I appreciate your site and respect your opinion, so I have a question. Do you have any suggestions for maintaining a friendship with people we really like but who are fundamentalist Christians. For example, when we visit them for dinner they say grace, etc. They make reference to creationism and speaking in tongues. Is it possible, in your view for atheists to be close friends with fundamentalists, or are we deluding ourselves and better off cooling it with them?
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Friday, February 09, 2001 3:01 AM
I almost married one (and still would drop everything except my work just to be with her). But the relationship unfortunately ended over matters that have nothing to do with religion. It's hard, but it can be done. This all depends on what you're willing to endure along the lines of unintentional bigotry (for example, them telling you that they're praying for your salvation, which is tantamount to saying, "We're superior to you" or "We feel sorry for you" or "We hope you finally come around to the right way" or similar indignity). You'll also want to discuss with your partner just how far you'll go in putting your foot down; that is, which behavior of theirs you will consider "crossing that line." I'm sure they'd do the same with you if you, for example, started using certain antireligious profanity or speaking lewdly or the like. Just as behavior that is perfectly acceptable among your other friends is inappropriate around them, certain behavior of theirs which is encouraged among their brethren could be considered unacceptable around you in that you may find it degrading, etc. On the other hand, you may simply ignore it like water off a duck's back, and they similarly might ignore (or even not mind) lewd speech from your camp.
The whole thing, I think, can be superficially reduced to a sort of cost-benefit analysis. If you understand this is going to be some work, and if you think this friendship is worthy of that effort (taking the risks and such into consideration), then you know which decision to favor. You also probably know the relative likelihood of your honest efforts either succeeding or coming to naught.
The really big question, since they belong to an evangelistic faith, is whether their motive for being friendly with you is to eventually see you converted (the Let-Your-Light-Shine bit).
Finally, if they only recently converted, there is a strong likelihood that this is just a phase. Sticking with them through the ordeal could pay off for both parties in a very big way.
On the other hand, if their fundamentalism is making things too hard on their friends and family (just as a problem drinker's drinking makes it tough on his friends and family), they will lose more than a few friends and just might see their fundamentalism as costing way too much (like most problems drinkers do). They might eventually reconsider their fundamentalism after losing most of their friends over it, being left with no friendships but the newer, probably more shallow friendships borne of a mutually held ideology. It's not quite as simple as that, to be sure -- nothing is cut-and-dried like that -- but these and other factors often play a role in people's decision-making processes.
Other factors could work with these to lead to a change, such as the fact that fundamentalist groups tend to be composed of tight-knit cliques that are tough to penetrate and from which one could be ostracized for the slightest infraction or at the whim of a leader or powerfully influential member. The recidivism rate for sudden and recent religious conversion experiences is somewhat high, contrary to the tirades issued by the anti-
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