Dear Prudence

Religion Is for Turkeys

Prudie counsels a letter writer whose atheist husband coopts Thanksgiving grace to rant about God.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at

Q. Thanksgiving Prayer … Dread!: Thanksgiving will soon be here. Each year we gather for a festive and warm time at my parents’ home with my siblings and all our spouses and children. My family are Christians who are active in the Episcopal Church. Faith is a very positive experience to us and inspires us to be good to others. My husband is an atheist. Last year, to everyone’s shock, he volunteered to give the blessing at Thanksgiving. However, instead of a prayer he took us all by surprise with a two-minute rant about “the myth of God.” Everyone was upset, and it ruined the meal. My husband just sat there with a grin on his face and ate. This caused numerous arguments between us since. I respect his nonbelief but not his in-your-face approach. Last night he just informed me he plans to wear a T-shirt to Thanksgiving this year with a dead frog nailed to a cross with the words “He died for you.” Well, we had the fight to outdo all other fights. Still, he insists on wearing the T-shirt for all to see on Thanksgiving. He admits he wants to see my family “blow a gasket.” Please give me some coaching on how to be direct with him. Frankly, Prudence, if he follows through with this childishness it may cause me to leave him.

A: I wish you had explained if your husband is a massive jerk the other 364 days a year. I am doubting that your doubter only enjoys making others squirm on Thanksgiving. What he did is grotesque, and if he can’t see he was in the wrong and needed to apologize, he must have redeeming qualities that helped you get through another year with him. You need to talk turkey with him. Tell him if he insists on wearing the crucified frog T-shirt, he is not welcome at your family table. Stay calm and explain that if he knows he can’t be a respectful guest, you must disinvite him because you will not subject your family to his behavior two years in a row. Tell him that while you completely respect his right to his own views on religion, his insulting and insensitive behavior is forcing you to re-examine whether you can continue in this marriage.

Q. Baby (Not So) Crazy: I’ve been dating a fellow for about a year, and we’re very happy and could both see it heading toward marriage. The only problem: I don’t want kids, ever, and he would “ideally” like kids “someday,” although he says that he wouldn’t be ready for another three to five years. Is this doomed? One side of me says enjoy it for now, but I would really like to find my life partner—I don’t want a relationship that will be cut off at the knees in a few years.

A: You are both adults capable of deciding if it’s worth it to enjoy a relationship for the time being that doesn’t really have long-term potential because your ultimate goals are so divergent. Of course, the time being can turn into a lot of time if you’re in love. Then you put off for years a looming, stark decision. I have gotten many letters from people in your situation who were too in love to break up, and then eventually had to face the fact that one was urgently ready to become a parent. Your guy wants to be a father. You say you never want to be a mother—that is a fundamental incompatibility. If you are in the market now for a life partner, you really have to decide why you would take yourself off the market to be with someone who does not share your long-term desires.

Q. Finance Fiasco: My husband and I have been together eight years, and I honestly felt like I couldn’t understand why people said marriage was hard work. I love and cherish him, and he has been my partner and best friend. All that changed about two weeks ago. I had been noticing that our utilities kept getting cut off, and our rental company kept emailing me that we hadn’t paid rent. My husband assured me that everything had been paid and that all of these companies were confusing our address with another. I see now how incredibly stupid that sounds, but how could I not trust him? As I discovered when I finally called them myself, he has been lying to me the past 11 months. We have been in a financial crisis, and he has been missing payments. We were almost evicted, and he was going to continue to lie to me. He claims he was just trying to protect me from the stress. I’m embarrassed, ashamed, angry, and scared. What else don’t I know? How do I move on from this? I know counseling is the best thing for us, but unfortunately—as I’ve come to find out—we can’t afford it.

A: How awful to have your life turned upside down this way, potentially literally if you come home to find all your worldly possessions jumbled together on the street. You have to get to the bottom of what has happened here. Does your husband have a gambling or drug problem? Did he lose his job and was too embarrassed to tell you? Does he have a mental disorder? Knowing will not solve this, but will give you a better sense of the mess you are in and the person you are married to. You can’t move on until you know what happened, which will shape what your options are. Your husband has utterly changed the terms of your marriage. He’s lied to you and put you in terrible financial jeopardy. You need to address things on two fronts: financial and marital. Your urgent need is to figure out your financial situation; you don’t want to end up homeless. Then you need some reliable truth-telling on the part of your husband. That will help you decide whether you even want to further figure this out together or whether you must go it alone. 

Q. Re: Baby (Not So) Crazy: I was the one who wanted a baby and my husband not so much. I knew this before we got married but figured “it would all work out.” We are divorced, and I really wish I had stuck to my guns on the issue and found a husband who wanted children. I respect my ex, but, we could not work it out …

A: Thanks—and I am hearing similarly from others. 

