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Oryoki Bowl

Oryoki Bowl
February 03
Quaker buddhist, kinda quirky, loves cooking and knitting and movies. Dr Who fan, Scandinavian-aquarian and cat lover. Would love to be paid to travel around the world and write about local healing cultures. While eating and drinking and dancing. One day I will have a health cruise in the fjords.


FEBRUARY 6, 2012 11:47AM

How to love an atheist

Rate: 30 Flag

Atheists are popping up more and more in the news these days.  For the most part, it seems that a small but steadily growing stream of press is addressing the growing presence of unreligious, non believing members of our society who are outspoken and demanding their equal rights.  This is just as it should be, we are crossing into an era of equality out of the quagmire of heightened inequality.  You know, the Age of Aquarius. 

Years ago, when I was trying the online dating, I signed up for eHarmony.  Despite being a pro-marriage, Christian model, they claimed to be able to sort out what was and what wasn't important and match you up.  I found that I didn't fit into too many molds there, either, and had frustratingly poor success.  I believe that in a one year time, their connections led to three actual dates- and I believe two of the men were virgins or mostly asexual (I know one of them was).   I expected to be set up with a fair amount of engineers, but mostly get set up with a lot of law enforcement and military.  I have an "other" religion- as I identified as more quaker than buddhist back then- and I got a lot of atheists or non spiritual or extremely Christian and conservative.  Yikes.   Match.com was a little better, but not by too much, in that realm.  

I think that what I found disturbing was that areas I found most important in a partner- tolerance of others, ability to have diverging views on god versus spirituality versus the place of religion in society, open minded about others' life experience- was completely ignored by eHarmony and also most of the men I would meet through Match (and two guys through a buddhist dating site that didn't go great either- too much, too much, too much).  I don't need to agree with people on everything they believe in and do.  I do need them to not try to make me agree with them by repeatedly engaging in arguments over who is more correct about politics, religion, god, whatever.  When people have a deeprooted belief on the differences between men and women, that are ordained through god or written in the "stone" of DNA, they are just as authoritarian as those who are conservative in religion.  

Idealization is really at the root of this.  Forming an opinion that most closely resonates with what we believe, which is mostly generated by how we want things to be, is how most of us take on the big questions in life.  What is a partner than someone with whom you must ask and answer some of the big questions?  Atheists weren't copping out, but many of the respondents were vehement that belief was stupid, and I should know better.  Of course, that wasn't based on anything I actually said than what they believed I must believe.  The formation of any belief system requires a set of rules, and attachment to those rules being realized.  And for marriage and children to happen successfully, that usually has to be pretty coherent between two people. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my belief that I wanted marriage and kids changed over time when I realized that in order for me to make a "good wife", I would be more or less forced to adopt the beliefs and politics of the man I would marry.   I rarely met men in the circles I worked and lived in that were single, and had any aspirations for either.  This was a bummer, not because they didn't exist, but perhaps because the time frame for idealized marriage was probably when I was about 25.  When I "expanded" my own values to include buddhism and other non-Abrahamic religions, I didn't have any better luck with dating.  I got older, the men I dated got older, more set in their ways and less curious.  I might have become more tolerant of bible lovers (after all, I live in a state with a high concentration of very christian people), but I also knew I couldn't live with it.  

When I met my sweetie, we were at a birthday party of a friend of his-and I had actually more or less crashed at the invitation of another friend.  The party was full of liberals, activists, spiritually inclined, sci-fi inclined, art making, freedom loving, socially marginal people.  John was one of the "straighter arrows" of the bunch, it would seem.  I was disappointed when he later mentioned atheism- as opposed to not believing- though not because I needed him to believe in god.  I just didn't want to go through more discussions on whether or not one can be a scientist and also believe there may be a god.  That isn't religion, for one, and for me has nothing to do with telling other people how to act and everything to do with personal experience.  God can not fit into scientific method- and doesn't need to.  Then again, many science like people don't understand scientific method very well, either. 

