The Ethical Dilemma: Preconception Religion

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Preconception Religion: My boyfriend and I are in a serious relationship, and we often talk about a future together involving marriage and children. However, he recently told me that if we were to have children together, they must be raised Christian like him. I find this incredibly unfair considering I am not a Christian at all. I consider myself agnostic and I refuse to tie myself to any religion. I am very lax and easy-going. I sort of just remain open-minded and go with what I feel is right in my heart, as opposed to what a book or a church will tell me is right. I personally feel that religion is brainwashing, in a sense, and I highly resent Catholicism.

It’s hardly been mentioned in our relationship at all because it makes us both very angry at each other, so we just don’t talk about it. But now is  the time to talk about it, because I truly don’t want my children to have such strong religious ties. I feel it closes their minds to so many things that I feel are completely fine (e.g., being gay) and shapes their opinions solely based on what they think God wants them to think. I don’t even know how to begin to have this conversation with him or how to compromise.


Dear Tied,

This is a situation in which my advice to people who don’t yet have children is very different from what I tell people who already do. I counsel those with children on various ways to cope with this scenario. But I warn those who don’t have any kids yet to seriously reconsider going forward with partners who insist on raising children in their faiths if that is likely to become a battleground within the relationship.

It’s a good thing your boyfriend clearly expressed his position now, before you have children and even before you are engaged or married. This is very likely a deal breaker, unless after you present it as such, he sincerely embraces a compromise. For instance, you could agree to introduce the kids to both Christianity and agnosticism on equal footing and perhaps other religions and philosophies as well. But if you insist on raising children without faith at all, then the shoe switches to the other foot—you would be trampling his wishes in lieu of him trampling yours. Either way, not a good approach to parenthood, or marriage.

Your boyfriend’s attitude and your own demonstrates disrespect for the other person’s views. Typically, people who are religious dismiss those who are not to a much greater degree than they would a believer of a different faith. I’ll bet if you were Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever, your boyfriend wouldn’t so cavalierly announce that your children would of course be raised Christian. He might agree to raise them with both religions, ask that one of you (guess who?) convert to the other, or most likely he wouldn’t be in a serious relationship with a non-Christian in the first place. But a partner with no faith is often regarded by the faithful as a vacuum to be filled with their own dogma. And beware, it’s probably not just you versus him. Very likely, it’s you versus his entire family (and possibly yours as well).

The fact that the two of you are already too hostile to even discuss this is a major danger sign. So please say to him all the things you say in your letter and see how he reacts. Be prepared to part ways. Even if you ended up never having kids, the fact that the two of you can’t confront your divergent views indicates serious incompatibility. Matrimony and child-rearing are difficult enough in the most harmonious of unions, but you guys haven’t even managed a civil two-way conversation about a very basic question. There’s nothing wrong (and plenty right!) with wanting to raise your children without religion. But there is something deeply wrong with trying to force that on a partner who adamantly disagrees.