Atheists and Christians Should Be Friends

Friends

photo by Clare & James

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.
Proverbs 27:17

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 …
Ephesians 5:5-8

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?

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58 Comments


  1. Thank you so much for this nuanced and mutually-respectful take. So rare these days. As a Christian pastor, I couldn’t agree more that atheists and Christians should be friends. To be able to live peacefully even given the reality of that much difference would be a tremendous step forward for us all, if only we could make it the norm and not the exception. We Christians have an awful lot of work to do, to get our own house in order when it comes to not just ‘tolerating’ difference, but recognizing that difference is fundamental to God’s creation (which for us is the bottom line) – even when that means significant differences pertaining to belief. Christians need to trust their own beliefs without seeking external validation from being able to get others to agree with them.

    Anyway, good stuff. Peace.

  2. Interesting article indeed!

    I have a few thoughts. The first being… Friends are one thing, but what about lovers? As a staunch anti-theist, I could never find myself respecting a woman’s mind in the way that a partner deserves, if I was to find out that she believed in space god (s). I can’t help but feel that I have greatly limited myself in the area of romance. At the same time, it is difficult to watch a woman threaten her children with the promise of hell. It is very difficult to have an intelligent conversation with someone who denies evolution, or has bought into the many miss truths about science (that carbon dating is inaccurate, or that chimpanzees are our ancestors… etc…).

    I would be quite interested to hear other peoples take how religion affects these types of relationships! Removing the religious from my pool of potential partners has drawn the most severe criticisms that I have ever received in my life!

    As far as friendships go, I have had a hard time with that also. A great friend of mine of several years has adopted Judaism. As his faith has blossomed, unfortunately, so has his racism and his hatred of Muslims. As a Canadian man, born and raised in a small town, I do not think that he has been exposed to Muslims on any scale. And yet, his association with fellow Jews has bread this hatred, and Zionism. (He, by the way, is a homosexual). I have similar issues with Christians. Recently a Christian “friend” sent out a rather hate filled mass email to a great deal of people, filled with miss truths about the history of Christianity and Islam in Canada and other parts of the world. I strongly felt the need to set the record straight with some facts and realities… And this certainly had a great impact (negative) on our relatively casual friendship.

    • I understand the dissonance between a non-believer and a believer in an intimate partnership—even without taking into account “extreme” beliefs such as creationism or bigoted views about groups of people. I’ve basically ruled out a serious relationship with a devout religious person of any kind because I’m not sure we could get past the fact that we base our identities (self-worth, dreams, values, and the like) off of seemingly incompatible ideas.

      I don’t know if this seems like I’m rejecting my own ideas I wrote about; I don’t think it does. I do think people can be close and happy in deep friendships despite differences in belief. However, my ideas about love relationships go to another level of intimacy that involves a true partnership with common goals, values, etc.

    • I too agree that a difference in belief can make a romantic relationship near impossible, something I found out firsthand.

      I’m an atheist, though not an “in-your-face” one, and have a very open mind about religion and respect people’s beliefs. I dated a girl who was a devout Catholic for quite some time and it was a pretty serious relationship. We got along well, shared many interests, and agreed on almost everything except religion/evolution, which I respected that difference and assumed she did too since she was a very smart girl. Much later on down the road, I mentioned that I would let my kids make their own decisions regarding their views and not force something upon them, giving them all the information available and teaching them about different religions. It was then that I realized that I had made an incorrect assumption and found out that she couldn’t understand why I would believe in anything other than the Christian God. Once this was out in the open and she showed me that she wasn’t understanding and wasn’t willing to understand, not knowledgeable of anything other than what she had been raised with and not willing to learn about other beliefs, I knew that it would just be impossible for it to work. From that point on, it was just a downhill relationship and things ended shortly thereafter.

      There may be some possibility of a romantic relationship between two genuinely open-minded people with mutual respect for each others beliefs, but I can’t honestly imagine this happening very often. For all intents and purposes, if two people’s religious views differ so drastically, I don’t see how it could possible work.

      Friendship relationships can be accomplished despite differing views due to the different kind of personal nature of them. Being born and raised in the South, there are very few people with beliefs that mesh well with mine, but that hasn’t stopped me from making friends with religious people, it’s merely stopped me from making friends with ignorant people. Those who are religious and accepting of others have turned out to be better friends to me than most other atheists that I’ve met.

