Monday, July 27, 2015

How can I come out as a Non-Believer to my Wife?

Hi Eynah,

I came across your blog while reading an opinion column on Freedom of speech during the Charlie Hebdo massacre early January. I was fascinated by the content, fresh ideas, alternate opinion and was even more impressed learning it came from a liberal Pakistani Canadian woman. I really enjoy your wit and honest opinions on delicate and important topics. I have been putting off writing to you for a while now.

I understand your audience is mostly targeted towards youth who have a background growing up in orthodox Islamic families and are struggling with coming to terms with their beliefs, sexuality, etc. What I wanted to kind of discuss with you is - 'How I can come out as a non believer to my wife who is a lot more religious and creator-inclined'

Before I go on, I need to give you some background about myself. I'm an Indian citizen, born and raised as a Catholic. Live and work in the US with my wife now and would describe my world view as being liberal - Live and let live! Growing up, my family had been moderately religious in that we did go to church every week and tried to say prayers regularly, etc. I was always taught to think for myself and not have blind belief. However I didn't ask too many tough questions, finding it easier to 'go with the flow' of things and I did believe that the Catholic faith was true in preaching about God and actually helped humanity in achieving peace within oneself as well as in relation to the eternal world. 

But I was never completely certain that this was the case being a science student. Because the theory of evolution and the origin of the world/universe was very different from what the book of genesis preaches for example. I had always been interested in astronomy and somehow what I learnt from the science text books v/s the bible never really added up. I would always reconcile this by thinking that you cant take all that written in the Bible literally and perhaps its a metaphor for something greater that we cant understand being human. 

The doubt always remained though (especially when I read books/viewed films about the Crusades, prosecution of scientific thinkers like Copernicus, Galileo, learnt of the sex scandals in the Catholic church & corruption in the highest ranks in the Vatican) and to be fair my parents never really pressured me into following the catholic faith or doing ritualistic things. It was just me trying to explain the 'stories' in the bible to myself.

This doubt recently has been turned into something I'm certain about now. Certain that I was blind all along to the fallacies and regressive ways in which the guardians of Christian faith had been suppressing scientific thought and radical thinking. This transformation was slow and perhaps took way too many years but what tipped it was Carl Sagan's Cosmos and insights on origins of the universe from a host of other scientific personalities such as S. Hawking and Neil De Grasse Tyson. Once I had understood the basics of origins of the cosmos, evolution theory I realized there was no need to cling to religion or faith in a divine creator. It was great to finally see the world and universe though these new lens of reality :)

Phew, that background was longer than I expected it to be...coming to the problem I have now. On my latest India visit I told my parents about my disbelief in any formal organized religion as well as the existence of a divine creator. They were surprised sure, but like your story they were not totally shocked. Guess they were disappointed, but they didn't chastise or criticize me for my opinions. It felt good to come out with the truth. 

However I haven't been able to do the same thing in telling this to my wife. Before I go on, just wanted to point out that we met way back... and dated for a long time before finally getting married a few years ago. During those years I was still kind of on the fence about the whole religion thing. I was totally in love with her and didn't mind one bit that she was religious (in fact that may have been one of the qualities I adored in her)

She comes from a far more orthodox Catholic family. Growing up I guess they were more hardcore in imposing ritualistic worship, faith and belief in the holy book than my parents were with me. Although she is pretty liberal about her views on tolerance towards other faiths, alternative sexual orientation and is a science graduate herself I feel it will be more difficult...or even impossible for her to abandon her beliefs, faith in the preaching of the Catholic church.

Shes not a fanatic by any means but certainly will find it hard to digest that I do not believe in religion.

The reason its getting more and more important for me to come out now is because we are planning to start a family soon. And I do not really want our kids to be raised with blind faith in any religion. Although I appreciate the good aspects of community, peace, humility which do need to be instilled in kids I dont believe religion is the best and only way to do so.

I dont know if I will have the courage to stand up and say to my wife that I cant bear to see my kids raised believing in a God that doesn't exist...Hence I feel I need to explain my POV to her before we get to that stage. 

I'm really sorry that I've been rambling for so long now, but felt like I needed to explain to you in detail the situation I'm in. Just confused about how to articulate my disbelief and ensure that she doesnt have false expectations from me going forward. I'd like to point out that on the other hand I certainly do not want to impose my beliefs on her i.e. turn her against her religion or anything like that. All I want to do is come clean and explain why I cant bear to ingrain religious agenda in a young mind...

Thanks for understanding. Any suggestions or pointers would be helpful....look forward to hearing from you.




