Ask Richard: I’ve Learned My Friend is a Creationist

over a year ago i moved into a new department at work and became friends with a cool guy who shared my nerdy interests. he talked about gaming and his wife and kids and i talked about gaming and my cats. he’s smart, funny, and we’ve commiserated over work together.

very recently, indirectly, i found out that he is a Creationist. it was in a Facebook post of a mutual friend referring to a local event where a Creationist had a display and was going to defend it. when i first saw that he had posted a comment, i assumed it would be something snarky like myself and others had said. but it wasn’t.

i (hopefully) haven’t changed the way i interact with him, but half the time after our normal chats, i walk away thinking, “How could he believe that nonsense!?” and being a bit upset that he’s going to pass it on to his (adorable) children. how can i take him seriously now? i try to judge people based on their behaviors rather than their religion or sexuality – assholes are assholes, they don’t need to be lumped into categories to judge them! but for some reason, though i have many religious friends (and a hardcore Buddhist dad), this REALLY bugs me, and my view of him is radically changed. i don’t like feeling this way! i just want to un-know that part about him. :/ how do i deal with this?

help me, obi rich kenobi!

Dear, uh, Leia, ;)

I’m glad that you don’t like feeling this way, and that you are asking this question. Many, many people never think twice about any inconsistencies between their claimed values and their behavior. If they think about it at all, they often come up with rationalizations for the discrepancy.

You say that you try to judge people on their behaviors rather than their religion or sexuality, and to not lump people into categories for blanket judgment. Good for you. This is an opportunity to see if you can live according to your stated values and ethics.

We are what we do. Our real values and ethics are indicated by how we act them out, rather than how we describe them. Also, we don’t find out what our values and ethics really are when it’s easy. We find out when it’s difficult.

If you want to be the person you have described, sort out your friend’s thoughts and opinions from his actions and behaviors, and sort out your thoughts and opinions from your actions and behaviors.

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.

Your friend might eventually learn of your opinions about the development of life on Earth if he hasn’t already, and then he might think the same thing about you, “How could he believe that nonsense!?” Then he will have to decide if he will be the one who lumps people into categories for blanket judgment, and he will also have to decide if even though he does not respect your opinion, he will continue to treat you respectfully, kindly and decently.

I hope he does, but if he begins to treat you poorly, then your next challenge will be to resist the temptation to reciprocate. Never base your standards for your conduct on the conduct of others. That will always spiral down to an awful level. You certainly can and should take care of yourself to avoid or defend against abuse, yet still treat all people respectfully, kindly and decently because of one single reason:

They’re alive.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • JustSayin’

    Why do we always learn these disturbing things about our friends and acquaintances through Facebook? I’ve known people for years–some of them fairly well–without having the slightest inkling about how they REALLY feel about an issue until I come across some seemingly out-of-left-field Facebook post. It’s odd.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    That seems to rather miss the point. While a large part of the problem with religious people is the stuff they do, there’s still the fundamental issue that they’re capable of believing in very silly things for very silly reasons. That tells you something about their character, and it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to be affected by in assessing how you feel about someone.

    If ‘Leia’ thought she had a friend who was smart, thoughtful and rational, it’s going to be a blow to find out that he’s actually a credulous fool. I don’t see how that wouldn’t, or shouldn’t affect the relationship.

    That’s not to say she ought to start  treating him anything other than ‘respectfully, kindly and decently’, but it’s fine to be bothered by it, and feel less warmly towards him.

    • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

      We all believe silly things for silly reasons. The difference is that mine, while you may think them silly, have the benefit of being true, whereas yours are clearly nonsense.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        There is no equivalence between an evidence based belief and a faith based belief, no matter how much the religious would like there to be. Atheism is not just another religion, and religion is not just another opinion.

        • Myhildebrand

          Wow – I know some churches that say the same.  “Ours is not a religion, it’s Truth.”  When you fight with dragons….   Be careful you don’t become as prejudiced as they you judge.

    • Delinquus

      I somewhat agree with this in that many christians i know seem naive. but i was religious up until very recently, and would hardly have considered myself naive. The biggest problme with religion is that people think their religion is fact, when in actuality no religion is true, neither is atheism. They are all opinions. One is technically true, but we have little to no way of knowing, and thinking that we know only causes hate. If people realized this there wouldnt be any wars about religion, because people would realize it’s about as stupid as warring chocolate v vanilla ice cream

      • Delinquus

        Ewan you seem to have the same mindset as very self righteous christians, and the only difference between pushy christians and pushy atheists is that it is much more understandable. They’re trying to save you from what they believe leads to eternal damnation whereas youre just trying to be smarter than them.

