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Boyfriend is agnostic, I'm an atheist. How to cope with disagreements?

So lately, I have been discussing my views with my boyfriend because he's one of the very few I can open up to about being an atheist (due to living in the bible belt and having many religious friends). When it comes down to our difference in views, we begin to butt heads a little because he seems to lean towards the Christian view of a god being the cause of the universe and has no logic to support his argument. I will ask, then who created God or what could his origin possibly be? And he will say nothing, just that God was the beginning of everything. Then he will try to backpedal and say "only IF there is a god would this be the case" but it's obvious he believes it or really wants to. He grew up with a dad who was Jehova's witness and a Catholic mother so he was influenced probably a lot more than I was as a child by religion. I know it can be difficult to let those ideas go but what bothers me is that he defends the ideas with no logic. He even defends the bible as being a good guide to life, NEVER HAVING READ IT. I have, as I was forced to attend confirmation classes, and I suggested he do so before we discuss it. He says he won't. I love him but this is so frustrating. Obviously I feel it is easier to have a relationship with someone who is agnostic than a religious person, but does anyone have suggestions for how to have these conversations without letting the differences come between a couple? I really appreciate any advice.

By TaliaElizabeth92
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260 comments

40

Sounds like your BF isn't really agnostic, he's just a lazy Xtian. Not saying he is bad, or lazy with work and such, but he isn't interested in religion. He might have tried to convince himself to think this way because he is into you and knew it would be ideal (for you) if he didn't believe. He doesn't care enough about religion to give it any thought and it fine reverting to his upbringing as a fall back.
Ask him to read the bible, if you need to, insist on it. If he reads it through and goes, "Holy shit, that is batshit crazy! How do these people swallow this crap?" you know he's a keeper.
If he reads it and says, "Well, that Jesus guy was pretty rad, but that other stuff is pretty rough." there is hope.
If he reads it and is like, "Oh, that's what mom and dad were talking about, I get it now." run for the hills, he might be a sociopath.

Orly Level 4 Oct 22, 2017
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I agree-I don't think he's agnostic. rather, I think that, while he may not be interested in established religion, he's still a believer in the supreme being of some sort. Doesn't surprise me that he refuses to read the bible. I don't know any atheists, personally, who have read at least much of it, many of us having grown up in religious families. If you truly want to stay together, this may be one of the things you never discuss. i would, however, warn that these differences can be huge when it comes to values and morals,especially if you have children at some point, or with regard to what your roles are if you get married, even whether or not people of other ethnicities and backgrounds are accepted, respected, or treated as less....

19

As Ricky Gervais puts it, an agnostic is basically an atheist. What makes one agnostic is determined by their answer to the the question, "Does god exist?". To which they would say they "do not know" as opposed to an atheist's answer "simply no". If you twitch the question a little bit and ask, "Do you believe god exists?" to which they can't answer they don't know because that would be non-sensical. So they would have to say they don't believe in god and that ultimately makes them atheists.

gotham Level 3 Oct 30, 2017
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Isn't a reasonable answer from an agnostic: "I don't, because I haven't seen any convincing evidence, but I'm open to the possibility."? Is that not substantially different from a simple "No!" from an atheist?

I'm an atheist, but I'm open to the possibility there is a god with any evidence. That's what made me an atheist. The search for evidence.

I'm agnostic and I say "I don't know" to "Does god exist" or "Do I know god exists".
However, I would like to address the "do you believe god exists" question.

The problem with that question is that it conflates belief with ontology. As such, you are asking a person to state an opinion (belief), which doesn't have to have any basis in reality, about ontology (existence), which does have to have a basis in reality.

Thus, an agnostic like myself would get tripped up over that question mostly because it's framed in a contradictory manner, asking you to render subjective opinion on objective reality. After all, if I believe in god, I'm a theist; if I don't believe in god, I'm an atheist; there is no answer to this question that encapsulates my belief that I believe AND/OR don't believe because "I don't know".

