In Theory: Shunning the idea of an atheist-in-law

A section of a recent Pew Center Research poll on political polarization and family life asked Americans how they would react if a member of their immediate family told them they were going to marry one of the following: an atheist, a gun owner, someone who had not attended college, someone of a different race, a born-again Christian, a Republican, a Democrat or someone born and raised outside the U.S.

Of those choices, 49% said they would be most upset if a family member announced they planned to wed an atheist. The next most controversial category, although it captured a significantly lower number of objections (19%), was "gun owner." The politics of the family newcomer was far less polarizing than either of those categories, with 9% saying they would not want a new Republican in-law and 8% saying the same about a Democrat.

Q: Why do you think there is such a strong reaction against bringing an atheist into the family?

I would agree with those families who oppose bringing an atheist into the tribe. Atheists do not hold our values, and since they dismiss the progenitor of all pertinent values, I can only imagine an ongoing massive headache and heartache. In Christian circles, we call such unions "unequally yoked" according to 2Co 6:14-15. And we call the courtship that led up to it, "missionary dating." It's where a believer overlooks the atheism or cultism, or whatever "ism" because they think there's so much good in the person that "surely they will come around to God, given enough time and evangelism." It overwhelmingly backfires.

Looking at the other categories, I can understand the worry some families might have with international and interracial dating because of the cultural hurdles for everyone, but those should take a back seat to philosophical beliefs that are generally aligned both religiously and politically. I'm reminded of Winston Churchill's adage, "Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains." I'm inclined to agree, so maybe some leeway is in order for a young suitor who hasn't yet connected the dots between liberal politics and milquetoast religion, but big leeway always to saints simply hailing from another genealogical branch.

As for gun ownership, I'm of the opinion that an armed man has an advantage in his house against home-invaders over the fellow who figures he'll risk his wife and children's lives without. A dog and a gun are the best deterrent to burglars, and God and a gun are the best deterrent to despots. And guts, add some of that in there too; it's what made and keeps America free. Amen?

Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


I think the reason the percentage is so high against a family member marrying an atheist is that because a person, who publicly avows to not believe in God, has no belief in the order and logic of the world and has no hope for its positive future. Let's look at what belief in God entails. We adhere to the story of creation of the world that begins with, "it (the Earth) was void and without order and darkness was on the surface of the depth. And God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light." The idea here is that God makes order out of Chaos. The first thing that God did was to create light. This was Spiritual light, not sunlight, the kind of light one gets from completeness and fulfillment or of finding a solution to a problem. Later, God tells Moses, in the book of Exodus, that my real name is YHWH. This word in Hebrew unites the phrases 'he was, he is, he will be.' God tells this to Moses when he is about to send Moses to free the slaves who feel they have been abandoned by God. So what the Bible is saying to us is that, God created light out of darkness, substance out of the emptiness (void), and orderliness out of disorder. And more importantly, God was there for you, God is there for you and God will be there for you, always. Now do you want your nearest and dearest relative to marry someone who publicly exclaims he or she has no hope for himself or herself or the world, or would you prefer someone who merely uses a different hope and belief path to climb the same mountain? Shalom,

Rabbi Mark H. Sobel
Temple Beth Emet


The why of the dislike of atheists in this country is a complete mystery to me, but this poll result is no surprise. There will be a gay Jewish female Latina cross-dresser in the White House before an admitted atheist is elected president.

I note that the narrow-minded 49% is not equally distributed politically — among conservatives 70% are unwelcoming to atheists whereas under 30% of liberals would mind.

It is another head-scratcher to me that religious belief is seen by so many as morally superior to atheism. Are these folks not seeing the news? In every corner of the globe religious people are being horrible to each other. Even Buddhists are getting into the act.

Google "Bodu Bala Sena" but don't expect much chanting, or twinkling bells.

Interestingly, just a quarter of atheists say they would have a problem with a Christian marrying into the family. Not only are atheists more accepting of differences, we are unlikely to try dictating family planning and other personal choices to others.

And I guarantee you will never see gangs of heavily armed atheists battling to take their society back 14 or 15 centuries as is the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), to name just one of the many religious extremist groups bedeviling us right now.

Roberta Medford


I believe that part of the reason people seem to be unhappy with the thought of having atheists in their families is our history as a nation. Many of the early settlers came here for religious freedom, and the idea that someone does not believe in God could seem alien to our heritage. The fact that none of our United States Presidents has been a nonbeliever, at least in his public life, is also emblematic of that belief. In addition, the inclusion of the words "In God We Trust" on our coins and our insertion of "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s are additional reinforcements to the belief that God is a critical part of who we are.

But times have changed. We are no longer living in the 18th, 19th, or even the 20th centuries. There are many in our country who do not have a belief in God, at least not the God of traditional religions. Buddhists, for example, could be categorized as atheists, not because they do not have ancient and deeply held beliefs but because they do not include a deity in their religious practice.

Another reason why people may harbor aversions to having atheists in their families could be that they have had little personal contact with them. So they fall back on stereotypes, often supported by their religious leaders, that atheists are immoral people who have no sense of values or ethical behavior. I am not an atheist. But I can assure my fellow Americans that the atheists I know are some of the most moral and justice-oriented people in our community and beyond.

My hope is that people will open their minds and hearts to those who are different from themselves and find the basic worth and dignity in all people. By breaking down these barriers, I believe that we can create a country that lives up to what we say about being "a land of the free and a home of the brave."

And we could just consider why we have never had a woman president. But that is a subject for another article.

Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta