A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

Why I (Almost Certainly) Won’t Get Married in a Church


Back in May I discussed the reasons for which I would not attend a child’s Christening. On a similar theme, I’ve often wandered what I would do if I were going to marry a Christian girl and she had her heart set on a church wedding.

Now granted, I am jumping the gun slightly here, as at present there is not even a potential Mrs Tobe38 (form an orderly line, ladies), but I think about these sorts of things. (Everyone always tells me that I think about things too much. On the rare occasions when I don’t think too much, I think too little. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get the balance right.)

For the rest of this post, I will posit a hypothetical fiancé – I don’t have an imaginary girlfriend. If it helps, picture Jessica Alba – that’s what I’ll be doing.

The first thing that I want to be clear about, is that I take the institution of marriage very seriously. I am only planning on getting married once, and I want to do it right. I see it as a solemn promise, a truly sincere commitment between two people. Of course, the wedding itself is just one day, and represents only a tiny fraction of the marriage itself, which is far more important, but it is still a hugely significant occasion, where you celebrate your love for one another with your friends and family, and make public and official your dedication to each other. As mass produced as the wedding industry is (I should know, I’ve worked on the bar for enough of them!), it’s a chance to express your individual and collective identities in the choices you make about everything, from the ceremony to the buffet.

In short, should I get married, my wedding day will be one of the most significant, memorable and, I hope, happiest days of my life. Feeling the way I do about religion, a church wedding would make a mockery of that special day for me. To stand in front of a man to whom I acknowledge no authority, and for our union to be blessed by a deity in whom I do not believe, aside from making me a complete hypocrite, would make a joke of my principles. If I were going to do that, I may as well wear a red nose.

If I get married, I want to do it right or not at all. I cannot see any way that I could be persuaded to get married in a church, or any other religious setting. Having said that, I have to be prepared for the fact that should my ‘other half’ be religious, she may feel just as strongly about the same principle, in reverse. Relationships require compromise, and should we wish to get married, one of us would have to relent. For that reason, I can’t categorically state for definite that I would not get married in a church – it is impossible to say for certain from this hypothetical standpoint. I cannot imagine how it would come about, but I’m leaving myself a ‘never say never’ get-out clause. One thing you can be sure of: if I were to agree – hypothetically – to her church wedding, you can be damn sure there would be a big screen for the football at the reception. And a big slide. And Derren Brown would entertain.

Author’s Note: I probably won’t post anything for a couple of days, so I’d like to wish a very happy Independence Day to all my American readers for tomorrow.

19 Responses to “Why I (Almost Certainly) Won’t Get Married in a Church”

  1. Wonderfully written this mate! Made me smile, and nod in agreement a lot!

    Whilst “never saying never” myself, I’d have to agree with your sentiment totally.

    As for the American readers, I too would like to congratulate you on the successful Revolution. And kudos on the Constitution too whilst we’re at it!😉

  2. Although a few in my family looked at me a little strangely when I told them, I was married in a nice stately home in Hampshire. Lovely day, lots of champagne and not one mention of God! Wonderful. I did attend a Church wedding not so long ago, it wasn’t so bad but considering the people getting married didn’t really believe in God made me wonder a bit. It seemed silly to me. I think they really did it for the grandeur rather than anything else but I don’t think I could stand there and take an oath to God, it would make me feel squeemy. (is that a word?)

  3. Exactly. I was in that situation, and it wasn’t easy. Unfortunately, we never managed to resolved the issue.

  4. Tobe38, Tobe38, Tobe38…if your bride to be wants a church wedding I will bet dollars to donuts (or pounds to scones?) that she gets it.
    For, you see, she is the Bride (kind of like…the president, only with more power and waaay more respect) while you are (and I say this with all due respect) a mere groom.
    She will walk down the aisle; You may as well be a card-board cut-out installed at the other end.
    Why do you think tuxedos look so similar? It’s so that any one of the groomsmen can take the place of the groom. We’re interchangeable!😀
    But, by all means, definitely negotiate for the big screen.

    I’m on a veritable wedding tour. I still attend a church with my xian wife. Many young couples we know are getting married. Lots of churchy weddings. Oh, and loads of fun; the last one had no dancing, no alcohol, and no smoking. It was like a Surgeon Generals’ convention. :-~

  5. As the Christian here I must chime in. There is nothing holy or sacred about a church wedding. God instituted marriage and God blesses marriage whether in a church or in a bar.