Agnostic is a claim to not know atheism is a claim to not believe. Two different things. I don't know therefore I will not believe until I see evidence is my take. There's the atheist argument about a teapot that always was and suddenly it started to steam and out spew the universe. You cannot know this didn't happen but it certainly doesn't have to be something you believe. So if you say you don't know but still can believe without clear evidence your a theist who acknowledges he/she is agnostic. Agnostic is not used as it's supposed to be.

@SocraticAddict
How can you claim to believe or not believe in something you have no knowledge about?

Suppose I asked you if you believe in Category Theory (I pick this because few people know about it). Assuming you know nothing about Category Theory, how can you have any beliefs about it such that it is right, it is wrong, or that it even exists or doesn't exist?

And I agree with what you say here:
"So if you say you don't know but still can believe without clear evidence your a theist who acknowledges he/she is agnostic."
But as an agnostic, I neither believe nor disbelieve until you show me evidence to validate said belief or disbelief. Applied to the teapot, I neither believe nor disbelieve it until someone can go to the start of the universe and show me that there is or isn't a teapot there. Until that time, I'm agnostic on that claim as in "I have no knowledge of it" and thus "I don't know".

@TheMiddleWay I agree with all of what you are saying. If you have no evidence there can be no belief. I think atheism is the term that trips people up. It's not an assertion that there's no god. The term itself is kind of weird because things are not normally classified by what they are not. I'm not a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, etc. Therefore I'm an atheist I don't claim to believe in something I can not know, nor do I claim to know it doesn't exist, but I need proof to believe it. A theist goes on faith, belief without proof, so I'm not that. It's really semantics but I don't pray, assume a plan exists, nor expect forces beyond me will work for or against me. Because of all these things I'm not, I do not classify as a theist. A(not)theist. As soon as proof is provided I will believe. But I respect your point and really think we are thinking the same way on the evidence part, just different perspectives on the terminology.

Yep - atheists are arrogant agnostics, since they "know" that god does not exist, whereas agnostics express the humility that they see no evidence smile001.gif

Bring on the flame throwers smile001.gif

I suppose I lean to the agnostic side rather than the atheist. I feel or sense I am a part of a higher energy or force. I will say to people who ask, I am not a religious person and do not go to church or believe. I think there is a god (but in no way the sense religious people mean or think) or rather a creative force BUT it is not a personal god, I am not separate from from this. As a part of this creative energy I too am god/a creator. Right about then I am labled a blaphemer, etc. There is no proof of this energy or force but stuff happens when I adjust my thinking and reasoning along certain lines.

@zanyfish

You use that word, but I don’t think you know what it means.

Atheism is NOT a statement regarding the existence of god(s). It’s a statement of disbelief in such beings.

I am, for instance, an agnostic atheist. I don’t know/can’t prove the existence of deities (agnosticism), but I certainly don’t believe in them (atheist). The terms are not and have never been mutually exclusive.

That said, when it comes to SPECIFIC deities I find myself much more gnostic than agnostic. I can be rather certain, based on the claims of believers and lack of substantive evidence, that specific deities do not exist.

I get the idea that you are playing with semantics. Simple: all gods are man-made and in man's image. Nature is- whether we go back two or three "Big Bangs"- if there have been more than one. Nature has never sent any 'messengers'- if it is cognitive. And if it is cognitive, that would make it a 'creator'. But I do not know the last part- therefore that makes me an agnostic.

I'm an atheist and I've never claimed there is no god. I simply disbelieve in god-claims until their burden of proof has been met. If I claim with certainty that there are definitely no gods I'd have to find a way of justifying this.

@zanyfish KAWHOOOOSH!!! Sittin on the fence are ya?? I don't think atheists are arrogant as you state. We just made a decision based on a lack of any evidence. I would change to a Holy Roller in a heartbeat if the Son suddenly showed up and resurrected one of my dead friends. But really, do you think there is ANY possibility of that happening?

