A Christian friend posted this quote from Ernest Becker earlier:
We feel diminished by [our loved ones’] human shortcomings. Our interiors feel empty or anguished, our lives valueless, when we see the inevitable pettiness of the world expressed through the human beings in it. For this reason, too, we often attack loved ones and try to bring them down to size… After all, what is it that we want when we elevate [love] to the position of God? We want redemption—nothing less.
Another Christian friend has argued to me strongly that religious marriages tend to be much stabler and healthier than their atheist equivalents, the reason being that when both partners concur that someone else – God – is the most important member of their relationship, the pressure on the other person to be perfect is reduced and one another’s failures become tolerable. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there is some truth to this, and atheists shouldn’t shy away from conceding it. After all, if you approach the world from a framework within which we are all inevitably failures and someone much better awaits unification with us, the odds that such beliefs can be therapeutic seem high. And the wiser atheists should probably also grant that our loved ones almost always do fail us in significant ways. The disagreement is only over whether a better alternative actually exists.
I’d be interested to know, incidentally, whether Christian marriages fail as often as atheist marriages do. Divorce rates might not be a great test of whether their marriages tend to be happier and less strained, though, because they’re also far more likely to put up with bad marriages because they believe that divorce is wrong.