As a person of faith, is it OK for me to marry an atheist?

Here’s what the apostle Paul said about that to the Corinthians:

“Although I know nothing of what the Lord has said (on this), I say: if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. … Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 16)

Since Paul is the one bringing the Gospel to people for the first time, he likely is speaking here to/about already-married couples in which one of the partners accepted the Good News and the other did not. There are three things to note here: First, he seems to extend Jesus’ teachings to affirm these marriages. Second, Paul has a profound conviction that God’s power to break through barriers (of unbelief) is active and real. And third, he affirms that God calls us to peace. Peacemaking and reconciliation are at the heart of the gospel and the life of faith.

For two people who may be dating but are not yet married and one of whom is an atheist, careful consideration should be given to how helpful a shared faith can be in one’s marriage. In the Catholic tradition, when two spouses see their marriage as a sacrament — a sign for the whole community of how God loves us faithfully and with an everlasting love — their faith in God’s presence with them in their relationship can be a source of tremendous strength in challenging times and of gratitude in good times.

Some questions to consider: What is it about this person that I love and respect despite our differences in faith tradition and can I commit myself to loving this person despite those differences, and, more importantly, because of what I affirm to be the good in them? What role will faith play in our married life together, despite those differences?

Making a commitment to love and honor each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for the rest of your lives is a very significant commitment. It makes great sense to have everything going for you that you can possibly have going for you in order to make good on that commitment. A shared faith can be a very positive factor to be included in what one is looking for in a future spouse. It is not absolutely essential, but it will certainly make for a richer shared experience and provide positive support in living one’s commitment.

from Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, and the Busted Halo Question Box