A few days ago, one of my fellow bloggers posted an article entitled, “Marry that virtuous Atheist!” I respect Mary’s opinion—but I think she is dead wrong. And my reasons are based on Church teaching and logic.
The belief that you can marry an atheist and be happy is based on hope—hope that your atheist spouse will eventually convert and espouse your faith. This is true and it can happen; anything is possible with God and with prayer. St. Monica spent her entire life praying for her wayward son, Augustine. St. Rita prayed unceasingly for her two sons, both of whom would come into the fold. That is not to say both St. Monica and St. Rita did not suffer tremendously.
This hope is based on faith in the natural goodness of the atheist—faith that “goodness counts for a whole heck of a lot.” But is goodness virtue? And what is virtue?
There is virtue as understood by Aristotle and Plato: virtue founded on natural law. Then there is the virtue of the Church: heroic virtue, Christ-like virtue, virtue that is cultivated and developed by the seed of faith and watered with Sanctifying Grace.
Many people are virtuous in the Aristotelian sense. They are kind, generous, charitable, loving, and amiable. Generally speaking, we all exhibit these virtues no matter our faith or lack thereof. Atheists are no different; they too live by the unspoken code of Natural Law and thus are quite capable of living “good” lives.
Goodness in this sense is neither heroic nor truly “virtuous” when it comes to being sanctified and worthy of Heaven and the Beatific Vision.
We forget that Sanctifying Grace is a powerful and fundamentally necessary component of our lives. Grace comes from frequenting the sacraments; it is bestowed on the sacred bond of Marriage; it operates in our lives; it makes sanctity and the practice of virtue possible. However, we have to be open to it. God will never infringe upon our free will, so He can only give us with Grace when we ask for it.
Atheists and “bad” Christians are not open to Grace. This means not only will Grace not work in their lives; Grace will not work in their married lives. The Grace bestowed in Marriage is sacramental grace, but is only present when both spouses are baptized and in the State of Grace It is for this very reason that Catholics should not marry good atheists. Simply put, marrying an atheist or anyone not open to sanctifying grace is a bad idea.
I’m not saying that miracles can’t happen. I’m not saying that some atheists would make better companions or parents than many Christians. But here again, I must clarify: bad Christians are no better than good atheists. A man who claims to be Christian does not necessarily practice his Faith. An abusive Christian husband is not, in fact, a true Christian. He does not follow the teachings of Christ or practice heroic virtue. He is a sinner who makes decisions based on his own sinful nature, as do atheists, as do we all.
The difference between practicing Christians and bad Christians or atheists is that the former are open to sanctifying grace and thereby better able to grow in virtue and holiness. This is what Catholics should want in a potential spouse.
The second issue is the statement that sharing your Faith with your spouse is ideal, but not always preferable. I beg to differ and so does the Catholic Church.
Sharing your Faith with your spouse is ideal and it is preferable. The ideal is always preferable. The Catholic Church has long frowned on mixed marriages because, in Her wisdom, She knows that if we are faithful Catholics then our Faith informs everything we do. How do we expect to share a life with someone, become one with someone, if we close a part of ourselves to the other? It is an oxymoron and it does not work. Obviously, there are exceptions, but they are only that. We cannot base a life decision on the very dim hope that it might work.
A final logical flaw is to assume that Catholics have only two options when it comes to marriage: either marry a bad Christian or marry a good atheist. Since we are faced with the very real possibility in our current world of not being able to marry someone who shares our Faith, we should choose the person who is kind and good, no matter his religious affiliation, right?
That sounds a lot like settling. We should never settle—not for the good atheist and not for the bad Christian. It is better to not marry at all then to settle for either of those poor choices.
Marriage is lofty, and beautiful, and sanctifying, but it is hard. It is so hard. Why should Catholics who struggle day in and day out to live our Faith in accordance with the Church settle for second best? We are the children of a King—let us act accordingly and choose the best!
It’s a hell of a world out there. – CB