else reading this. Talk about it. Lay it out there. Think it through. It's not like it won't creep in when things are hard anyway, so one might as well bring it in the light and think about it intentionally rather than letting any thoughts about divorce occur when emotions are running high and blood is boiling!

In any case, my wife came back and I think we had some kind of argument centering around me not being involved in our family life (like I wrote above) and for whatever reason I was inspired to try and mend things. I brought my computer upstairs to our bedroom and queued up Tony Bennett's rendition of "Just the Way You Look Tonight," the song for our first dance at our wedding, and waited until she came to bed. I brought her over to me, and started the song. We danced in our room at the foot of the bed with the newborn sleeping in the bassinet until the song was done and then talked for quite a while. I let her know that I still wanted to be a good man, reassuring her that even if I do come out on the side of non-belief, I don't have any intentions of becoming uncaring, mean, horrible, removed, etc. I still want to be a great father and husband. I acknowledged that I'm quite absorbed and need to change that. I also tried to promote her understanding why I tend to be absorbed -- I don't even feel like I can move forward with life until answering this. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it is how it feels sometimes. I also tried to re-explain the loneliness and how I want her more than anyone to support me. That's especially true since I feel like I'm constantly "on guard" when I'm around our Christian circles and the last place I want to feel like that is at home. Anyway, I think sharing helped mend things quite a bit and led to a great week. I've been more involved with the kiddos, helpful around the house, and we've spent more time together. Good deal!


Reflections


I'll end what became a crazily long post with some reflections to try and add to the mix of the current takes on these situations. First off, I'll say that I think it's absolutely possible to make something like this work. It probably won't be very fun at many times, but does not to fall into the category of either "run to the hills" or "it works because my spouse doesn't actually care."

I won't advise running away and my wife emphatically does care!


--( Discussions )--
I would say that every conversation that has turned into an attack, debate, or guilt-placing-exercise has gone horribly. I think the success of our marriage is going to rely on not doing this... ever. Or at least as rarely as possible. Neither of us can see the other as being the source of the issue. She's not stupid/irrational/unjustified/ignorant for believing... and I'm not satan's-spawn/malicious/willfully-hating-of-religion/possessed/cruel for not believing. Make sense?

Neither of us are likely to convince the other and thus I don't think spouses should be the ones to debate each other... at least that's my present stance. Leave this to the books, countless web sites that are there for each to read, and others in one's life. I think our relationship will be healthier if she refrains from trying to convince me that it actually is my choice to disbelieve (where as I think it's not) and in me refraining from trying to convince her that her beliefs are false.


--( Who Wins? )--
My current reflection is that the only way to make something like this work is for the marriage to become a "lose-lose" situation. Let me develop this a bit. No one anticipates something like this. Both of us are hurting. Both of us wish the other came over to our side. Both of us think we're either more right or have been more heavily wronged. To put it bluntly, I'm fairly convinced at this point that we both have to give that (pardon) sh*t up.

We both have to lose, at which point the marriage, overall becomes win-win. The alternatives? She insists on raising our children Christian and me having no say. Or I insist that she doesn't even teach them about her faith while I only teach them secular/naturalist principles that can be established via science. Both of these are win-lose scenarios, but I hypothesize that these types of situations will actuall kill the marriage long term. I honestly don't know if I could stick around were I in a relationship where my spouse literally asked me to keep my mouth shut about something I put so much work into for no other reason than she believed in it. I equally don't expect she'd put up very well with me telling her to keep something extremely important to her completely to herself and to never speak of it.

This is a marriage which implies equality, at least in my mind. I paint this as a lose-lose necessity because I think we'll both have to drop down the bar of our ideal/how we imagined our marriage to make this work. But that's the cost of making things work in light of the current situation... which actually will make the marriage a win-win success.


--( Obstacles )--
I see several obstacles. I think maintaining communication and openness is probably the biggest. When we lose the ability to relate to the other in this, we deteriorate. This has to come from both sides. I've noticed that when she stops recalling that I did not choose to doubt and hints at this being willful on my part, I really get upset. She also is heavily affected when I leave out the obvious hardship she's enduring by having the Catholic man she chose stop being Catholic.

The "children issue" is far from done and I see my lose-lose solution threatened by an unfortunate tendency of my wife (and many other believers) to be overly influenced by authority for the sake of it being authority. She related that she was not sure what she'd do if she was "instructed" to carry out her promise to raise our children Catholic. It would put her in a tough spot; should she choose to do what seems best for our family and our relationship or what's best in the eyes of the Church? We were (and she still is) quite "dogmatic." We were not "pick and choose" Catholics. That will make it extremely hard if not impossible if a priest tells her that she will be "abandoning her Catholic duties" should she not raise her child explicitly Catholic and perhaps even demand that I keep to myself about it all. We'll have to see how this plays out.

Lastly, I think common ground could be a struggle. Everything we used to say was infused with god this and god that. I would talk about how I acted on "the Lord's word" at work or in life or how "god spoke" to me in my daily prayer time or present some reflection on how an area of our life reflected Jesus' teaching. Things like that. That's all gone now. My thoughts now are things like, "Wow, if the B theory of time really is correct, the whole Kalam Cosmological Argument fails. Fascinating!" First off, most people don't care about that to begin with. Secondly, the point is that most of my thoughts are atheistic in nature and just won't uplift my wife. It makes it challenging, because I love to share reflections and yet can't since they will either be uninteresting or angering! Rebuilding some common form of interests, intellectual focus, etc. will be a definite obstacle to overcome.