      • Delinquus

        Ewan you seem to have the same mindset as very self righteous christians, and the only difference between pushy christians and pushy atheists is that it is much more understandable. They’re trying to save you from what they believe leads to eternal damnation whereas youre just trying to be smarter than them.

  • Anonymous

     I think the answer to this mans letter is to accommodating.  Yes, the creationist might say one day “how can we humanists think the way we think.” But the fact is we think the way we think because it is rational. Creationism is not rational.  As an Atheist Humanist I love all people. But I’m not willing to let a chance go by to question someones irrational ideas. It’s just not good for humanity to be walking around believing in invisible magic beings.
     I would continue being friends with this person. But if your both grown up you should both be able to have a civil conversation about your worldviews. Pandering to superstition is not helping the human race.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      There’s nothing about accommodating or pandering in my response. If
      “Leia” wants to engage with his/her friend and openly disagree about
      creationism, s/he can still do that in a respectful manner. 

      “Walking around believing in invisible magic beings” by
      itself
      does nothing bad to humanity. One has to actually do
      something in the physical world in order to have an effect, good or bad.
      Yes, many people do negative things based on their
      beliefs, but not all.  This distinction between thoughts and actions is
      important, because we so often use others’ thoughts to determine our
      attitude toward them and our treatment of them, and we discount their
      actions.

      Put the shoe on the other foot: Imagine that in all your speech and
      actions, you’re intelligent, courteous, kind, generous, thoughtful and
      honest.  The only effect you have on others and on the world is a
      positive one. Everybody who knows you thinks highly of you, and they
      treat you with the same courtesy and kindness.

      Then somehow it is revealed that you have no belief in any gods, and/or
      you accept evolution as a credible theory. Suddenly several of those
      people who know you start treating you coldly, discourteously, or even
      cruelly in word and action. They assume that all of
      your character is depraved, and that all of your
      intelligence is very  low. They call you a “credulous fool.” You haven’t moved a single molecule in the
      world differently since these thoughts in your head have come to light,
      but suddenly they are treating you as if you’re a completely different
      person.

      If, as I do, you think that that change in treatment is ridiculous, irrational,
      unfair and “not good for humanity,” then be very sure that you don’t
      practice the same thing to others when you learn of their thoughts and
      beliefs.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        You’re taking an entirely utilitarian approach, that it’s only the consequences of someone’s actions that matter, and not at all their character. That’s a fine basis for criminal law, but a poor one for interpersonal relationships. 

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        You’re taking an entirely utilitarian approach, that it’s only the consequences of someone’s actions that matter, and not at all their character. That’s a fine basis for criminal law, but a poor one for interpersonal relationships. 

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Ewan, sit perfectly still, completely alone in a room. Without moving a muscle other than breathing, “be kind” to someone for 30 seconds. Then “be cruel” to someone for another 30 seconds. 

          You can’t, can you? All you can do is think kind thoughts or think cruel thoughts.  Sitting there just thinking, none of your interpersonal relationships are affected in any way. Just because neurons are firing in different patterns in your brain, they make no difference in the real world. You can’t “be” kind or cruel unless you do kind or cruel.

          Yes, it’s entirely utilitarian. All human interaction is entirely utilitarian. Love and hate have no reality without loving or hateful  actions. You have to move muscles in order to have interpersonal relationships and to change those relationships. You have to move your jaw to converse, move your fingers to type on a keyboard, move your arms and legs to work for a better or worse world,  vote for a bill or a candidate, or teach a child science or superstition.

          Thoughts will not tip the most sensitive scale. By themselves they have the same effect on the world as no thoughts at all.

          We are what we do, not what we think.

          • Velvet

            I kind of disagree here. If you think something, this affects you, which in turns affects those around you. Maybe your exercise here wouldn’t do that much, but other things definitely can. You can experience things in your mind, even in dreams, that make you think, feel, or act differently, — and religion does that.

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              I’m learning how very difficult it is for many people to stop conflating thoughts with actions. They are not the same thing. You cannot affect people around you until you act on a thought. That is a completely separate step that you do not have to take. You stop yourself from acting on your thoughts all the time. It’s called impulse control, it’s called forbearance, it’s called good character.

