The Confusion of Having Theist Friends
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10-09-2011, 09:26 PM
RE: The Confusion of Having Theist Friends
(10-09-2011 07:40 PM)Redonthehead21 Wrote:  Wow. Thank you all for the excellent replies. I knew that there was no way I was alone in this struggle and I really appreciate all of your suggestions.

I am glad that you've found these posts helpful, Redonthehead21! It's certainly interesting to hear others' perspectives on the matter. I wanted to let you know that after going out with two of my Christian friends on Wednesday (I posted earlier about our dinner conversation), I e-mailed my old teacher asking if she wanted to discuss some theological issues via e-mail because it seemed like she had been eager to. She responded by saying that it had seemed to her that I had wanted to engage in religious debate and may have been bating her and my other friend by mentioning some documentaries I have recently seen and books I have recently read. I thought I might share my response with you, in case you're at all interested. It took me quite a while to write... I've cut out some irrelevant portions and changed some names. I also have some brief explanations in brackets. But here is most of it (sorry for its length!):

"Hello,

I thought it was quite likely that you had thought I was doing what I thought you were doing... if that made any sense! Tongue

I, of course, didn't mean any offense by the child-Jesus comments. [Explanation: I had mentioned a documentary I had seen about writings that never made it into the New Testament during the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century.] I thought it was ridiculous that some people may have actually believed those writings and was wondering if you had heard about them. I made a point in mentioning that the writings were composed hundreds of years after Jesus' death so that you wouldn't think I was casting doubt on Jesus' morality. I also purposefully didn't mention the documentary I watched on conspiracy theories regarding the Resurrection because I figured that wouldn't have been happily received. I didn't mean to provoke you or get into any sort of heated discussion - I'm sorry if it seemed that way! I was just pretty excited about all that information and figured you wouldn't think I was trying to invoke an annoyed or defensive response from you unless I went on to give my opinions on the issues. I guess I can also see how my mentioning that writers often attributed their works to more prominent religious figures may have seemed like an attack on Biblical authenticity. On that issue, I think I was just curious to see if you believed otherwise.

I don't mean to sound accusatory; but I remember evolution being the first thing mentioned and thought that maybe you were trying to paint atheists in an unflattering light by mentioning their vilification of that Republican candidate and then expressing disgust at the idea that we share common ancestors with other great apes. Then the macro vs. micro distinction was made and Stephen Hawking was mocked... I had made a point not to mention anything religion-related before I arrived, but I think this opened the door to more religion-centered discussion. I had to keep myself from mentioning more than I did on the topic of evolution. I brought up some of the documentaries I had seen but withheld my actual opinions regarding most of them (e.g., that I think empirical evidence in psychology shows the 'purity movement' mentality is harmful to young people's long-term sexual health; that I think the questionable authorship of biblical books casts doubt upon the authenticity of it; that believing we evolved from monkeys shows a misunderstanding of the theory of evolution; that the theory I mentioned in the parking lot suggests man created God, who acts on a cognitive level as a product of our evolution, etc.) because I thought there was a strong chance it would incite heated discussion and seem like I was openly challenging your views in ways that may not have been appropriate. I am sorry if my opinions still managed to show through in a provocative way.

I also thought you might take my mention of the weekly Bible verses as evidence that I do not object to all of the Bible (although I object certainly to some of it). [Explanation: I had asked her to give me the weekly Bible verses that I had to memorize in high school so that I wouldn't forget them.] I do genuinely want to have those verses memorized and think that certain parts of the Bible were written with timeless wisdom and understanding - regardless of who they were actually written by! I also think it's important for atheists to hear the 'other side' before passing judgment. I am, in fact, starting to read a book called The Spiritual Brain that actually argues in favor of the existence of a soul from a non-materialist perspective. This stance on the 'mind-brain problem' is in the extreme minority in philosophical discourse; but I figured that I would be close-minded not to explore what neuroscientists from the University of Montreal have to say in response to the materialist rejection of a mind-brain dichotomy endorsed by people like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. I don't think enough people - Christians and atheists alike - fully consider the opposing group's arguments. To the Christian, the atheist's writings are spiritually dangerous because they are based on evidence instead of faith in the Bible; and to the atheist, the Christian's arguments are considered inferior for the very same reason in reverse. How many Christians do you know who have read atheist writings in the past? I certainly don't know many. And how many atheists do you know who have read religious writings at some point?

