Saturday, February 16, 2013

Atheist marriage

I am an atheist, and I am also married. Oddly enough, this simple combination of those two facts results in some people becoming confused and sometimes even at odds. Perhaps I'll start with a theological picture of my marriage. As I stated already, I am an atheist. At the time of our marriage, my wife considered herself a Wiccan. As time went by her beliefs have wandered somewhere between atheism and her Wiccan beliefs. As of now I'd say that she's somewhat more Wiccan still than anything else. Now that you have a basic picture of our union, let's press on to the reactions and questions that sometimes come up...

How can you be married to someone with differing beliefs?

Is this really so hard to understand? People very rarely share every single belief and opinion that their spouse holds, so why should we expect theology to hold a special place where both sides must see eye-to-eye 100%? To be quite honest, the answer is quite simple. Mutual respect. She respects my beliefs, and I respect hers. We do not try to convert one another, or belittle the others theological stance. And when you actually get to know what someone believes you may sometimes find that there really is a lot that you may both actually agree on, even if the label of your favored theology may be different.

If one or both parties are concerning themselves with proselytizing to the other, then there will be conflict in the relationship. However, we have no such conflict. Actually, we can talk about the subject matter for hours. Perhaps it is because we are both former Catholics. Or maybe it's because we both find theology fascinating. But we can sit and talk about the silly things that people believe, the logical problems, the beauty of the natural world and how it doesn't get the respect it deserves, and find that the time has flown past swiftly without our even noticing. So to those wondering if a marriage between those of differing theological opinions can work, yes... yes it can. But only if you respect one another and their beliefs.

How does one get married without religion?

Quite simply, actually. And often much cheaper than a church wedding. If you don't want to get married in a church to appease family, there is always the option of getting married at the courthouse. But if you are looking to still have a gathering of family and friends, you can do what we did and hire an officiant. If you do your homework, you can find someone to help you craft a wedding of your design. We wanted a wedding void of the Christianity to which we no longer subscribed. He agreed and also felt the the ceremony should be about us, and not anyone else. So we crafted a ceremony that was largely secular, but also included some nods to my wife's Pagan leanings. We rented a hall to hold the the wedding and reception in.

To start, we exchanged rings at the back of the hall at the beginning of the ceremony as per an old medieval tradition. We had readings of poetry rather than scripture. We wrote our on vows (in which I reference nuclear fusion, in an arguably romantic way), we chose our own music for the start and finish of the ceremony, and we concluded the vows with a handfasting ceremony in place of the ring exchange. In the end you were left with a beautiful ceremony that family and friends could enjoy, was 100% legal, and god-free. And to be honest, I don't think anyone that didn't know that was our plan beforehand even noticed our omissions. So one can very easily get married and still make it a beautiful and meaningful event without the need to bow down to the template and requirements of the church. Oh, and no premarital counseling required!

Why get married if you're not religious? / Marriage is all about religion.

Why get married? The simple answer is love and commitment. That was true in our case anyway, but this answer may vary slightly from couple to couple. But let me start out by saying that I actually don't think that marriage is necessary for a couple to have a long-term committed relationship. In fact, some atheist's choose not to get married just because so many falsely believe that marriage is inherently religious. Let's be honest with ourselves... marriage isn't for everyone. But in our case, it's what we wanted. It is a symbol of our love and commitment, and also a symbolic marker of this new chapter in the story of our life and relationship.

We had no worries that our marriage had to be 'blessed' by a priest or deity in order to last. After all, it is the individuals in a relationship that control it's health and vitality. Not to mention that if a deity is 'blessing' marriages, he's doing a pretty bad job since religious marriages have a slightly hire divorce rate than non-religions ones. The reasons to get married if you're not religious are honest and emotional. I personally favor this vision of marriage, rather than one that also includes conforming to what the church expects you to do.

Should you rush into a marriage just because you find out you are pregnant? Or isn't it better to determine if the relationship is strong enough to fulfill the commitment you'd be entering into? If the long term bond isn't there, I feel that the marriage would be irresponsible, even though it may be what your church demands in order to align with expectations. But I contend an unhappy marriage and divorce would be worse for the child than two separate parents doing what they can outside of a marriage. As I said before, marriage isn't for everyone, and the reasons people get married can vary greatly. But I feel content and comforted that our marriage was about our mutual love, and nothing more.

As for the second statement that 'marriage is all about religion'... That's just downright false! I've heard it before (but luckily less that the other questions), "Aren't you being a hypocrite if you are getting married as an atheist? Marriage is a religious institution!" Quite often a bit of all the previous questions is mixed into their flawed 'reasoning', but the simple fact is that while marriage can be religious, it isn't inherently so. Some like to think that the church owns and invented marriage, but this couldn't be further from the case.

Christianity invented marriage about as much as they invented the Christmas traditions we all enjoy. In short, they didn't! Marriage is much older than Christianity, just as Christmas is. And like the way Christianity 'borrowed' Pagan traditions and claimed them as their own, they also try to do the same with marriage. Sure there are some parts of Christian marriage that are unique to Christian marriage, but you can also say the same for Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Norse, Shinto, and all other religions takes on marriage. But that does not change the fact that marriage is much older than the religions that may try to claim sole ownership of the institution. Marriage actually predates written history, and at it's earliest known point seems to have centered around mating exclusivity. It wasn't until much later that religions started weaving themselves into marriage.

I'm hoping that I have shown you that marriage is not inherently religious, and that marriage involving the nonreligious it a very meaningful, and understandable institution, despite what those blinded by their faith may try to tell you.

-Brain Hulk

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