I don’t like that I won’t see you in Heaven

In my view, one of the hardest discussions a couple can have, when one of them has deconverted, is one that involves hell and the afterlife.

The simple fact is; the partner that remains a Christian must at some point consider their views on hell and how that affects their deconverted spouse. It matters not if they subscribe to annihilation or eternal damnation or any other form of hell, the bottom line is that they must come to terms with the idea that their earthly partner will no longer spend eternity with them in heaven. Christian theology has a high focus on the afterlife, which means that this could be a particularly painful or distressing process.

My creationist view of hell was always one of eternal damnation. I never saw it as cruel or vengeful; to me it was simply the just deserts of the faithless as their punishment for sin. If, having known the consequences, they still chose to not follow Jesus, then who was I to feel sorry them? So I didn’t.

The fate of my deconverted brothers did concern me. I also had a moment after my grandfather died when I needed to know that I’d see him in heaven. Not knowing the destination of his soul caused me some distress for a while. I eventually came to terms with not knowing but it wasn’t a situation I particularly relished. This is the damage that such extremist views cause.

It’s with this knowledge that I am relieved that my wife never shared the same view of hell that I did. She takes a much more liberal interpretation, saying that hell is simply separation from God, IE not being in heaven. She doesn’t see it as the physical place of punishment that I did.

Even with this much milder post death placement, she still found time one night to say she didn’t like idea that I’d not be in heaven with her. For a brief moment I thought I glimpsed genuine distress at the thought but she wouldn’t be pressed on it and instead preferred not to talk about the subject. I don’t know how much Mrs limey had thought about it up to that point or even if it’s entered her thoughts since. I suspect the latter is not much because when she says something is not a subject she wants to consider anymore, she tends to mean exactly that.

As a result, we’ve not discussed the subject since and I don’t intend to push her on it. For our specific situation, the path we’ve agreed is to leave that one alone. I suspect that this will be the same for many other couples in our situation. There is no benefit in having the conversation because there isn’t a common ground for us to move towards, it’s not like it’s a discussion on where we should take out next holiday.

I do wonder if this is precisely the kind of situation that has led to Universalism, the belief that everyone eventually ends up in heaven anyway. This seems a particularly insulting cop out and makes no sense to me at all. I genuinely struggle with how this can even be justified theologically, which is why I wonder if Universalism came about because some people simply can’t deal with the idea that there are those they love who will go to hell. It’s also a great example of how religious belief is twisted by individuals to suit their own perspectives and must surely be seen as evidence that religion is manmade not god made.

I’ll ignore completely the issue of how heaven deals with multiple partners. Both of my parents remarried Christians and I’m not particularly keen on either of their second spouses (an understatement) so that’s an angelic orgy I’m not even interested in being around for. If ever there was a reason for avoiding heaven, I’ve got the jackpot covered!

I appreciate Mrs limey’s honesty in saying it’s not a subject she wants to revisit. It’s also hard to see where there would be benefit in the discussion. I’d deny the existence of both heaven and hell and she’d express disappointment that I won’t join her in heaven and I’d say, well of course I’m not going to heaven and I don’t really care because dead is dead and I’ll not be any the wiser. Deep or meaningful theological discussion isn’t really going to happen there. This isn’t a subject where a meaty and healthy discussion can happen. Subjects like the evidence that other apes have a concept of fair play or right and wrong have much more going for them in that respect.

Personally, I think Mrs limey is right in that it’s a subject best left alone. It works for us because, as I’ve lain out above, it’s not going to make for a long discussion and there is no possible end point where we would feel we’ve had a fruitful conversation. Other couples in this situation may choose to find their own ways of dealing with it, but I don’t think there are many options that don’t end with one partner feeling depressed at the thought of eternal loss.

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I get some questions

Over on another post, a visitor left me a comment, asking my input. The entry with the comment is here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/answers-to-questions-for-theists/ but I will repeat the comment below for context and simplicity; any readers are obviously welcome to add their helpful input.

This is almost completely off topic, but I couldn’t find a place on your blog to send you a message, so I apologize in advance for making your comment section skewed. You mention several times that you and your wife have conversations on faith. I would dearly love some insight on these conversations, because I (the atheist) only found out my husband’s church was creationist AFTER he’d already been a few years attached to the congregation and my son came home one Sunday last year with a coloring sheet that had a dinosaur coming off of the ark. I seriously thought creationism was a punch line, to be laughed at like the flat-earthers we learned about in history. No one really believes those silly things, right? It’s okay to send the kids to sunday school. What could possibly go wrong? Ugh.

We now fight constantly about our young kids’ (4 and 14 months) exposure to religion. I want to compromise and try to find another church with him, one that is still engaging and exciting for him that won’t teach the kids creationism, but his only response is that I should “just come to church with him sometime.” (I went once. I didn’t like it.) Like I’m going to suddenly convert and not give two shits about what they’re teaching the kids?