Conclusion


Wow! I never knew so much would come out on this. I hope to continue posting updates and further reflections/developments as thing progress. We're in a pretty darn good spot right now and I'm trying to understand why (though, that takes a back seat to simply keeping it this way!). We may look into seeing a recommended marriage counselor, though my research (hehe) indicates that they can be expensive. It might still be worth it, just sayin'. My primary focus right now is on keeping things "lose-lose" so that we maintain the peace and connection. As soon as one of us goes for the "win" in some way... I find that we lose the sense of common struggle, refuge in the other, and so on. Keeping those will make the actual hardship bearable rather than adding to it.

29 comments:

atimetorend said...

Just read the summary so far, but I have shared a lot of the same experiences. Copied a few quotes that jumped out at me.

There's hardly anyone who relates with what I'm going through... at all.

"Many of the smiles have become slightly strained. Not in a malicious way, just in a way that reflects the fact that things are awkward and no one is quite sure what to do with me."
We changed churches not too long after that point, it made things a lot easier in that regard.

Your paragraph about your wife, we were like that for a while, like maybe a year or more, but things have changed. My wife is able to see my perspective better, even if she does adopt it. Reading Rachel Held Evans book helped, because its helped us to see that we both doubt lots of things about evangelical christianity, even if there are parts (lots) of christianity which she holds onto and I let go. She is able to see that dropping a lot of the presuppositions of organized religion has been a postive for her as well as for me.

"I'm kind of an a-hole."

"But I wish you would be there with me." "But I hate going to stuff like that; I feel like people are watching me during prayer time." "No they're not." "No, I'm pretty sure they are -- I've seen people staring at me during prayer time!"

Or about children. She wants to raise them Christian and I want to raise them "neutral"

Zoe said...

Hendy,

This is Zoe. Followed you here from the d-C site but you will know me from commenting at Like A Child's blog.

This post is fantastic. And it brought me to tears as you and your wife danced.

Would you mind if I posted a link to this post of yours on my blog?

Like a Child said...

I resonate with so much of what you've said. It has been the most difficult experience of my own life, & a trial for our marriage. We have gotten in so many arguments over my doubt - its been horrible. Did you notice my husband wrote a series on doubt that your wife might consider checking out. He's learned to "let up" and not push, b/c the latter only drives me further away. There are times I want to throw every Bible out of my house, and others when I am willing to try to go to church again. We are on an indefinite break from church hunting again, this time at my husband's prompting, b/c he is realizing how challenging the whole process has been. What has helped for us is that my husband, too, experienced hurt at our old church as our friendships withered away after we left our church because we weren't calvinists and didn't feel we fit in.

That said, we are still very much in a challenging situation - if you read the posts, we sound much more "put together" than we really are. We are taking it one difficult day at a time.

As an aside, I'm surprised that you all are having such difficulties as Catholics. I feel the most at ease talking about my faith struggles with Catholics. Maybe its because we live in the south, and since Catholics are in a minority, they can identify with my feelings of isolation and being stigmatized for my "heretical" thoughts!

DoOrDoNot said...

Hendy,
I'm with Zoe, the imagery of you and your wife dancing together was beautiful and touching. thanks for writing about your marriage, I agree that there's not enough written on this topic.

One thing I'd like to note about your marriage is where it's at developmentally. For most marriages, one of the most challenging times is right after the birth of children. So much energy is going into caring for the children that there's not alot of energy going toward the marriage itself. we've been married 15 years, and our lowest point to date has been after the birth of our second. We finally began putting more energy into our marriage and started going out on dates again. We even went to counseling for a couple of months to get back on track. I don't know exactly what you all need, but I think you're on the right track when you do things like snatch a few minutes together and dance at the foot of your bed.

Hendy said...

Wow! Thanks all for the comments. Much appreciated.

@atimetorend: Thanks for the comments. It's good to know that someone has passed through what I described into something better. I'll have to check out Rachel's book. I'm not sure my wife will come to a point of thinking that there's a lot she doesn't agree with. She is wholly in line with Catholicism and even though the need to understand what the "rules" are if one spouse leaves the faith has never come up... I can't imagine a situation where she would choose to understand my perspective over what an authority figure tells her... at least at this point.

@Zoe: Yes -- I've seen you "around" and visited your blog. You can absolutely link to this post. My wife cried, too :) It was definitely an oasis of reuniting after quite a long desert journey -- longer than I think we both realized. As in, perhaps we didn't realize until the oasis how thirsty we had actually become for the other's comfort.

@LaC: I'll have to check out the posts by your husband. I can relate to pendulum-ing between openness and revulsion. I go through that, too. I think I wrote recently, or meant to, that at a recent event I was actually trying sincerely to "want to believe" if god does exist. Not that I want to believe just to believe, but at least to desire it if he does exist, which can be challenging at times I guess. It was a good experience. But other times, when my wife and I argue, it makes me absolutely hate religion. Then I think it's a horrible, divisive force that destroys relationships and experiences simply because you don't believe in the same sky-god. Anyway, thanks for sharing about that!