If it makes any difference, the psychology/history/anthropology of religion and religious people interests me very much, and I've been talking about it to those I am closest to all the time lately! After leaving the restaurant on Wednesday, I realized that I may be making a mistake dropping psychology because I actually get excited at the thought of conducting research in the psychology of religion and learning as much as I can about it. Wouldn't it be thrilling to someday write about what I have learned in this young, underdeveloped field? At my university, there is a PhD student starting research on the psychology of religion, so why not take advantage of this opportunity? The cognitive research I help with in the lab is sometimes conducted by him.

All right. I'm about to be very honest, even mentioning some issues I have with the Bible. Please do not take offense to what I'm about to say! ...I do not mean it as a personal attack against you!

Regarding your praying for me - I would feel more comfortable if you didn't, but I realize that that's entirely your prerogative and there is nothing I can do to stop you. It can be a little awkward and belittling to be friends with people who actually believe you are likely to go to hell and have been spiritually blinded by the Devil. People who think it's their duty to attempt to convert you on the off chance that they will plant a seed of faith that will overcome your doubt. It is often especially unsettling when they make claims that I have strong moral objections to or quote from a compilation of writings that propagates what I believe to be inexcusable messages of religious intolerance; misogyny; sexual guilt; the worship of a vain and jealous being who either demands worship or prescribes hell; a belief system which bases one's eternal destination on chance factors associated with faith; and an inherent mistrust of curiosity, intellectualism, and the feminine. Even if the biblical God were real, I would rather go to hell than worship him because I am unwilling to compromise my morals. I believe I have more personal integrity than to worship a god out of fear of punishment. It is, indeed, harder to think of any greater sin against one's own self than that which entails the abandonment of those inner convictions which spring up, tender yet resolute, to root themselves in the substrate of every human psyche. It is this and little else that differentiates mankind from our fellow animals; in my opinion, to redefine one's values for social acceptance or fear of retribution is tantamount to depreciating oneself to sub-human status.

On the other hand, I completely understand what it's like to feel it is your personal obligation to save someone. I used to pray for people I knew who weren't Christians because I believed that God would not do anything to spare them from an eternity in hell if they rejected Jesus. I think I once even made up an assignment in jr. high to do at home with my Buddhist tutor requiring me to spell out how a person is born again. I read Scripture every day and was even a fan of Christian fiction. Even now, I go to church when I'm at home and sometimes listen to Christian stations on my Sirius Radio (not for spiritual reasons, but out of curiosity).

It may seem wisest to avoid the topic of spirituality all together, but it feels - at least to me - as though it's always the elephant in the room since I am so interested in the topic, and since, to a Christian, it means everything. The sad truth of the matter is that even if we spent all our waking hours debating, the likelihood that either one of us would abandon our views is exceedingly unlikely. This is because evidence cannot convince a Christian and faith cannot convince an atheist. (I hope this statement did not offend you, but I don't believe it should since Christians profess that they live by faith, not by sight. If it did offend you, I apologize.) [Explanation: as a side note, her e-mail signature has the verses II Cor. 5:7 and Hebrews 11:1.]

So where are we left? I'm unsure. In spite of some tension, I enjoyed Wednesday night, as well. I guess we'll just take it one step-at-a-time unless one of us has a better idea... At any rate, I'm glad we've received the chance to express our feelings. And thank you for the honesty in your previous e-mail.

I hope that you have a lovely weekend!

Love and hugs,

Ava_Rose"

And that's that. I'm a little nervous to hear her response but glad I was finally honest with her. It might be a good idea to clarify your views in writing if there is a person in your life who is particularly religious and sometimes tells you they're praying for your soul. Anyway, best of luck!

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
- Shakespeare's King Lear
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