              Your character is not defined by your thoughts. It is defined by the persistent pattern of your behaviors. Without actions, your character has no body. It is like a ghost. You cannot, just by thinking, have any character at all, good, bad or otherwise. You must take action, and the actions you habitually do give your character its solidity.

              Just about everybody who frequents this site is a very thoughtful person. We really value thinking, but it is a mistake to put thoughts as primary on the throne of our values.  When we do that, the importance of actions, our own and those of others, fades into the background.

              This is how theists most commonly slander atheists. They have put belief, a form of thought, as supreme on the throne of their values, and it matters nothing at all to them what our actions are. They judge us as lowly merely because of our thoughts.

              Do not do the same thing!

              • Velvet

                This is why I said I ‘kind of disagree’. I don’t deny actions are important and matter in the end, but without thought, where would we be?

                • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

                  Without thought, we’d be extinct. Nobody’s suggesting that we not think. Thinking is great. Do it often, carefully and deeply. Just don’t get married to any of your thoughts. Don’t become emotionally attached to them.  If we do, then they ossify and lose their vitality. If we do, whether those thoughts are rational or not, they begin to imprison us. Have thoughts, but don’t let them have you.

                • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

                  Without thought, we’d be extinct. Nobody’s suggesting that we not think. Thinking is great. Do it often, carefully and deeply. Just don’t get married to any of your thoughts. Don’t become emotionally attached to them.  If we do, then they ossify and lose their vitality. If we do, whether those thoughts are rational or not, they begin to imprison us. Have thoughts, but don’t let them have you.

              • ABH

                Beliefs are not the same things as thoughts. Beliefs are suppose to be core values that influence how you behave and help guide which thoughts you will allow to take action and which thoughts you will control. When those stated rules for how you feel you should behave are irrational and immoral then people should have the obligation to treat you according.

                • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

                  Beliefs and thoughts are made out of the same thing, neurons firing in repeating patterns. Beliefs are just thoughts that people are even more attached to than their other thoughts. They have more emotional investment in keeping and protecting those thoughts. 

                  But if you’re going to treat someone  negatively only because you learn that they have a belief, “irrational” or not, and NOT because of actual actions they have taken, then you are just as much a thought bigot as a fundamentalist who treats well-behaving atheists with contempt just because of their thoughts.

                • ABH

                  Being bigoted against something like race that has no effect on how a person acts and wasn’t chosen by that person is clearly wrong. But being bigoted against a chosen code of conduct is completely rational. I’m not going to let someone who has expressed a belief that it is OK to beat children watch my kids; to imply that I’m somehow in the wrong for believing someone when they state a belief is ludicrous.
                  Noone has expressed any intention to “treat him negatively” but that is far different from choosing not to associate with someone. Friends are suppose to be people who you enjoy spending time with. Not people you spend time with because you feel guilty that you no longer enjoy spending time with them.
                  If their claims about atheists were true (eating babies, no morals etc) then christians would be right to avoid us. The whole point of the argument is that those “thought bigots” are straw manning us and NOT accurately representing our views.

              • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

                Your character is not defined by your thoughts. It is defined by the persistent pattern of your behaviors.

                I think this is the fundamental point of disagreement here. I would say that someone’s character is their thoughts, their beliefs, their state-of-mind. The actions that you observe reflect that, but in a limited fashion.

                In this case Leia now has a better understanding of her co-worker’s character than she did before, and doesn’t like it as much as she did.

                I think that’s fine – a classic re-assessment of a belief in the face of new information. The guy doesn’t have to be doing anything particularly offensive as a result of his silly beliefs for them to be a significant feature of who he is.

        • MTran

          As usual, I’m a bit late to the party…

          But I’m trying to understand what you mean by “character,” a quality that is usually demonstrated or described on the basis of what a person does and the consequences thereof, not on a state of mind.

          Perhaps you could tell me about the character of a friend’s grandmother. 

          Tom’s grandmother survived World War II. She was a very devout Catholic who believed that Jews were tricky, money hungry, and probably going to hell. Yet she saved several Jewish families while living in war torn Poland by hiding them in her basement until they could escape in her family’s trucks among shipments of produce. 

          Was her character in her beliefs or her behavior? 

