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How to Deal with Religious Friends
Posted: 14 November 2006 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]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 s*** 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?

Hi Saganfan,

I don’t think American atheists should be too cautious to speak their minds.
There are plenty of places in the world where doing this gets you thrown in jail, killed or made a complete outcast.

If you speak your mind calmly and people can’t deal with that, then I hate to say it, but that is their problem.

There is a real downside to “playing along” and this is that your message does not get heard.

Speaking about a subject changes the consensus of society.

This, in my view, is why Christianity is so popular here. There are so many TV stations, radio programs, street preachers etc. all transmitting the same message. So much money and effort is put into the broadcasting of these ideas that it has the same effect as advertising a consumer product relentlessly. And we all know that works.

You have to stick to your guns even if it gets nasty.

In my own experience, the consequences of “not playing along’ are not all that dramatic.
Granted, I live in Silicon Valley, it probably could be quite different in Possum Ridge, Arkansas.

Lastly, I think that friendship is based on mutual respect.
If people can’t muster that you should wonder if they are worth hanging out with.

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“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling is for fools.
But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever.”

From the autobiography of A.A.Mills, ‘The passage of time, according to an estranged, casual tyrant.’

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Posted: 14 November 2006 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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Saganfan—
    I’m not sure if your hospital room dilemma was hypothetical or not, but I agree with hampsteadpete’s Zen story about wearing the sword ‘until you can’t’  Personally, even though I don’t believe in my former religion anymore, I can still be comfortable in a room where people are praying.  As a matter of fact, I can still pray, even though I don’t believe in God the way I used to.  I just like praying.  It makes me feel grateful.  Grateful and aware.  I have pretty much whittled down my prayers to just saying thanks.  It feels good to be thankful, and aware.  I can be thankful to trees and rocks and stars and anything else in the universe.  I can use my imagination the way I wish. It doesn’t have to make any particular sense to anyone else.  It means something to me.  And I try not to impose my views, religious or non religious, on anyone.  At this stage in my journey, I choose to be respectful of people who are religious.  It just feels right to me.  And I don’t know Zen… but I do know a little Disney.  When I am confronted with situations like the one you describe, I take the advice of Jiminy Cricket…  ‘and always let your conscience be your guide.’  In the same vein, I saw a pagan bumper sticker I liked which said “An it hurt none, do as thou wilt…”  Wisdom comes from many places.  I’ve learned alot here.  And I have far to go.

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Posted: 14 November 2006 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Friendship is a two-way street, so you both need to accept the other’s beliefs knowing that there is more to the friendship than religion.  I don’t bring up my atheism unless asked about my religious views (which is very rare anyway), which usually has the effect of stiffling any more discussion on the subject, which is fine with me.

As for faking praying, I gave up on that, too.  Would a Christian be expected to say a prayer to Allah?  Would a Buddhist be chastised for refusing to join the Christian prayer circle?  Why would an atheist?

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Posted: 14 November 2006 04:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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I disagree that you should always be vocal.  My best friend is a Christian, and we never talk religion.  I’ve thought about being open with my views with him, but it could ruin our friendship, and I don’t want to risk it.  His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all pastors, one of his sisters is a missionary to Africa, his other sister is heavily involved in the church, and his younger brother is about to enroll in seminary.  So if I start telling him Christianity is a bunch of bs, then not only would I be attacking his world view, but I would be criticizing his family’s entire lifestyle that they’ve led for mutiple generations.  Doing that is just not worth it.

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Posted: 15 November 2006 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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[quote author=“Magmabro”]I disagree that you should always be vocal.  My best friend is a Christian, and we never talk religion.  I’ve thought about being open with my views with him, but it could ruin our friendship, and I don’t want to risk it.  His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all pastors, one of his sisters is a missionary to Africa, his other sister is heavily involved in the church, and his younger brother is about to enroll in seminary.  So if I start telling him Christianity is a bunch of bs, then not only would I be attacking his world view, but I would be criticizing his family’s entire lifestyle that they’ve led for mutiple generations.  Doing that is just not worth it.

In what sense is it not worth it?  If you want to affect any real change in the world, you have to knock his worldview off of the top pedastal.  Conflict sometimes requires sacrafice.  Perhaps you are not confident enough in the truth of your beliefs?  I would think that if you are, the truth would trump anything else.

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Posted: 15 November 2006 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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Sander,

This, in my view, is why Christianity is so popular here. There are so many TV stations, radio programs, street preachers etc. all transmitting the same message. So much money and effort is put into the broadcasting of these ideas that it has the same effect as advertising a consumer product relentlessly. And we all know that works.

