Religious Compatibilty

A few years ago, some friends of mine had decided that I needed to start dating again (I think I had been single for a couple of years, with a few flings here and there), and introduced me to a number of potential girlfriends. Unfortunately, my friends weren’t Christian, and neither were these girls.

It was the first time I’d really had to confront the question of dating a non-Christian. After converting to Christianity, I had generally accepted that you shouldn’t date a non-Christian, but I had never considered the matter theologically. Beyond the facts of being told not to date a non-Christian, were there other reasons why we shouldn’t? Practical, rather than philosophical reasons?

There are, of course. No long term relationship will work without religious congruity. This was no clearer than in the consideration of having children.

Let’s say you’re Christian, and you date a non-Christian. You get serious, you get married, and kids come along. Important questions arise about how to raise them, what to teach them, questions of morality, what institutions will be involved in their education…

You can’t just take them to church on Sunday morning, because the two of you disagree on more than just denomination, you disagree on core beliefs. You can’t ground morality in the concept of sin and forgiveness. When those awkward teenage years come, you can’t talk about sex in the context of the Bible and explain chastity Biblically, because your mate may (and probably will) disagree with you. Even if they do agree, their reasoning will be different.

At the least, it’d be mixed messages and signals to the kid, leaving them with an ambiguous and likely shifting set of moral instructions. At the worst, they might reject both for lack of a firm foundation. Of course, that’s their choice, and you’d love them anyways, but it goes beyond the kid’s formation.

Such disagreements will cause strain on your relationship with your partner. Even before all this happens, the kids and the education and whatnot, you won’t be able to discuss a variety of topics. When a crisis happens, you won’t be able to pray with your mate about it. You won’t be able to worship together, and if you do, it will always be on your mind that you’re not worshiping the same god. You will know, provided you’re an orthodox Christian, that your mate won’t be in heaven when you get there.

It just doesn’t work in the long run. Being friends with unbelievers is one thing, and I think it’s important and invaluable. A lot of my friends aren’t Christian, and that’s totally OK. But when I looked down the road of dating a non-Christian, it just didn’t seem feasible.

To my mind, you can only truly love when you have been truly loved, and the only One who truly and unconditionally loves is Jesus. If they don’t know him, they can never really know me. I don’t want to be with someone who not only doesn’t, but seriously cannot, know me.

Why would you want to live your life that way?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

One of the unique things about this website is the tension inherent in its design. There are things I want to do with it, committments I want to keep regarding update schedules and writing and whatnot… but there’s also the entire rest of my life. This thing is a hobby to fill in the gaps, and sometimes there aren’t any gaps… or sometimes, I just feel like filling them with something else.

When I examine my life and what I do, though, I feel like I’m right on track. It’s hard to admit this to myself, because there are so many things I feel like I want to do. I’d like to be more involved in ministry, and I’d like to write more, and I’d like to commit my life to public service, or missions, or teaching college courses on literature or Ancient Rome or something. I feel like there are people who are pulling me in all these directions, and I feel like I constantly disappoint them by not walking where they direct, by not following where they lead.

But that’s not my life, and it’s not really what I want. What I want is to be a good husband, to become a good father, to grow into a stronger servant, and to provide for my family. My priority is to make my family (April and, someday, our children) happy, to shelter and care for them, and to take care of them as best I can. The rest is just for my free time.

It’s sort of like… you know that ignorant statement where someone complains about something in the world, and another person says, “Well then, why don’t you get up and do something about it?” The question is intended to make you feel guilty for complaining without acting to correct the situation, when the truth of the matter is that we can’t all solve everything. I can’t be a doctor and a firefighter and a non-profit humanitarian aid worker. We can’t do everything.

But I can invest in my family and in my community to better help them do these things. I can raise my children right, raise them like I would have liked to be raised, to give them the opportunity to do these things. Teach them well so they can do and become anything. Support them in every endeavor so that they can save the world.

I don’t know that I could save the world, personally. I recognize my limitations, and while my personal ceiling is pretty high, I know that I can make that ceiling way higher for my children. No matter how far I could go, I know that I can enable them to go further. So, that’s what I want to do with my life.

And I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into everyone’s preconceived role for me, but it’s my life. It’s what I’ve wanted to be since I was nine, and I think I’m finally getting ready to admit and commit to it. The tension in my life is beginning to resolve itself, and the path I need to take is becoming more clear. Where am I headed?

I’m going up. Up just as high as I can go, so I can prepare the way for my children so that they might climb higher still.