          BTW, I think you may have some ideas about criminal law a bit backwards. The *intentions* of a perpetrator are key to the definition of many crimes, e.g., they can distinguish murder from manslaughter. Litigation focused on *consequences* is more often key to  certain civil disputes that rely on concepts of strict liability.

      • Anonymous

         I agree that thinking religiously does no harm to the individual. But it does help to spread and keep the irrationality alive, well and prosperous. Prosperous enough to have pull in our secular govt’.

         Putting the shoe on the other foot was part of my original disagreement. There is a huge difference between me questioning their superstition and them questioning rational evidentiary conclusions. You may disagree with me from the christians point of view. But the fact still remains it is quite different to take something on faith than it is to take something on facts.

         Also, why shouldn’t we be able to have civil debates about our differences. You and I are. And I’m not trying to change your mind. I just respectfully disagree with you. If we don’t talk about it irrationality will continue have its hands in our govt’, our schools, our military and anything else it can get its hands on. I find no problem with striking up a conversation about religion with any one. The only feathers I wont ruffle are the elderly.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Where in any of my statements have I said or implied that we should not have civil debates? 

          Respect is not reticence. Courtesy is not consent.  Manners are not muffling. Yes, you and I are doing exactly what I’m talking about, what I value the most, conversing with mutual understanding as the primary goal, rather than agreement as the primary goal.  Only on rare occasions does someone change their view to agree with another.  The rest of the conversations are not wasted if understanding was accomplished.

          • Anonymous

             The thing is what I hear you saying here is basically just ignore the fact that this individual is a creationist.  I think instead of waiting for the subject to come up, just bring it up. I personally could care a less if the guy thinks I’m cookoo. I know the facts. And I can tell you from personal experience that I have discussed my world view with all my religious friends and family. Some people have pushed me away and some people have accepted me. I feel much better to be out than hiding.
             As I said, although I disagree I respect your opinion.

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              samsalerno, you’re not hearing what I’m saying correctly, you’re still hearing what you’re thinking. For the third time on this page: I am not saying “be accommodating” or “don’t have civil debates,” or “just ignore it,” or passively wait for someone else to bring it up. 

              I’m making the the distinction between basing  your treatment of someone solely because of a thought in their head, and basing your treatment of them solely because of their actions. Choosing to focus on actions as the criteria  has nothing to do with being accommodating, obsequious, passive, secretive, or naive.

              If you want to take the initiative to get in there and debate with creationists, great! Go for it. That will be a real-world action that you will take. You should be judged and treated according to the qualities of that action rather than the content of your thoughts. Will you be treated by that criteria? Quite possibly not, but that doesn’t matter.  Just don’t use the thoughts-only criteria in return. You don’t think it’s fair when that is done to you, so don’t do it to others.

      • Joshua Fisher

        “Put the shoe on the other foot: Imagine that in all your speech and
        actions, you’re intelligent, courteous, kind, generous, thoughtful and
        honest. 
        The only effect you have on others and on the world is a positive one.
        Everybody who knows you thinks highly of you, and they treat you with
        the same courtesy and kindness. ”

        There is a problem with this comparison. It is highly unlikely for a person to hold creationist beliefs and have only a positive effect on others and the world. First off, it is almost a certainty that the creationist will pass his beliefs off to his children, handicapping them intellectually.

        Also, if this person is able to believe in creationism in the face of modern science, it is likely that he will also blindly accept other decrees from the bible without question. For example, he likely believes that homosexuality is a sin. Even if he does not treat LGBT people badly to their faces, he is likely to vote against their rights.

        I am not saying that these assumptions are certain. People are complex and it is entirely possible that this one person breaks the mold. But it is not unreasonable to start questioning previous assumptions about this person based on this piece of new information.

        To Leia:

        I think the best thing to do about this situation is to discuss it. Tell your friend what you have learned and how it makes you feel. Tell him that you like him and care about him, but that finding out that he holds these beliefs frightens you because of your experiences with other creationists and because of the other things that belief in creationism implies.

        It is best to be honest and clear the air. Let your friend know what you believe and why you believe it. If you do not discuss this with your friend it will continue to hand over your heads, and it is naive to assume that it will not affect your relationship.

        Of course, there is the possibility that this will be an insurmountable difference. Discussing this could lead to the end of your friendship. But if it does, the friendship is doomed anyway. If your friend cannot accept your beliefs when you approach him, he will not be able to accept them when he finds out on his own.