And what is advertising for? A commercial product. Because religion is free to mutate and evolve willfully in this country, it’s like a commercial product with a lot of slick promoters always trying to figure out how to get the next customer in the door. “Let’s build a gym, or maybe a singles night will get them in the door.” That kind of marketing has left the stodgy European versions of the state church in the dust. “We got to give’em what they want!”.

Rod

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Posted: 17 December 2006 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. I converted to Judaism 25 years ago, then gave that up as well years ago. My family remains deeply Baptist. I try to retain some integrity around my family, yet treat them with generosity. They aren’t going to change.

With friends, it doesn’t work. I have tried to maintain friendships with religious people. They have always turned on me in the end. It’s a waste of time to attempt any real friendship with someone whose worldview includes religious delusions. I don’t have any religious friends now. I’m a lot happier for it.

I see nothing wrong with being generous toward people when they seek comfort in their religious beliefs in times of hardship and loss, but it’s a sign that I’m in the wrong place.

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Posted: 25 December 2006 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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After never being religiously inclined their entire lives, My 55yo cousin and her 64yo husband have been Seventh Day Adventists’ Vegans for the past 16 mons. Now after reading “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”,  “Letter to a Christian Nation” and seeing the two Dawkins videos from “Root of Evil”  and the “Beyond Belief Conference” this past year, I believe my attitude has changed just as my cousin and her husband’s attitude has changed after being Seventh Day Adventists’ Vegans over the same amount of time..
What I would’ve brushed off and changed the subject on last Christmas, I confronted and challenged this Christmas! This led to shouting matches but so be it. It was fun raspberry
It all started this time when we were watching the news about Iraq and they brought up prophecy..and I said prophecies mean different things to different people depending on where they are, who they’re with and the circumstances at the time they read the prophecies..They are subjective statements…Then they started paraphrasing scripture and I started paraphrasing Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins..not to mention Michael Biagent et.al. from “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”
Their retort was ..”..well those are also subjective statements..”
“yes they are, but they are based on evidence and facts..”
When they mentioned We just have Faith in different ideas about the same things..it hit me that they really didn’t understand what Faith is. I didn’t use the Mark Twain definition of Faith, but it was pretty close raspberry
When I began with the analogy about believing in Santa Claus then growing out of it..and moving on to going to Rock Concerts and growing out of them..to maturing and learning from your past and applying that to the future..I was blunt when I said, “You don’t believe all the stuff you learned as a child!”..

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Posted: 26 December 2006 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“saganfan”]
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?

I am very open about my nonbeliefs around friends, and many of them share my thoughts.  The workplace, however, is an interesting situation.  I am the supervisor of a community mail room on a US military base in Germany.  I have two employees under me - both are Christians.  One is relatively open-minded, for a Christian, which is probably due to her husband being Agnostic.  The other is a Catholic sunday school teacher. 

After hearing more religious phrases from the latter than I cared for, I gradually let it be known that I don’t believe in a god.  She had just complemented me on the way I dealt with a not-so-friendly customer and said how kind I was.  So, I replied with “See, Atheists aren’t evil people afterall”.  She was quite surprised to find that I didn’t believe and asked a few questions about my views on human morality and about what I thought happened to us upon death.

We haven’t touched on the topic again, but she has also stopped saying “God bless you” or “I’ll keep you in my prayers”.  She might still think those things, but I don’t hear it anymore.  So, in my opinion, it worked well.  I don’t have to feel like I’m in a church and she is seeing first hand that Atheists aren’t all evil creatures like she’s been told.

Now, another situation happend recently when all the employees from the several mail rooms met up for a Thanksgiving potluck.  Before we started to eat, someone spoke out and said we should say grace.  Right away, a few other agreed and someone started.  At this same moment, I made my way into a different room - still in plain site - and started eating my food.  I got several looks; some were of disapproval, others were like “wow, he’s got balls”.  I didn’t say anything, but I think my actions spoke loud enough.

I’m new here on the forums and would love to hear your feedback on my dealings with these situations.

