So I Married a Heathen
What to do with a husband who "isn't anything"
I had to explain it to the priest as I stood fidgeting with my cell phone antenna. No, my fiancee isn’t Catholic or Jewish, and he wasn’t baptized. I resisted the urge to holler, “YES, I am marrying a FILTHY heathen neener neener!” The priest told me curtly that he could not perform the marriage ceremony since my betrothed hadn’t been baptized. The job of blessing our union was passed to the deacon.
Husband isn’t…anything, really, religiously speaking. He is wickedly funny, always there to lend a hand when anybody needs it, he’s sweet and compassionate and very generous. What happens when a twenty-nine-year old Southern Catholic girl with Evangelical parents marries a very logical, scientifically-minded unreligious Midwestern boy?
The Edge of the Bible Belt
I come from a tradition of Catholics. We live in the South, on the edge of the Bible Belt. My husband and I were married in the same church where my father attended school and was an altar boy. I did nine years in a parochial school and I was an altar girl. An interesting twist – my parents are no longer Catholic and have recently defected…er…converted. They attend our city’s Evangelical Christian megachurch. Whether their conversion was peer-pressure induced, a reaction to sex scandals, or a combination of both, I’m not sure. This family’s participation in organized religion is not a sidebar issue.
Husband and his family are not religious.
I do struggle with my faith and the Church – Why aren’t women priests? Am I a good enough person? I go to church with fair regularity. I pray for myself, my family, my three ferrets and four dogs, and for people I don’t even know.
Husband has been to church a handful of times, mostly with me and only for weddings or funerals. He attends mass at Christmas, which was only after several years of tearful shouting matches concerning the melding of our respective holiday traditions. I ask him to go to church with me and he says no. Before we married, we agreed that if we had kids they’d be baptized and raised as Catholics, but Husband didn’t want to be Catholic. I guess I thought we had it figured out.
There are questions that I wrestle with every day. Did Husband and I know what we were getting into? Are the issues that seem manageable now going to sprout fangs with which to rip us apart later? If I struggle with my faith, am I a hypocrite for promising to raise my children in this tradition? My parents are not Catholic anymore, so how’s that going to work with three vying viewpoints? I worry about these things now, even though they may never come to pass. I handle the uncertainty by praying about it, talking with Husband about it, and sometimes I just think I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
If you Google “my husband isn’t Catholic,” you find a lot of discussion on family planning and how the children fit into the blended faith marriage. Blended faith, in this case, being Catholics and various forms of Protestantism or Judaism. I can’t find a lot of information about those Catholic and Heathen pairings. We will eventually have kids, so when I’m trying to deal with these issues now, Googling that phrase feels like walking with the Ghost of Christmas Future, seeing the coming attractions.
I see Husband as basically Christian and living a basically Christian life, but without the label. Partly, I think the pressure from Christians in the South is a turn-off to any would-be Christians like Husband. There are people who go to church and profess loudly their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, yet they actively exclude gays or poor people from their worship or they cheat on their wives and taxes. But there are people like Husband who go into the world kindly, respectfully, and mindfully. They appreciate God’s gifts but without the spectacle of pointing out they’re appreciating God’s gifts. This is not to say that Christians should be perfect, but on some level, there are some people missing the logs in their eyes while they’re lecturing about the speck in ours.
Will these be bigger issues in ten years when I’m coaxing children into going to church? I don’t think this will bother Husband much at all. It’ll bother me while we’re in the pews and I tell them why we really celebrate Christmas. I hope he will come with us sometimes, especially Christmas and Easter, and I hope he will help me teach our children about being thankful and taking care of other people.
Beyond “You Complete Me”
Part of what reassures me is remembering why I married my husband in the first place and what being married is about. It’s going beyond “you complete me” mush and into something more practical and long-lasting. Where I am lacking, I hope he will pick up the slack, and vice versa. For instance, I cannot talk to the bank people. When I have to get on the phone with them, I get mad at them for being dumb and for screwing up my money, so it’s really useless for me to try to talk to them. Husband is very level-headed and knowledgeable and can hash out the issue without calling the bank person a bad name. So we agreed that Husband will talk to bank people. For Husband, I can remember the birthdays and to wash the household linens before they are so filthy they crawl into the washing machine by themselves.
Perhaps we’re creating a relationship with each other and God without the label “Christian” but that is just as divinely guided. Husband may not be a school-figure Christian, but he’s one in practice. Maybe we, and our future children, will be better Christians for it.
[EDITOR'S NOTE — This article was originally published in Busted Halo on June 21, 2006.]