@DoOrDoNot: Good point about the kiddos. Come to think of it, it does make it a lot more difficult. We try to talk and can't because the wee-tot needs some drinky drink. Or we actually do have some time to talk (it's 8-9p or so) but my wife is so tired that she doesn't want to or can't really stay with the conversation. It's definitely a hard time. Just getting time in together is a good focus :)

Like a Child said...

Reading Rachel Held Evans was a breakthrough for my husband. I encourage your wife to read it, especially since she can relate as a female. I met her, she is a sweet individual, and still very much involved in church, so your wife need not fear her.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Hendy,

I am "pro-you (me)" and think it is the only way to go. This blog post is timed with perfection for me (almost wants me to believe in god). I've had another blip of frustration this weekend where I see my accomodation to my wife's desire for family church time is wrong. I see christianity as immoral and a damaging ideology to truth, science, and human rights. I don't want to pretend that I am okay with it any more. I've kept my mouth shut because there are people I know who are nice who may hold fundamental christian beliefs but I don't want to do it anymore and I don't want my son to have to give respect to a superstition that has no basis in evidence. I told my wife this morning that I won't be going to church any longer nor will I assent to religion as good simply because people I like, like it. Your willingness to demand religous claims hold to a standard of truth has helped me detach from my anger at the liars who seek to assert their religion or harmonize gospel claims. I seem them as morally weak snake-oil salesmen but don't feel the need to change their minds. I just want to stay far away from them.

I write this to let you know that I am still a friend and fellow seeker whose marriage is in as much flux as yours regarding this issue. I once felt shame for changing my mind and putting pressure on my wife. I no longer feel that way because my studies have shown religious belief to be inferior in its approach to ethics and something I deny as honest.

Thanks for your writing.

Hendy said...

@Chuck: thanks for stopping by! Interesting comments. It sounds like some of the motivation to attend based on friendships may have declined a little? Kids really throw a wrench in the equation. I am firmly convinced that we have little understanding for how radical of an effect will become manifest due to ideas implanted at an early age. While often construed to be some form of the genetic fallacy (when it's not), I think the (my word, not an official name) "geographic argument" is quite powerful.

If there is an all powerful god who wants us to know him, it's quite frustrating to realize that literally idiot claims are easily assimilated and held to in the face of the real truth of the real god. In other words, how in the world is it that, say, the Bible is utterly rejected for pet theories involving Xenu and thetans, auditing, etc. in Scientology? Or Jesus teleporting from the middle east to Utah and making plans to return in Missouri (and having revealed such via golden plates in the 1850s)? How does that happen?

I almost feel like I'd need to be a little angered for the rest of my life that god would let so many people be hoodwinked! I mean, imagine that one could be taught at birth that candy bars were the best diet in the world and that vegetables were utterly evil. Now constrain this occurrence to particular areas in the world. In other areas, they teach the opposite. Now imagine that nothing one in the "vegetable party" told a member of the "candy bar" party would make any difference. What a frustrating reality!

Anyway, my point is that if there is evidence to be had, it's frustrating that world-wide, cherished/sacred beliefs of one party are pushed aside/rejected/spat-upon/considered evil by others.

What determines which fall in the bubble of sacredness and which are spittle-worthy? As far as I can tell (well, it's documented, too) it's almost wholly a matter of what one is taught in childhood.

Wow, long comment just to express that I relate very much. I also need to put in a plug for my wife, though. I can definitely see how when I advocate for "neutral" raising of our daughters it doesn't really seem like it's "neutral." In other words, "neutral" seems to mean "lack of religion" which starts looking synonymous with atheism. Perhaps Dan Dennett's promotion of comparative religion is the best solution? Teach about religion, but don't indoctrinate?

Lastly, at a Minnesota Atheists meetup a few months back about the effects of indoctrination, a book called Parenting Beyond Belief was highly recommended. It's still on my to-do list, but I thought I'd put it out there. I'm definitely looking forward to reading it!

I wish you the best -- keep in touch and thanks for commenting!

HeIsSailing said...

Hendy, I read every word of this long article. How I wish leaving Christianity were not so difficult. RoseMary used to cojole me into attending mass with her, even just to be her side. I did for a while, but then told her that I felt like a hypocrite, and there is nothing that bugs Christians more than hypocrites. I felt better actually acting on my beliefs, and that meant not attending mass anymore, and not being a hypocrite. She has since grown to understand my position.

Please keep us posted. All the best.

Hendy said...

@HiS: interesting. I would say that my wife somewhat understands my position but still wants me to be with her anyway :) I've wondered if it's fair for her, as she gets "stuck" with a 2 year old and an infant if she wants to take them both. That's pretty hard. My compromise is usually to keep the elder and she can go herself. I've mostly not been going, but will go when it's something with perhaps a social event afterward.

