A Religious Change I Never Expected

For nearly 11 years of marriage, and sixteen years total of being together (dating/engaged/married), Andy and I have been in a mixed race, mixed faith marriage. He is a Roman Catholic, I’m an atheist. I was raised in an atheist family, and never saw the need for religious rituals and the like. Going into the relationship I had to accept Andy was going to remain Roman Catholic and that he was not going to change. For him accepting that I was going to remain an atheist was harder, but I think last year was when he realized the extent of the damage he was doing to our relationship by not accepting it. And the result of this was something I would never have anticipated.

Last year Andy stopped going to church. For as long as I have known Andy, he went to church weekly. When I knew him in college, his mother actually had friends who attended different mass times (there were 7 different times) to report back to her on whether or not they saw him at church so she could make sure he was attending. And to be honest, Andy never struck me as particularly devout. While I knew he was sincere in his belief, it always struck me as he was motivated by fear of crossing his mother and going to hell than that he liked Catholicism and enjoyed it. I can actually recall of lot of anecdotes that show how how didn’t like it or was forced into it, but I also knew he believed in a God and was terrified of going to hell, even having a panic attack over it at one time. Basically, there was never any joy in his belief system. It was fear based.

I was not the only one who noticed this about him. And people wondered if he would still go to church when we moved away from his mother.

This was put to the test over a decade ago when Andy got a job an hour away from where his mother live. She threw the biggest fit when that happened and did not want him moving away from her control. He did though. And he did continue going to church weekly. Looking back, I guess the fear of hell was still real, and I also think he was convinced she would somehow know if he skipped.

Whatever it was, he stopped about a year ago. He would stop going for about a month, go back for a week or two, and then stop again. I’ve never commented on it. At first he would make excuses but I would just shrug and say it’s no big deal either way, and now it often just goes unremarked.

To be honest, the way the local church treats their parishioners is horrible and I think is a large part of the reason he’s stopped. Andy would often come home with horror stories about being asked to leave a seat to make way for someone else, even though he would have two small kids with them and he is physically disabled and it is painful for him to stand for long periods of time (one of his legs is shorter than the other). The worse part? There was plenty of room on the pew for him and the person who wanted to sit there. Why they wanted him to leave was a mystery, but it’s happened multiple times.

They would also have people with small kids crammed into a poorly ventilated room (we’re in Texas, it gets hot, and the reason Andy’s legs are the way they are is because he suffered heat stroke as a child that caused a severe brain injury, and he is at risk of developing heat stroke again because of it) with the bathrooms with the diaper changing table on the far end of the church.

How uncomfortable it is to go there had been a feature complaint whenever he does go and he gets home, and I will admit, I do shake my head and flat out say, “I wouldn’t put up with that.”

And I think he’s learning that he doesn’t have to put up with that.

As an outsider from the Catholic church getting this intimate inside view, the church seems to take for granted that they can treat their members like crap and they will stay because they are afraid of being ostracized from their community and going to hell. But given how people move around so often, people often find their communities fracturing in other ways. Right now Andy doesn’t have any friends who are Catholic. His wife and his best friend (not me, a co-worker) are both atheists. And threats of hell start to diminish once you stop observing regularly and realize nothing bad happens to you. And then when you look around and see people of other faiths or no faith getting by just fine without Catholicism…

There is another Catholic church close by, but for whatever reason he won’t go there, even though I have asked why he doesn’t try it out if he dislikes the current one he goes to so much. And I’m not sure if he’s going through a loss of faith, or just becoming non-practicing, or just giving up on that church or something else entirely.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. And I’m not sure how to approach him in a conversation about it. The one other time I had a friend who was starting to pull away from faith and I asked her about it she got very defensive, so I figure that whatever is going on he will talk when he is ready.

Still, the evidence seems to pile up that something is changing. Today when we were driving we drove by the Catholic church, and he didn’t cross himself three times. When Catholics pass a Catholic church, they have to cross themselves three times. I didn’t know that when I first met him, and I’d wondered if I was scaring him with my driving before he explained it to me, and it’s been an inside joke ever since, so the change is startling. Shortly after we drove by the church, a car beside us clipped our lane and nearly ran into us. Andy used to cross himself whenever a near accident happened. He didn’t. We then got to the intersection and when the light turned green, a car in the left turn lane that was signalling to go left went straight instead, and I had to be careful to avoid hitting him. Once again, Andy did not cross himself.

He could go back to Catholicism and attending regularly, and this could be a hiccup. Still, a few weeks ago he asked our kids if they wanted to go to church, and they both said, “no!” This is a big thing, because I was always adamant that our children have a choice and he was adamant on shoving it down their throats like his mother did him. I did not witness the incident, but he told me about it with a smile and decided if they didn’t want to go he didn’t either, and seemed more worried that I would be upset at the loss of my hour of free time that I get on Sunday mornings when he leaves with the kids.

