Saturday 17 January 2015

The Good(ish) Atheist

It is Saturday, and I am temporarily at leisure, so it is time for a Seraphic Singles post.  And today's subject will be attractive, helpful, sympathetic men who are most definitely not marriage material for Christian girls.

Suppressing all details, I have in mind a man about whom a reader has written to me. My reader, like many of you, is a bright, successful, ambitious and hardworking twenty-something Catholic woman in a competitive field. Her work brings her into constant contact with other bright, successful, ambitious and hardworking people, male and female. And one of the attractive male ones, more my age than hers, gave her good advice, met up with her for lunch/drinks on numerous occasions and went out of his way to help her professionally.

My reader, charmed by this attractive man and his caring behaviour, wondered if  he were interested in a romantic relationship with her and so asked him if he were. And he explained, with an honesty he probably felt quite proud of, that he is much older than her, that he is an atheist, that he has only short-term sexual relationships with women--and is always upfront with them about that--and that he considers sex a part of a normal male-female dating relationship. He didn't think she would be interested in that, so no he was not interested in having a dating relationship with her.

Your fellow reader was extremely shocked by his confession/rejection and read him the chastity riot act over email. He suggested they not meet again until everything cooled down. She then emailed me. And I had just been reading Quo Vadis, so all I could think about was the pagan Petronius and how, despite his many noble qualities and great reputation in Rome, he would have made a totally inadequate husband for a Christian woman.

Catholic women are very often shocked by attractive, sympathetic men who admit to being sexually promiscuous and, fearing for their souls, give them chastity lectures. But I can tell you that it is deeply annoying for sexually active people to be lectured by virgins about sex. Catholics in the confessional will put up with it from priests, but that's probably about it. I have been myself lectured by virgins--not just Christian ones--on sex, and I found their ignorance of sexual realities simply staggering.

Catholic virgins may certainly have a better grasp on Christian teachings about sex, but Christian arguments are rarely going to make a dent on non-Christians, particularly atheists in a post-Christian society. Adult atheists have their own moral code about sex worked out, and whereas it usually includes such things as "being honest", "using protection" and "reciprocal generosity", it does not usually include the idea that sex should be restricted to married people.

As difficult as this is--and I would not have taken my own advice when I was a twenty-something, which is too bad, but I was not a mental giant--the correct response to having your courtship rejected by an attractive, sympathetic atheist man who likes and admires you but dates only those women who will agree to short-term sex flings is to say, "Oh, I beg your pardon. I misread your signals" and let the friendship drift down to acquaintanceship/business contact level.

Incidentally, asking a man if he wants to have a dating relationship with you is INDEED a form of courtship unless he has been hanging around smiling wistfully and wordlessly for ages with a dumb smile. "SCOOTER! Ask me out or go away!" is not making the first move. But a heartfelt email saying, "You did this nice thing and you did that nice thing, so if I am wondering if..." is indeed the first move.

If you make the first move, getting shot down is most DEFINITELY a possibility. Getting shot down by an atheist used to having "respectful", short-term sex with random women all the time but admires you for your winsome Catholicism/youth is a certainty--if he's a decent sort. If he's not a decent sort, he might accept your advances and then lamb-to-the-slaughter you might really be in trouble. As some benighted young man said of one of my then-straying readers, "I love turning a Catholic girl into a slut." Charming.

So considering the possibilities, I thought my reader's atheist crush object was quite a good guy as atheists go. He has bought into post-Christian society's sexual ethic about having as much sex as possible, but at least it is the version that preaches that sex should be only with willing people who do not expect more commitment than you are willing to give, using "protection", showing "respect", respecting "choices", donating to Greenpeace, etc, etc, etc.  That's certainly a lot better than American PUAs going on virgin-hunting sex tours in Central and Eastern Europe.

Considering how many Catholic priests and nuns have run away to have sex get married, it's amazing that so many Catholics, let alone atheists, still believe in chastity according to one's state in life. But at least we Catholics hear that premarital continence is a viable option. Where would the atheists hear or read about it? Television? Radio? Internet? Any bestselling novel written after World War II? By the time the kind of atheist who enjoys bed-hopping* has had his fifteenth deeply meaningful, honest and enjoyable short-term fling, his mind is going to be made up. Impassioned emails from twenty-something virgins aren't going to change it. He might feel a protective, paternalistic thrill, of course, especially if the virgin is pretty. But that's it.