    • I think you have every right to decide to date or marry only those who share your values, beliefs, what have you. As a Christian woman, I want to date ONLY Christians, and ideally Christians who are of my specific faith community. Why? Because I dated a man who a non-believer and he tried to hinder me at every turn. Mind, it’s not all his fault. I had a moment when I was weaker in faith and compromised my stance. That was a big mistake I learned. I realized that I need to have a partner who will be supportive and encouraging in all aspects of my life, even religion, not someone who mocks, insults or tries to prevent me from practising my religion. After 7 years of not going to church (mostly to keep the peace in the relationship), I started going back and my ex boyfriend put up a huge fuss. About two months after I decided I wanted to a deeper faith committment and convert to the Orthodox Church, we broke up for good. I could no longer pretend my faith didn’t matter, and that marriage didn’t matter. I wanted both: church and marriage. He didn’t. I realized that I was in what the Scriptures call an ‘unequally yoked’ relationship and neither of us would be happy together if things continued in the way they were going. No, I don’t have anyone special in my life right now but that’s ok. Better to be alone than in a relationship that leaves you feeling unhappy and compromised, I say. If the Lord wills for me to have a husband it will happen, but until then I will be focusing on what truly matters to me…my spirituality.

  3. [quote]I may be “anti-theism,” but I am not “anti-theists.”[/quote]

    I agree. I want the theists to eventually be non-theists!

    I really only have a very few ‘atheist’ friends in “real-life” (and even fewer whom I feel comfortable discussing things with in-depth). In real-life my entire family are Christians, I know many Christians, I also have Jewish, Muslim and Hindu friends of many different degrees of belief.

    So I appear a lot more intolerant of religion online than I actually am in person. It’s my time to explore these issues in a free and open environment.

  4. The following is just my view. I’m not trying to get anyone to follow it. Yeah, I think that atheists + christians should be friends. Or, at least most of them can figure it out.

    In my life, I go to a protestant church, but, for a few years, I’m trying to figure out if christian life, or atheist/nonbeliever life, is what I’d like to do. Such as, would I be in a religion if my parents hadn’t been taking me to church since I was born? Whatever. I’ll probably keep believing in the christian god + religion, but that doesn’t mean I want to shut out everyone that is NOT a christian. I’m a guy somewhere over 25. I think being over 25 can make you less wound up about [is everybody exactly like me, or not]. [Does everyone go to a church, like I do...I don't think that my life is much bothered, that they do not]. Hmm.

    I think it’s amazing at how I can talk to people, + religion + god(s)/goddesses + non-belief, don’t come up. My dad made most of his living doing science, and he also has always been an unshakeable believer in Jesus. I think that the non-believer scientists, who worked with him, believed: the big bang made the planets, we evolved from apes + we humans made society, + that’s why people are on earth + hang out together.

    And dad’s view of the world was: Jesus made the big bang + everything,
    then [the big bang made the planets, we evolved from apes + we humans made society, + that's why people are on earth + hang out together].

    I think that’s how dad, and his fellow scientists, got along together, he + them believed in the evolution ideas + the science ideas + stuff, but dad probably didn’t talk to you about Jesus/or religion, unless you asked him about Jesus or religion.

    I also think that a lot of atheists get turned off or bullied, by some christians, that try to talk to atheists + “save the atheists from hell or hellfire”.
    I once used to talk, a lot, to a Priest who was my friend. he said to me that hellfire was a symbol that Jesus used to mean: eternal unhappiness that non-believers get, as a punishment, because they didn’t accept Jesus as their god + they are in a hell/a place that is cut off from god’s love.

    Ok, I’m not trying to convert anyone to a religion, but I am trying to tell people about my ideas from my christian church, + religious ideas can take a long time to explain.
    So, my thoughts, on the Priest’s views, are something like: If you take Jesus as your god, then you’ll live in an eternal city, where you’ll be with [a god that loves you], + get a $15,000 as a weekly allowance for choosing Jesus.
    And, the Priest’s view was: if you don’t take/worship Jesus, then you’ll be punished by being sent to an eternal city, [where you are not with a god that loves you], + you only get $5,000 a week as your allowance.
    Meaning, I think that part of the christian religion is to convince you that: If you worship Jesus as a god, then you’ll be sent to an afterlife, a place where you’re treated very well, + you get to be with a god that loves you, + ideas like that. [Ok, please don't quote me on the $15,000 + $5,000 idea, that's only a theory I was using + not [the actual words of Jesus].

