This week, I’ve been reading Dan Barker‘s fantastic new book Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. I’ll write more on it later. In the meantime, one particular passage jumped out at me.
When Dan finally made the leap from fundamentalist preacher to atheist, he let all of his family and close friends know that he was no longer a Christian courtesy of a letter explaining his decision.
The responses included people who wrote that he was never a Christian to begin with, that said they were disappointed in him, that they would pray for him, etc. Many of those friendships were lost.
Only a handful remained intact (or became stronger in the process).
Dan writes this about the situation:
The letters I received and the conversations that followed my “coming out” displayed love, hatred, and everything in between. Many friendships were lost, others transformed, and still others strengthened. Of all the attempted to get me back into the fold, not a single one had any intellectual impact. Although I was saddened at having discontinued some relationships, I found I did not miss them. I didn’t think I was smarter than these people were; we just chose different priorities and grew apart. I suppose it was somewhat like a divorce — even though there were good times and happy memories, once it’s over, it’s over.
I’ll tell you, this is a great way to test your friendships. Imagine doing this yourself. If you are an atheist, try telling your friends that you have become a born-again preacher. If you are a lifelong Republican, announce that you have switched parties. How many of your “friends” would stay your friends? Some undoubtedly would, because your friendship is a true horizontal peer relationship of unconditional admiration and enjoyment of each other’s person. But some of them would not, because you (and they) would learn that the arrangement was contingent on something external to the relationship, such as belonging to the same club, faction, philosophy or religion. As soon as that external link disappears, so does the artificial bond that brings you together. That’s when the friendship loses its point. But this is good, because then you know who your friends are. If they were true friends, they would have gladly accommodated your freedom of choice even if it made them uncomfortable. You can’t lose something that was not there in the first place.
Those are great questions. So let’s put them out there.
If you are an atheist, how many of your relationships would change if you became a die-hard Christian? (Would any change for the better?)
Same deal to Christians — what would happen to the bonds between your friends and family if you suddenly became an atheist?