A Deist Among Christians
by J Hardwick
Interfaith relationships are never easy in the beginning as there are ups and downs as each person involved gets know and understand the other. Different religions have existed for millennia and in all that time there have been problems between them. These problems stem from the fact that the differences are emphasized rather than the similarities. In truth, most religions teach the same moral and spiritual messages. Until recently it was not common to see couples (especially married) that are different religions. Now, there are all kinds of interfaith relationships around including all the major and minor religions of the world. All relationships are difficult to develop and maintain but interfaith marriages can be especially hard in the beginning. The obvious goal and way for these marriages to survive is by common ground rather than differences. My relationship with my wife is an interfaith marriage and has always been strong but it took us time to find our religious common ground.
Both my wife and myself are from the Midwest and grew up there. We live in the Bible belt and I like to joke that we sit on the buckle of the Bible belt. My wife grew up and went to the same church as three generations of her family did before her with the Christian denomination being United Methodist. This particular church is very traditional but not evangelical so many different viewpoints exist under one roof. I on the other hand did not grow up in a church as my father was Unitarian and my mother was United Methodist. My parents believed that we must make our own decisions regarding our belief in God so my brother and I were given the choice to attend and as two young boys we chose the obvious choice, not to go. However, I did have plenty of conversations with my father and mother regarding God and religion and I was free to go to churches with friends. I did not really develop any religious beliefs per say until in my later years in college and did not identify myself with any religion or group at this point in time. These experiences lead to an interesting and slanted viewpoint on religion and Christianity and how I would perceive them.
Most of my friends were like my wife and went to moderate Christian churches (when they went) and I did go to some of these. On the other hand, I did have a few friends that were of the fire and brimstone evangelical persuasion and I went to these churches on a few occasions as well. These evangelical churches were nice overall but they produced in my mind a picture of all religion(s) that had a mean-spirited God that would cast you down for not following his rules to the letter. This God claimed to love his creation but to me it seemed that this God did not understand the definition of a loving God and contraindicated himself constantly. Most of my experiences occurred when I was in elementary school. This is because as I got older my friends and I focused on other important things such as girls and cars and religion was something not discussed. My wife on the other hand went to the same church all her childhood years and rarely ventured out to other churches and they attended church religiously (no pun intended). Her family was a solid Christian family comprised primarily of Methodists and Presbyterians. Thus our views of the world and religion were shaped by our experiences with hers insolated but positive and mine negative of organized religions.
Many people meet their future spouse in college and this was true for us as well. I guess I would classify myself as a romantic as it was truly love at first sight. Our relationship started off with incredible energy and we quickly were in love and friends at the same time. During this time I identified my faith as Deist. Deism is a religion based on Reason and Nature and my beliefs that were developing fit nicely with a modern (not classical) deistic viewpoint. My faith was growing partly due to the fact that now I was becoming more interested in religion and the other because I was immersed in science and philosophy due to my major. Interestingly enough we never talked about religion and I just assumed she was not a Christian and she assumed that I was. It all came out one day when a mutual friend was talking about his church and he asked about me. I said that I did not go to church and he found this surprising and began to question what my beliefs were and I responded. My wife was shocked to say the least and truthfully I was taken aback as well. We went back to my dorm room and discussed our differences and in the end did not agree but continued our relationship and religion would not be talked about. Eventually I asked her to marry me and religion popped up again and could not be ignored.
As our engagement proceeded we ran into the typical problems that many run into such as money and relatives. During this time we tended not to talk about religion and instead focused on each other and our relationship which despite the difference was growing stronger not weaker. Trouble with religion did occur occasionally as we would sometimes talk about it but our immaturity and pride always got the better of us and it ended in a fight of some sort. However, overall we got along better than most couples we knew that were of the same religion. During this time confidence in myself was low even though I was in a great and loving relationship so I did something that at the time was wrong but in the end had positive results. I decided to convert to Christianity even though I did not believe in it. My wife’s parents were thrilled that I was going to join their church and I went and became a Christian and a member. This caused a rift in my relationship with my wife because I did not believe in anything of the creeds and doctrines that I had agreed to.
