The help desk: A question of flagging belief

  • @louisa_saunders

Q. We've been married almost five years and have a one-year-old son. My husband is a Christian and goes to church fairly regularly. When we met, I'd say I believed in God; as time has gone on, I've begun to doubt, but I didn't want to potentially upset him by telling him. Now, however, while I'm happy for my husband to have his views, I'm not keen on trying to make my son believe something I don't believe to be true.

I've also now decided that I can't agree with eating meat for various reasons. He doesn't agree with this, but we have reached a compromise, where he and my son eat meat occasionally, and I don't eat it at all. How do I tell him I don't believe in God any more, without it ruining our relationship? If we seem to be diverging in views more and more as time goes on, do we have a future? We love each other, but I'm changing so much, am I endangering our lives together?

A. Harmony doesn't mean agreeing on everything. I am the product of parents of very different political colours. My mother was a lifelong Tory, my father an old-style Liberal and latterly a Labour voter. Theirs was a blissful union that produced six children and lasted 40 years until death them did part (though it's true that the Suez Crisis remained a no-go topic in their house).

Ours, too, was a religious family, and though I'm a non-believer, I've always felt the Anglican church I was born into to be quite benign. Of my parents' six children, half are still in the faith and half are not. (None, incidentally, votes Conservative.)

The point I'm making is that what shapes a child's world view is not a set of instructions from its parents, but a smorgasbord of views and influences from all over the place.

A lot depends on just how you feel about your husband's branch of religion. In general, a bit of bells-and-smells is easier for non-believers to stomach than the happy-clappy sort that requires you to believe that gay people need saving. But you mention in your longer letter that you like the values of Christianity, just not the God bit.

So perhaps it's not a matter of how to tell your husband but whether to. After all, some religions require spouses to convert in order to marry. Do the converts all suddenly embrace the Koran or believe in transubstantiation just because they've fallen in love? Of course not, but they turn up smiling at mass or mosque and make cakes or samosas for feast days.

All of us change over time, and it's not as if you want to take up pole-dancing or go and live in a yurt. Surely the key to contentment is not that neither of you should change but that each of you understands that change is inevitable and is willing and able to negotiate any differences, as you have done admirably over the matter of meat-eating.

You also tell me you like to strive for perfection, and yes, it would be great if the two of you could agree on everything. But if you can agree to disagree on something pretty fundamental, I'd call that an achievement to be proud of.

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