    When my 3 kids got married, I advised all of them to NOT get married in a church. Although they had all made a commitment to faith, they were all living as functional pagans. I advised them to avoid shaming themselves (doing something they were not committed to) and not shaming the institution (by talking a pastor into performing a ceremony that he was not comfortable doing).

    But Tobe, would you put yourself in a position to even date a “religious” girl? It seems like even the thought goes against “reason” – why would you date someone so different (it would be like me marrying a woman who didn’t like baseball!)

    Something we do agree on – Jessica Alba!!!

    Marriage is great – got married when I was 19 and we are quickly approaching 40 yrs.

  6. I found the vows for our wedding by googling “atheist wedding” and found some good stuff. Not only did we get married on the Mississippi river on a paddle wheel boat named “Tom Sawyer,” the vows we used had quotes from Mark Twain. And not a mention of a god in the process.

  7. I was married by a justice of the peace in a backyard. It was beautiful, and the money saved on not having to use a church made for a much better reception.

  8. @ Evanescent

    Cheers mate.

    @ Atheistperspective

    the people getting married didn’t really believe in God made me wonder a bit. It seemed silly to me. I think they really did it for the grandeur rather than anything else but I don’t think I could stand there and take an oath to God, it would make me feel squeemy.

    I completey agree. One thing I should perhaps have said more clearly in the original post, was that if I were to agree to a church wedding, it would have to be because my bride really held the religious views strongly – not just because it was traditional or she liked the idea.

    @ Null

    Sorry to hear that.

    @ Polly

    Lol. I’m sure you’re right. I’m probably just fanstasising about exerting my principles – when it comes to the crunch I’ll probably just sit and roll over. I hope not, though.

    @ Geno

    There is nothing holy or sacred about a church wedding. God instituted marriage and God blesses marriage whether in a church or in a bar.

    There isn’t really much to discuss here. Needless to say I don’t agree with your assertions. You are free to believe that, but it would still be up to me (and the mrs) how we felt about the ceremony and what we thought was appropriate. Maybe God does bless bar weddings, that’s fine – as long as he doesn’t get a mention at my wedding.

    But Tobe, would you put yourself in a position to even date a “religious” girl? It seems like even the thought goes against “reason” – why would you date someone so different

    I keep an open mind when I meet anyone, and I would never dismiss the possibility of falling in love with any girl because of her religious beliefs. I could foresee problems with a girl who was a fundamentalist. For example, I would find it difficult to love and respect someone who thought I deserved to burn in Hell for all eternity. But I would never rule anything out, as long as she didn’t support Manchester United FC.

    Something we do agree on – Jessica Alba!!!

    Finally! Weeks of thrashing out theology, and all we needed was a hot girl to find common ground.

    Marriage is great – got married when I was 19 and we are quickly approaching 40 yrs.

    Glad to hear it, good for you.

    @ Salad

    That sounds wonderful. If I end up marrying an atheist I’ll definitely pitch that idea.😉

  9. @ Cragar

    I was married by a justice of the peace in a backyard. It was beautiful, and the money saved on not having to use a church made for a much better reception.

    That also sounds wonderful. I know this will sound corny as hell, but I think if you really love each other than ultimately it doesn’t really matter where or how you do it.🙂

  10. If I ever got married in a church, it’d be for the architecture. There’s just no place like a cathedral for creating a sense of beauty and wonder. Even if I don’t agree with the beliefs that it was built to support, I can appreciate the human skill and effort that went into composing it.

    That said, I realize it’d be tough to get married in a church without someone wanting to talk about God, so that’s probably out. Even worse, I understand some churches will only let you get married on their grounds if you sign a statement agreeing to bring up the children in that religion, and while that has no binding power, I value honesty and find the idea repugnant. Far better, I think, would be to get married in some suitable outdoor place, some source of the natural beauty that all human work strives to imitate.

  11. @ Ebonmuse

    Good point about the architecture, I hadn’t thought of that. And the outdoor setting is a good idea too. Most people opt for a beach, but I think a moutain top would be good, although my guests probably wouldn’t thank me for it. I’d just a get helicopter to the top.

  12. I feel as string about religion as you guys, but I did married in a church and here’s why:

    If I married in a church, I’d have to listen and nod to a bunch of things I knew were stupid. I’d have to lie about bringing my kids religiously and whatnot, and you will not find a more honest guy than me. Overall, an experience I would definetely hate. But on the plus side, I’d have a beautifull place to marry, rent free (not sure if it’s rent free in the US).