Anyway... Indeed, I wish it were not so difficult. I've found that the most difficult part is having to realize that I've literally invested all aspects of my life into a Christian community -- beliefs, activities, social get togethers, tithing (money), books, etc. That's a lot of stuff to have invested time and effort into for a particular belief. Then... one day it doesn't seem real anymore. And over time it seems downright ridiculous. But I haven't spent the last 7 years (since my more major conversion) investing in diverse friends and experiences... they've all been of only one sort of genre. I can definitely feel stuck sometimes. It makes me want my early adult life back sometimes -- a do-over since I had no clue.

Which brings me (closing up, I promise) to the kids issue. When I think about what happened to me -- living like x and never questioning x because I was completely oblivious to the issues and perhaps even mentally incapable of being open minded to being wrong -- it makes me not wish that on anyone. No one should go through their formative years thinking they've got the answer when they've never even studied it. I find that continues to be the case. I'm criticized for acting to rashly... yet I'm the one reading all the books about this stuff! In any case, I want my kids to do this early. I don't think anyone should have to snap out of it after a quarter century (or more) and suddenly realize they never put in the intellectual work to decide if what they believe is well-founded in rationality and evidence.

Bjorn said...

I’d like to throw my thoughts into the ring here. I’ve often thought about what would happen if I “deconverted.” Here are a few thoughts that don’t seem to be considered here:

First off, it should be understood that there really isn’t a middle ground on this one. To raise kids “neutral” is to raise them as non-Christian. It’s like raising children neutral to belief that horses exist. If you don’t tell them anything about horses, to let them decide later on their own, you have raised them as non-horse believers. So, one of you will have to give in from my perspective.

Second, apart from there being no obvious middle ground from your wife’s perspective there is an infinite downside to not believing (and an infinite upside). This will obviously be extremely polarizing for her.

Given those two things, even if your wife’s position is completely and utterly irrational, you may have to weigh whether it is better to have your child taught something irrational or for them to grow up in a broken home. Given her belief it is extremely possible that your wife could simply and absolutely put her foot down on this and say that she will not allow them to be raised non-Christian. If you were to believe in something for which there was little room for compromise and there was an infinite downside what would you have her do?

Third, I think I would take into perspective of what my wife thought she was getting into if I were to deconvert. Frankly, I know for a fact that if I had been a non-Christian at the start she never would have married me. She married me with the intention (perhaps even explicitly expressed) of raising the kids Christian. If I were to change on something that fundamental, I don’t know if I have a right to change the terms on her.

Finally, even if you allow the kids to be raised Christian I don’t think anyone (even your wife) would ask that you lie to the kids and tell them you believe in it. This will have significant sway with them when they notice it as teenagers. Finally (again), is it really so bad? Your wife is a Christian, you were a Christian for a long time, and lots of other people live happy lives as Christians. How bad of people does it really produce? Not too bad I would argue. You can encourage open mindedness, intelligence and a desire to find the truth while still raising them Christian.

*Fair disclosure for the other readers who have not figured this out already: I remain a frail Christian.

Hendy said...

@Bjorn:

Thanks for commenting. Some thoughts:

--( Neutrality )--
I agree, hence I wrote above in a comment to Chuck:
---
"I also need to put in a plug for my wife, though. I can definitely see how when I advocate for "neutral" raising of our daughters it doesn't really seem like it's "neutral." In other words, "neutral" seems to mean "lack of religion" which starts looking synonymous with atheism. Perhaps Dan Dennett's promotion of comparative religion is the best solution? Teach about religion, but don't indoctrinate?"
---
So, I get the neutral part. On the other hand, I've made clear that I don't want to indoctrinate them into anything. I at least think there's something of a middle ground in a comparative approach. I'm not telling them that god does not exist and neither is she telling them that he does. Hence I think that learning about might be this very middle ground. Dogmatically instructing them to deny all gods would be uber-atheistic; teaching them that when they pray to a timeless, spaceless, disembodied mind... he's changing the course of future events in their favor (if they meet his unspecified conditions and feels like it) is certainly uber-theistic. Telling them about both positions (and all other religions) while not mandating that they act as though any are true strikes me as the closest thing to neutrality that exists.

--( Infinite Upsides/Downsides )--
Pascal's wager returns again. We seem to feel extremely content with evaluating only our position. What if I damn my daughters to the hells of Zeus, Allah, Xenu, etc... and I don't get them to Missouri and thus at the second coming they'll be left out of the Mormon garden of eden? I jest, though I do point out that you're painting this in binary. Far from it. There are 19 world religions with over 10,000 variations. I think religion is one of the areas where we tend to "think locally, act globally" and get it backwards.

cont...

Hendy said...

@Bjorn: ...cont

--( The Marriage "Promise" )--
This card gets played a lot -- by my wife, by others in community, etc. Many consider it to be a strength to "stand by their word." "Bygoneit, I said I was 'a gunna live Christian, so I'm 'a gunna live Christian." I strongly disagree. If by no fault of my own I never had the awareness, mental ability, persistence, or sheer possibility of evaluating the factual basis for my religious beliefs, got married based on the beliefs I had at that time, and then came to realize that I had no evidential support for my beliefs, studied the area, and came out finding that I did not think belief was warranted given the state of the evidence... how is this to be held against me?

