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How to Deal with Religious Friends
Posted: 13 November 2006 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I have just finished reading Sam's "Letter to a Christian Nation" as well as the profile of the "New Atheists" in this month's Wired Magazine.  I must say that I couldn't be happier that Sam and Richard as well as many others have unapologetically brought the flame of reason back into the public sphere.  It has been sorely missed.

I also strongly agree with their position that liberal or moderate people of faith serve to buttress religious fanatics.  This is an extremely hard position for me to take however as there are many genuinely good people within these movements.  Religious organizations like the Quakers and the Unitarians, for example, are extremely peaceful faiths whose progressive politics line up with mine on almost everything.  The only sticking point is belief in God.

My question then is what do with about religious friends?  Sam and Richard both propose that society must lift the ban on religious criticism.  That we must not only be free to criticize the vulgarity of religious fundamentalism, but that we must be equally free to criticize the hollow rationale behind liberal or moderate faiths.

I am lucky enough that I have no forced friendships (in-laws, third-party friendships, close relatives, etc) who are fanatically religious.  However, as 90% of the world holds some belief in God, it is pretty clear that at least some of my friendships—forced or not—are theists.  What then, is a "new atheist" to do with these friends?  Many otherwise reasonable people become quite unreasonable if you start to question their faith or even faith in general.  I've backed off of many conversations with friends about faith because I could tell that if it went on much longer, they would not consider me their friends.

Now if my conversation partner is my personal friend, I would be less hesitant to continue the conversation, because I don't care that much if the person becomes angry with me.  I really don't want to be friends with someone who becomes belligerent at the slightest challenge to their faith.  Not to mention that I would be much less likely to become friends with a person of faith in the first place.

However, a lot of my friends are third-party friends—friends of my wife, friends of my family, friends of a friend, etc.  For example, my wife's best friend is what you would call moderately religious.  She values her faith and it occasionally makes it into conversation.  Personally, I believe she values her church purely for the social structure it provides rather than any doctrine or life guidelines it lays out.  However, if I were to ever question her beliefs, I would be in a load of shit with my wife.  Similarly with my more conservative relatives.

So how far do you take it?  Do you regularly point out logical inconsistencies or flaws in your friend's faith, or only if they push you into the conversation?  Are you very open about your atheism?  Have you lost friendships because of your beliefs? 

Consider the following situation:  Your best friend's spouse is in the hospital on his deathbed.  You are visiting your friend at the hospital.  Also in the hospital room are the spouse's quite religious parents.  While your there, they ask everyone in the room to say a prayer for the spouse. 

What do you do?  Do you feign religiosity just to avoid hurting someone's feelings?  Or do you quietly step away from the prayer circle, giving the faithful room, while letting it be known you won't participate?  I think the former would most certainly end that relationship immediately in addition to the latter, if not done extremely carefully.

Is it worth ruining a relationship over this?  Advice?

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Posted: 13 November 2006 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]...

Consider the following situation:  Your best friend’s spouse is in the hospital on his deathbed.  You are visiting your friend at the hospital.  Also in the hospital room are the spouse’s quite religious parents.  While your there, they ask everyone in the room to say a prayer for the spouse. 

What do you do?  Do you feign religiosity just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?  Or do you quietly step away from the prayer circle, giving the faithful room, while letting it be known you won’t participate?  I think the former would most certainly end that relationship immediately in addition to the latter, if not done extremely carefully.

Is it worth ruining a relationship over this?  Advice?

OK. I’m not big on confrontation. So, what I might do is be there, but respectfully not participate. Remain quiet during their “thing” yet demand the same respect that they would have anyone give their ritual. And then truthfully answer any questions asked of you. If they have a problem with what you say, then… “shit, man. You asked.”

Unless, if any of those current relationships have no utility, then eff-em. Do a friggin rain-dance.

Um, Sorry for your loss.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]For example, my wife’s best friend is what you would call moderately religious.  She values her faith and it occasionally makes it into conversation.  Personally, I believe she values her church purely for the social structure it provides rather than any doctrine or life guidelines it lays out.  However, if I were to ever question her beliefs, I would be in a load of s*** with my wife.  Similarly with my more conservative relatives.

A first step is figuring out that these things have nothing to do with words. Spoken or unspoken. If somebody cannot overcome a disagreement like this, I really wonder what it might be their faith allows them to overcome.

