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 would love to say any and all of these things to him. Unfortunately, even though I know I haven't done anything wrong, I'm really worried about what he thinks he can do to me. The competitive side of me doesn't want him to think he's won, but the sensible side of me knows that it's best for me to avoid him altogether, even if it means losing a friend.
*HUG* I love you Honey! :)

You did nothing wrong. We both may never understand why seemingly nice people become horrid when their religious views are called into question. Our views are questioned all of the time, but when their turn arrives, they take the victim stance and try to separate themselves from us like we have the "mind" plague [rolls eyes]. I fear for Joseph's followers and the children who may be influenced by him.
I think we are missing something a little fundamental here. Are we to presume that because someone is a Christian, you can really expect any better treatment at his hands than you could with any random individual in the population? That Christians have some particular corner on the market of humaneness? Do you expect any kind of real morality to be exhibited by these people? The main point as atheists we should consider is that religion is a human construct, an incorrect assignment of cause to a supernatural agent (in the case of your biker friend’s god, a megalomaniacal bloodthirsty bully, someone to whom he can probably relate) and therefore is manifested by individuals that have an incorrect, distorted, and delusional world view. But primarily your biker “friend” was just your random sample of those that consider themselves Christian, no different, not morally superior (but clearly inferior in affect and intellect) than anyone else you might find in the world. As atheists we must challenge the assumption that someone’s religion will make them more moral, more empathetic, and more human. I think the primary take-away here is that if religion is false; we should not see any real difference between Christian behavior and anyone else’s. I believe this to be the case.

I have a special acquaintance in an evangelical pastor that hosts a radio call in show that I frequently listen to, and on which I have participated. His version of Christianity is a pretty compelling, very basic blood atonement and acceptance of salvation, and afterward bliss and completion…somewhat intellectually air tight (by his own standards). But the only problem is it’s not true. The man is mistaken. I have listened for over two years, and I have to say that the vast majority of callers don’t hold Pastor Dickow’s views. They can’t. It’s totally fallible, a non-existent ideal. The allegedly Christian callers might want to believe in Dickow’s god, but everything about them demonstrates that no one really outside Dickow’s circle can never really understand let alone appreciate this version of Christianity’s simplicity and its alleged power to “change your life.” The show is a continuous parade of people who want to know if their petty sins will send them to hell: several that don’t want to loosen their purse for tithing to the church, some adulterers, many with guilt over their inability to forgive. Most of these people don’t want salvation; they want validation of their immoral religious viewpoints: how are they to change their daughters’ minds when they want to date or marry Catholics, Muslims, or even worse, atheists? How can they make their kids go to church, and shame them into believing in their parent’s god? Why do they have to put up with secular workplaces? This last bunch can be one of the angriest. They have no idea why people can’t understand their uncompromising intolerance. These are god’s people, why do they have to put up with the ridicule and laughter, and more importantly the lack of belief? Why doesn’t their god do something about it?

To be fair there are a certain number of callers who seem to really be in pain and suffering, and want help. I have to say that Pastor Dickow steps up to the plate and seems to have genuine compassion. But my observation of this man’s radio show is that the vast majority of “Christians” don’t get it (Dickow’s Christ) because they can’t. They just represent the random sample of the moronic population that is our culture, full of petty preoccupations and insecurities, no more able to demonstrate a genuine ethic than anyone else. So in my opinion your Christian biker friend fits the bill. Delusional people cannot be trusted to have a norm of behavior that most secular people would find consistent enough to base a real friendship upon. We will always be disappointed by their unfairness, intolerance, unpredictability, and often their viciousness. Stick with secular humanists; you may be disappointed by these folks sometimes, too, but they might be less likely to stab you in the back.
I don't think Christians are nicer than other people, but certain Christians seem to think they're nicer than other people. I think it's far more aggravating when a person who actively identifies themselves as a Christian is a dick than when some random person is a dick because Christians are supposedly gifted with some moral superiority - a gift they themselves have claimed - so when they are mean spirited, it's not only mean it's also entirely hypocritical. The 'expectation' is there because the majority of Christians perpetuate it.
I have many religious family and friends and we have discussions not arguments.
There is a lady near me who states that Jesus took away her cancer. I did ask why he chose her and not the little girl that died of a fatal illness and her reply was that her parents must have been wicked in another life.
Now this I could not stomach. I have a poster in my window that states that In the Beginning Man made God. Funny I have not seen her for a while, so is she trying to avoid me as I always saw her pass by my house up atill then. A frfiend I do not think so. I disagreed with her and this was enough for her.
(If this reply isn't nesting right, it's because I'm at work using an outdated browser.)

Charles, I definitely agree that we shouldn't necessarily expect Christians to be nicer or more moral than non-Christians. I certainly was not meaning to imply otherwise.

My problem is that Joseph was my friend. I knew he was devoted to his religion, but he also made it public knowledge that he was also devoted to defending his "friends, family, and flag" as well. What shocks me is not so much that he showed an un-Christian attitude, but that he was so quick and willing to ostracize me after so many years of friendship. I realize this happens to people all the time, regardless of cause. Still, I just find it difficult to accept that our amicable relationship was destroyed due to a difference in religious opinion. Even worse, he actually threatened me! This is guy whom I always thought of as just a big teddy bear.

I just feel betrayed. About halfway through the 30+ comments on the thread, Joseph chimed in and said that he loved and cared for my wife and me. Mere hours later, he deleted us both and threatened me when I tried to reconcile and reason with him. I know I haven't done anything wrong, so it baffles me that I've been treated this way.

I guess what really irritates me is that I know Joseph is actually a really smart guy who is capable of deep critical thinking. More often than not, he was an asset in group projects in English classes, thanks to his insight and logical abilities. He knows how to have a proper discussion with people without using logical fallacies. And yet, like so many people, these faculties go away when dealing with religion. I'm just so disappointed.
I am sorry you are going through all of that. My best friend who I have known since grade school has recently become catholic...though she acts and talks more like a fundamentalist christian. She is very assertive of her views and brings up God in a lot of conversations, especially if I am sad about something ("It is all part of God's plan." etc etc)

She even told me the other day "well, I hope I see you in heaven" and is constantly on her high horse about her relationship with God and the church making her "wise" (at the age of 21, mind you) and a better person.

I don't know why people get so offended when we are simply stating our beliefs and our support of them. Perhaps its because sometimes, they don't have adequate responses or because they are afraid that we are trying to convert them when really, we are just asking them to keep an open mind.
Hi Samantha! I agree with your reasons for why religious people become upset about any sort of disagreement towards their religious views. It baffles me too why they tend to poorly handle criticism. If their beliefs happened to be true, they should have no problem defending those beliefs.

I hate how religion has become a taboo when criticism is involved. I find myself having to make disclaimers every time I want to talk about what I consider religious injustice or just a plain non-necessity, like baptisms and communion. Any sort of discussion I enter into is met with personal attacks because religious people tend to not know how to refute atheistic questions. For example, if I think abortion is acceptible only in extreme circumstances, like if the baby has no brain and will kill the mother if taken to term, Christians will ask me, "well have you ever been pregnant to experience the beautiful and wondrous life inside you? Why would you want to kill your innocent baby?" How shall an atheist deflect unnecessary ad-hominem tangent attacks like these without them thinking you must not have ever been pregnant? Christians are very good at setting up traps or win-win scenarios for themselves. In Brian's situation, Joseph in the end setup a trap of censorship or possible police action. I hate this and wish it would stop!

Hopefully, this "religious people can't be wrong" attitude will change the more we talk about it.


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