Listen, I'm TRYING to give the atheists a fair shake here. (Can you tell?) They are men of their times. They don't expect any eternal reward for their good deeds, so it is indeed something that so many of them choose to live honest lives of mutual respect and sometimes even heroism. Like Soviet Communists.

I suggested that my reader read Quo Vadis and contemplate Petronius. Petronius, the arbiter elegans of Nero's court is most definitely a man of his times.  Fabulously wealthy, incredibly cultured, impressively handsome, Petronius attracts the abject devotion of his slave girl Berenice, and no wonder. But Petronius, although he believes in romantic love, cannot accept the notion of Christian love, and thus... Well, read the book.

My personal feeling, as you know, is that women should not ask men if they want to enter into romantic relationships with them. Either you're in one or you're not, and if you (the woman) are confused about it, you're not. (Clue: man hangs around grinning goofily like Scooter.)  Why risk giving your feminine ego a beating by hinting you want more?

Also I really do not think Christian women should date atheists. This is not because they are bad people. They are almost always, or very often, good people, or at least goodish.  It's just that their religion--"Everyone should do whatever they want as long as they are honest about it and don't hurt anyone I recognize as human"--is incompatible with our own relationship with Christ.

*Not all atheists are bed-hoppers, of course. Many long for true love and a real girlfriend/partner/wife, but I suspect it would be unusual for them to expect to wait until their wedding night for sex. What why put up with an atheist's crap when there are Christian guys around?


  1. Honestly while I would have never asked in the first place, that's as nice and respectful an instance of being "shot down" as I've ever heard. I just hope it doesn't make her think she can try to change him because he's obviously such a good person. But this comes back to something I used to find so infuriating in evangelical circles. We can't expect non-believers to act like Christians - that's just insane - they don't have reason to, so why would they? But why does so much of the church as a whole (Protestant and Catholic alike I reckon) seem to feel like we should be expecting non-believers to live up to our morals and then are shocked when they don't? I'm not going so far as to say we can't legislate morality on the big things like abortion, just talking about the way we interact with unbelievers in general.

  2. That's a very good question. When it comes to people we get crushes on, I would say it is because infatuated people are not rooted in reality. Or because we are so rooted in our faith and quiet way of life, that it would not occur to us that a good-hearted man we know, an attractive and clever man with everything going for him, behaves like a whore. Oh, I'm sorry, someone who has deliberately short-term flings with an unending series of interchangeable women.

    I am not that familiar with adults expecting non-believers to behave like believers. When I was a teenage pro-life activist, I generally tried to keep God out of my arguments (so to speak). I did however expect people with a Catholic upbringing to behave like Catholics, which was a mistake.

  3. I really appreciate this post and highly recommend that all young women take this to heart. It's true that atheists do in fact have a very diverse set of personal sexual ethics (many of them surprisingly more chaste than most Christians), but it is very important to truthfully acknowledge the reality of their worldview in a potential romantic relationship. Having had a relationship with an agnostic long ago, I can attest that it is much easier for them to be non-chalant about the difference in your beliefs than the other way around. Even if the other party is extremely open-minded and may be earnestly 'questioning' their way to God, it is *really* important that you are honest with yourself about your expectations. Courtship is not a conversion sport, and I think Christians often have a tacit / subliminal expectation that conversion will be part of the relationship and eventual future, even if you've convinced yourself that you are 'ok' with your difference of beliefs. Many great Christian conversions were indeed catalyzed by spouses, of course, but one should be very careful about looking for romance in these situations. It took me years of accepting dates with non-religious or fallen-away Catholic guys (I like philosophy, so arguing about such things is often the foundation of friendships) to learn that these relationships just end up making me want to tear my hair out. Dating serious Catholic men is sooo much less stressful. I'm never going back.

  4. Very sound advice. Also, reading someone the chastity riot act may make them less receptive to faith in general.

    Glad to be back after bar study and moving and a fellowship and family stuff, and especially glad for Seraphic Saturdays.

    I'm hoping I correctly identify your description of Scooter wanting a date as matching behaviors I've noticed in a particular fellow who I quite fancy (fascinating! well-read! holds my attention! serious Catholic! seems to value my work/talents! not from same culture but neighbors-ish!). I am also trying to heed the advice of being rooted in reality. I'm not asking him out, and I manage to occupy my mind with other things most of the time... although I admit I've added "and please let [fellow] ask me out" to my prayers to St. Joseph for a spouse, lol. :-)

    Happy Saturday!