        I wish you good luck. Hopefully your friend will not carry the typical christian attitude toward unbelievers. I hope that you can find a way to overcome this difference and continue your friendship.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Joshua, however likely it is for a person to do an objectionable real-world behavior based on an objectionable thought is beside the point that I’m trying to make. Yes, the person quite probably will teach his kids the myth he was taught, and possibly set them back. That is a real-world behavior. Yes, he may have other thoughts that often go along with creationism such as that homosexuality is a sin, and,

          Even if he does not treat LGBT people badly to their faces, he is likely to vote against their rights.

          How he votes is a real world behavior. It is an action. It affects others. Our judgment and treatment of him should be guided by the actions he takes rather than strictly by whatever thoughts go on in his head. Jumping to the conclusion that judging him and treating him in a poorer way is justifiable just because of the likelihood that he might take such actions is not wise or fair.  I’m not saying that you have to be naive. Be vigilant for objectionable actions, surely, but wait for real-world confirmation in his observable behavior rather than prejudicially assuming the worst. 

          The Golden Rule talks about doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. It doesn’t talk about doing unto others according to what we think about what they think.

          Your advice to Leia is well stated. Putting the cards on the table or any other kind of “coming out” decision has its advantages and its risks, so s/he should weigh it carefully. Since that would be a real-world action, Leia would hopefully execute it in a way that keeps his/her integrity, yet still practices respectful treatment.

          • Joshua Fisher

            To be clear I never said that treating him poorly was justified. Judging a person is a thought that goes on in our head. Frankly, one we have little control over. How we react to that judgement is very much something we can and should control. My point was that it is perfectly reasonable and fair to have reservations (in your brain) about a person who holds these beliefs. I think that you can see from my original post how I believe “Leia” should act (in the real world) on those judgements.

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              Joshua, I think we understand each other and we basically agree. Thank you for your patience and courtesy. 

  • ABH

    “i try to judge people based on their behaviors rather than their religion or sexuality”Religious beliefs ARE peoples behaviors. Especially if he plans to indoctrinate his children in his anti-scientific view. I’d say the inconsistency that you are experiencing is built into your beliefs; not in how you are practicing you beliefs.What a person believes is not isolated from how that person behaves. Be learning this new information about your friend you’ve discovered that they are capable of being deeply irrational. You shouldn’t ignore this new information but decide if it is something you can accept or not. How much does religion permeate the rest of his life and do you foresee future conflicts between that and your own life.We all have to accept that no two of us will believe exactly the same things; so instead we need to decide which beliefs are heinous enough to warrant ending a friendship. Not pretend that beliefs are unimportant in being friends.

  • Mrs. B.

    At my last job I worked with two men who were very devout, but walked the walk as well as they talked the talk. They were kind, gentlemanly, and treated me with as much respect as they would have treated anyone of faith, even though they knew of my atheism.

    One thing I found interesting was that as I questioned them about their interpretation of the Bible, and pride being a sin (in relation to being competitive in sports, if I remember correctly) and other topics pertaining to their religious beliefs, they admitted to not readily having answers but, and here’s the interesting part, they claimed I was actually religious, even if I didn’t realize it, because I spent so much time contemplating moral issues. I found that extremely sad in that they inherently believe that atheists have no moral compass.

    Anyway, my point is that hopefully by knowing me they learned that atheism is not about rejecting morality, just as I learned that not all deeply religious (yes, one of them was a creationist) folks are preachy, closed-minded and judgmental.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    I have several Young Earth Creationist friends.  They are all Muslim.  The way I have handled it has proven successful at maintaining a sense of integrity while also remaining friends with them.

    I told the straight up that I thought they were wrong, that the science sounding reasons their Imam has told them about are misinformation and should they wish to discuss it with me in detail I would be more than happy.  To date they have all turned down the offer to discuss it but they respect that I have a different point of view and now we spend our time discussing other things without ire.

    I know that with or without my friendship and company they will have those same views, and presumably there is little I can do to prevent them from sharing/indoctrinating their views with their children. 

    Very occasionally we get close to the subject and I maintain my unapologetic opposition to their Young Earth or anti-science positions.    They respect (at least so I believe) my honesty and forthrightness.

