Meeting My Girlfriend’s Religious Friend

Meeting My Girlfriend’s Religious Friend July 8, 2015
That moment when your girlfriend tells you to post that funny post, but she hasn't read it.
That moment that your girlfriend tells you to post that funny bit, but she hasn’t read it.

I have a confession to make: I have a girlfriend who is a lapsed Catholic. That may not sound abnormal for many of you. After all, many atheists are in long-term romantic relationships (or are married – sorry about that, I’m freshly divorced after twenty years) with believers, and it works for them.  What makes our dyad function is that she is more lapsed than Catholic. She left the Church out of pure unadulterated disgust in the way the sexual abuse of minors was covered up and perpetuated by the one true Catholic-hypocritical industrial complex.

Strangely enough, sharing a mutual disgust for the morally reprehensible is a kinda turn-on for me.

But I digress.

She is for all intents and purposes an agnostic. She probably believes in some higher power/supernatural power, and I’m OK with that. Even though I am a rhetorically red-meat atheist — I don’t self-censor what I think about religion around her – she laughs at my faithless-based jokes.

There is one faith-related problem on the horizon for us, however. While she has no issue with me being an atheist, she does have a friend whose husband is a devout believer. I’ll just refer to him as Bill. It’ll be easier to use a made up name for this guy than to keep writing Oh, I’ve heard he’s a nice guy once you get past his dislike for atheists bullshit.  It has been reported to me that Bill is one of those sage fellows that like to spout pearls of wisdom like “What’s it like to date someone who has no moral center?”

Yeah, Bill is one of those guys. And it looks like the four of us (Bill, his wife, my girlfriend and I) are destined to sit down and dine together at their place. Destined may be a strong word, but his wife and my girlfriend are very close so it’s natural that we all mingle together. Good times, right? She and I will head over to their house and there will be dinner and maybe a bit of wine. (I’ll bring my flask. Wine is nice but my heart yearns for stronger spirits.) There will be porch sitting. There will be conversation. It will be a perfect evening.  What could go wrong?

When I say everything that could entail I am so upset with you, Andy. It doesn’t matter how right or funny or extremely attractive you are we are not having sex.  OK, maybe I embellished what my girlfriend would say, but you must understand the potential danger I am walking into.  Sure, I could walk into that dinner and by the time the baby spinach salad with vinaigrette dressing is done I could have carpet bombed Christianity into the stone age (granted, not too difficult,) and maybe done so with an entertaining use of hand puppets (useful when explaining God hardening Pharaoh’s heart during the Exodus story). However, that would put me into the dangerous zone of no sex for Andy. There’s the extra negative that I would be the first out-of -the-closet atheist this guy has ever met (from what I hear) and that my job is not to confirm his bias that all the godless are jerks.

I am developing a policy on this topic. I believe that having a policy position on these potentially volatile social situations (other policies include how I answer when asked “You’re not religious, but you are spiritual, right?” and what I told my kids about religion when they were very young) makes sure I’m not caught off guard.

I have a few thoughts on how to minimize the damage before the get together even happens:

  • Setting realistic expectations by informing my girlfriend on what kind of jerk I can be. When we are together I talk about my kids, working with people who have disabilities, and my writing. To tell you the truth, I’m not in jerk mode when I’m around her. This is good. She does understand that there is a difference between my good-natured deconstructing of religion and me ripping into faith. So far, she has seen the former, but not too much of the latter.
  • Maybe going out to dinner in a restaurant is a good idea. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Bill is less likely to say something bigoted and narrow-minded if we are out in public. From my personal experiences there is a smack talking multiplier effect (a willingness to speak out loud all those ill considered thoughts) that occurs when a person has home field advantage.

Bill is sure to pull out the Atheists have no moral center card. I’m pretty sure of this because bigotry is fairly banal and typically boils down to variations of: They want to have sex with our women; Just look at how dirty they are; Those people are just bad, bad, bad.  Here are just a few possible responses I’m considering:

1. That’s a pretty brave thing to say to a sociopath after you invited him into your house.


3. Reciting one of my favorite passages from the Bible: Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137: 8-9)

OK, I may win on points with those responses, but I’m not sure if I will win any hearts and minds. What I’ll probably go with is something along the line of “I’m sure you had the best of intentions when you thought that little gem up.”

