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What I’ve Learnt as an Atheist From Dating a Devout Christian

I’m an atheist. I have been for as long as I can remember. All my closest friends are atheists. We do atheist things like fear death and worry about the meaninglessness of life. Then, about a year ago, something quite unexpected happened: I fell in love with a Christian. A proper one, too. For her, God is as certain as daybreak and nightfall.

In the beginning (to quote a certain book) there were debates. Lots of debates. I made the usual arguments from the atheist corner; she countered from the Christian camp. She thought I was naive; I thought she was delusional. We butted heads and it soon became boring because this was all happening in the first few months of the relationship, the time when you fall madly and completely in love with someone.

We wanted to be together — we knew that. So we stopped the disputes and began working around our differences.

My girlfriend’s faith is an intensely personal thing. It’s for her, not anyone else. She doesn’t stand in the town centre with placards, preaching about hell and damnation. But it is intrinsic to who she is.

Whenever I’m going through emotional turmoil or have a tough decision to make, she’ll say, “I’ll pray for you.” This was infuriating at first. It was like I’d cut myself and she was saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll ask my imaginary friend to get some plasters.” In time, however, I realised that, for her, praying is perhaps the most intimate and loving gesture she can undertake. Once I understood that, it changed the way I felt. Now, when she says she’ll pray for me, I feel warm, I feel supported. I know that she is reaching out to me from the deepest part of herself with love and vulnerability. I can appreciate that without believing in the power of prayer.

I’ve never read it but I have to say, the Bible is full of good stuff. So much fantastic life advice in that book. There isn’t an inspirational meme or a self-help topic that hasn’t been written about and worded better in the Bible. Although I don’t buy into the metaphysical aspect of it all, my girlfriend has quoted passages from the good book to me that I love. They’ve led to some great late-night conversations.

A loving relationship is about communication — at least that’s what all the books say. The trap we all fall into at times is communicating in the way we like to be talked to rather than the way our partner does. Having this clear difference of faith between us helps us keep this in mind. When my partner panics or finds herself in a dilemma, sometimes the best thing I can say to her is, “Let your faith guide you.” It speaks to her, calms her, and brings clarity while communicating that I trust in her decision-making faculties — whereas, if she said that to me, I’d plunge further into uncertainty.

She doesn’t fear death, my girlfriend. She doesn’t crumble when people she knows pass away. She cries, of course, but she doesn’t fall apart. She feels safe and secure in the knowledge that they’re with God now. I envy that. I’m a mess when it comes to death; I don’t cope well. It feels so final to me. I look at her and I long for the comfort she finds in Christ.

The truth is I don’t know who she’d be without her faith. It informs everything she does, it’s in every aspect of her being. It is responsible — at least in part — for creating the woman I love. So, for that, I must at the very least be grateful.

There are undoubtedly difficult conversations still to come. Should we have children, for example, I’m not sure how I’ll feel watching her teach them to pray. But I’m sure we’ll be fine, so long as we heed the advice laid out in Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

  • Written by Michael Burton

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