    But…I think that Jesus wants his church to be an all-volunteer group. {That’s what he said that he wanted]. As in: If you want to ask someone to go to church with you, you do it politely. If that person turns you down, [then tell them the address + meeting times of your church + offer them to come to a service, if they ever change their mind]…then you drop it + let the person live their life…their way, whether they stay an atheist or whatever they do.

    * TRA blushes* Sorry about the long post…this supernatural stuff, or theories, can be complicated stuff to talk about.

    Anyway, yes, I think that atheists + christians can learn to get along + be friends…maybe not ALL of those 2 groups will learn that, but in 10 years/or a couple of decades, I think that most [atheists + christians], in the USA, can learn to get along, once we’ve learned how to respect each others beliefs/non-beliefs + learn how not to emotionally [step on each others toes].
    Have a Good Day, TRA

    Once again, I’m not trying in this post to convince anyone to become a christian, The stuff in this post is just my opinion. TRA

  5. This is an interesting post. I recently got out of a romantic relationship with an atheist man (I’m a Christian female) and I did find it to be somewhat exhausting and difficult at times.

    My mother is a devout Catholic and my father believes in a higher power, but not Christianity. I have always grown up with a great respect for people of different beliefs and have struggled with my own, until finally accepting the teachings of a nondenominational Christian church I attend.

    It frustrates me how polarizing belief and non-belief can be and I have found that being a very liberal Christian who also believes in evolution etc. that I am challenged by one side or another on a daily basis. It is unfortunate that there is not a greater respect between the various groups and I find that fundamentalism (from any group, including atheists) can be quite damaging.

    I think any time a stereotype is used against any group it can be upsetting. I notice that typically as soon as I identify myself as Christian at the college I attend, I either get an exasperated “so am I” or a concerned or even angry look from an non-believer. It is possible for someone to have a faith and not represent the negative stereotypes of that group and I wish we could all give each other the benefit of the doubt. I know many Christians have not set a good example of this either.

    My ex and I were certainly able to do this and we found we had a lot in common despite our difference in belief. One thing we had in common is that neither of us tried to proselytize or looked down on the other for a differing belief. We were both able to intelligently articulate why and how we came to believe what we do and had respect for each others answers, I feel if respect were granted more often from both sides of the debate there would be a lot less vitriol and hurt feelings.

    Despite this, dating an atheist did become a challenge for me because we had some fundamentally different world views. There were times when our debates became touchy or he would feel offended by something a Christian friend of mine would say or vice versa. I also felt that since I couldn’t openly share my faith with him (as in, I would not feel comfortable praying in front of him) that that did create a bit of a wall in our relationship.

    Personally, unless my beliefs were to change, I don’t think I would attempt to date someone with different beliefs again. I think it can work if one or both people are more neutral about what they think, or don’t really care, but if it is a big part of your life it is difficult not to share that with a partner.

    As far as friendship goes however, I absolutely think it is not only doable but a very positive and necessary experience to befriend those with differing beliefs. I feel the exposure to people of different faiths or no faiths has been beneficial to me and helped me understand others’ point of view and also challenged my beliefs and strengthened them from being challenged. However comfortable and empowering it can feel to be in a room full of people who think like you, it can also be dangerous if you are never exposed to the “other” in a positive manner. I think if you have friends of differing beliefs it can help you bridge with them rather than only pick out their differences and it can ultimately help both of you to become a more thoughtful and well rounded person.

  6. Yes, we can and should be friends with people who don’t share our religious or political views. It’s a simple matter of focusing on the things that you have in common, not the things that separate you. Focusing on differences promotes polarization, in my experience. We see this every day in our increasingly hostile and uncooperative political and legislative process.

    Having a friend on the other side, it seems to me, promotes more civility and encourages dialectic (learning from talking) rather than debate (winning or losing) and learning is never a bad thing.

  7. I find this very interesting. Yes I as a Christian believe we can and should be friends with Athiests and also respect their beliefs just as we would want the same from them.

    Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. –Proverbs 27:17

    An athiest Can sharpen another, there are plenty of good things we can learn from one another.

    Jesus was friends with everyone, he teaches us to love eachother unconditionally. God is love and there is no hate, if a christian hates then they really dont have the holy spirit in their heart and they are not following Christ.

    • Actually no Jesus was not friends with everyone. He most certainly wasn’t friends with the Pharisees..whom he referred to as children of the devil, vipers, white-washed tombs, among other not so nice terms. God is indeed love but he HATES sin..and the unrighteous. A Christian should HATE sin..basically hate the things God hates.