Dear D,

Thanks so much for writing to me, and for your kind words. While I'm honoured and flattered, I'm also a bit saddened by how many people are 'surprised' to discover I am a Pakistani woman. It seems the bar for us is set quite low...and there is definitely a specific mould people expect us to fit. This perception is absolutely the fault of how rarely that mould is broken by Pakistani women. Shows desperately we need more of us to break free of what is expected. I often get people doubting I am either Pakistani *or* a woman :/ 

Anyway, I'm very glad you're here...and hope you will continue reading the blog!

I think you're not alone as far your situation with your wife goes. And it really is a tough one....when one partner's beliefs change during a relationship it can be hard to come to terms with for the other person. And it can change the entire dynamic of the relationship too - so I understand your hesitation to 'come out'. However, if your relationship is strong and you love each other I'm sure some reasonable compromises can be achieved. It's a daunting task to express a changed belief, especially such an important one, to your partner....but the longer you don't address it, the wider the gap becomes. I'd say do it sooner rather than later. It also can't be easy on you to not be who you are freely in front of her. 

People are very sensitive about kids, especially when taught to expect something as 'natural' - like wanting to raise your kids in a faith. But....there are some very good logical reasons that you can present to your wife to make a case of 'letting them choose for themselves' when they are old enough. I think this is something even parents of faith should do, to be quite honest. Teach them and make them aware about beliefs but don't force religion on them when they are too young to consent to a belief system that could impact their entire life. 

Maybe you can teach them about the existence of a bunch of faiths, and also things like greek mythology. So satisfying your wife's desire for them to know her faith..but also making sure they are clued in to the wider picture. Everyone (now) knows the stories in Greek mythology aren't to be taken seriously ..and you can point that out, that they're just stories ;) While teaching them about world religions you could also give them knowledge about science and evolution and the importance of critical thinking... so they get to know about it *all*, and they get to have tools to help make their decision when they are old enough. 

I have some Atheist friends who talk about shielding their kids from religion for as long as possible, and I just don't think thats practical or wise. We live in a theist majority world... and kids will be exposed to religion all the time, from sources you can't control. The best thing we can do is prepare them and arm them with the right tools to differentiate between things that we have evidence for, and are real.... and things we don't have any proof for. 

Of course doing this in an age appropriate manner is also important, you gotta let them have things like the tooth fairy or Santa when they are really little... I think a little make-believe early on, can only help creativity :) They will soon enough start recognizing what's real and what isn't on their own, and that's when you can start guiding them through that, picking out facts from fiction. 

And don't explain it to your wife like this - Just tell her that you're open to teaching about world religions and mythologies as a compromise on your part, and you'd be happy to teach them about her beliefs too...but you would like for them to not be raised as Catholic, just so they can choose what's best for them when they are old enough. 

If she's as liberal and lax and science-friendly as you say, hopefully she will be on board with this. And who knows, raising kids is quite the journey I hear....maybe it will open up her mind too.

All the best to you and your wife!

Hope this was helpful.


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  1. I wonder if my experience as the child of a believer and an agnostic can be helpful. My mother was a devout, though liberal, Christian, my father came from a good socialist family. Dad's mother was Jewish, which we did not know about growing up till years later. This was the post WWII Netherlands, the fear was still strong. Anyway, when they married Mom made Dad promise that children would be sent to a Christian elementary school (very common in the Netherlands) to compensate for the lack of church going at home. This was done and us kids were duly indoctrinated in a fairly liberal form of protestant Christianity. Even so, there was some hell fear......Dad would set aside his scepticism and fake it for Christmas only, but otherwise he provided a counter balance to our school indoctrination just through his attitude. Subtle, but unmistakable. None of us continued as believers. I had been a devout child and remember a mighty struggle around age 14 when critical thinking kicked in. Isaac Asimov's remark, about the Bible being the strongest argument for atheism, was true in my case. It did not do me any harm, on the contrary. There is something to be said for starting out with a religion and having to free oneself from it. Camille Paglia has some interesting observations on the topic. For Camille Paglia, the Spiritual Quest Defines All Great Art
    She proposes "Give children the Bible and let them struggle with it." It is an interesting viewpoint and I understand where she is coming from. Anyway, to D, be yourself, gently and diplomatically, and somehow the notion that there are alternatives to religious brainwashing will register with your offspring. All the best.

    1. Thats such an interesting story... thank you for sharing!

  2. Good luck with it, D.
    I think you're very wise to want to sort something out before children come along.

  3. Thanks Len, that is truly inspiring :)

  4. Thanks len, that really is inspiring :)