Q. Late-in-Life Switch: I’m in my mid-60s, and I lost my husband of 30 years last year after a long illness. On the advice of hospice, I am seeing a grief therapist and attended a grief support group. At my support group, I met a woman who was mourning the loss of her same-sex partner. We felt an instant connection and months later, we are in a wonderful relationship. My grief therapist supports me, saying this is “sexual fluidity.” I have told my grown kids, and they think it is great; they want me to be happy and have accepted my new partner. My problem? How do I begin to tell my friends and husband’s relatives about my newfound love? This may be an astonishing change for them to accept since even I never expected to find happiness with the “woman” of my dreams!

A: You roll out this new relationship as you would any other. You can say to the people you want to meet your new partner, “Something wonderful and unexpected has happened. I met someone who had recently lost a partner, too, and we have fallen for each other. Her name is Marilyn, and she’s incredible, I want to introduce her to you.” Yes, this might get some sputtering and stunned looks; if so, follow up with confidence. “I know, this is a surprising turn of events for me, too. But a lovely one. And my kids think Marilyn is great.” I hope everyone embraces the two of you and shares your joy.

Q. Re: Atheist Husband: You must be joking! The entire “blessing” or “say grace” thing before a meal is like a lifelong slap in the face of nonbelievers. Her faith-addled family can’t get over having their beliefs questioned for two minutes per year? Get over it! Atheists’ nonbeliefs are questioned 24 hours per day, seven days per week in “one nation under God.” I’ll feel even one ounce of sympathy for these whiners the moment one of them recognizes how uncomfortable it is for those of us who are atheists to exist in this faith-addled nation. Until then? I’m playing the universe’s smallest violin JUST for the letter writer’s family. Puh-lease!

A: What you describe is alarming—religious people come in your bedroom and disturb your sleep to say prayers over you. I’ve noted criminal justice overreaction in this chat, but I urge you to call the police and get these nuts out of your bedroom. Maybe you and the husband can get together and heat up a Swanson’s turkey dinner and celebrate being free from haranguers. The husband married into a religious family, and on Thanksgiving they say a prayer of thanks. If he can’t quietly and respectfully sit there until the prayer is over so he can then dig into the feast being provided for him, he should bow out of attending. 

Q. Poor Little Rich Girl: I come from a well-to-do family. Not the Hiltons, but I have a trust fund that means I really don’t have to work if I don’t want to. But I wanted to do something with my life, so I got a degree in a health-related field (not nursing) and love my job. I also think I’m very good at it. The trouble is that when I took my first job, I promised myself that if I ever thought my working would cost somebody else his or her job, I would quit. I don’t need the money I earn to exist, but I know most other people do. Now my hospital is looking at cutbacks, and our department is being singled out. Ordinarily I would just quit so the decision is made for the higher-ups. But there are four of us on staff, and one person, a relatively new hire, isn’t all that great at her job. Her people skills are nonexistent, and it doesn’t sound like she even likes her patients. I don’t want to quit so she can keep her job. Is this wrong?

A: I assume the trust was not set up in order to turn you into an unproductive leech. What you have done with your life surely would fulfill the wishes of those who came before you and whose hard work made your inheritance possible. You inherited money but also an innate drive that was not extinguished by having a financial cushion. That’s only to be admired. Please do not withdraw from the workplace—you are performing a great and necessary service for your patients, and you should be compensated accordingly. I disagree with your economic analysis. It used to be that women were told if they entered professions once blocked to them they were “taking” jobs from men. A justification for paying women less than men was that they likely weren’t supporting families. Think of how wrong (and illegal) that sounds to us now. People should be paid fairly for the work they do, not because of their external circumstances. When the economy is working as it should, it is a pool of expanding opportunities, not a zero-sum game. Celebrate that you have found a gratifying profession and continue to thrive in it. Since you have a nest egg, use some of it to make some philanthropic choices that will spread your good fortune. 

Q. Re: Thanksgiving Prayer Dread: Hubby’s behavior gives atheists a bad name! His behavior is just rude. He doesn’t have to pretend to be religious. And he certainly shouldn’t stand for people who attack his lack of faith. But he also shouldn’t try to provoke anger from people who welcome him into their homes for Thanksgiving. (And, if it makes a difference, this comes from an atheist.)

A: Thank you!

Q. Re: Baby Not So Crazy: I was in a similar situation in terms of wanting a baby and my husband did not. He was honest from the get-go when we met and I was 18 years old. I figured it would work itself out, and we ended up divorcing when I was 30 years old. I had a baby at 31 and know that had we stayed together and I had remained childless I would have been miserable.

A: I have also heard from many people who adamantly knew they didn’t want children then changed their minds. But you cannot go into a marriage in which the two parties are clearly at opposite ends of this spectrum and expect it to “work itself out,” as you can testify. It’s wonderful that you saw what you had to do and found the fulfillment you were seeking. 

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.

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