@malkie your " . . . simple "NO!" from an Atheist" is not the answer I (as a strong atheist) or any of my friends or those I follow or read give in response to "Is there a god" Our answer is in line with: "There is insufficient evidence to support the assertion of a god." Yes, this is the answer I give. I have watched hundreds of hours of The Atheist Experience and dozens of other sources, read many books, and, with the exception of a few very young atheists, (7th graders and below) can not remember any atheist answering the " is there a god question with a "No."

Edited

@TiberiusGracchus I have noticed that within the tent of atheists there is variety of definitions as to what that means. I appreciate your logically sound version. I totally agree with your thinking, yet I call myself agnostice. Perhaps the difference is that as agnostic I give a nod to the amazing mystery of how anything could exist. For me the big bang theory does not explain what was going on before that to allow the big band to happen. Therefore it remains a mystery. Therefore I am left only to think that somethings very mysterious is (has been) going on out there waaaaaay beyond the comprehension of any human. For me, the word god is just a convenient word to refer to the mysterious goings on. I would not be so presumptious as to assign any motive to it....nor to deny any potential to it. I simply and quite comfortably do not know.

Lacking a belief in a God is not the same as believing in the non-existence of a God. It's a very fine difference, but it is very important. I describe myself as an agnostic atheist, because that represents reality. I will always be open to the idea that a god might exist, because if there was proof that one did exist, I would accept it.

This means I'm an atheist, in that I lack belief in a God, and that I'm also agnostic, because there is always a chance, no matter how small, that one might exist.

13

Perhaps he's in an early stage of agnosticism, and "IF" so, it may take more nurturing/coaching to help encourage the type of analysis, and detachment from what he was taught as a child. I would continue asking logic based questions, and be patient (if you can). Additionally, consider the following:

  1. Talk about other subjects instead
  2. Consider a timeline for progress
  3. Let him go, and move on to someone more compatible with your views.
  4. Agree to disagree, because you love him enough to do so.

I hope this helps

GoodMan Level 7 Oct 30, 2017
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9

Might be best to agree to disagree, and leave your conversations about such things for others who need to talk about them. Like politics , it's unlikely you will change one another's viewpoints. Let it go ...

evergreen Level 7 Oct 26, 2017
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At some point it will rear up again and perhaps they both will have better formed their arguements/ideas/beliefs or thinking.

9

Hi Talia! I just read your post and I think there is an issue with what your boyfriend identifies as his belief concerning a god. If he believes in a god then he is a theist (if I mis read your post and am confused sorry). I copied and pasted a few things directly from Huxley himself (the person who coined the term Agnostic).

This is Webster definition of Agnostic:

"a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God."
synonyms: skeptic, doubter, doubting Thomas, cynic;

Huxley describes how he came to originate the term "agnostic" as follows:

"When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure that they had attained a certain "gnosis"--had more or less successfully solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion"...

"Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, 'Try all things, hold fast by that which is good'; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him."

Thank you for putting up with this long winded reply. I read the other replies on this thread and I wanted to give you a little bit more concrete evidence on what agnostic is and how it came about if you already did not know. I

RonnieD Level 4 Oct 19, 2017
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Thank you for the reminder of Huxley. A real thinker that boy!!! There are concepts that take a bit to wrap the mind around but once you let it free from the trappings of religion it's like floating thru the either.

8

From what I can see, what you are frustrated about is not the question of existence of god/ creator, but his unscientific thinking method. If you can accept that aspect of him, there might be a future; if not, don't waste your time on trying to change him, only if a person wanted to change and opened to reasoned discussion can he change.