It turned out it was totally possible for me to love an atheist, after all, and find more acceptance, love and understanding than I had found before.  For one, there was no mold he was trying to fit me into.  Early on, it was a little harder for me, because I had to let go of what my beliefs were about marriage and see what was really in front of me in the relationship I was in.  Not religious, but part of the fantasy world that we are raised in- that there is "the one" and they are the "only person God has made for you to love and share" and if it is "right" it will "work out as it should and last forever".  Of course, few people find this person.  And fewer people yet get through it all without painful difficulties and deep soul searching.  It may be their belief that keeps them married when love is feeling absent.  I always wondered who they thought god intended the alcoholics and murderers for. 

Almost all of us have fantasies about the happy looking, long married couple, the folks in their 70s and 80s that shuffle around together and help each other with their coats and still hold hands.  At some point, they were much younger and they may not have started out so well as a couple.  Or there may have been intervening years of emotional distance that were bridged with tragedy or counseling.  Atheists are people who have a wide array of beliefs about marriage, children, monogamy, politics, war, eating meat, having guns, civil rights.  Some are adamantly opposed to religion, others just don't have religion inside them.  We know there is a part of the brain that is tuned in to the godlike stuff, and some people just don't have that part, some do, some more than others.  Perhaps like an ear for music, a sense of god is something we are born with.  Religion, however, is another matter entirely.  

What I have found in these past three or so years of loving an atheist is more acceptance of myself and more love from another person than I had known before.  We don't get to hide behind a scripture to tell each other what to do.  We don't invoke the "way god made it" in order to justify sexist or racist behavior.  We don't cut off parts of ourself to fit into the wrong uniform.  Where I thought we would have more weakness, we have more strength, because we choose each other every day instead of feeling like it has been ordained.  We attend to each other's cares and needs with more diligence, and allow more freedom to grow and explore.  There is no belief to shield us when things are hard, and no mantra to chant when we don't know how to communicate.  

Instead, with patience, we pause, we reflect, we wait, we ask, we reconnect.  We learn instead of impose.  We shuffle around together, holding hands and helping with the coats.  Maybe we'll make it until we are old, but life cannot be predicted by the best of us.  It seems, however, we are on the same road, together, and no one is pulling away.  I am a lucky woman, and feel luckier as time goes by.  I learned that the best realization of love would be letting go of idealization and staying in the present.  

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"What is a partner than someone with whom you must ask and answer some of the big questions?"

Comfortable. You have a good give and take there. I don't like a relationship where you can't just relax and be yourself. And that takes knowing who you are and being comfortable with who they are. Great post!!
You are a lucky lady and wise woman. It's all distilled in the last line of your post!
This made my heart glad. I'm so happy you found each other. Is it luck? I'm not a big believer in luck. Good FORTUNES to you both.
I find much more acceptance and freedom as an atheist. Some of us are pretty good people. Tolerance, at least in my life, is much more forthcoming from non believers than believers too. Not that all of us are that way, just as all people of strong faith are not bigots. Digging a damned hole for myself here aren't I? Job well done on the post.
We just don't talk about it. I was born a Jew yet raised and Anglican. He was born a Jew and never practiced. My ex was a Catholic that never went. To me it is as you said tolerance and respect for the other.
If you are on the same page on other things you can get through the religion too
Differences can be a good thing and enhance a relationship when you don't try to impose them on each other - which you two obviously haven't. It's when you're too rigid in your beliefs that trouble brews. It seems to me that by loving an atheist, you've found what eludes a lot of so-called religious people.
There are four people I love dearly that are atheist. One is all about science, and the other three just don't believe in God. I'm lucky to have them as friends, they are lovely people all.
As to the Match/E Harmony thing - I tried Match after divorcing my first husband, and it was so crazy I went to E Harmony where I met my "now" husband. Who knows what works - :)
idealization, i say, as a devoted Lunatic,
is one of Satan's naughty tricks to make you think of the past
or the future, never the present, the Presence,
the place of the so called Living God,
the divine Energy of momentum
and consciousness and

i have so many theologica opinions counter to convention
that i dare not speak them among the Heathen,
the so called 'believers' who believe
their asses off but have not a whit
of Faith, which is
letting go,
into the Pregnant Void (a term from Gestalt therapy)
of the next arriving