Consider taking an oath to go to war or work in a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme with a close friend. Both seemed like good ideas, but then your government was ordering you to kill small children as part of their war tactics, or you realized that the MLM was screwing thousands of people in your down-line. Should you be obligated to continue doing what you promised simply because you promised? Why aren't you be allowed to follow the evidence where the evidence leads, even if it goes against your promise.

I find that religion is one of the few areas where we put the "You Shall Not Pass" staff of Gandolf down on the bridge and demand that no one change their mind. Politics and sex-related issues are also in this bucket. I say no way. If evidence comes along that demands I change my stance... that's what I'm going to do. I can keep taking in evidence and thinking about the matter, but I don't see it as a choice, honestly. I class this along the lines of "the sky is blue." You take in your sensory input, it gets parsed by your brain, and your belief is formed not chosen. I suppose I could try to wish myself into Christianity, but I would literally have to stop caring about all of the reasons I think it is more unlikely than not and brainwash myself.

Lastly, in light of the effort I'm putting into this, take a look at my book list and then answer this: "To be fair, shouldn't I demand that all my Christian friends match me in the effort and time I'm putting into this in order for me to allow them to continue in their beliefs/raising my children Christian?"

If not, you're asking me to give up my integrity in order to allow someone to teach my children about a hypothetical being they believe in (i.e. believe in one variant of) based on arbitrary genetic lines, historical occurrences (that formed ancestral religions) and geography. And this is because I made a promise based on ignorance? I find that akin to someone who grew up learning witch medicine becoming enlightened about wester medicine and then feeling obligated to continue letting his kids receive witch doctor treatment. Though perhaps this will be where you rearrange the tables and say that witch medicine would have potential consequences whereas you consider that Christianity only has an infinite upside and no downsides.

I'll have to keep thinking this one over. It's not flying for me right now; on the other hand, I realize it's a tough situation. If I could redo it, I would. Trust me.

cont...

Hendy said...

@Bjorn: ...cont

--( Playing Along )--
I'd be curious for you to describe how it would look for me not to lie but for my children still to be raised Christian. Do I have to support it? Or just keep my mouth shut? Since I feel like I know you reasonably well... of all people do you think you'd be fine with your wife teaching your kids something while just kept your mouth closed about it?

Again, I'll keep thinking about this one, but it rubs me in a non-friendly manner. It's especially difficult because, again, I'm the one putting in ridiculous amounts of time into trying to find the answers. My finding is that those who feel most strongly about this topic... know rather little. There are exceptions and obviously some extremely bright individuals out there looking at the topic of god and religion. In my circles, I've been met with purely stunning logic like this:

-- If you can't prove right now that god doesn't exist, then he exists.
-- If god doesn't exist, why don't you just go kill yourself? What's the point. [I insert my response here]. Doesn't matter. Why live at all?
-- [I express doubt about gospel authenticity]. Then I think you're crazy.

My wife and I are different birds. I don't particularly want to speak about her but will leave it at this: she believes and is rather content with believing for the various anecdotal reasons she has. In some ways... I want to just say, "That's fine." But now it's involving others. Others who can't make a decision for themselves. And my choice is between going with what I've killed myself over and what someone else believes anecdotally?

--( Not So Bad )--
I'm mostly with you on this. I think that [at least in my circles] there are some great individuals around and their way of living has born great fruit. I would have more doubts, I think, if I lived in a more fundamentalist area of the US (and my circles were filled with fundamentalists). I will give a few examples, however, of how religion can be unhelpful:

-- I believed that we could take a "leap of faith" in buying our house even though it was going to be extremely tight because we tithed, and I believed god would honor that. It's obviously been okay so far, but it would be interesting to find out if others have made decisions based on trust in their tithing and then hurt themselves financially or at least had to cut back/stop tithing because the decision was not financially sound.
-- I prayed about marrying my wife. From a Christian standpoint, this sounds admirable. From the standpoint of non-belief, that's not so certain. Moreso, I was somewhat in agony for a year praying about god's will for my life, expecting an answer in some form and would say that I never really got one. Many chime in at this point that god won't write things in the sky or the like... but the point is that I lived my life in faith and trying to find out if marriage to my wife was his will. It killed me to think that it might not be his will... but I never found out.

Sure, two silly examples, I know. My point is that living in radical faith could literally lead one to make huge life decisions based on input from some source that isn't there. I can tell you first hand that I've known tons of people to excitedly relate some story about how they prayed about x and felt that god revealed the answer or confirmed their tentative choice via y. And what if such a being doesn't exist? They're making their important decisions based on chance "signs" they think confirm their inklings. Is it killing people? No. Is it living in reality? No.

I'll end with a reformulation of my recurring theme: if I don't know enough to walk away and be allowed input into the raising of my children, to others know enough to actually know what they believe and be granted such important decision making rights?

Chuck O'Connor said...

I am okay with choosing a position where we teach our boy the tradition of religion but the church where we attended is one that asserts biblical inerrancy and I've come to discover that this worldview has a bankrupt scholarship and animates the Intelligent Design movement, the anti-gay marriage movement, and the neo-con foreign policy.

I find the religion I once agreed to has the moral ground of an anti-science, bigoted, and pro-war organization.

The real evil of this organization is that it obscures these positions with a surface piety that never admits to its social exclusivity.