AlanLai Level 4 Oct 19, 2017
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8

If he was truly agnostic I think he would just not care one way or the other concerning a god idea. he is still clinging to that fear of death and leaving it open to possibility. While you could just concentrate on what is positive between you and the values you share, it is difficult to hear someone you care about talk nonsense. I use logic, but approach many of these things with humor. I don't think there is an easy answer to this within a relationship. I have lost my tolerance for for magical thinking.

daddy4pugs Level 7 Oct 19, 2017
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Yes, exactly. As someone who loves him I wish I could get him to see the reality of the situation instead of clinging to beliefs that hold no logic. The fact that he can never defend his views in a way that makes any sense makes it even more difficult. But I am trying to help him come to the realization on his own, if he ever does.

He is on his way. A little prodding without argument just may give him the encouragement he needs.

@daddy4pugs Yes, since he has proclaimed he is agnostic, he is probably wrestling with a very heavy handed indoctrination while he was growing up. That is a big leap for a JW.

8

I try and take a position of acceptance of other's beliefs - I do not try and change their points of view and let them know that they won't likely change mine. You should not have to explain or support your views on an ongoing basis. There is a point where the relationship may break down as he needs to have the same respect for your points of view. You both need to accept that neither of you, nor anyone else, will ever see or interpret the worth through each of your sets of eyes - its not about right or wrong, because neither of you is right in each the other's POV, It is about accepting the truth of what each other believes. If either of you press and try to change the other, someone will be "wrong" and it will lead to ether a break up, or one of you falsely accepting the other's beliefs or bottling up the acceptance and hiding your real thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. That is not healthy.

KMEverything Level 3 Oct 18, 2017
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6

For an "agnostic", this guy is certainly an apologist for things Christian. Are you sure he's not just saying that he's agnostic to be with you?

The bottom line is that if a person is in a relationship with someone s/he respects, s/he doesn't try to "convince" them to change their worldview. If he can't drop it, he doesn't respect you. Get out.

Atheopagan Level 6 Nov 19, 2017
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Exactly my thoughts.

6

Neither of you have any proof for either of your convictions... It is just how each of you view what you conceive to be most possible in your mind. Maybe just agree to disagree. Even with the theory of the big bang ....what was before It? Maybe it is just something our human brains can not imagine. Maybe there is some entity controlling things. Maybe there is a big nothing. Maybe there is just some loop process with no beginning and no end.

As for the bible he should read it before he defends or condemns it in my opinion. I do believe there are a few good points in the Bible. But as a whole it is NOT worth worshipping and living my life by.

DeiP Level 5 Oct 19, 2017
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Yes, in a world where nothing is certain, it is just as dillusional to say there is no god as to say there is a god. Some say nothing is true, but I disagree; there is a truth, but we are not always able to understand it. That's my best guess. Anyway, arguing never resolves anything. Searching for truth is the best course of action, I think.

I like this comment.

5

Yikes, not sure I could maintain a level of respect for someone that I was in love with that poses such arguments. They seem immature and ill-prepared.
Maybe don't have these discussions unless you are planning to procreate?

Ash831 Level 4 Oct 22, 2017
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5

I'd say don't make it a problem unless there really really is one. You say he is agnostic not theistic. Well that's OK then! If all he's saying is:

"only IF there is a god would this be the case"

Yeah IF. - It's not as if he's saying there unquestionably IS. But you go on to say:

"but it's obvious he believes it or really wants to."

Actually you might be wrong there. As an atheist don't you think you need proof rather than assuming things? Well you ARE assuming this because you don't have proof. Christians say things like "But it's obvious..." & that's exactly what you've assumed here too except with a different issue.

I'd say let him be. If he wants to believe in a God you cannot demand that he doesn't because you cannot choose what you want can you? Demanding he agrees with you isn't any different from a Christian demanding you should want to believe what they believe, so it's pretty hypocritical from that perspective. Count yourself lucky that he's agnostic rather than an out & out theist!