I told him it was no big deal, and relaxing together on a Sunday morning is one of the best things about not being religious. He didn’t disagree.

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10 thoughts on “A Religious Change I Never Expected

    1. roianna Post author

      That’s your opinion. For me, life is doing what I can to leave the world a better place than when I found it. Full disclosure, I live in the Bible Belt, I’ve been subjected to numerous FAILED conversion attempts, I know what your arguments will be and the idea that I’ve not heard them before is laughable and insulting. I don’t want you to try to convert me. I find conversion attempts incredibly rude and disrespectful (read why here and here) I want you to respect I believe differently and leave it at that.

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      1. Tom

        Thanks, but I did want you to know your husband’s legalistic Catholicism is not Biblical Christianity. You posted on a religious topic and I commented on it. Your comments function was open so I assumed I could leave one. If you don’t desire comments you should disable your comments function. Have a nice day.

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      2. roianna Post author

        You’re free to comment, NOT try to convert, and by the structure of your message, and that’s where I could tell you were going. I’ve known plenty of people preaching Biblical Christianity and it is also not for me. I’ve been to Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and all kinds of other services with friends, and this ideas Christians have that if I just heard about the right Christianity is ridiculous AND it is insulting because you fail to consider that I have good reasons for my beliefs and that I have fully considered my beliefs. In this post I referenced being sick of having religion shoved down my throat, and it’s not just Catholicism that I am sick of having shoved down my throat, it’s Christianity in general. Perhaps you should listen more to that rather than try to push your agenda. People promoting Biblical Christianity are doing their share to tarnish their religion. I want no part of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Tom

        My, such anger.

        Atheist Penn Jilette has a different take:
        “I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

        “I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

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      4. roianna Post author

        Yes, I am angry. And I have good reasons to be angry. I have been HURT, HARASSED, SHUNNED, BULLIED, BEATEN by people proselytizing.

        Really, quoting Penn Jilette shows how little you understand atheists. We don’t worship other people or let them tell us how we should think. My experiences as an atheist are likely very different from his and I don’t let him or anyone tell me how I should think or act or feel about something.

        Further, as a mental health counselor who specializes in recovering from trauma, it is condescending and furthering abuse to tell people how they should react to something. You are furthering abuse by pulling this and telling me how I should react. Don’t do this again.

        You know who I don’t respect? People who trod over other’s people’s boundaries. I also don’t respect people who can’t say, “you believe something different, I can see your beliefs are important to you, and I will leave you alone.”

        Basically, I respect myself enough to not let people lie, manipulate and harass me. And I see letting people proselytize at me as doing all of the above. So yes, you bet I’m angry.

        Now, are you going to find out why and try to make an honest effort to learn about how people are harmed by proselytizing, continue your abuse, or leave me alone?

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    2. Sirius Bizinus

      What you’re saying here is meaningless. Many different strains of Christianity claim they know what a “relationship with Jesus” is, and they all have a hard time explaining what it is in concrete terms. How do you know the post author’s husband didn’t have a “relationship with Jesus”? Do you know him personally? Is there a checklist one has to follow? Why should anyone believe her husband was just doing “works-based religion”?

      I get that you might be trying to put in a good word for what you might believe is real. All I’m seeing is a Christian trying to steal the joy from another human being for no good reason. Such things hardly paint a flattering picture of belief in the divine.

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  1. Epi B

    I remember being caught off guard when my very devout aunt lost her faith after a personal tragedy occurred. It was a strange situation where I, the atheist, felt I had to convince her to believe again, as if this would somehow restore balance in the world…

    In the case of your husband, I’m sure he would appreciate it if you did ask him about what made him stop going to church. I’m sure he is processing the status of his faith in his mind now and maybe thinks you won’t get it anyway and therefore leaves you out of it. I’m sure you know and love him enough to be able to empathize with his struggle. I can imagine it would be a relief to have it all out in the open (even if “the open” is only at home).

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. roianna Post author

      Thanks, this is where I feel like I’m navigating without a paddle, because I don’t want to force him one way or another but it’s also such a drastic change that it feels weird to go unremarked. It’s also what happened with my friend but I think she was at a point where she felt defensive and wasn’t ready to talk, and emotionally I think he’s in a better place than she was at the time, but yeah. Thanks for your perspective!

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      1. Epi B

        Sure. If your intention is indeed to sway him one way or the other, then better to wait until he comes to you for advice. If your intention is to understand how he is feeling and perhaps do nothing more than just listen, than I think it would be good for you to start that conversation.
        I can imagine he doesn’t even know what he’s feeling exactly. Sometimes you need to out something into words in order to understand it yourself. That is what blogging is for me, anyway…

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