How diverse is your circle of friends? Are you surrounded by people of one belief system? Do you ever avoid getting to know people with vastly different opinions and convictions—even without consciously doing so? Why or why not?
I don’t understand why someone would choose to discount an entire group of people because of their belief or non-belief in deities. Unfortunately, I see this happening on both sides of the theism debate.
A Christian Perspective
As a Christian, I was encouraged to be close friends only with others who shared my values, views, and theology. Certain Bible verses were used to support the separation of one group from another:
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Message: Make sure it’s a Christian that sharpens you and helps form your character.
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
–2 Corinthians 6:14-15
Message: Christians and non-Christians are like oil and water—they don’t mix. You have nothing in common, so don’t even try.
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light …
Message: Since those godless folks are going to hell, don’t be fooled into thinking something good will come from being buddies. Stick with your own kind.
This isolationist perspective keeps ideas, conversations, and learning from flowing freely between people. When we never hear anyone else’s ideas or see them in “normal life,” we rely on assumptions and stereotypes about someone else’s point of view. If I never had known any atheists, I would never have realized that they could be moral, loving, and unceasingly kind people—and all without faith or God!
An Atheist Perspective
When I talk about how most of my closest friends are devoted Christians, I hear words of pity and sympathy. One of my non-religious friends has admitted that he probably wouldn’t have become close with me if I’d been a Christian. I observe a lot of “us vs. them” talk on twitter and on atheist sites around the internet.
I have more secular friends now than I ever did before, and I do enjoy the knowledge that no one is going to critique my atheism when we get together. But it’s not like I fear confrontation every time I talk to a believer. People are often much nicer and more accepting than we expect. In my diverse friendships, debates are rare but good discussions are plentiful.
I may be “anti-theism,” but I am not “anti-theists.” I accept and love people who hold very different ideas than I do, and we get along just fine. Why? Because there’s more to life than philosophical debates and evangelism. Friendship is about choosing to care for someone and investing time, attention, and effort to that person’s life. Being close with a friend doesn’t require us to be on the same page about politics or religion. That may add another level of intimacy, but it’s not as vital as one might think. I think feeling comradeship with those who share your views is important for atheists and Christians alike; we shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and have a great time with someone new.
What Do You Think?
Do you avoid becoming close with people who don’t agree with you on religion? Are atheists and Christians truly oil and water? Do beliefs make such an impact on what friendship is all about?