Paul Level 5 Oct 18, 2017
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I only say it's obvious because he will get really worked up during the discussion, especially when I make a point that he has no rebuttal for. Which is often. He seems to get really frustrated having no way to back up his claims but he doesn't accept what I am saying 100% either. Just knowing how he is as a person is also part of my basis on thinking he wants to believe this. I may be wrong though. I just wish that he could explain to me why he believes what he believes in a way that allows me to be like "okay I can see where you're coming from". I will feel more comfortable moving forward towards marriage eventually if we can communicate these kinds of things to each other. He wants that, too. These conversations are sometimes brought up by him, not just me.

Well again I still think it's unimportant whether he thinks there are good reasons to believe in a God even if he can't come up with any! - So what?!! Let's say he believes flying saucers are visiting earth but his reasons are weak even non-existent. Why should it really matter anyway if that belief is harmless? The only way I can imagine that it may actually matter (with regard to God belief) is if you decide to get married & want to have children which he want's to be religiously educated. That might be a problem & I too would have a problem with such a demand myself however there is a solution: Say 'OK they can learn about biblical claims BUT I want them to also learn about Islamic claims & Hindu claims & Zoroastrian claims & Pagan claims & Mormon claims & ALL major religious claims too to illustrate that ALL of these beliefs are based on faith - a methodology which can justify pretty much any idea. Sooner or later they will learn that they can't all be right - but can they all be WRONG?

That's what I'd do if he insisted on religious education - go for 'religions' eduction not one singular view point. Don't make it a problem unless it really really is. - Is it?

5

My suggestion would be to not have the conversation.

If his poor reasoning skills affect the way he perceives and treats you, then there’s a problem.

AMGT Level 8 Oct 18, 2017
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I think it is important for us to understand each other's viewpoints so that's why we discuss it. Before we fully commit to each other I want him to know I will never be religious. He claims that our views aren't that different but I just want to understand why he believes there is a god and he gives no logical reason why. I back up all of my viewpoints and even he admits that. I only want the same in return so we can both understand where each other is coming from.

I understand what you’re saying.
Given that he was raised the way he was, he likely was unconsciously compelled through indoctrination or just by way of his main influences being believers.
That’s the most objective reason I can think of to answer your “why” question.
He wasn’t given the critical thinking tools or the opportuntiy to contemplate and choose whether he wanted to believe, he just copied what his folks were doing.
Faith doesn’t require logic, in fact, quite the contrary.

4

I think having respect for each others differences is important. And not rolling your eyes out loud. I think when you reach a point of utter frustration that being able to say "We'll have to agree to disagree" can be important and save you from an actual fight.

RavenCT Level 8 Oct 24, 2017
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4

I am married to a religious wife (Christian) for the past 18 years. Our marriage survived my loss of religion and I do attribute that to the fact that we are deeply in love. We chose not discuss issues with the intent of exposing fallacies. I already know what she believes and she understands my lack of belief. There is no need to try to make the other unhappy because we chose not to base our relationship on religion and instead focus on every other factor that we do have common ground on. This has allowed us to both be happy. Whenever questions come up, it is with the express understanding that the person asking only wants clarity on the issue and nothing more. I support her going to church and tithing. Fortunately we never had children so the issue of raising children with or without religion has never come up. I would suggest that you also focus your relationship on what you have in common. Don't try to change each others minds, instead try to understand what the other thinks. You don't have to agree with them, but it will let you also find out if they are honest and if you are truly compatible for the long run.