It won’t be as fun.

Maybe I’ll use hand puppets to liven it up.

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  • valleycat1

    Here are a few other possible approaches:
    Just as I do not appreciate people assuming they know everything about me if/when they find out I am an atheist, nor do I feel that one word defines everything about me, I do my best not to do the same to others as well, particularly regarding how religious they are. So instead of anticipating the get together in terms of meeting your gf’s friend’s super religious husband, look at it as getting to know two people who mean a lot to her and finding common interests.
    Do not assume that religion and atheism have to come up in the conversation; perhaps your gf and her friend want to just get together socially for a pleasant couples’ evening out. There are plenty of other topics and ways of finding common interests instead of making this a huge issue or causing a discussion to escalate.
    Try some deflecting responses to any overtly button-pushing comments instead of pushing back. The first option you came up with could work, if said with a sense of humor and you think the rest of the group would take it as a joke. Or simply say that by his comment you can see the two of you do not see eye to eye regarding religion and for the sake of friendship why not just agree to disagree and save any heavy discussion for later (if ever). Or, since you are apparently meeting the guy for the first time, ask him some honest questions about his beliefs, IF the topic arises organically from the conversation, and do not assume he is going to attack you or that you need to attack him. Or just have an obvious subject-changing comment ready about something innocuous like the weather, recent sports, movie you plan to see next, upcoming event in town, etc.

  • cassandraoftroy

    I’m tempted to suggest that, if he does come out with one of those “pearls of wisdom” about how awful atheists are, you should treat it like he’d just told an embarrassing and un-funny racist joke. Don’t argue with his statement or engage with its content at all — just react to the fact that he said something blatantly bigoted. “Wow. That was a pretty awful thing to say. I don’t know why you’d say something so hurtful.” Or just give him a look like he just took a shit on the tablecloth, and pointedly change the subject.

    • That’s a good suggestion. I have a lot of facial expressions that communicate “…like he just took a shit on the tablecloth.”

  • Artor

    A Jewish friend of mine has a set of finger puppets representing the plagues of Egypt. You could get a set of those for your demonstration.

    • I’ve only seen pictures of those finger puppets, Artor, and you’re right, they would amp the presentation up quite a bit.

  • chemical

    Tricky situation. After careful consideration, I have prepared a response.

    Appeal to humanity. If the issue comes up I’d say “According to God / the bible I’m hellbound. You should have nothing to do with me, yet you invited me here for dinner and a pleasant evening. If Yahweh wanted to have a dinner party with a nice couple he wouldn’t have invited me. Instead he would have sent me straight to hell, do not pass go or collect $200. That’s Yahweh’s morals on how to treat atheists. You, on the other hand, so far have acted in a manner inconsistent with Yahweh’s morals. (Note: I REALLY hope for you this remains the case.) You made a conscious decision to treat me better than Yahweh would have. So my question is, why did you choose to act in a manner inconsistent with Yahweh’s morality?”

    This question forces ‘Bill’ to consider where he gets his morals from, and why they differ from morality in the Bible. It may help him come to the realization that he isn’t deriving his own morals from the Bible.

  • resetplz

    If–and only if–confronted by a comment or criticism for my atheism, I’ll quickly and politely reject it with a knowing head shake and a very matter-of-fact dismissal of it as self-evidently untrue. Much as how one might react to someone suggesting that Africans have smaller craniums or that the moon landing was faked. You know the type… Then change the subject, as if unaffected.

    When you appear conspicuously confident that you hold no uncertainty about the topic, that you don’t seem concerned with anything they might have thought to use, and you’re armed to quickly refute notions without seeming to *engage* (or of even wanting to engage) the other, they usually get the message, become wary, and stay off the subject.

    I’ve also sometimes reminded religious people who might react, aghast, to my atheism that I have many religious friends who are perfectly tolerant, congenial and friendly with me. Being adult about it.

    And yes, I HAVE had those loud arguments about religion–sometimes even with close friends–and while I’ve never been quite as aggressive or intolerant of childish logic as I might be on social media, I’ve found that it invariably leads nowhere. Best, then, not to get involved in it at all.

