Can a Fundamentalist Christian and an Outspoken Atheist be Friends?

Disclaimer: A lot of this is for venting purposes, so if I sound angry, that's why.

First, I want to give a little bit of background information.  Back in college, I met Joseph (name changed, of course).  Joseph was not the typical college student, especially for the English department.  Joseph was a 50-year old bald man whose arms were covered in tattoos.  He was bald, but had an excellent goatee going on.  He also looked like he could easily take down an opponent in a bar fight, since he was quite burly.  In short, he was the spitting image of the biker stereotype.  Not surprising, really, since that's one of his favorite hobbies.  Right after, of course, witnessing to others about Jesus Christ.  In fact, he is actually the pastor of some kind of biker church now.

I always knew that about Joseph, and I always thought that, on some level, it was pretty cool.  This guy really screwed up his life when he was my age, and was in and out of jail on both violence and drug charges.  At some point during his suicide spiral, he found religion, and has been a totally different guy since then.  When I met him, I was a religious person myself, so I was impressed with the way the guy managed to turn his life around with the help of God.

That was a few years ago.  Since then, I have become an atheist (my reasons for which are too numerous to delineate here), but I have always still held a certain amount of respect for Joseph.  After all, it's still impressive that the guy could turn his horrible life into a force for good, even if I didn't exactly agree with his reasons. 

He and I only somewhat kept in touch, thanks to the power of Facebook.  Because of our lack of real conversation, I don't think he really knew I was an atheist, since that never really comes up in my status updates.  Besides, it has only been in the last week or two that Joseph really became active on the site.

He posted something a few days ago about how man is God's possession, and that we deserve to be shunned by him if we shun him first.  I didn't see this at first, but my wife did (she also met Joseph through English classes), so she commented.  Nearly instantly, she was swarmed by two of Joseph's fundamentalist friends, who spouted off the same tired arguments from design and experience that we all know and loathe.

What's a good husband to do?  I jumped in there and helped her out.  I began not as an attack on religious beliefs, but simply to point out that people can be good with God.  Joseph's friends then started asking me about atheists' beliefs, since they have never actually had legitimate prolonged discussions with any atheists.  I shared what I knew, and I believe I did so in an eloquent and respectful manner.

That''s when things went bad.  The very people who asked the questions completely ignored the answers I put forth, and instead told me that I'm young and don't know any better.  I can handle this from people whom I have never met, but then Joseph started doing the same thing.  This is a man who was my friend, a man whose butt I saved multiple times in group projects in our classes, a man with whom I have otherwise had a good relationship, and suddenly he turned downright insulting.  Every time I tried to call him out on this, he pulled the same dirty tactic of telling me that he has to know better than I do, since he's a father, grandfather, pastor, ex-thug, and so on. 

Then, without warning, he does the same thing I've witnessed other religious people do on Facebook: he deleted both me and my wife as his friends.  Now, this is just Facebook, of course, but I think that sends a pretty strong message: this guy has decided that, despite a relationship of mutual respect and admiration (he even recently told me how proud he was of me for accomplishing so much at my age), that we are no longer worth his time.

Naturally, I'm quite hurt.  I like this guy, I really do.  Granted, it's been a long time since I've really had a good conversation with him, but I am still shocked and stunned that our friendship has dissolved so quickly.  I sent him a message wondering why he saw fit to delete me so suddenly, and all he told me was that he had had enough of my "sophomoric drivel." 

To make matters worse, he's playing the victim in this whole thing.  I can still see his Facebook wall, and he has people comforting him with biblical platitudes about how "God doesn't believe in atheists," as though what my wife and I were doing truly constituted harassment.  If anything, he might be shaken up about the fact that I'm an atheist, but I also don't believe that's any call for him to outright dismiss everything I say, especially in light of the good relationship we used to have.

Thanks for reading this far.  I'm just upset that I lost a friend today, even though I did what I could to salvage the relationship.  Is it possible for two people who are so outspoken about their very different views to get along?

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I'm a big fan of being honest to myself and others. I'm not really willing to sacrifice my own integrity to remain friends. However, I'm also willing to look past religious beliefs, since I don't think such a label should completely summarize a given person.

Sadly, he doesn't see things the way I do.

Thanks for the reply, Jeff.
What deplorable behaviour from them; Jesus certainly would not have behaved that way. I really don't see why it's so hard for fundies to respect other people's right to hold different opinions. I guess the best explanation is that he was probably afraid that being friends with a well-spoken atheist would be detrimental to his faith.
I have run into too many people already for whom "WWJD" is just a mantra of convenience.
I have also had Christians that i have "debated" with on facebook, delete me. I think its because they are scared, and deep down they know that what you were saying make sense. So they just try to hide and run from it.
I think it is possible if you both retain respect for the other person. Unfortunately it sounds like your friend allowed his lack of respect for your atheism to become a lack of respect for you, and to me that makes having a relationship impossible.
I think it's also a difference in how we view the level of priority religion should have in a person's life. For me, even though I wind up talking about religion a lot, it's a very minor factor in my opinion of people. I have plenty of religious friends, and I'm okay with that because they are cool people. However, Joseph is a man for whom religion is life. It appears that, by contradicting his religion, I'm denying the very reason for his existence.
This seems like a case of "I have new friends now and I can't be embarrassed in front of them." I wouldn't doubt that he was pressured by some of his friends to delete you.
If he were really Christian, he might have tried to continue a civil conversation in order to 'save' you.
I know the type you speak of very well, the ex-con, biker for Jesus, etc.. You didn't lose what you think you lost. Trust me. You may feel upset about the lost friendship, but you really shouldn't. If it was a friendship to be valued, you wouldn't be here posting about why it dissolved.
I agree, Reggie. I'm trying to tell myself that I've gotten through 99.9% of my life without his friendship, so I'll be fine.
UPDATE: After an attempt to reconcile our differences, including telling him that I still want to be friends because of the good times we had, Joseph threatened me. Not my life, but he told me he would "take action" against me. In fact, here is the text of his last comment to me.

"You leave this "class", you've been schooled son and in your immaturity can't recognize it. I'm going to be polite this ONE time...I will say please DO NOT contact me again, for anything, and stay away from me if you happen to come across me in a public setting. Stop pestering me with your incessant little messages. If you don't, I will take action as required. I will make phone calls, etc. Don't test me. Thank you."

I don't cry often, but I couldn't help myself this time, because I just don't get it. I always thought of this guy as a teddy bear, but now he's viciously bullying and threatening me when I have not once sought to hurt him. I really don't want to let this bother me, but that's admittedly easier said than done.
That sucks, man, I'm so sorry you have to deal with someone who seems so unreasonably dedicated to being an asshole. :(
It seems like someone who has made many bad decisions in his life has made a doozey here. He's obviously not secure in his faith either. It can't withstand any scrutiny at all. I think after the deletion I would have sent only one more message. "I'm sorry your faith is too shaky to withstand any debate at all. I am sad for you and hope one day you can see this for what it is. Goodbye."

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