      • Two were at least two men who were Pharisee that were friends with Jesus. One was Joseph of Arimathea who actually arranged his burial, and also Nicodemus.

  8. I don’t think Christians and atheists are oil and water at all!!! Actually, I was raised to believe the reverse! I AM CHRISTIAN! But, my parents taught me that Jesus got along with EVERY mind set. From fellow Christians, to those who were thieves and murders. He actually spent most of his time with the “lowest of the low”. Who would worship a God that CHOSE who was worth hanging out with? I believe that those people who have created God to be this “thing” are IDIOTS! He is what he is. I’m no bible thumper, because most of the time, those people who have soured others on God, have made the rest of us SICK of their words and thoughts. I see him for what he is. Beautiful.

  9. Proverbs 27 Says “MAN” humans in general, it says NOTHING about that other human being a christian or not.
    Actually it points to the opposite direction, Iron sharpens iron usually is used in context that you sharpen yourself with a person who will oppose you.
    Kinda like devils advocate or a sparring partner.

    2 Corinthians is talking about marriage. How could you marry someone who wants to live their lives trying to fulfill their desires while you want to donate half your income to the needy and most of your time to charity work?

    Ephesians 5
    Do not be partakers. Of what?
    Immorality, impurity, covetiousness, idolatry.

    It just seems weird that you claim to be an ex christian yet this is how you read the bible?
    You don’t even seem to have read the verses before and after the ones you quoted.
    On one case with Eph 5, you didn’t even read what you posted.

    How is not partaking in immorality equating to not being friends with unbelievers?

    Read the whole book of Acts and you will see that the this is about being friends with unbelievers.
    Where Paul whilst being the number 1 persecutor of Christians was cared for by a Christian.
    Where they make friends with the pagan jailguards.
    Where thousands were coming to them.

    And those mentioned WERE NOT believers.

    The whole story of the New Testament is about Believers who go and make friends with unbelievers..

    My head hurts from the fact that you consider yourself an ex christian and yet never realized this.

    In all the new testament its all about going to the unbelievers.
    Loving them and letting them see your life.

    The kind of christianity that teaches to create a bubble around you is not the kind Jesus endorses. Probably was a group of pozers.

    Jesus says seek and save the lost
    not avoid them

    Jesus says go
    not stay where you are and turtle up

    all the disciples were going everywhere to the unbelievers

    Honestly, I’m thinking you were a godlessgirl even before you decided you wanted to be one.
    You can’t leave some place you never been to.
    You can’t give up something you never had.
    You can’t stop believing something you never did.
    You can’t be something you never was.

    What were the fruits of the spirit that you had?

    Did you spend your money to help needy people (no no the priest)
    until it hurts?

    Did you spend your time volunteering in charitable organizations (not your churchgroup)

    Now that you call yourself an atheist, do you do those things?
    Why or why not?

    Personally if your version of christianity never made you give your time and money to the homeless and the poor, I believe you were never born again.
    That is just my personal filter.
    There are other factors like people who believe they were saved but never admit they were sinners.

    How can you be saved from sin if you don’t have any ?
    That is like being cured from cancer if you keep denying you ever got it.

    There has to be a transformation.

    If you were never transformed and only called yourself a believer because you attended church gatherings and bible study groups and prayer groups.

    You were a churchian. not a christian..

  10. Wow! This could be one particular of the most beneficial blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Magnificent. I am also a specialist in this topic so I can understand your effort.

  11. Easier said than done in some cases. Sadly, I had to walk away from an atheist friend whom I’d know since the mid 1970s. Thing is, she was a Christian. We met in church, our friendship bonded over Christianity. We lost touch for a few years, and we re-met on Facebook. Now she’s an atheistic and I’m still a Christian. Things were ok until she started posting mean hurtful things about my beliefs…on my own page. When she started making comments about “zombie Jesus” I dropped and blocked her. I don’t think she was being fair. If she wants to make comments on her own page, fine, but don’t come to my page and say disrespectful things like that…because if it comes down to either her or God, I will pick God each and every time. Maybe as an atheist you can’t or won’t understand that, but that is how it is. It hurt for me to end the friendship but I cannot and will not put up with the stuff she was pulling.

  12. I do not believe that religion or lack of religion is a valid reason to treat people a different way, including friendship.