    Of course, all this takes place in meatspace where reassuring smiles, glints in the eye and friendly winks can all be employed to soften the blow.  I have no idea what the correct ‘netiquette’  is for dealing with this over Farcebook, or dealing with information revealed on Facebook in real life.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    I have several Young Earth Creationist friends.  They are all Muslim.  The way I have handled it has proven successful at maintaining a sense of integrity while also remaining friends with them.

    I told the straight up that I thought they were wrong, that the science sounding reasons their Imam has told them about are misinformation and should they wish to discuss it with me in detail I would be more than happy.  To date they have all turned down the offer to discuss it but they respect that I have a different point of view and now we spend our time discussing other things without ire.

    I know that with or without my friendship and company they will have those same views, and presumably there is little I can do to prevent them from sharing/indoctrinating their views with their children. 

    Very occasionally we get close to the subject and I maintain my unapologetic opposition to their Young Earth or anti-science positions.    They respect (at least so I believe) my honesty and forthrightness.

    Of course, all this takes place in meatspace where reassuring smiles, glints in the eye and friendly winks can all be employed to soften the blow.  I have no idea what the correct ‘netiquette’  is for dealing with this over Farcebook, or dealing with information revealed on Facebook in real life.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    You should treat your creationist friends as you would any friend with an intellectual disability. http://nathan-lee.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/familyguyaverageretardewb5.png

  • http://www.shadesthatmatter.blogspot.com asmallcontempt

    For all the people on the thread who say that Richard is too soft on this Young Earther: if you have to be aggressive about going after religious belief and superstition, how can we LIVE with people who have them?

    I have plenty of young-earthers in my family, but it’s not worth my time to fight with them over our Thanksgiving dinner. It probably wouldn’t change their mind, and it would ruin my dinner.

    If they want to approach me and have an honest discussion about it, then peachy. I’m happy to oblige. At the moment, I am working on cultivating relationships with the openness and trust that would make just such an exchange possible. 

    Because here’s the weird thing about knowledge: you have to want it. By focusing on the real-world actions of the individual instead of his/her silly, unjustified beliefs, it helps to foster attitudes and situations where real, significant changes can occur. It’s easy to attack creationists online, but it’s much more difficult when it’s happening in meatspace (lol, I love that).

    To the writer, I say keep on keepin’ on. Reinforce your own beliefs and don’t compromise, but don’t go out of your way to shred his/her creationist argument. I think the success of the discussion will depend on how much listening will happen therein, and if you make a big stink of the creationist thing, I think the amount of listening will lessen.

  • Guest

    I commend Leia for being uncomfortable with religious discrimination.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    The problem is that you can’t evaluate religious beliefs as if they’re formed by means of consistent, rational thought.

    If you do, you end up reasoning like this:

    1. This person believes X,
    2. Only a moron could believe X,
    2. Therefore this person is a moron.

    Or worse, when you get to issues like God’s Old Testament prophets giving their followers permission (orders, even) to rape the underage children of people they murder,

    1. This person believes X is morally good,
    2. Only a monster would believe X to be morally good,
    3. Therefore this person is a monster.

    Or when you get to issues like eternal damnation,

    1. This person believes that cosmic justice requires my infinite conscious agony,
    2. This person must be filled with a hatred towards me that exceeds that of mere worldly bigots and hate mongers.

    The problem with all of this is that religious beliefs aren’t actually what they claim to be.  They’re not consciously held, rationally followed, consistently adopted beliefs.  They’re something lesser- something that can be picked up and put down as needed, in order to live one’s life.

    What you have to remember with regards to religion is that its NOT REAL.  Its not real for you, and its not real for them.  So religious beliefs have to adapt to the fact that they’re not real- they have to become something that can be “believed” even though its not actually true, and even though they don’t accurately reflect the world.  Usually this comes in the form of strict compartmentalization, heavy rationalization, and confusing “belief” with “suspended disbelief.”

    If it helps, try to imagine believers as live action roleplayers who believe that its morally wrong to break character, and who fear community sanction if they’re caught admitting that they’re not really vampires.

  • Laura Lou

    Richard, I feel like I understand your point. (“Don’t let his thoughts affect your relationship with him.”)

    My question is, what if Leia then discovered her friend’s thoughts are affecting his actions? If Leia discovers he is taking action against gays, science, or something else (possibly in the form of voting), what then?