The obvious fact that faith is so simpleminded as not to be able to deal with differences of opinion should communicate something clearly to you.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Welcome saganfan, glad to have you here.  Your’s is, of course, a very common problem all of us face to some degree or other, unless we decide to withdraw from society.

Like most folks, I have several groups of people I interact with on different levels and to different degrees, but let’s start with this:  Why do you feel that all of a sudden you have to begin to treat others differently just ‘cause you read a couple of books?  I don’t mean this in a harsh way at all, we all change gradually over time, and treat folks differently because of it. 

There is a Zen story about a famous general who converted to Zen and asked his teacher if he could continue to wear his sword, which was the badge of his office.  He thought that since he was now a follower of a non-violent sect, he should immediately begin to act as such in all areas of his life.  His teachers answer was simply, “wear it as long as you feel you can.”

I have been an atheist all my life, just never really thought about it ‘till two or three years ago.  I am also a recovered alcoholic, and a long-time AA member.  For years I paid lip service to the religiosity in AA, although it meant nothing to me, but I reached the point when I just couldn’t bring myself to say the prayers any more.  I went to fewer and fewer meetings, then couldn’t even be there when prayers were said, nor could I listen to others talking about their “god” experiences and what a power he was in their lives.

I had to stop going, and that’s when I found SOS, a secular sobriety organization.  I started a local meeting, and it’s doing fine.  I guess my point is, you have to follow the dictates of your own conscience in these things, there is no hard-and-fast rule.  If you are comfortable within yourself participating in group prayers, then do it.  If you are not comfortable, don’t do it.  Chances are, no one will notice either way.

I tend to be more confrontive with strangers and casual acquaintances then I am with friends and family.  I have found that friends have turned out to continue to be such, unless they were fundies, but no one can please them anyway.

Much luck!

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Posted: 13 November 2006 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]My question then is what do with about religious friends?

Kill em all.

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt 11:28-29

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]
I also strongly agree with their position that liberal or moderate people of faith serve to buttress religious fanatics.  This is an extremely hard position for me to take however as there are many genuinely good people within these movements.  Religious organizations like the Quakers and the Unitarians, for example, are extremely peaceful faiths whose progressive politics line up with mine on almost everything.  The only sticking point is belief in God.

There’s very strong evidence to the contrary as regards Christianity and Judaism.  Sam Harris is just wrong, and you’re wrong to agree with him without doing research.  You bring up a perfect counter-example to the notion that faith inevitably results in fanaticism: Quakers and UUs.  Move just a smidgen towards the center and find the Wesleyan Methodists.  Their doctrines are the very essense of progressive humanism.  Move to the right and find that many of religious conservatives believe that the US Constitution and the values it sets forth such as democracy, individual liberties, and limited government are sacred principles.

For a humanist religious conservative, look no further than Senator Robert C. Byrd.  I had the pleasure to hear him speak at a democratic rally in his home state a couple of weeks ago.  He carries a copy of the US Constitution everywhere he goes—he took it out of his pocket and waved it at the audience, exhorting us all to study it thoroughly.  Byrd said that it was the greatest document ever written for governing people.  He also believes it to have been divinely inspired.

Christianity is Hellenized Judaism.  Read some Philo.  A melding of Greek philosophy with Jewish anthropomorphised deity.

Do your own research.  Subject Sam Harris’ assertion about moderate Christians to critical analysis.  It doesn’t stand up.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“mudfoot”]Senator Robert C. Byrd.  I had the pleasure to hear him speak at a democratic rally in his home state a couple of weeks ago.  He carries a copy of the US Constitution everywhere he goes—he took it out of his pocket and waved it at the audience

sorta like the ten frickin commandments, right?

givest thou me a fricking breaketh.

