Freckles in April: In Faith and in Doubt by Dale McGowan

Monday, July 20, 2015

In Faith and in Doubt by Dale McGowan

I heard about In Faith and in Doubt from a random article about religion. It mentioned that it was one of the few books (possibly the only?) that talks about mixed faith marriages in which one of the spouses identifies as agnostic or atheist. I immediately opened a new tab and bought it. Any help we can get, right?

The book starts off by destroying preconceived notions about mixed and interfaith marriages. Numerous studies have shown that "[t]heological beliefs and the belief dissimilarity of spouses have little effect on the likelihood of dissolution [of marriage] over time." Also, they seem to be just as happy as spouses who share the same faith.

A lot of the book's information and ideas come from the McGowan-Sikes survey of 994 people in secular/religious marriages. Interestingly, the marriages at the time of the survey were 10 years long, 2 years past the national average (8, apparently), and still going.

So within the very first chapter there's a whole lot of optimism. Phew.

The book helps breakdown the various kinds of believers and nonbelievers (I am a "seeker agnostic", as it turns out) then goes into things that are helpful and things that are unhelpful when looking at secular/religious marriages. This was...less optimistic. Out of 9 "unhelpful things" Aaron and I have 5-6. Oy. Out of the 10 "helpful things", though, we've got 7 going for us!

One of the rough things about reading this book is that it paints a rather bleak view of A. partners who start off sharing the same religion before one changes and B. Mormonism. Both of those things make life a lot harder for people in a mixed faith marriage. The book points out that when those shared beliefs fall away it can expose weaknesses in the relationship. However, it can also expose strengths. That was a big lightbulb moment for me. Aaron and I have a lot working against us but when it all went down I was happy to discover that our marriage is built on some pretty solid stuff, very little of which was made of the LDS church.

One of my biggest takeaways is that spouses should focus on shared values rather than beliefs. Even when religious beliefs differ, most people still hold similar values of empathy, compassion and basic morality.

The book has lots of good points about respect and communication as well as ideas for how to raise children in a religious/secular marriage so that they are respectful and understanding of both parents' beliefs.

I know that secular/religious marriages are a fairly small group, but if you're part of this (elite?) club, this book is well worth a read. It gave me plenty to think about and a lot of tools to continue working toward a happy marriage.

Copy purchased through Amazon


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  1. Thanks for the recommendation! My fiance isn't religious (somewhat former Mormon) and I'm a Protestant convert. I'm from an irreligious/secular family, so I'm used to being the lone believer, but it can be lonely sometimes, right, whether you're the only believer or the only agnostic in the room. I look forward to reading the book! (PS, happy to hear your marriage is so strong, even without the shared LDS foundation!)

  2. Thanks for sharing this book! I am the religious one while my husband is agnostic and I love seeing other couples who make it work in a similar situation. I'll be getting this book ASAP!

  3. Coming from a family where my mother is an anglican pastor and my father is agnostic/atheist (I don't tend to discuss religion with him), I have never seen a difference in religious belief as a breaking point in relationships. I know friends from my church growing up who wouldn't date or pursue anyone if they were not an active christian, but I have never seen the point. I am currently a non-practicing but believing anglican whilst my boyfriend is firmly agnostic and I feel that as long as there is respect on both sides, religion does not impact on the relationship itself. I love how open you are about the impact leaving mormonism has had on your family and relationship and I am so happy that you have found a way to make it work :)

  4. I think there are SO MANY THINGS that are built into major religious--good things, really good things--but I also think that sometimes it's difficult to remember that non religious people can still have those exact same values and priorities without the religion. My BIL has recently left the church, only he has a hard time with the idea that a father and husband should be honest, or not cheat on his wife, or prioritize his family because those concepts were always couched in a religious box and now that he's out of that box he doesn't think that anything in the box exists outside of it. It''s impossible and my sister is having a really difficult time.

    Your sentence that your marriage is built on stronger stuff than religion made me so, so happy. I think we should all aspire for such a relationship.



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