    • I think you’re right with being confident in atheism and treating it matter of factly. At the very least l like to identify publicly as an atheist in the hope that in some small way I’m undermining the stigma that the godless face.

  • ZenDruid

    If “Bill” is Catholic, you can tell him that his priests erroneously informed him that his native ethical conscience is untrustworthy. They saw fit to replace a nominally good conscience with a “moral” system that ignores crimes against children, and refutes the intrinsic value of humans lacking penes.

    I know “right” from “wrong”, without the smoke and mirrors, song and dance, bells and whistles, and I’ve been a non-theist all my life.

    • I envy people who have been non-theists for their whole lives. They never had to work in the dogma mines.

      • ZenDruid

        Well, I was an Army brat in Europe during the cold war. We had our share of dogma.

  • HematitePersuasion

    That is a dilemma, but fundamentally

    What’s it like to date someone who has no moral center

    is an attack, meant to shame, discomfort, and establish moral superiority. Which is to say, establish superiority.

    I suppose what I am saying is that engaging with the attack allows your attacker to set the context of the debate. Engaging with him on the context of being attacked when you had thought yourself a welcomed guest shifts the conversation and context back to the real issue: his bad behavior.

    Or you could do both, hand him a copy of Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, and then engage him with about his unacceptable treatment of other persons.

    Either way, good luck with that encounter. Perhaps you’ll get a blog about it when it’s over.

  • Snowflake

    Well, I want to address two things. I do wish you luck. I would love to hear how it went. For my sanity around some family, I keep my mouth shut.

    The other is why did god harden Pharaoh’s heart if god wanted the Jewish people free? That’s crazy.

    • Crazy in a category of crazy all its own.

      • Snowflake

        You know. I still try to understand the bible. I want to understand this stuff. It just does not make sense.

  • JedRothwell

    Here is how I would respond.

    If he says you have no moral center, I would say without rancor: “That is silly and rude. It is not polite to talk about religion or politics at the table, so let us change the subject.”

    Suppose he refuses to change the subject and he keeps harping on religion. You make agreeable noises for a while, “uh, huh,” but you say nothing. Whisper to your girlfriend that you intend to leave as soon as the meal ends. When you finish eating, you put the napkin on the table, stand up, smile, and say politely: “Thank you for the delicious dinner. It has been nice meeting you. Goodbye!” Then you go. Do not argue. Do not hang around. If they ask why you are leaving, just nod and say “well, well . . .” as you go.

  • Otto

    Bill is sure to pull out the Atheists have no moral center card.

    Here would be my response… said with sincerity…

    “Doing what you are told by God is practicing obedience, not morality”

    • And that would bring the conversation to Divine Command Theory. I think the hand puppets would be very useful at that point.

      • Otto

        Yes they would…lol.

        But it would also show that you are well armed for such a discussion and that he isn’t going to run over your hand puppets with his ‘morality’ truck, and maybe, just maybe… he would realize his position isn’t quite on the firm foundation he thought it was.

        Just started reading you blog. I am interested in seeing more.

  • sezit

    Don’t argue. Ask sincerely: Do you really think that’s true? Why? (Pretend you are a researcher, if that helps you to be emotionally neutral. You can throw in a “wow…” here or there to show how inexplicable you find this.)
    And keep asking him to explain himself. If he gets defensive, you can say that he is the one who brought it up, and that it is such an extraordinary point of view that you are enormously curious about it.
    Don’t start justifying your ethics or humanity. Dont argue him with data or positions. Don’t even bother to explain your views. Make this about his beliefs, and get him to start thinking Socratically about his beliefs.

  • Explorer

    I’ve pointed out to those Christians who are quick to make morality claims at supposedly friendly functions that if they don’t see any reason to believe Jesus’ words about treating others the way you want to be treated, they are demonstrating to others that they really think the words of Jesus himself are bullshit. Since they’re okay with conveying that understanding to others, then why should others adopt being mean to others as a basis for morality?

    That sometimes leads to Socratic dialogues centering on their bad treatment of an invited guest, and if that is what Jesus taught. If not, why claim that it is the center of their morality if it is not? And so on.

    The whole “I’m really trying to understand this, so please, explain more!” vibe helps tremendously

    • That strategy could work for me. I think I can play dumb convincingly.