Noelle and Andy.
Noelle and her partner, Andy. (Photo courtesy of Noelle Boughton)

Topics: July/August 2023, Spirituality | Relationships

I’m a spiritual director and the daughter of a preacher. Now I’m in love with an atheist.

My partner and I still bump into our differences, but our relationship has allowed me to test my beliefs


I’m in love with an atheist. It’s ironic, given that I’m a preacher’s kid, a former preacher’s wife and a spiritual director living into my own sense of call. It’s also challenging, seeing as I still find my community within the Christian church.

We’ve been talking about the disparity since the day we met last spring. My new guy is the most soulful activist I’ve known. He’s also joyful, curious and fun. Though I’m grateful for our life-enhancing relationship, I still find myself parsing: what does it mean to love an atheist?

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We’re both United Church born and bred, so he knows what he walked away from. He’ll grant his friends their “higher power” but believes there isn’t one. He taps into his soul for guidance but is sure there’s no pre-destiny, no afterlife and no path we should be on.

Meanwhile, I call God the “universal consciousness,” but I’ve had enough mystical experiences and sense of life improving when I align with that “something more” to be firmly entrenched in my views, too. That’s especially true as I discern my path to fulfil my spiritual purpose before I’m “called to the other side.”

We have so many similarities. We’re both Canadians, writers and curious about people and life — and then we hit these walls between our belief systems. It’s different than talking to my Jewish friends, who also believe in “something more.” Even though my new guy is an adventure canoeist who loves wilderness treks, he doesn’t believe he’s connecting with anything God-like out there. On the other hand, one of the places where I feel most connected with God-energy is hiking in the backwoods.

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I also bump into our differences around attending church. He left the institution when he got tired of rephrasing religious language to fit his beliefs. I’ve been doing that with gender and “Lord” issues for decades, but I value the relationships with like-minded seekers that I find there. I’m getting more involved, post-pandemic, in a new congregation, too. We went to its craft sale, but when I asked if he’d at- tend a choir concert with me, he simply said, “No, thank you.”

Presently, I am rethinking what the “atheist” label really means because my guy walks the activist Jesus path better than many who call themselves Christian. When I sing hymns, I also now study the lyrics to see if I still believe what they say. And when I peek over the hard walls between us, I see the man I love who’s opened me to more inquiry.

So what does it mean to love an atheist? For me, it means questioning enough of my own traditions, practices and beliefs that I’m becoming a more conscious Christian.


Noelle Boughton is a writer in Toronto. She is the author of Margaret Laurence: A Gift of Grace, A Spiritual Biography.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s July/August 2023 with the title “I’m in Love with an Atheist.”

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  • says:

    We should always question those things we hve been taught to believe. Atheists can also live ethical lives the way Jesus taught. Basic teachings of Jesus focus on our behaviours not on our ceremonies. Any teachings that come after Jesus are purely human constructs.