It can be a challenge, being the nonbeliever in a relationship with someone who’s devout. If I believed in such things, I would have to think it was the universe’s own little joke to pair me — who, if there were a Kinsey scale of religiosity, would an absolute zero — with my husband, whom I often suspect of being a closeted monk.
This isn’t quite as difficult as it may sound. While my profound levels of disbelief grow directly out of my experience as a born-and-raised Protestant Christian — Cumberland Presbyterian if you want to be specific — my husband’s devoutness comes from his experience as a born-and-raised Vietnamese Buddhist.
Trust me, if you’re going to be an agnostic in a relationship with a true believer, for ease of living and laissez-faire faith you can’t do better than a Buddhist, with the possible exception of an Episcopalian.
There is a reason for my flippancy about God. The only time in my life that I actually believed was in my youth and that belief was dictated by the fact that everyone around me believed so, therefore, I had to believe. Being a Protestant, my baptism was supposed to come when I opened my heart to Jesus and accepted the call, delivered at the end of every Sunday morning sermon, to come forward for baptism.
Generally, this was supposed to occur after some personal and intense revelation that statistically would seem to hit sometime at the onset of puberty. For myself, the revelation was that my younger sister went up one Sunday morning and I was horribly embarrassed that she was being saved before me, so I scooted my butt right up front alongside her.
Fortunately, we were sprinklers, not dunkers, so it was much less of a production than the Baptist kids across the street had to go through. But the feeling I had as the water dripped down my forehead and along my nose was not one of transcendent belief but temporary relief. For the moment, at least, I still belonged where I was supposed to belong.
Despite Sunday school stories about the importance of Thomas’s doubts, our own doubts were never something I felt encouraged to indulge, so I kept them private. But I couldn’t ignore them, whether it was the multiplicity of denominations believing different things yet all apparently being right (or right enough for heaven) or whether I would go to hell for not trying to convert the one Jewish friend I had. Then there was the question of billions of non-Christian heathens and such who were doomed to hell for being born into non-Christian families that defined their beliefs by their upbringing.
But the doubts didn’t tear at me, they just seemed blandly obvious. It’s not that I experienced a crisis of faith, but that I lacked the capacity for one.
I choose to call myself agnostic because, first, we live in an awe-inspiring universe of nearly infinite possibilities that none of us ever has a prayer of comprehending. Second, and more importantly, the fact that I could be wrong makes it incumbent on me to treat those who do believe with respect. And I truly admire the work that LGBT people from a multitude of faiths have undertaken to make their homes of worship more welcoming.
And despite my own agnosticism, my life happens to be better for having a believer in it. That’s a cosmic irony I’m happy to accept.