Offering advice and commentary by
Molleen Matsumura, "Sweet Reason"
deals with the life-concerns and problems of humanists,
secularists and nonreligious
Apr. 18, 2007
Dear Sweet Reason,
I was raised as an atheist, and never put much thought into religion for I never had to -- it seemed like a foolish concept to me. I am now 21, oddly getting into my first relationship with -- guess what -- a devout Christian.
We seem like the perfect match for each other, it is evident to anyone who has seen us together. I, however, am pained for out of the goodness of her heart she wishes to convert me. It's not entirely an overt conversion attempt, but it cannot be denied either. She does not want me to go to hell -- commendable.
I guess I would like some advice on how to go about trying to work out a compromise with her in terms of religion. I have nothing against spirituality, though I am not spiritual in a divine sense, but I am convinced that religion will prevent us from being together. Is it too much for me to ask her to give up religion and just be spiritual?
Wow! You are facing two major issues in one package. Now is a good time to become more knowledgeable about religions. So many religious ideas, people, and institutions powerfully affect your life that it is important to understand them. No doubt you will find much to disagree with (to put it mildly!), but you'll also find interesting insights and fine people -- you've already fallen in love with one of them.
In some ways, being in your first serious relationship presents parallel challenges and opportunities for growth. Becoming deeply intimate with another person always involves learning to live with surprising differences -- being changed by some, enjoying others, and, yes, sometimes finding unbridgeable gaps.
What will it be like to understand someone's religious beliefs in the context of your first serious relationship? The only way to find out is to try -- your feelings for each other might help you be gentler about your disagreements, or it might make the disagreements more frustrating.
Bear in mind that, "I am spiritual, but not religious" is usually understood to mean, "I believe in a divinity, but don't belong to an 'organized religion'." From what you say, accepting a definition of "spiritual" that excludes the divine would be a major change for your girlfriend. Essentially, you would be asking her to convert -- the very thing that is painful for you.
You and your girlfriend need to take a different approach than attempting to directly change each other's minds, no matter how subtly you go about it. Instead, you need to find ways to understand each other better, and see what works out. True, you may find that you don't belong together, but, given the strong mutual attraction, don't give up right away. You can both learn a lot by talking more about your feelings and the deep questions involved.
See if you can find connections between the personal qualities that make you feel well matched, and the beliefs each of you holds dear. Talk about what each of you means by "spirituality." Be ready to answer questions about your way of seeing the world. Answering questions like, "How do you find meaning in life?" and, "Without a belief in an afterlife, how do you cope with grief and loss?" will tell you more about yourself and your relationship than explaining why you don't believe in God. Such questions are certainly worth thinking about, anyway!
One question to ask your girlfriend is how she feels religion benefits her. Her answers will raise different possibilities for your future. For example, if a feeling of community with fellow believers is important to her, you may be able to help her find other sources of emotional support.
There will be tremendous benefits from having these conversations. Love is like a campfire: It may be sparked quickly, and at first the kindling throws out a lot of heat, but it burns out quickly. For long lasting, steady warmth (with delightful bursts of intense heat from time to time), you must carefully tend the fire.
Learning to listen compassionately, and to express your differences in ways that are clear yet not judgmental, will be good for all your important relationships. Your current relationship will be enriched by your efforts, even if it doesn't last in the long term.
But that's not all: Each of you will gain a deeper understanding of other people with different beliefs. You will have given more thought to the beliefs that you were raised in or otherwise took for granted. You will learn more about what attracts you to other people. Even if the time comes that you look back on this relationship with sadness, you will have enriched both your lives.
Dear Sweet Reason,
I want to buy a book of "sayings" -- moral lessons or ethical phrases -- for children age 6-9 years old. Their parents are Christian, so it cannot be openly anti-religious. Nor do I want any Bible quotations in it! Can you recommend one? Thank you.
After you finish reading this short answer, please click the link below to a longer column I once wrote, giving lots of information about choosing children's books. You will be able to use it in the years ahead; you might even have time to use it now!
But, you can get by with this short answer. First of all, few, if any, books of ethical sayings are appropriate for kids this age -- they would just bore them. A story that happens to have a moral (most stories do) will be much more interesting for them. Actually, it's the same for adults; the preference is just stronger in children.
Books about kids dealing with problems of daily life (e.g., quarrels with friends, or choices between conflicting values) often have implicit morals. Your best bet might be illustrated fables -- for the best illustrations, get a couple of books with one table apiece. An advantage of that approach is that you can choose which moral(s) you'd like the kids to read about, instead of having a collection that would probably include some you don't care for much.
Remember there are big differences between a 6-year-old and a 9 -year-old: check the book's cover for information about age-appropriateness. A quick trip to your public library's children's book room will help you zero in on just the books you want, and you can get the advice of a knowledgeable librarian at the same time. Then, if your bookstore doesn't have the right book, you can ask them to order it for you.
Try to choose books you like a lot too. Here's hoping you'll have lots of fun reading the books with those kids.
And (ta-daah!) here's the link
for more ideas on choosing good children's books.
©2007, Molleen Matsumura.
You may not republish "Sweet Reason" without the author's permission. To request permission, email:
GOT A QUESTION FOR "SWEET REASON"?
To ask "Sweet Reason" for advice, fill out this anonymous Web form.
WANT TO READ MORE "SWEET REASON"?
Select "Sweet Reason" from the "Quick Links" drop-down menu in the right-hand sidebar to find the past 10 installments.
VISIT SWEET REASON ON MYSPACE
Sweet Reason has a page on MySpace with cool pictures, a list of MySpace friends and a blog. Visit myspace.com/sweetreason -- and if
you’re already on MySpace, ask Sweet Reason to be your friend!