He feels attacked, and I get that. I told him I like the people in his church and I’m not asking him to not be friends with them anymore, I just don’t like what they teach the kids. He hears none of it. Do you have any advice as a former YEC on what I can possibly say to him? Or what kind of nutty mediator would take on such a dispute? The whole situation is exhausting.

There is a lot here that strikes a chord with me and it has prompted me to reconsider a series of posts on the subject, an idea I abandoned because they were all personal to my own relationship and I was uncertain how open I wanted to be about it. These posts would all take time to write but I’ll certainly do something on the subject in coming months.

So, on with the points raised.

My wife and I do talk faith on occasion. Personally, I’d like us to interact on the subject more than we do, the difficulty is that I suck up regular podcasts and blogs on the interaction of faith and non-faith. The subject interests me greatly because as someone who has been on both sides, I understand well the arguments and intellectually I enjoy the discussion. My wife, on the other hand, is comfortable in her faith and having never been on the other side, doesn’t get my position at all.

What this means in practice is that when I start a conversation on faith (and it is normally me who starts it) I come in running, so to speak, having already considered both sides of the conversation and spring it on my unsuspecting wife. Having been caught off-guard like that, it is hardly surprising that that the conversations are rarely stimulating. The other disadvantage my wife has here is that I have an answer for pretty much everything she says, because I’ve already been there and considered it. She does not share my thirst for the challenge of this form of discussion and so she’s rarely prepared for what I will come up with. On more than one occasion she’s admitted to being intimidated by knowledge of the subject. That’s not because she’s unintelligent, she is both wise and clever. It’s simply a by-product of our mismatched passions.

We’re still working out how to have these conversations in a fruitful and productive manor, because it isn’t easy. When she’s simply not in the mood to have the conversation, it becomes painfully obvious very quickly and my only option there is to stop. There simply is no point having the discussion when the other partner just isn’t in the mood.

I get where you are from in terms of what is being taught to the children. I’m at an advantage in that my wife would not accept creationism, she never did. Therefore, if someone in the church taught our daughter anything creationist, she would back me up when I inevitably object. Beyond that though, I do struggle with the idea that we each get to give her our own worldview and our daughter should be free to make her own choice. It may sound like an honourable thing on paper, but I don’t consider fables a worthy alternative to truth. I wouldn’t let a doctor treat my daughter with any form of homeopathic remedy, so why should I tolerate her being told the philosophical equivalent each Sunday?

It’s a difficult challenge and I’ve had to learn to step away from that one for the moment because it’s more important that my daughter has parents that are not fighting. It isn’t always easy.

Specifically on the exposure of kids to creationism, I’d suggest in this instance to try to introduce scientific literature into life as early as possible to counteract. Using cience topis that are in the news is a good way, it doesn’t have to be something that specific challenges creationism. The current project to make the first landing on a comet is a good example. It needs to be done in an open an honest way so as not to be seen as to be undermining the other parent. One thing my wife has brought up is that on matters of science I get to be the parent who answers the questions because it’s my passion and the limey daughter seems equally inspired and so we talk science together a lot. The flip side is that Mrs limey then says that it should be natural that for matters of religion, she should get the say. We’re still working that out because I think I should get a say on religion too because that conversation is something I have valid input on. If passion is the criteria, it’s also a subject I am passionate about. Just because I don’t go to church, doesn’t mean I’m not informed about what goes on.

There is a very real danger in situations like this that each parent suspects the other of trying to pull the child to their side of the fence. Openness is the key if there is any mistrust on issues of faith then it will undermine the marriage.

On conversations specifically.

Conversations can be difficult.

I’ve made the mistake of calling religion bunk. It didn’t go down well and wasn’t especially wise. It’s not easy for my wife to be married to a man who once shared her faith and now looks down on it. For a very long time she struggled with the notion that I was secretly considering myself superior to her and that she was stupid for still believing. That wasn’t true, and still isn’t, however, I didn’t do anything to dispel that misunderstanding and so it’s hardly surprising there was an uncomfortable atmosphere for some time.

In a relationship like this, it is very difficult for the Christian partner to not feel attacked every time religion (or even the church) is criticised. For them, the church and their religion are part of who they are and to criticise one is to attack them. It is a separation and distinction that is almost impossible for them to make. I should have known this because I was there once, but it is still something that I struggle to comprehend. I don’t know what all the answers are.

The questions above, are serious because they come from the heart and here I feel that I have not given them enough of an answer. Hopefully in further postings I’ll be able to address some specific elements on a personal perspective. As can be seen though, this is still an area where I am learning too. I am sure there are many others who are learning this unexpected road too.