Malhavok Level 4 Oct 24, 2017
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4

Movement from being an agnostic toward atheism is largely a matter of courage and maturity. Over time most agnostics finally get the courage to admit that they are atheists. Don't argue, but ask questions which allow the person to clarify their own thoughts. Give him time and space. He will get there.

wordywalt Level 8 Oct 19, 2017
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4

From what you have told seems your boyfriend is more believer than agnostic.If he was agnostic he wouldn't care much about the God. On the other hand agnostic who,by definition, claims he doesn't believe because ,,he doesn't know,, can soon become a believer in hands of preachers. To tell the truth, just on this site I came to understanding that agnostics are half believers, who admit that they lack the evidence proving there's no God. Even me considering myself an atheist started thinking that might be I am to arrogant since there are smarter people than me who say they are agnostics. Even R. Dawkins doesn't say he is not 100 percent atheist. I guess he wants to wait untill all the questions about universe will be answered , as Darvinizm proves evolution on the planet, not more. It is not going to be soon. Not in our life times. So the battle atheist- agnostics- believers is going to continue for a while. So keep discussing with your boyfriend, excise you brain. Hope won't start praying one day smile001.gif

Lonely Level 5 Oct 19, 2017
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4

as in everything with a long term relationship compromise is key: by both parties

markdevenish Level 7 Oct 18, 2017
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4

Does he know that he really doesn't know? If he believes without realizing that he doesn't know, then he isn't actually an agnostic; rather, he's a theist with doubts, which isn't the same thing. If he realizes that he doesn't know - and can't know - yet still believes it, then I guess he's an agnostic, but it is an odd philosophical position.

vertrauen Level 6 Oct 18, 2017
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He sounds like an agnostic theist to me. He doesn’t claim to have knowledge on whether the god exists, yet his brain holds a positive belief that it does.

He claims that he doesn't know but sounds very confident that there is a god and defends the idea of this. He seems like he believes but he has also admitted that he was raised that way so it could be the only reason why.

A brain either holds a positive belief in a god or it doesn’t.
There is no in between.
Agnosticism is a qualifier for knowledge, not belief.
There are MANY agnostic theists.
A-without
Gnosis-knowledge

3

you can be both, logically incongruent, begging the question, black or white, loaded question

WillKincaid Level 4 Oct 27, 2017
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3

It's one thing to get into a good debate about these issues. But once it starts turning into an argument or causes disruptions in your normal day to day lifestyle, then its time to look at your priorities on what matters most. Even non theists buck heads to a degree on things.. not everyone is going to feel the same way so you may need to just agree to disagree on some of these issues. It's tough coming out of a cult based background like your BF. He was misguided & those ways of thinking brainwashed him so its going to take time. Question is, are you invested enough to take the time to either accept it or is vice versa. Just some things to think about.

mistymoon77 Level 8 Oct 23, 2017
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3

most agnostics don't know they are atheist. if you don't think you can know if a god exist. then most rational people don't believe in things they have no evidence of.

MichaelSpinler Level 8 Oct 21, 2017
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3

As long as he is fine with you being an atheist, what is there to cope with? Maybe you have a problem with his apparent lack of intellectual thought that makes his arguments rather childish.

OrmRich Level 4 Oct 20, 2017
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"only IF there is a god would this be the case" ???? He either believes it is or he doesn't believe it is. He sounds to me like a closet theist. Try asking him, if there is no evidence for a God why would you make an assumption that there is one. If he answers he doesn't and there is no justification for this belief then he's agnostic. If he answers in any other way you've got yourself a closet theist who is afraid of losing you if he comes out. Just a hunch.

ProudHeathen Level 5 Oct 19, 2017
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I hope not, I have made it clear to him that I want him to tell me honestly what he believes. I've never said we would not work if we have different views but I do want to make sure our views are compatible. I can only do that if he's honest, and we can evaluate it from there.

3

Be aware that he is a cult survivor and will probably always have a pull toward the cult's belief system, and he will be struggling to live an authentic life. It's good he has a loving partner who can gently listen to his feelings and cheer him on as he recovers. If he decides to go back to the brainwashers, get couples counseling quickly before they convince him he doesn't need it! If he continues his healthy recovery, the two of you can play some fun games once in a while, like "who got guilted the most?" as you swap horror stories of mind and life control. Or marvel together at how much fun you are having now that you are free of dogma restraints, right?

JW-Survivor Level 2 Oct 19, 2017
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