They are the "Jesus + nothing" crowd who believe their commitment to a dubious epistemology affords them the moral high-ground regardless of the consequences their beliefs invite.

I told my wife a couple things this morning. I think all the people that we know through church are "nice" but, having inside knowledge to their beliefs and the politics these beliefs animate, I also think they are dangerous if not immoral (I'd have to estimate how conscious and concerned they are with the social consequences of their belief to estimate their moral standing).

I also said if she feels the motivation to involve our son in christian community then I want to pick a church that recognizes gay marriage and does not hold to an inerrant biblical hermaneutic.

Conservative theologies are dishonest in their apologetics to biblical criticism and history. They rely on special pleading and cultural bigotry to grow and they never admit their true nature with transparency (especially when it comes to other conservative christianities -- a Roman Catholic is not a Calvinist yet they pretend they are "brothers in christ" when their theologies would hold each other heretical).

I can't stomach the dishonest snake-oil strategies. I work as a professional communicatiosn strategist, I know when I'm being manipulated so, if we are going to "enjoy" christian community I want the secularized, watered down variety that embraces allegory and seeks social justice.

Any non-falsifiable moral stance predicated on Ancient Near Eastern myth or medieval philosophy is nothing more than willful ignorance.

bjorn said...

I guess I'm trying to argue that it's like she believes there is a fire in the house and you don't. Because she believes this, Pascal's wager is very real for her. Because Pascal's wager is real for her, there is no neutral ground for her....and if there is no neutral ground for her, then there is no neutral ground. Pointing out Pascal's wager is false because it could be a Lion that she was afraid of just as easily as a fire probably won't be effective...she thinks there is a FIRE.

You can try and convince her not to grab the kids and run from the fire, to give you an equal say with the kids as to whether there is a fire or not, to let the kids decide to run for themselves etc, but all of those are unlikely to work.

I'm trying to reframe the scenario such that you see that I think the question for you should be: given her beliefs how do you respond? And, at what cost are you willing to make that response? You may be able to answer those questions even without the veracity of the fire entering in.

*Disclaimer again...Maybe it's not like this at all. I'm not claiming to know what she thinks, simply what I think is the likely line of thought for most Christians.

Hendy said...

@Bjorn: Interesting way to "reframe" it.

I'm not sure what my response will be if she "puts her foot down." I think I've already explained how I see the options:

1) teach them Christianity, I say nothing
2) both parents viciously infuse conflicting beliefs
3) teach them neutral "tools" such as rational thought, science, critical thinking, and comparative religion

In my mind 3 > 1 > 2. I think #2 would be the most harmful and thus I'd probably just die a partial death inside for many years about the matter and let it be (choosing #1).

I definitely feel the force of the fire/lion argument. I still respond by asking this (adjusted for your new analogy): I have inspected the house, am in the process of examining the blueprints, am becoming more and more familiar with each of the smoke detectors and whether they are hard-wired or use 9v batteries, and have begun to install cameras in each and every room. The more I progress on my project, the more satisfied I become in stating that from what I've looked at, there is no fire and the house is not in danger.

But you continue to ask me to abandon this to someone who really, really, really thinks there is a fire. When I ask why such a belief exists, it's because they "heard it from so-and-so and really respect so-and-so." Who gets to make the call?

Obviously you could rebut this by saying that the issue is far from resolved and smart people from both sides have completed the equivalent task of examining the building and one side concludes P and the other side ~P. Locally, though, my counter-analogy seems to hold. I'm working my a** off to learn the intricacies of this building because I want to make an informed decision about the fire threat... yet I'm surrounded by people who are shouting fire without having lifted a finger to do the same.

Do you relate with where my frustration might come from and why I might now want to simply hand over the reigns so willingly? No one (again, besides you) has heard of my experience, what I'm doing to learn more, etc. and had any desire to so similar things for their faith. No one has even advocated for me to become familiar with the opposing side. Not one person. I've even been criticized for "stepping out of the bubble" at all and been somewhat scolded for "not thinking more about this before embarking" as if I could have sensed a twinge of doubt and run and hid my face in a Bible and never looked back. I look back and it's shocking to think that while many would have considered me a role model of sorts or at least an "upstanding, faith-filled" Catholic who was alive in prayer and personal relationship with Jesus... I had no rational basis for such a belief.

When doubt began, I became aware of this and simply decided that I never wanted to be without such a basis again. I always wanted to "be willing to given an account" for my beliefs, whatever they became (paraphrase of 1 Pet 3:15). That's it.

I'm curious to hear what you and others think works out to be equal/fair in this situation. So far it seems solely based on how "strongly" one "feels" about their beliefs. Since the Christian really, really, really fears hell for themselves and kids and since they are forbidden to abandon their parental get-your-kids-to-heaven instruction, they win. The discussion so far seems targeted solely toward my potential to change/compromise and disregards that such a potential even exists in a believer.

Hendy said...

@Chuck: Interesting point re. choosing a more "open-minded" Church. From my reading, I find that this only seems to work if the spouse already focuses almost solely on the emotional, social, comforting aspects of religion vs. the actual belief that Jesus is real, wants a say in your life, answers prayers, is the savior of the world, etc. I can't imagine anyone I know going for such a church given their current beliefs (i.e. that god is real, cares, does things, etc.).