My decision to join was based on my desire to keep my relationship with my future wife strong and make my future family proud. My wife never asked me to join and did not expect me to join. In fact, she asked if this is something I really wanted to do and supported my decision. In truth, I never needed to join the church and become a Pseudo-Christian because we had accepted each other but needed time to mature. However, I was not confident in myself and felt this had to be done to ensure our relationship. Of course, right away problems arose as she began to help me assimilate to Christian life and tried to teach me the “Lords Prayer.” I did not try hard to learn it nor did I try very hard to learn anything else that a real Christian should know and desire to learn. This lead to problems and we finally had a talk about how I was not a Christian and had made a mistake. She immediately accepted and respected my decision (again) and our relationship grew stronger still. We were married in her church and came to a basic agreement of how the ceremony would take place and be fair for both of us. The wedding went wonderfully and we have been married ever since.
I decided not to leave the church immediately as the pastor understood completely what had happened and instead told me how many different Christian viewpoints exist and to simply relinquish membership when I found a church that best suited me. Well, they say God works in mysterious ways and this “mistake” of mine turned out to be positive as I was surrounded by wonderful and caring Christians. The church was based not on fire but rather on fellowship. The church was small and most people knew each other very well especially my wife and her family as they had many years at this church. I came to have a new understanding of organized religion and Christianity in general and my negative experiences and viewpoints of the past expanded and a new positive viewpoint emerged. I realized that all religions have fundamentalists who never truly experience God in a positive spiritual way and when this occurs they lash out at others who do not believe as they do. Conversely, this church showed the positive side of organized religion and Christians overall. We did not attend church much because we were young and did not live in Tulsa. This allowed for us to grow together away from outside influences and we became stronger.
As we grew older we slowly began to discuss our beliefs and realized there were more similarities than differences. We also dropped our defenses and opened lines of discussion and acceptance. This came about due to increased maturity and life experiences. One in particular helped us grow in an unexpected way. We were invited by friends to attend a Sunday school lesson and church service at the local evangelical church. I was planning to say no when she said we should attend. She had never been in an evangelical church before and we went. We went and she had an interesting experience as we both felt out of place and not in comfortable quarters. The people were nice enough but the viewpoints and service were different from what she had experienced. We both walked away with a greater respect for each other’s viewpoints and an understanding that we shared many beliefs. I cannot put a finger on when our views and discussions truly came into their own but it was around the time of the birth of our son.
My wife became pregnant and it turned out to be a boy. We were not in full discussions by this point but were well on our way. The event of the birth and the emergency C-section brought us closer together. Then a few years later she became pregnant again and this time it was with twins. A true depth of acceptance occurred as we were faced with the possibility of losing both children and we both talked and the issue of prayer came up. I found out that my wife believed prayer to produce positive energy and I believed that prayer was a way for us to have an effect on layers of reality we scarcely understand as well as having positive benefits on the individual, so for the first time we prayed together and used words based not on one religion or the other but ecumenical in nature. Fortunately, the twins turned out healthy and we gained two girls. After this experience we began to discuss religion in deeper more spiritual ways. This experience also caused me to look deeper into my beliefs and I grew and matured from it. I came to realize that she was a Christian with panentheistic viewpoints and I was a Deist with panentheistic viewpoints. The similarities out way the differences between us and with dropped defenses we openly discuss religion and spirituality.
Growing-up as a Non-Christian in a primarily Christian environment was not easy but then growing up never is. Involvement in an interfaith marriage has had its bumps along the way but ultimately the romantic in me has the reason we survived where many others of the same faith do not. The reason is love. Love is powerful and can transcend religion and allow the two people involved to grow into a mature and loving relationship only if they place love at the forefront. I am accepted by my in-laws and extended family as well which creates a comfortable environment for use to exist in. I still am active in my wife’s church to this day as I have never found another church where we can both feel comfortable and I want my children to have the opportunity to have a church experience. I do not attend the service as I find God in nature and not necessarily in a sanctuary. However, I do attend events and other activities with my wife and family and I am accepted by the church for who I am. When my children are older I plan to take them for walks in parks and discuss God in the presence of nature. We believe that we must be active in helping our children develop their beliefs but must let them come to their own conclusions. Ultimately, my love for my wife and hers for me has allowed us to grow closer and have a wonderful and profound relationship despite our minor differences and our interfaith experiment has been a success. I am now a Deist among Christians both in my personal life and the world around me.
Copyright © 2004 J Hardwick