    In that situation, I’m not sure civil discussion would be a good idea; it might just aggrivate the disagreements and hurt their friendship. So what can you do when you know your friend is acting on bad beliefs, religious or otherwise? I ask because I’m in a similar situation myself.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Laura Lou, if Leia discovers confirmed objectionable actions that the friend is taking against others or society like the ones you’ve proposed, then Leia will have a much more valid set of reasons to alter his feelings toward the friend, and to possibly adjust the relationship. Civil discussion about it might or might not be constructive. It might or might not result in the friend softening or even reversing his behaviors.

      I can almost guarantee that uncivil discussion will not be constructive. Rancor almost always galvanizes people, setting them more deeply into their viewpoints, and it greatly reduces the chance of you ever being able to appeal to them in a civil way later.  To argue effectively for reasonable thinking and respectful treatment, demonstrate it right there in how you present your argument.

      In a situation like yours, you have to decide what you want, such as continuing the friendship with something not discussed, or getting things out without agreement as a goal,  or trying to persuade them to a different opinion, or trying for persuasion while keeping the friendship. You have to consider  what your strategy and approach might be,  what the cost or risk of cost will be in your approach, and how much work and/or aggravation it is worth to you.  It’s complex, often difficult to predict accurately, and often a bumpy, messy process. Sometimes it can look like the friendship is irreparably damaged, but sometimes things can heal in time. 

      If you couch your honest disagreement with your friend in your sincere desire that your friendship can somehow survive, your friend might be moved to try for the same “rising above” your differences.  I hope it works out well for both of you.

  • Anonymous

    I think there might be a clue as to Leia’s discomfort in the first part of the letter “became friends with a cool guy who shared my nerdy interests.” The letter-writer self identifies as a nerd and felt especially able to relate to this guy because he was a nerd too. Holding science in high regard and appreciating the value of evidence are both very prevalent in nerd communities. It’s quite likely that Leia highly values them and entirely reasonable that she was shocked and unsettled to find that someone she saw as a fellow nerd held such breathtakingly ignorant views on a scientific topic. It’s not that this friend did some horrible thing, but that this new information flew in the face of all the assumptions Leia had made about him and caused her to question how well she knew him.I generally agree with Richard in that you shouldn’t let this break your relationship, as long as you find him to be respectful of you and others.

    However, beliefs tend to come in bunches, not individual  units. I understand he’s a coworker and so not all topics of conversation come up, but it might be interesting to know a little more about his beliefs. How does he feel about gay people, and their civil rights? What about nonbelievers? Are you out as an atheist to him? Hey, maybe he’s the sole Unitarian Universalist Creationist in America and he turns out to be a sweet teddy bear mostly-nerd with an unsettling gap in his understanding of the world due to a more religious upbringing. In that case, I wouldn’t hold it against him. However it is something of a warning flag, and maybe some (gentle, discreet!) investigation into his other views is in order.

  • Velvet

    I have absolutely no problem whatsoever in thinking poorly of someone for their religious beliefs in that department of their life. It seems completely natural. Treating them poorly, cussing them out, or discriminating against them does not follow from having a poor opinion of them.

    Why shouldn’t people ‘discriminate’ against someone in terms of friendship? I wouldn’t want to be friends with a creationist. I could be friendly to them. I would probably think they’re trying to be a good person, which they probably are. But to be friends with someone like that? — I mean, it obviously depends on how they act and how you can handle the situation, etc.  I probably wouldn’t think about it too often if the person didn’t mention it to me or post about it on Facebook all the time, but there is nothing wrong with saying you don’t want to be friends with someone like that.

  • Annie

    “Never base your standards for your conduct on the conduct of others.”  This is such important advice, and, if followed, would solve a great deal of problems in the world. 

    As a teacher and a mother, I always tell children that they have no control over the thoughts that pop into their heads, but they do have control over how they act upon or speak out about those thoughts.  The roads we all travel to get to this very moment in time are so varied, and so it is impossible to judge someone else’s belief system.  I know I do this often when I look at “Christians” as a whole… or any other group, but when you are talking about an individual, you have to look at them as a person first.  I thought Richard’s advice was spot on.  I hope “Leia” and his friend can both continue to enjoy each other’s company.  And I imagine his friend saw his posts too, and may be as uncomfortable as he is.