Furthermore, while liberal beliefs actually do make falsifiability tougher (since there's nothing really predictive about them), the more literal/orthodox subscribers don't seem to be able to offer any falsifiable criteria, either. I'm open to definite criteria, but they all crumble. For example, I recently asked someone whether they thought a good god would allow a 5 year old to be raped and killed. They didn't know. I asked whether they could think of any reason that a human who was loving would watch such a thing happen without acting. The response was no. When asked how god, then, could be defined as loving, the response was, "But he's god. It's not the same thing." I hear this answer, but the problem is that if god doesn't adhere to anything we denote as loving... what is he when we call him loving? We end up with non-definitions that apparently don't translate into anything of meaning.

This just doesn't work:
- A is defined by x, y, and z
- God is A
- God is not x, y, and z
- It doesn't matter, god is still known to be A

As far as I can tell, there will never be any falsifiable claims put forward about quality of life, answered prayers, miracles, inspired words/prophecies, or the like. I don't see why not, as that's exactly what both Yahweh and Jesus promised in scripture.

DoOrDoNot said...

Hendy,
I do hear how frustrated you are now. This is rough.

This issue about the kids is probably the hardest thing about deconversion. I've already wanted to change the way we teach our kids the Bible (read: much less literal). I haven't changed much because my husband and I haven't sat down yet to talk through how we want to handle this. I have in an open way used opportunities like PBS shows my son has watched on science to teach aspects of evolution. However, I've framed it like "some people believe" just to prevent my husband from being upset. My son at age 7 has noticed the contradiction between the literal Genesis interpretation of creation and evolution and asked about it. I just said that God could use evolution. At this point he seems to believe that God made dinosaurs and we evolved from them. As he said to someone recently, "my great-great-great-great-great grandma was a dinosaur." All that to say, I understand the tension between wanting to teach what you believe to be true while also honoring your wife's desires. Maybe there's some room for you both to teach some of what matters without totally confusing your kids. Such as teaching Christianity, but also teaching critical thinking skills and a love of science that can later be tools to help them more critically evaluate their religious beliefs.

I'm sure we each have to find our own way on this one. I think Bjorn makes a good point that you're stuck with your wife believing your kids are in immortal danger if she doesn't raise them as Christians. No mom worth her salt is going to allow harm to come to her babies. And if their dad is the one putting them in danger, he better watch out! That just is what it is. So, while you're hurt that she would dismiss all the work and research you've put into The Quest, she may very well see your Quest as a source of harm to your children's souls. In the end, you're right about it not being fair to you. This isn't something that can be worked out in a marriage like dividing up the bag of M&M's evenly. Sometimes, the one with the strongest opinion does "win." You've probably seen that in your marriage. My kids have never been on 4 wheelers b/c I think it's dangerous for young kids. My husband would have let them ride at his grandparent's house but he knew he'd deal with my wrath and my reluctance to let the kids go over there again if I felt they'd be unsafe.

I would point out that where the 2 of you are at right now may not reflect where you are at in 1 year or 4 years from now. It is possible that over time she may question more herself or at least give you a fairer hearing.

Hendy said...

@DoOrDoNot: Great points. Not fun to hear, but I hear them :)

Yikes on your difficulties. Being a former Catholic, at least there's no issues with evolution. They're pretty wide-open: just believe that god created the universe ex nihilo and that the first life was begun by god and you can believe anything else you want. I would have serious issues were I to be mandated to put aside proven science in favor of the shuck-and-jive routine of any flavor of creationism. I don't think I'd care how strong the opinion was if that were my battle!

Still wrestling with the stronger opinion point, but it's sinking in more and more. Also appreciate the urge toward patience/perspective re. now vs. 1-4 years down the road.

Chuck O'Connor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Like a Child said...

Hendy,
I resonate with much of what you've discussed in the comments, and while i dont have much advice or help, and we certainly haven't figured things out, i would encourage patience. What has helped me and i'm not sure if it will help you...but my journey has spanned months and that has given my husband time to adjust and do his own research. Also, when you think about the outcomes of divorce, it might put pressure on all to "give in" a little...b/c divorce is going to open a whole new can of worms. it has helped my husband to realize how much i suffer emotionally, and how he needs to be there for me to. Also, polkinghornes view on a non-literal hell is also reassuring to him. He is not concerned for me and the kids. We are all on a path.

Hendy said...

@LaC: thanks for the comment. Yes, divorce does not seem to accomplish much of anything. The kids issue is still present, I'm abandoning someone I car about a great deal for a subset of life which we don't agree on, etc. I hear you. Thanks for the admonition to patience!

prairie nymph said...

I just spent 45 minutes typing a comment which disappeared when I tried to post it. I'll try for a short version.

Part of the difficulty I had to go through in deconversion was learning to trust my own reason. I had been indoctrinated into accepting the authority of the church above anything I thought. Perhaps your wife is similar? I needed encouragement before I could face the cognitive dissonance I knew I was living with.

My husband needed evidence. He was raised differently and has more confidence in himself. His main question was how to explain metaphysical evidence other than by Christianity.