"When I "expanded" my own values to include buddhism and other non-Abrahamic religions, I didn't have any better luck with dating. "

me too.

these chicks are all brides of either frankenstein or christ.
Incredibly wise, Ori. r.
You are born with a sense of God and the divine. It's in the temporal lobe of your brain. You call it spirituality, Christians call it God, Buddhists call it Nirvana...all the same shit - people trying to place more importance on themselves than they have because they want to spread their seed more than the next guy.

It is what it is. Glad you found someone you dig. It's about the best any of us can do.
I've often wondered about this, being in a relationship with an atheist when one is spiritual and believes in a higher power. You point out advantages I hadn't thought of. Thank you for this enlightening post.
Zanelle- I don't know why people keep electing relationships or religions that are based on so much shame and punishment. Then again, why do we keep electing those people into office as well?

CC- I am lucky, it's true. I realized later, I didn't say "blessed" but with blessing comes the belief that someone can curse you as well.

Firechick- thanks, me too. It wasn't easy, smooth, or traditional. And took about 6 months until we were together as a couple. I was still holding out for a"Mr. Right plus Job plus Money plus House plus....." who is still holding out for someone not me (or almost anyone else.)

Bobbot- for the most part, that has been true. I never appreciated the cracks about "stupid other people" that seemed to show up so much. Of course, I have my list of who I think those people might be.

Linda- sounds like you got yourself a good, kind man. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and religious backgrounds. Love the one you're with.

Margaret- sure enough. Also fun is finding out how many things you like that you didn't know you liked until someone else introduced you. I got him hooked on massages (from me) and tasty food, and he has me hooked on BBC shows.

Island- I have dated a few from there, but eHarmony didn't do a good job with my stats, I suppose. There were a few that should have been a nice try, but they were not interested in me.
Well, shoot. I was expecting it be so vastly different from loving a Catholic, and wouldn't I know it, I was duped again. Those darm sales pitches get me every time.
There are no easy answers to questions that lie deep in ourselves, as individuals or as a society. Religion, love, acceptance -- we're a mess of emotions, desires, prejudices with a yearning to be loved.
In general, I'd rather be with an atheist than an orthodox member of any religion. Or someone who isn't sure.
James- there is a time and a place for idealization. But you both might need some magic mushrooms to find it.

JW- thanks

Malcolm- I know I have a sense of god, it has always been on since I was a little girl, oddly, helped me figure out church isn't the place to go. But that doesn't mean angels and voices or anything other than a deeply felt connection to the living world. As to religion, a totally different phenomenon. Still ring buddhish, in that the practice of presence, mindfulness, compassion and non attachment work pretty well for problem solving (for me). I realize, some people's minds wired for churches and that's their burden in life.

Alysa- I think that is often the case, that the spirituality of one poses a conflict for the other- but doesn't have to actually be one. It comes down to knowing the person in front of you. I tried to date some buddhists, and it didn't go well (I was always breaking one of their rules or being too attached to something I believed in for their comfort. Oddly, I wasn't imposing anything on them).

DH- it may very well be the same thing, if loving someone means paying attention to the person in front of you and listening to them.

Stim- I am not sure that emotions are a mess. I think that so much of the conflict is that we are taught to believe things that go against human nature, and hand over difficulty to a "higher power" instead of learning to drive the bus ourselves.

Keiko! So wonderful to see you here again. I don't think I know any animists and pantheists, but I don't see any reason why there is a conflict between their religion and reality. Some of it is just a matter of preference, all of our points of view really boil down to what we can see and what we want to see.