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Posted: 27 December 2006 02:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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Greetings all,
This episode is about as close as I can come to something relevant on that note. My father-in-law recently passed away at 92 and I loved and respected him very much. He and his wife were from the old country and came over on the boat as teenagers from Croatia. They were both devout Catholics. I had such a good relationship with him that I felt he was more proud and respectful of me and my ideas than my own parents are. We had had several conversations about religion and he knew very well my nonbelief. At family gatherings like Thanksgiving he always said a grace. With our relationship, there was no way I would simply lurk in the background until this was all over. Well, a couple of years ago we were sitting with family and friends for Thanksgiving and he asked me to say the blessing. Sooner or later I knew it would come to this when he wasn’t around, so I had thought about it a bit. With no mention of God, obviously, I asked that we come to a new appreciation of how lucky we are to be in good health and to enjoy our freedoms, and I ended with two lines from a poem on friendship and asked that we remember those who are already gone. My father-in-law gave me a big smile and said “Amen”. I miss him.

Ryanvc, In your situation, do you think it would have been possible to stay with the group and then add something very secular of your own?

Later, Rod

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Posted: 27 December 2006 03:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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Rod, I probably could have done such, but at the moment I didn’t even think about it.  I tend to become highly irritated in those situations and choose to say nothing in an attempt not to offend others.  However, when I’m in a large group, I find it very disturbing that someone will just assume the rest of the group practices the same beliefs.  Had it been a family setting it would have MAYBE been different. 

Asking a large group to bow their heads in prayer like that is the same to me as walking around a full room, sneezing all over the place without covering your mouth. 

If they had asked me to say it, I would have probably gave blessings to the Invisible Pink Unicorn and then in closing, reminded them that not everyone believes in myths.  That would have upset a few people, but I suppose that would keep them from asking me again.

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Posted: 27 December 2006 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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[quote author=“ryanvc76”]
If they had asked me to say it, I would have probably gave blessings to the Invisible Pink Unicorn and then in closing, reminded them that not everyone believes in myths.  That would have upset a few people, but I suppose that would keep them from asking me again.

I think most of us know how emotional we atheists can get in these situations.
Mostly though I’d say that anger is a bad adviser here.
To directly offend the religious people in question will not help our cause.
To remain calm and just say that you don’t believe in their god and therefore won’t say grace is probably the better way.
It is something I admire about Sam. He doesn’t lose his cool.

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“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling is for fools.
But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever.”

From the autobiography of A.A.Mills, ‘The passage of time, according to an estranged, casual tyrant.’

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Posted: 27 December 2006 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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I do have agree with Sander here.  If an Atheist gets angry and lets it be seen, it just works to the advantage of the Christian who already believes all Atheist are troubled, angry people.  I let it be known that I do not believe in god, but at the same time, I try not to be an ass about it.  It does require me to bite my tongue occasionally.

The group prayer thing simply gets to me because of past experiences.  I was in the Army for 12 years and just recently got out.  In any large ceremony, regardless of the event, they’d have the chaplain do a prayer and have everyone in the formation bow their heads.  The first few years of service I just went through the motions.  As I began to feel more confident in my nonbeliefs, I stopped bowing my head and stayed at the position of “attention” or “parade rest”.  In a way, I just hoped they would say something or try to make me bow my head… I would have had a lawyer within 24 hours.

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Posted: 27 December 2006 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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On a daily basis when I come across religious friends, family, and random people, I try not to let it be an issue.  If he calls the first shot, then may his god(s) help him from my wrath.  Once upon a time I labored under the delusion that we could all peacefully respect each other’s beliefs.  Such, I have learned, is not the case, and I’ve been burned one too many times for quietly respecting another’s beliefs while he refused to reciprocate.  So now I start off by accepting the fact that we have differing opinions.  If the other party feels the need to make something of it (and religious people usually do), I let ‘em have it.

The deathbed scenario warrants an entirely different approach.  If it is a group prayer, I bow my head slightly (while trying not to look too awkward) and wait it out - same for when I suddenly find myself at the dinner table with a religious family.  If I am asked to say a prayer, I quietly and respectfully say that I prefer not to.  If pressed, I say that I have a different way of communicating.  Sensitive emotional times, such as a deathbed, are not the time to pick a fight with a religious person.

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Posted: 27 December 2006 03:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“MsWitt”] So now I start off by accepting the fact that we have differing opinions.  If the other party feels the need to make something of it (and religious people usually do), I let ‘em have it.

Welcome to the forum MsWitt,

I concur.
Respect needs to be reciprocal.
I adhere to the PUSH principle.
Peaceful Until Shit Happens.

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“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling is for fools.
But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever.”

From the autobiography of A.A.Mills, ‘The passage of time, according to an estranged, casual tyrant.’

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