  5. Here's a piece of dating advice that I wish I had taken in my twenties: People tell you who they are immediately. What singles need to discern is who the other person is, but who you are and what you need in a relationship. An atheist who is not interested in a long term relationship will not be marrying a Catholic virgin. The guy who tells you that he's "spiritual but not religious" on the first date, is not going to be converting to your religion or anyone else's, no matter how "spiritual" he may be. The guy who drinks to excess on every date is not going to be headed to AA.

    There are, of course, many marginal cases. Can you live with a guy who works every Friday night and every Saturday night? If he is chronically disorganized, can you live with the amount of clutter he generates? What is he is always late? Or bad with money? No one is perfect, but some people can live with the above imperfections; others cannot. But everyone needs to discern the non-negotiables in relationships, and then stick to them, no matter how attractive or attentive a potential partner may be.

  6. Thank you for bringing in Seraphic Singles Saturdays!

    I think this post is very fair.

    If I get married, it's going to have to be to a serious Catholic. There are many reasons for this. One of them is that I want my children to be faithful Catholics, and I hear that statistics show that what matters in children's religious formation is not so much the mother's faith but the father's.

    Honestly, I'm more surprised when someone who calls him/herself Catholic actually DOES end up being a serious Catholic -- you know, one who believes that Sunday Mass is, ah, not optional, shall we say.

    And reality is a beautiful thing. I want to kiss reality's face. Being rooted in reality has prevented me from some full-blown crushes, I think.

  7. Great post, Seraphic - glad to have your wisdom on single matters again.

  8. Hmm. Seraphic, I am normally a less suspicious soul than you are (and that is a compliment to you, because I tend to naivete), but in this case something makes me suspicious about the man, the situation, and perhaps the particular woman in this story too.

    I suspect the woman, now that she's been "shot down", will be more vulnerable to this man's attention than she previously was, and that in her heart of hearts she knows it. I suspect the man knew quite well, at least in his heart of hearts, that this encouragement/rejection of the woman in question would have that effect - i.e., he was practicing a subtle and effective form of negging on her. I suspect, also, that it may already be too late to warn her, and that she's too emotionally entangled with the fellow to escape him easily.

    I hope I'm wrong and if you know otherwise, and can assure us that it is so without betraying confidence, I'd be happy to hear it.

    Alias Clio

  9. Well. I hope not. He really shocked the living daylights out of her, so I think that will create some distance. And if he really is honest and self-righteous, as I think he is, he will not want my reader on his conscience. Thus, I am not worried.

  10. Weird - this post makes it seem like your idealizing atheists. And painting virgins who subscribe to Christian sexual ethics as hopelessly out-of-touch. What if it's the people who are addicted to fornication who are out-of-touch with reality? Do heroin addicts have a good perception of reality?

    "By the time the kind of atheist who enjoys bed-hopping* has had his fifteenth deeply meaningful, honest and enjoyable short-term fling, his mind is going to be made up."

    I hope your readers realize that it just doesn't go that way. It's a mess out there in fornication-land. "All's fair in love and war", right? These people know how to deal vicious wounds because they have been dealt their own, because that's the only way to survive in a use-and-be-used culture. Enjoyable, maybe, but honest and meaningful? I'm sure your happy savage wouldn't even agree with your perception of his sexual history.

    But maybe I'm just being way too literal.

  11. Well, not even too literal, except regarding my joke about "meaningful". I don't idealize atheists any more than I idealize Christians. And I don't think virgins who subscribe to Christian ethic are hopeless out of touch with reality. I just think they are at a huge disadvantage when talking to the sexually active about sex. They might also be putting themselves in danger, too, as the sexually active man may have learned a trick or two about seduction that the virgin would not suspect in a million years.

    I don't think the good-ish atheist my reader wrote to me about was a happy savage. He reminded me of Petronius in "Quo Vadis", after all. He might even be something like a French courtier of the 18th century, or even a Regency-era English gentleman, minus the sense he ought to marry a "pure girl" eventually and have children. But, as I stressed, he would not make a good husband for my Christian reader, and he certainly doesn't want to be one, so it would be best if she ceased to care so much about him.

    For the record, I do not think bed-hopping is either meaningful or honest. I haven't the slightest clue if it is actually enjoyable. I suppose it must be for men who do it but I can't imagine why women would expose themselves to the risks involved.


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