My reactions "In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and..."

Discussions about negotiating relationships between faithful LDS believers and the apostates who love them. This applies in particular to mixed-faith marriages, but relations with children, parents, siblings, friends, and ward members is very welcome.
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BriansThoughtMirror
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My reactions "In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and..."

Post by BriansThoughtMirror » Tue Jul 17, 2018 12:38 pm

Hi, I haven't been around in a while (I'm trying not to give church so much of my emotional energy, brainpower, willpower, time, aggravation, etc.- that has been very good for me, even though I can't completely get away), but I thought I'd stop by to share my thoughts on a book. This isn't a real review, just a few of my thoughts.

In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families
Dale McGowan

McGowan is an atheist, and has had a very successful marriage to a believing Christian. He also ran a fairly large study of people in mixed belief marriages to find out what made them work and what made them fail. He shares some encouraging results- mixed belief marriages are not necessarily more likely to fail.
Unfortunately for me, it was also a very painful read, and I think many here might have a similar experience. As I read the worst failure stories, I could see many of my own experiences mirrored. For example, when one partner in a fundamentalist Baptist couple became atheist, the believing spouse felt betrayed, felt that a covenant was broken, and feared the family was in danger of hell. The devastation this person experienced was way too close to home. This couple was NOT able to work through their differences, and eventually divorced.
The examples he gives of marriages that worked well felt foreign to me in most cases. They usually involved a very liberal believer. My spouse is a deep thinker, and fairly nuanced in her views. I consider her thoughtful, but not "liberal" in the way I see the term used here. She's a literal believer, so making compromises like going to a UU church won't work.
He does make a very good point about the necessity for both partners to be non-dogmatic. His way of explaining dogmatism was really helpful, too. This was most helpful for me in examining myself. It made me analyze my own thought processes and level of open minded-ness. It's not very helpful to use his criteria to evaluate my spouse, though.
McGowan has a few pieces of very good, important advice, especially regarding not wanting to convert your spouse and being respectful of his/her faith journey no matter how it turns out. A strong desire to convert the other is a major failure factor. This has been critical in my marriage. Of course, if you are hanging out on the NOM board, I'm sure you've heard that advice before. I especially loved the advice about accepting "the ultimate compliment"- meaning, your spouse believes that you as a non-believer probably won't go to hell, or as a believer are actually a decent, intelligent person. You don't have to agree on these things to be OK with each other.
I think his best chapter is the one about raising kids. It's excellent, especially since I've had no other examples to look at of mixed belief marriages with kids. His advice to keep hell (or other scare tactics) out of a child's teaching is great. He has a great strategy for making sure kids know that they can search for truth, pick any set of beliefs, or change their minds as often as they need to, and still be fully loved and accepted by the family. He makes a big deal about being on the same page with your spouse and coming to an agreement on how kids should be raised. I hadn't thought through most of this as clearly as he put it. My wife even liked a lot of the ideas when I talked to her about it.
The tone is very important to mention. Lots of amazon reviewers say that the believing spouses enjoyed and found the book helpful. I believe them, but I bet they are very liberal believers. A small number of reviewers found it offensive. These were the more literal believers. I think a believing Mormon who is still hurting from the loss of the hope of an eternal family will definitely be offended. McGowan really does try to be inclusive, but I think he can't see his own bias creeping in. He gives too much time to telling faith crisis stories, and he never portrays believers as deep thinkers. The worst part is that toward the end he reveals that after many years, his wife eventually left the faith, too. That felt like an ambush. I felt a bit mislead. It's subtle, but I could not recommend the book to my wife. Instead, I told her a lot about the useful parts, and warned her that she would likely find the book alienating. We talked about things I liked and didn't like. I think that was the best approach.
Sadly, a lot of this book was pretty depressing for me. When he talked about the factors that brought success, I saw only a few of them in my marriage. When he talked about the factors that brought failure, I felt I could relate with lots of them. It was hard to get through. I had to stop and start a couple of times because it was a little overwhelming. In fact, I totally skipped the chapter about divorce. That was just too painful, since I was looking for something encouraging that would help me make things work. To be honest, I got into a pretty bad emotional state while reading the first half of this book. It actually reduced my hope for a happy family. At the same time, other parts did give great, encouraging advice for having respectful family relations, honoring each person's journey, including everyone, and being non-judgmental and non-dogmatic. This stuff is, like I said, critical.
Overall, I had to grit my teeth at his data and stories in order to get through it. I had to tell myself that my marriage is NOT like any of the stories, and I don't HAVE to be like those people. In truth, I'm pretty lucky, because my wife is a believer, but she really listens to me and thinks I'm a good person. She's got my back, even if she has to defend me. I think she's perfectly intelligent, moral and a good human being. I'd defend her, too. It was hard to get here, though, and sometimes things are still very hard. I think if I had read this book earlier in my faith crisis I would probably be divorced. It could possibly have made me feel like there was no to make things good.

So, there you have it! It might be useful for some of you, especially if you have already settled into a stable, fairly happy situation and just want strategies for raising kids or other specific issues. If your marriage is currently in crisis because of faith differences, I would not recommend it. To be honest, I think this book would be more useful to someone who is CONSIDERING a mixed faith marriage, rather than someone who unexpectedly ended up in one.
Reflections From Brian's Brain
https://briansthoughtmirror.wordpress.com/

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Corsair
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Re: My reactions "In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and..."

Post by Corsair » Fri Jul 20, 2018 3:37 pm

Thank you for your comments. I actually read this book a couple of years ago and found it less helpful than I hoped because my marriage had already found some stability. It also was mentioned in the book that more intense religionists like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses were more difficult to deal with due to their insistence on proselytizing, "one true church" attitude, and a deep mistrust of apostasy.

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BriansThoughtMirror
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Re: My reactions "In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and..."

Post by BriansThoughtMirror » Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:55 am

Yeah, he repeats that idea a few times. He lumps Mormons in with JWs and fundamentalist Christians as far as difficulty of making mixed faith relationships work. It was a really discouraging part of the book. I really did have to tell myself that my marriage wasn't like that (it's not).
Reflections From Brian's Brain
https://briansthoughtmirror.wordpress.com/

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