Wanna make a religious artifact out of the Constitution text? Be thou my guesteth. Equal protection, and all that rot.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Mudfoot…

It makes little difference what “statistical” evidence says in the face of common sense (because numbers can bend whatever way you like them too):

Expressing a moderate belief in god is actually worse from an intellectual standpoint because you are offering that what you believe is incredibly improbable, but you refuse to yield because you are either afraid of death or do not want to look at the weight of the evidence.  It is the ultimate admission of ignorance to both believe in god, and say, believe in evolution.  They are at odds…you cannot rectify the belief in one if you hold the belief in the other.  There is absolutely no reason to believe in god, other than the fact that people who are “moderate” are so weak minded as to not trust their own ability to reason fully.  It is fence sitting, plain and simple.  Not everything in life is black and white, but painting an area gray when there is no need?  It is just idiocy…

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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I have difficulty being friends with people who are religious, I can admit that.  As I started a thread that has to do with dealing with anger I have no problem saying that it is very hard to consistently give respect to individuals who seem to have such a dilapidated world view.  I continously fall back on the same old idea when I talk to people, “I repect you as a person (or certain things you do), but I have absolutely no respect for your religious views (if they believe in god).”  That usually blows people away, they get pseudo-offended (or maybe they are really offended, dont know, dont usually care)...  Be real to yourself.  How easy is it to be friends with someone who thinks totally contrary to yourself?  Not very.  With how important so many issues are, this is bound to come up in relationships where each person is passionate about their viewpoints.  I would rather burn those bridges, than cling to them.  I do not want to surround myself with people who work against everything I work for.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]

A first step is figuring out that these things have nothing to do with words. Spoken or unspoken. If somebody cannot overcome a disagreement like this, I really wonder what it might be their faith allows them to overcome.

The obvious fact that faith is so simpleminded as not to be able to deal with differences of opinion should communicate something clearly to you.

The most beautiful and true thing I have ever heard someone say on here.  Thank you for that Salt Creek.  I lost a girlfriend I loved very much over religion, and this puts it perfect.  I wish I would have said what you said above…It would not have changed things, but it might have made her think.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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I wish you well in your fight against people who don’t believe that science is valid.  Thank you for coming up with new medicines and whatever else biologists do.

But evolution has nothing to do with Joe Blow’s day to day existence, unless Joe Blow is an evolutionary biologist.  And Joe Blow’s position (expressed by the bulk of mainstream clergy) is that evolution is God’s way of making different life forms appear.

So what?

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Nothing to do with his day to day existence?  You mean, other than the fact that it is the reason for his day to day existence?  Thats what I thought you meant…

You were likely to be the one in high school who said, “I won’t need this, why do I have to learn it?”  right??  Have you ever considered that the problem with Joe Blow is that he does not give a damn about anything, and is simply lazy…how about the world begins to flex its intellectual muscle… Is that too much to ask?

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]

There’s very strong evidence to the contrary as regards Christianity and Judaism.  Sam Harris is just wrong, and you’re wrong to agree with him without doing research.  You bring up a perfect counter-example to the notion that faith inevitably results in fanaticism: Quakers and UUs.  Move just a smidgen towards the center and find the Wesleyan Methodists.  Their doctrines are the very essense of progressive humanism.  Move to the right and find that many of religious conservatives believe that the US Constitution and the values it sets forth such as democracy, individual liberties, and limited government are sacred principles.

For a humanist religious conservative, look no further than Senator Robert C. Byrd.  I had the pleasure to hear him speak at a democratic rally in his home state a couple of weeks ago.  He carries a copy of the US Constitution everywhere he goes—he took it out of his pocket and waved it at the audience, exhorting us all to study it thoroughly.  Byrd said that it was the greatest document ever written for governing people.  He also believes it to have been divinely inspired.

Christianity is Hellenized Judaism.  Read some Philo.  A melding of Greek philosophy with Jewish anthropomorphised deity.

Do your own research.  Subject Sam Harris’ assertion about moderate Christians to critical analysis.  It doesn’t stand up.

You pointed out two denominations of Christianity that are, when compared to the larger body of Christianity, statistical outliers.  You say that Harris is wrong, yet in order to establish this point you are using as examples two exceptions to the norm in Christianity. 

Simply pointing out the existance of two of the most benign denominations of Christianity does not necessarily entail that they are doing any real good.  It’s almost as if you’re giving them credit for being the least unprogressive. 

The exact reason that Quakers and Unitarians are outcast by most of modern religious society is because their progressive ideals don’t really mesh with the conservative ideals of established traditional religion in the Western world.  If these exceptions were the norm maybe you wouldn’t have people like Harris making such arguments.  (Then again, you probably would, simply because any religious faith is an affront to reason and the critical analysis of ideas). 

