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“Atheism caused my divorce”

I read voraciously and eventually, privately, decided that I was an atheist.
  • Helena Bala
By Helena Bala

Writer, listener, recovering lawyer

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

William, 37

During my last year of graduate school, my wife miscarried our unborn child. We were heartbroken and traumatized and nothing seemed to make the pain any better. After the miscarriage, well-meaning people would come up to us and say things like—“God wanted another angel in heaven,”—and I’d nod and say “thank you” but silently, I was livid. The idea that there could exist a deity that, out of its own ego, would take someone’s unborn child from them was abhorrent. The miscarriage was the catalyzing event that led to my atheism. My atheism, in large part, was also to blame for my divorce.

The trauma of the miscarriage cemented my wife’s faith in God. She was raised in the Assembly of God church. Not many people know what that is—for reference, you might have come across some footage online of people speaking in tongues or collapsing after being healed of their diseases—that’s Assembly of God. My wife and I met while we were both away at school, and I knew about her faith but she was never so religious that I thought, “wow, you’re weird.” I think that religion was mostly social for her. For me, a lapsed Catholic, her faith was never an issue, and she never communicated to me that my religious ambivalence was a problem for her.

Because of her beliefs, though, we decided not to have sex before marriage, so we were both virgins on our wedding night. She admitted to liking sex, but I could tell that she was very uncomfortable with—maybe even felt guilty about—her sexuality. As time wore on, sex barely happened and when it did, it was to conceive children. She was raised in such a way that made her feel that sex was a bad and dirty thing, and as a result our intimacy suffered. For example, she wouldn’t let me touch her in a romantic way. Say we were driving someplace and I tried to run my hand through her hair—she’d swat it away immediately.

As much as I could, I tried to engage her in conversations about faith, and it never really went well. Personally, especially after the miscarriage, I did a lot of work to figure out my thoughts on God. What helped me get through the tragedy was understanding the science behind it—that when her body knows that something is wrong with a fetus, to protect the mother from giving birth to a stillborn child, it often miscarries. I came to understand that it would have been ten times harder on us had the baby been stillborn. That, to me, provided so much more comfort than “god wants an angel in heaven.” I read voraciously and eventually, privately, decided that I was an atheist.

But I kept on going to church and respecting our agreement to raise the kids a certain way. She told me once, “I don’t want to be one of those women who goes to church without her husband.” And we kept on like before, never really talking about God until, around Easter a few years ago, we were getting ready to go to church and I made some offhand comment. My wife asked something along the lines of—“why are you always bad-mouthing God?”

That’s when I came out as an atheist. I told her, “because I don’t believe.” She had a full-blown meltdown. She called her mother wailing on the phone that I was a going to hell. She later told me that she felt that the fact that I was an atheist meant that I thought she was stupid. But she thought I was going to hell—so, I mean, who should really be offended here?

To avoid delicate issues, we stuck to talking about pop culture, TV, kids, and places we wanted to hike. I started telling other people in my life that I am an atheist, and met with mixed reviews. When pushed on why I don’t believe in God, I took to replying: “for the same reason you don’t still believe in Santa Claus.” Our marriage became very intellectually dull even though she’s every bit as smart as I. But eventually, as much as we’d try to evade issues, the cracks began to show. She told me once that she didn’t believe women should be in positions of power; we had to avoid talking about politics or anything that could even remotely lead to a discussion about something serious. The distance between us just kept on growing and, after some infidelity on my part, she asked me for a divorce.

Now she’s moved the kids back south with her. She and her new fiancé go to church with the kids and her parents every Wednesday and Sunday. I’m worried that the kids are getting brainwashed. I look at the guy she’s with now and he’s the exact opposite of everything I am. But she seems genuinely happy. I used to think, when they first started dating, that it would never work out. But I’ve realized now that I was the exception, and this guy—this is exactly the type of guy she was supposed to end up with.

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