A Separation of Friends and Faith

Why can’t we be friends? Maybe we can

Some Christians have a saying — “hate the sin, love the sinner.” I am thinking a similar adage can and should be applied to religious people — “disagree with the belief, but still be friendly.”

This is a hard post for me to write, but I think it’s important for me to do. I have a strained relationship to religion; there are a lot of things I don’t like about it (and I feel it’s unnecessary). However, as I’ve learned recently —a person’s beliefs do not necessarily define them, nor do they factor into whether we can be friends.

Let me explain.

I was raised loosely Catholic, and as a kid I acted in a “holier than thou” capacity for a time. I chose to walk away from religion as a teenager, feeling that it didn’t have the answers I wanted or needed — and that it did more harm than good in the world. This is a view that I still hold to a degree, but I can acknowledge that it’s largely because religion and beliefs get misused.

I became a militant Atheist for a solid decade. And then I figured out that generally the only people who like militants are other militants. I don’t like militants, so I shouldn’t be one or I’m going to attract angry, aggressive people who can arguably get blinded by their own zealotry.

I also realized that not all Christians hate gay people and want to force their beliefs and lifestyles on the rest of society. Many Christians do conduct themselves in a “live and let live” fashion. And I respect that.

And that’s part of why I’m writing this.

There was a point (it lasted for a while) where I wanted nothing to do with anyone who identified as religious, or who believed in a God. I thought they were nuts. Irrational. Delusional. Why would I want to be friends with a delusional person?

It seemed so obvious to me, why not to them? Had they just not thought through the concept as long and hard as I had? (That friends, is called an arrogant assumption. Don’t do that).

But then something unexpected happened.

I found out my best friend was “Spiritual”. My best friend is one of the smartest, wisest, most logical, rational and best skeptical thinkers I know. And he believed in something that “informs and guides” his life. How did several years pass before I discovered this? It never came up (and that’s part of the point).

Okay, I can make an exception. He’ll figure out he should be on team Atheism eventually, right? (Again with the arrogant assumptions, bad Adam!)

Then I met a classmate in college; right from the jump he was super logical (basically like Spock, but with a personality). We had some very deep debates. Turns out we don’t agree on many things, but we both respect a good discussion of ideas using facts and logic more than we feel the need to be “right” (usually driven by pride or ego).

This friend is Jewish. I made the silly mistake of assuming that he was only culturally Jewish, but not actually religious. I mean, how could the most hyper-logical person I’ve ever met not see how illogical the idea of “God” was? But nope, found out recently (when I asked him outright) that he actually does believe in God, and says to him, it’s not irrational at all.

Okay, exception number two.

So, what finally pushed me far enough to re-consider my firmly established idea that I can’t fraternize with believers? My third example.

I started a new job recently, and found out that one of my new co-workers was a Cognitive Science student. Oh boy, Cognitive Science is super interesting!

Unsurprisingly, we ended up having some really excellent conversations about a variety of things, and agreeing for the most part. It was awesome.

For three weeks we had these delightful exchanges. And then somehow the topic of homosexuality came up, and she shocked me by saying she disagreed with the lifestyle (but supported gay people as human beings). I knew enough to figure out that she was likely religious based on that, and I was right.

And here’s where I tested myself. I was taken aback that such a cool, interesting, thoughtful person could hold such an outdated, closed-minded viewpoint. And here’s where my knee jerk, instinctual reaction towards religion kicked in. I thought to myself — she only hates gay people because her religion taught her to, and that is a big part of my problem with religion — when it teaches intolerance (ie when it gets misused).

And while this was partially true, it turns out that she doesn’t hate gay people. She has gay friends and has even celebrated at the Gay Pride festival with them. But she is uncomfortable “with the lifestyle”. She’s not trying to ban gay marriage or stop gay people from being together. So she’s a “live and let live” Christian.

I figured this out because I told myself “Don’t be a dick. Don’t stop talking to her just because she believes something that you don’t. Everything was fine until you thought there was a reason to back off. If you back out now, you are the intolerant one”. So we talked it out, calmly and respectfully. And we’ve continued having great conversations since.

And that’s the crux. If you believe something that I don’t, but you’re not hurting anyone with your beliefs or being a dick, then I can’t — in good conscience — have a beef with you. If you are hurting other people with your beliefs, then I take issue and I will say something and I might even act to stop you. But if you understand and respect that your beliefs are to govern only your own life, then you’re doing it right. And we can be friends, because I respect that. I have to be the same way. It’s hard sometimes, because I do think that the world would be just fine, if not better off, without religious beliefs, but I also don’t want to be a hypocrite.

So thanks to being shown the error of my own logic, I was forced to change my stance on a long held position, to become a better, more accepting person myself. Funny how I get angry with religious people for not accepting others, yet I was doing it to them. Oh unwitting hypocrisy, you fickle beast.

I learned that critical thinking and logical thinking aren’t the same things.

At the end of the day, I like cool, decent, humble people. I like people who will help you if you need it, and otherwise live their lives and let you live yours. I think all you need is the Golden Rule — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple as that. Plus it could save you a lot of time reading scriptures!

I like interesting and thoughtful conversations with others who enjoy the same. We don’t have to believe the same thing for that to work, which means friends and faith are not mutually exclusive for me anymore.

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Aside from writing on Medium, I also do several other things including: an interview podcast called Noise in my Head, a curation blog called Curiosity Crossroads, instrumental music and photography both available under creative commons, promoting Polymathism, and my first ebook “Why Can’t I Stop Thinking So Much?”