Lea- I know some "ortho" people who just need something, anything, rigid in which to align their beliefs and actions. It is a form of conservative thinking- one right way. If that was true, well.... well... it's just not true .
I am glad you found what you did not start seeking, but were fortunate enough to capture anyway!
“I expected to be set up with a fair amount of engineers, but mostly get set up with a lot of law enforcement and military”

What a disappointment for you. You profile is probably saying you want a macho man well I can assure you you will not find any in law enforcement and the military. You told me you came from Rosicrucian stock. Weren’t you ever told to look for us in places where woman of ill repute gather? That is where the quest to find the Sophia must take us.
The live and let live attitude goes a long way towards living tolerably. I'm atheist and my ex is a church-going Catholic. When the troubles began, of all the issues between us, religion was never one. From the outset we tacitly agreed that I wouldn't try to change her mind nor she mine. Now imagining a Republican as a life partner, that's a very different matter.
While in Vietnam in the early 70's I was in a rescue unit and had not had any contact with my MOTHER who in turned called her brother a CHAPLAIN in Korea who came to Thailand to find me on my 1st RR in 2 years. We got drunk and the last day after I wrote a letter to my mother he asked 'Do you believe in God?" I said Vince this is the most fucked up place right now on the face of the earth, no I don't" I do not believe in organized religion and what it has caused in the world. I do see a Good in the church where it always has been at that has been at a community level. Churches and donations feed and house the poor and indigent more than the government does. Wonderful post and a great read but I still say there is no man in the sky. Great...................o/e
It sounds like a lovely relationship. Mutual respect and admiration. And that's where I'll stop for now because I am too tired to make sense. Take care.
"The party was full of liberals, activists, spiritually inclined, sci-fi inclined, art making, freedom loving, socially marginal people"

A good crowd Dr. Bowl..

Took me twenty minutes to read this, time well spent
I agree that most religious people do not understand science that is a huge tragedy very insightful post rrrrrrrr
I really enjoyed this. I think atheists most often are the most moral of people, since they have to think through all the ethical issues for themselves. I am married to an atheist also.
I love reading your - meditations. I also don't see a connection between atheism and religion. Happy for your being happy. May it stay so. ♥
JD- after watching some episodes of Downton Abbey, the repeat theme was "what's the point of living life if you don't allow it to change you".

Jack- ah, I think it has to do with my mathematical, problem solving mind. Still, if I do have Rosicrucian "blood", that only means John is a lucky man too.

Abrawang- I am glad it wasn't a point of contention. I can't imagine life with a diehard republican, and I am too irreverent for catholics. I don't believe in popes.

O/E- I don't think there is an old man in the sky, either, but that is religion.

Phyllis- yeah, it is. It takes mutual falling into trust for the love to grow.

Trig- a very good crowd, and surely a party you would have been at, no doubts.

Bea- and some of the brilliant scientists miss the point on the spiritual life, arts and sciences go together, no? a yin and yang?

Lucy- there are definitely a lot of extremely moral atheists, and perhaps moreso, because they are forced to think through the issues on their own and can't hide behind a "code". As you know, there is still love and commitment possible without a signpost from heaven.

Fusun- yeah. Well, you met him, and see how lovely he is. I don't need to wait another 30 or 40 years to enjoy the connection now. With a little less urgency and a little more patience, it flowers along. And my roses are beautiful.
Wow I am impressed. I would not have been able to tell your loved one was an atheist. You have a good head on your shoulders and certainly love in your heart.

Okay, I'm awake now. :-)

I really like the way you describe your sweetie and how you interact with him. Given my attachment to a "world class university" I know that I have opportunities to meet a diverse group of people. I just need to start going to the events. There are some good ones.
I love this post, Oryoki. In my family, Mom and we kids were Catholic, but Pops was Lutheran. No one ever really said anything about it. It's just the way it was. We were taught to leave others alone about their beliefs, and we lived in it, so it worked. Cool. Happy for you in your relationship, it sounds sweet and even.