The ever-wise Richard Wade responds to a letter from an atheist who is struggling with how to continue to respect someone who he likes a lot and shares a lot of interests with but who has recently been revealed as a creationist. Richard replies:
If it happens between his ears, such as his thoughts, judgments, opinions and beliefs, those do not define what he is. If it happens between your ears, such as your thoughts, judgments, opinions and beliefs, those do not define what you are either. Look for his and your persistent actions and behaviors. Those are what is real in the world; those are what he and you are. Does he treat you and others respectfully, kindly and decently? Do you treat him and others that way? If so, then you are both respectful and therefore respectable people.
There’s respecting someone’s beliefs, and then there’s treating someone respectfully. You don’t have to respect his beliefs. You can’t if you find them absurd. Don’t worry about your judgments of what goes on between his ears. Judgmental thoughts are just another not-in-the-real-world thing going on between your ears. Focus on treating him respectfully, kindly and decently. I think if you concentrate on that, you will be less aware of feeling perplexed and frustrated by his beliefs. Between-the-ears stuff will become less important, and out-in-the-real-world stuff will become more important. It sounds like the things the two of you share are pleasant, and so it seems worth the effort for both the pleasure of the friendship and for the continuing maturing of your own character.
I think this has been challenging for you because you might be associating his creationist belief with some other people who share that belief, but who also have perpetrated disrespectful and unkind actual behaviors against others. If they take reprehensible actions to deliberately hurt people who are different from them, those define what they are. If they do illegal deeds to circumvent the Constitution for instance, those define what they are. If they put forth effort to oppressively deny people their rights, those define what they are. Their belief in creationism might be a big part of their motivation for those doings, or it might not have much or anything to do with it at all. People who believe in creationism don’t have to take hurtful, reprehensible, illegal and oppressive actions because of that belief, and many don’t.
I have wrestled myself, here on Camels With Hammers, with questions of how we can truly embrace and love our religious friends when so much of their belief and practice which makes up who they are is religious, and not just a particular belief that we can bracket and ignore. I recommend three posts especially for your consideration and thoughtful replies: Can You Really Love Religious People If You Hate Their Religion?, What Can An Atheist Love In People’s Religiosity?, and “How Is It Fair To Question Other People’s Identity-Forming Beliefs While Demanding Respect For One’s Own Belief-Formed Identities?”
And if you have never read my 8 part interview with Richard, in which we discuss these and many other matters, you can begin with part 1.