    For romantic relationships, as mentioned above, it is different. I think it is a personal decision that reflects what you want out of life. I for instance am an atheist. I could find and love a wonderful theistic woman provided that I still respected her beliefs. For me, personally, my limitation on respect is believing in the supernatural (ghosts, gods, monsters) to a certain extent. I can respect those beliefs, even though I don’t believe in them. However, once the beliefs get a little bit too crazy and actually become life-altering….they can get to the point where I lose respect for that aspect of her. For instance believing in ghosts is fine. But, actually believing you are personally haunted is a little crazy, so I would have a hard time respecting such a person. Similarly, believing in a god or gods or some other omnipotent force is fine. On the other hand believing that the words of the bible are true or god inspired, or beliving that you have a personal relationship/experiences with god or that it talks to you is a little “crazy” from my perspective and would cause me to lose respect. If I can’t fully respect the woman I’m with then the relationship is doomed to fail.

    And It may seem mean-spirited what I’m saying, but I’m just being honest. I look at christianity, scientology, islam, greek mythology, and harry potter all the same. So even a believer in a popular religion could honestly say they couldn’t respect the part of a person that honestly claimed they were a wizard, and would get their powers when they went to hogwarts in the wizard realm. For me, a person who believes they have spoken to a god is making the exact same kind of claim.

    For friendship, I can still care about my friends, even if I don’t respect a portion of them (like their supernatural beliefs). Nobody is perfect, and I don’t need to only be friends with people who I respect all potions of them. Like I don’t respect the act of doing drugs, drinking (too much), or smoking. But I have friends that do some of those. But I could never marry a woman who did those things.

  13. @Christian Lady, Are you sure she was posting directly on your page and not on her own? Because facebook will publish your friends comments in your “feed” so it might appear when you first open up facebook, even if they didn’t write the comment for you at all. I agree that she shouldn’t go out of her way to insult your beliefs unless a debate or conversation about the topic had been opened up.

    @Baggs, I know you posted over a year ago, and will probably never see this reply, but I will write anyways. What you are doing is what is called the “No True Scotsman” argument/fallacy. Apparently it’s a common argument. However it is flawed. Look it up, I’m not going to go into it. But let me say this. You have your own definition of Christianity which makes you feel good, and which makes you feel like you are the correct Christian. You are using this “true” Christian definition to judge others, even your fellow christians. Talk about not embracing love or acceptance. You’ve created this list of things that somebody needs to be to be your type of “Christian”, and you call those who don’t follow it “Churchian” not “Christian”. It’s sad enough that you have such an irrational belief system, but when you impose that belief system on others who SHARE YOUR BELIEF SYSTEM and make them feel like they are doing it wrong. That’s just so sad. At least try to accept those like yourself. No matter what you think, you are not special. You are not a chosen person, nor do you have some greater insight on how to live life that others don’t have. You don’t hold the key. No matter what “A HA” moment you had that makes you think that you have all the answers, and suddenly life is fantastic and wonderful, you really are nothing special. We are all just human. We are all trying to enjoy life. We all have the capacity to see how beautiful life is, how beautiful nature is. Plenty of people think they have found the answer ..well to everything..but…We are all the same. Can’t you see that?

  14. I dunno. I used to think that atheists and Christians could be friends. Perhaps somewhere, they can be, sometimes.

    As a Christian who has usually had predominantly atheist friends throughout my lifetime, I’ve usually been the first one to say we can call get along. Lately, I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.

    Let me put it this way: I can have an interesting conversation about religious beliefs with someone who disagrees with me. I have many times, and still been friends.

    The kind of people with whom I’ve shared those experiences- that kind of mindset- seem to be dwindling. Lately, it seems more and more atheists are taking a stance that religion is irrational, bad, a form of brainwashing, etc. Often, they are rude to me on those matters, and will never admit that I could be right about anything. ANYTHING. Heck, in conversations where religion or morals or anything comes into play, I often get talked over, or people twist what I say to show how ignorant and brainwashed I am. All whilst lauding themselves on how rational and realistic they are.

    I’m not sure anyone could be friends with someone who would treat them so disrespectfully. I’d like to say that I believe most atheists aren’t like that- if you had asked me 10 years ago, I would’ve absolutely said that most weren’t like that. But due to my experiences over the last few years, I can’t find many people like that anymore. So unfortunately, I feel that in general, while atheists & Christians can generally probably hang out & whatnot on a superficial level, they probably can’t be true friends.

    Like I said, how can you really be friends with someone who thinks you’re crazy, brainwashed, and/or irrational?

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