Also, leaving a faith is highly stressful. And having small children is highly stressful! Perhaps now is not the time for your wife to deal with these issues? I am still in contact with my former church community because I need the social support in raising my kids. Churches are good at that.

My oldest has had 3 years of bible training. She knows verses, bible songs, and prays at meals. I pray for her, and tell the scary monsters to leave, and say good-night to her imaginary friends.
Now I tell her that Jesus is no longer alive, but some of the good things he said are still alive. And that other people have said and done good things also.

Another thing I do is tell her lots of creation stories from many different traditions. And I often make the god figure female to help her relate with 'godlike' attributes which will hopefully build her confidence in herself. (I think a lot of my deference to the male church authorities and disregard for my own questions is partly due to an exclusively male god figure that I could only obey and never relate to.)

Anyways, good luck. Everyone has their own journey.
And good job with partnering with her in taking care of house and kids. Whatever lowers her stress levels will probably lower yours :)

Hendy said...

@prairie nymph: thanks for the note. Very interesting comments regarding authority and the male nature of god translating into obedience vs. understanding/relating. I appreciate the comments about how you interact with your kids a great deal. That's quite helpful.

It's still up and down quite a bit these days! I'll have to post some follow up posts to share further thoughts one of these days!

theagnosticswife said...

I see so much of your story in my own. My husband was the first to deconvert and I know he had many of the same thoughts and feelings as you. I myself felt I could not go on or do anything else until I figured out what or who I wanted to believe in. My husband deconverted about a year before I did and I wasn't even intending to, I was just trying to make it work being unyoked. However I began to listen and once I did that I couldn't hide behind my fear any longer. So, strangely enough I've been on both sides of this dilemma. It took time and lots of talking and some anger and thoughts of divorce and fear on how to raise my children, but in the end I believe we have worked it out. I wish you the best on this journey, because it is such a journey.

Hendy said...

@theagnosticwife: thanks for sharing. Very interesting to hear a small tidbit of your "journey." It is quite the journey. I'm just coming up on a year since my doubt/non-belief began and I feel quite a lot better than I did even a few months ago. I've also been distracted with home projects and perhaps am just oblivious at the moment...

Charles said...

@Hendy

Came across your blog after our exchange over at Luke's site. Were that your situation was not so familiar! As I read, I kept thinking,

That's me.

For my part, The Quest as you call it didn't begin until I was 34. Oh, sure, I had filed away all sorts of minor issues. Stuff like,

Why are all these arguments so terrible?
Huh. The earliest versions of Mark seem to be missing some important bits.
Why is there no evidence for the Flood?


I got married. Finished my degree. Did short-term missions.

I don't know what it says about me that my crisis of faith began when the pastor told me all masturbation was a sin. But there it is.

After that, I began asking lots of questions. Where was the evidence for Exodus? Why aren't there any documented cases of demon possession in, you know, journals? Did evolution really happen?

The Quest was joined.

It ended when I decided my version of Christianity wasn't compatible with evolution and I didn't have any good reasons to believe another. My therapist at the time said I should explore other ways of thinking about God, but by then I was an atheist, in all but name. (Strangely, I couldn't bring myself to use the label until I read Guy Harrison's 50 Reasons. After that, it wasn't hard.) Through it all, I was terrified to let my wife know what I was going through. For awhile, I even hid my copy of Parenting Beyond Belief.

I have now come to a place where I see fundamentalism as pretty harmful. The idea that you are broken and need someone else to fix you. That you must believe certain propositions or be punished for all time. That you can trust uncritically what you read in a book. These are morally bankrupt. I will not inflict them on my son.

Well, that's my story. I'd invite you over for coffee, but you live 31 hours away! Let me know if care to chat.

Hendy said...

@Charles: Hi! I can recall you but can't find where we've discussed at CSA. I look forward to reading 50 Reasons -- it's on my book list! Very interesting to hear that this one sounds like it was a game changer for you. I hope to dig into Parenting Beyond Belief this week, actually. It's on loan from a member of the Minnesota Atheists group I attend sometimes and I should really return it!

I definitely hear you on the concept of original sin. I think it can probably be lived healthily by some (a movement in one's self toward gratitude to god and appreciation for what one sees as grace), but I also see that compared to the alternative (that our primitive mammalian origins explain "concupiscence" far better than a Fall story), original sin is a silly idea. We're evolving mammals shown to be nearly hardwired to do certain things. Free will is likely an illusion, and even if it does exist in some form, we're still unable to break free from evolutionary programming.

For example, you can't stop anchoring (or another example).

Or check out some fascinating TED talks by Dan Ariely about how humans decide (Talk 1 and Talk 2).

Perhaps I got off topic there! These things just fascinate me and I guess my point is that we're left with two potential models for explanation:
- we were created perfect, fell from that perfect state, and now muck around in twisted desires and this indicates that we are two substances, spirit and flesh
- we are evolved and have very, very strong programmed instincts for mating (including signaling to others that one is a competent choice for a mate), defense, and survival (the "biggie" sins involve sex, violence, and attempts to display power/superiority/accumulate wealth unrighteously)

As you say, one tells you that you were perfect and now are dirt. Another suggests that we've actually been rising up from the dirt all along, have made significant progress, and can continue to do so.

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