    If I didn’t marry in a church, my wife would not marry in a church either (or something very strange would need to occur). I’m sure you know how crazy and irrational the chicks are about marring in a church, and I’m not sure you grasp the concequences of not granting this wish for them. They will never forget it, and it will hunt you down for the rest of your wedding.

    So in one hand, you have one day that should be an awesome day (specially since you paid about $30k in it – in my case) and will not be all that great. On the other hand, you have eternal pain and sufering because you wife didn’t marry in a church – we may not believe in hell, but eternal pain and suffering doesn’t sound cool.

    And after all, the reception was freaking great, the food was great, the music was great, and the drinks were specially great – and I got very, very, very drunk, and she never complained. A great day after all – a lot of people say that was the the best wedding party ever – and they mean it, and I agree.

    And we decided that, since I gave that up and married in a church, she would have to give up and not baptise the kids later, and let me talk whatever rational explanations I want to them later. A much more important issue if you ask me.

  13. The first comment, (by me) on your other post about a child’s christening described a wedding that I attended that weekend in our state capitol
    building in Pennsylvania. One would be hard pressed to find a cathedral as opulent, or grand, with the building being erected at tax payers expense, and of course it has the added advantage of being completely secular. The dome under which the wedding took place was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

  14. (forgot to finish the comment)

    If I got married again, and was not as old as I am, I’d get married there.
    It would not be a bad idea to check out public buildings for your wedding. I don’t think people even give it a thought, because they don’t know you can simply reserve the Capitol for your wedding. The cost is good too. I think it’s free.

  15. We’re planning our wedding at the moment.

    My finacee is probably best described as a cynical agnostic who sort of expected to get married in a church, but is thankfully very easy going. Let’s face it, she lives with me, so she has to be.

    The issue is her mother. A “Rough Christian” who only believes in loving her neighbour if they happen to be white and middle-class. I suspect she’s in it for the doilies, tea, pomp and circumstance… anyway. Her attitude was that it’s the “bride’s day” (sound familiar, Polly? ;)). What I understand this means is that the bride’s mother guilt-trips her into a wedding of her choice.

    I’ve studiously avoided getting into a discussion about this, but my fiancee’s sister has diplomatically made my feelings known.

    My line of reasoning was,

    “How would you like to get married under a religion you didn’t believe in?”

    and

    “That would be dishonest for me, and if there’s one day in your life when you shouldn’t be dishonest, it’s your wedding day.”

    Hopefully this conjured up images in my future MIL’s mind of herself in a burqa or similar and she realised how unreasonable this was. On the other hand maybe she was being pragmatic and thought we might never get married unless she promises not to interfere! 🙂

    So we’re having the whole thing in a beautiful privately owned historic building with registry office attendants, rather than humanist celebrants (didn’t want to push my luck).

    For those with religious partners, yes it is about compromise, which is great as long as it isn’t just one of you compromising. I suspect if you are marrying someone with very different religious beliefs, the church/no church issue will not be the only compromise you’ll end up making.

  16. James said:

    For those with religious partners, yes it is about compromise, which is great as long as it isn’t just one of you compromising. I suspect if you are marrying someone with very different religious beliefs, the church/no church issue will not be the only compromise you’ll end up making.

    Two very good points.

    Congratulations on the engagement and good luck for the wedding. You’ve done us proud, not just standing up to religion, but standing up the mother in law!😉

  17. Neither my husband of 33 years or I are religious, but we were married in a church in Sweden. My family was living there at the time and the church was a beautiful, big barn of a place, the Admiralty Church in Karlskrona, built in 1680. It was a pretty secular ceremony, but meaningful for my Swedish and American families. We celebrated our 25th anniversary in Egypt, reciting affirmations that we had written to each other as the hauntingly beautiful call to evening prayer was sung from minarets along the Nile.

  18. Cheers, tobe38

  19. I must say that I’m thankful for the fact that I married an atheist like myself. She’s not as into challenging religion as I am but I’m glad that I did not have to worry about such an issue as marrying someone who feels that the wedding has to be in a church. Our first wedding was a quick hitching post thing, but when we return from Korea we’ll be having a wedding ceremony on the beach far away from any church and with no ministers whatsoever. Nice article!


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