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The atheist and the theology student

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  November 26, 2009 09:10 AM

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Happy Thanksgiving.

As promised, here’s a letter to carry you through Friday. Feel free to comment through Monday.

Also as promised, we have an update from the letter writer who hooked up with a bartender. Was he in a ditch? Find out here.

Q: Dear Meredith,

This is a type of question I have certainly seen before ("when do I tell him the truth"), but not quite in this setting.

I have just started seeing a new boy. He is wonderful, chivalrous, sweet, and we share tons of interests. I met him because I am on the staff at a theological school and he is a graduate student there. (No, this is not a letter about "is it OK to date in the workplace." If we didn't want to ever see each other at school we wouldn't have to. I don't work in a department that deals with students.)

However, it is a Christian theological school, and not only am I Jewish, but I am also an atheist.* Everyone I work with and know at the school knows that I am Jewish, but I haven't told anyone that I'm an atheist. The school is big on interfaith cooperation, but they never mention people with no faith entering into the equation. This is awkward for me because I am a very honest person who hates lying or hiding the truth, but I really don't feel comfortable letting people know about my lack of faith.

Anyway, if this were strictly a professional situation, I would continue to hide my "true beliefs" just to make things easier. However, I really don't feel comfortable lying to someone who I am close with. This new boy is a student of Christian theology, and God is essentially what he lives his life for, right? By telling him that I don't believe in God, I feel that I am basically saying that I don't support what he has chosen to do with his life.

My questions are: at what point do I tell him the truth, how do I handle his anger at having been lied to, how do I ask him to not tell the people I work with, and has anyone else been in a relationship where there is a conflict of religion? How has that worked out? Keep in mind that he is NOT a hardcore Christian (he has premarital sex and is kind of a rock star), but he is certainly devoted to his faith.

*Note: It is very easy to be a Jewish atheist. I am culturally Jewish and follow most of the traditions and customs, but I don't follow it as a religion or belief system; rather, it is my culture.

– Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me

A: TSNHNOGBM, he doesn't know about your lack of faith, but you don't know everything about his religious beliefs either. He’s a Christian theology student who's dating someone who's Jewish. And he's interested in premarital sex and he's a rock star. So ... let's not jump to conclusions.

It sounds like you're ready to have a talk. Explain to him how you feel -- but also explain your brand of atheism and what it means to you. You're obviously quite spiritual. He’s a student of theology, which means he’s open to analysis.

This shouldn't be a big, shameful confession. It should be a discussion. You're learning about him, too.

This guy may tell you that the gap between your beliefs is too wide. Maybe not. Only one way to find out. It seems like you're ready for some more honesty, which means it's time.

And maybe get it out there before Christmas, for obvious reasons.

Readers? When should she reveal her lack of faith? Is it important? Talk turkey.

– Meredith

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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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