  • adm54321

    I would agree with Richard and consider being a little less proud of ourselves for our own rationality.  I wonder how many of the commenters have a lucky Red Sox hat or some kind of “magical” ritual that they know is foolish but they do anyway (like a certain knock at the door or a way of counting stairs).  Irrational beliefs are not just tied to religion or OCD.  Even those of us who eschew religion or homeopathy probably have a few “magical” skeletons in our closets. 

    Would you want to be judged by your least rational thoughts?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      I want to be challenged on my least rational thoughts so that (hopefully) I can get past them.

      That’s part of how I got out of religion after all. The fact that I was cherry picking and creating a “wouldn’t in be lovely” world was hidden in my blind spot unconsidered until a co-worker asked “you don’t really believe that do you?”

      Without that, I shudder to think how much longer (if ever) it would have taken me to wake up.

  • Kieran Mc Kevitt

    Well, my mother is a creationist. She is a nurse and is very good at her job. From an early age we’ve known that this isn’t a topic we’ll have with each other. She never stopped me studying science encouraged me all the way, proud that I’m a botanist and proud that I am pursuing a PhD. In all this time, only rarely does this topic pop up and neither of us press it. 
    In other words you can have a great relationship and friendship with someone without agreeing on everything including on evolution. Do you want a friend or do you want to be right? If it comes up be ready, have information to give them and just say you disagree with the creationist view and this is why. Then leave it. 

  • MartyM

    I have a similar situation with an old college roommate of mine.  I’ve always known that people believed the genesis story, but I had never been approached with how “scientific” is it.  My friend brought me the Kent Hovind video series on the weekend of my wedding.  He was my best man.  Admittedly having not heard some of the arguments, I took a look into them.  Then I took a look into the counter arguments from actual scientists.   This kicked off a fire storm and I’ve been involved in reading books and blogs about this culture war for the past four years.  I’ve been to Creationists talks and Darwin exhibits (recommend The Evolving Planet exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago).

    Through all of this my attitude toward my friend has changed in the same way as described in this post.  I don’t talk to him much anymore (mostly because he lives out of state and we just haven’t kept in touch).  Though I’ve never brought up my experience and the things I’ve learned about creationism to him I feel very disconnected from him now.  More than ever.  All of this moved me to leaving my Chruch which he probably doesn’t know about either.  I’m not hiding it, but it just hasn’t come up.  Maybe someday it will and we’ll hash it out one way or another.

  • anon atheist

    I
    think you are taking the separation of thoughts and actions too
    seriously. Since we can’t read other peoples minds and if we exclude
    the possibility of reading a private diary the only reason why we
    know somebodies thoughts is because this person took action. This guy
    defended creationism on facebook. Now you can argue that this did not
    cause any harm but it was still an action. Secondly beliefs not only
    cause people to act but also not to act. And not acting is often
    equally relevant as acting.

     

  • Anonymous

    This is roughly how I felt when an ex-girlfriend told me she believed in a “higher power”. I silently thought, “How could she believe such nonsense?”. People surprise you all the time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      maybe you shouldn’t have kept that thought silent.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I can see that I should not have stressed the difference between thoughts and actions to try to make my point. It’s too fine a point, and too prone to distracting misinterpretations.

    What I should have said to Leia is the following.  I’m certain I’ll be saying it again in another post, because there are so many letters expressing Leia’s dilemma:

    Work harder at finding your commonalities with people than you work at finding your differences. If you can get past your irritating differences, you’ll find that you have far more things in common, and those things are far more important.  What precious opportunities for alliance, friendship and love we spurn just to seize upon a justification to demean, belittle and disparage another in their entirety.

    Where is the rationalism in such an imbalance?

    • Mrs. B.

      I agree. Taken to its logical conclusion, if we are to “unfriend” anyone who holds an opposing moral view than we do where does that end? Should animal-rights vegans avoid contact or friendship with anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs? Should pacifists-at-any-price avoid friendship with anyone who doesn’t believe the same thing? What a boring world it would be for me if I only spoke with people who believed in exactly the same things that I do.

      That said, yes, I do seek out secular, politically progressive, intelligent people more actively as friends, but I would certainly not exclude anyone who didn’t fit all of those criteria. In fact those are the people I have had some of my more spirited conversations with – those who disagree with me on many issues. There is a give and take in conversations with them that just won’t happen in a conversation with someone who believes the same things that I do.

      The only person I will write off automatically is one who won’t remain civil.


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