I have no doubt about the number of truly good religious people out there who believe in the Constitution and support the concept of liberty for all people (including non-religious people), but unfortunately many of the leaders of these religions only pay lip service to such a belief, and actively try to enact social policy based on their beliefs.  When successful, these changes to social policy go further towards bringing acceptance to the religion in a given society.  Those church leaders would not have the power they have were it not for their congragations of (mostly) moderate believers and the political power it represents.  So yes, I do think that your average believer contributes to the problem of extremism, if only by providing an acceptable social climate in which it can flourish.  You don’t have to worry about sharks if there’s no water.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Exactly.  Mr. Blow obviously doesn’t care too much about the future of the world.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Pragmatism v. Idealism. Ideally everyone would be atheist, but in the real world we can do a lot to improve the condition of the world by making friends with theists whose dogma happens to line up with our convictions, right?

Both political ideologies in this country have been making a deal with the devil, so to speak. The Republicans did it first, and now we’re hearing more and more about a religious left.

There’s a lot I like—and some I don’t like—about the American Left’s agenda. I cringe at the idea of advancing good ideas using blind dogma, because as we all know, dogma can swing in almost any direction. But then again, you have to consider the alternative: if we let the Right equate religiosity with their politics, they’ll probably win.

Sigh…

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]
My question then is what do with about religious friends? 

...

So how far do you take it?  Do you regularly point out logical inconsistencies or flaws in your friend’s faith, or only if they push you into the conversation?  Are you very open about your atheism?  Have you lost friendships because of your beliefs? 

Consider the following situation:  Your best friend’s spouse is in the hospital on his deathbed.  You are visiting your friend at the hospital.  Also in the hospital room are the spouse’s quite religious parents.  While your there, they ask everyone in the room to say a prayer for the spouse. 

What do you do?  Do you feign religiosity just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?  Or do you quietly step away from the prayer circle, giving the faithful room, while letting it be known you won’t participate?  I think the former would most certainly end that relationship immediately in addition to the latter, if not done extremely carefully.

Is it worth ruining a relationship over this?  Advice?

Since I came out of the Atheist closet, I’ve had many reactions from friends, co-workers and relatives.  I’ve maintained close friendships with a few people whose religious beliefs are very strong.  None of them want to have religious conversations with me, so that doesn’t present an issue in our relationships (thus far).

However, there have been a couple of incidents that caused discomfort for others.  I went to a NASCAR race with two friends shortly after our troops arrived in Iraq. When the pre-race prayer started, everyone stood to pray for the safety of the drivers and the soldiers.  I remained seated.  One of the friends I was with (a life-long neighbor) was upset with me for not standing for the prayer.  She said “It’s for the soldiers!  It wouldn’t hurt you to participate.”  I told her that it would hurt me.  I refuse to participate in prayer or in any way encourage the onslaught of public prayer forced on everyone in this country.  She didn’t get it.  We’re still friends, but we don’t discuss religion.

Also, every year at Thanksgiving, when the food is set and everyone gathers ‘round the table, my sister-in-law says grace.  Everyone holds hands and bows their heads while she prays to thank god for the food (which WE provided and prepared).  I always arrange to be out of the room when this occurs, and she always starts calling me to join them in prayer.  She knows I’m an atheist, but she calls me to join them anyway.  I always reply that I’m busy, please proceed without me. 

Same. Thing. Every. Year. 

I’m reasonably sure my entire family knows I’m an atheist, but this year I plan to make absolutely sure they know, BEFORE the prayers get started.

I decided a while back that I was not going to participate in prayer in any setting or for any reason.  It is against everything I believe, and I feel that it encourages theists to think prayer is the only right way.  It gives them reason to believe that atheism is bad, theism is good.  I’m tired of being treated like I’m the weird one. They’re the ones with invisible friends from another dimension, not me!

Advice ... decide if it’s important to you that your friends accept your beliefs.  If it is, then live your beliefs.  If you don’t want to participate in religion (such as prayer, in any situation) then don’t.  It doesn’t have to be loud or obvious, just step out and/or away.  Do your best to quietly be otherwhere.  If (as in the case of the NASCAR race) there is no way to quietly not participate, decide at that moment how to proceed, then confidently and quietly do your own thing.  If questioned, say it’s your personal belief, and change the subject.

You mentioned questioning your wife’s best friend’s beliefs. There’s no need to, really.  Just believe what you believe, live your beliefs and don’t participate in religious rituals she may initiate.  You can stick to your beliefs without confrontation, in most cases.  It’s been my experience that theists don’t want confrontation, anyway :wink:

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