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Atheist and Christian Friendships…. A History

August 23, 2009

Some folks that I have talked to, Christian and Atheists, seems suprised about how well we get along not only here on the blog, but also at Ohio State.

While on the surface it might seem that Christians and Atheists get along like oil and water, I think this is only on the surface. I have said it many times, the beautiful thing about Atheists is that they believe in an absolute truth. And because of that, we agree on a very essential thing. That’s all a friendship takes, really.

Even more, as I look at history, I know this is really not all that unsual. History is full of deep friendships between believer and nonbelievers. Allow me to give you some examples:

Ben Franklin and George Whitefield- While they were not close friends, they struck up a friendship that involved a few different conversations that we know about. They cooperated in building an orphenage and helping the poor in Georgia, which was full of destitute people. Franklin was by no means an atheist, but more of a deist. Whitefield was one of the great preachers of the Great Awakening.

George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton-Their friendship often played out in public debates, written arguments and finally Shaw saying of Chesterton, “He was a man of colossal genius.” They loved hanging out with each other and insulting each other. For example this rumored exchange between the two, Chesterton, “‘To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England.’ Shaw retorted, ‘To look at you, anyone would think you caused it”. Nothing but guy friends talking trash.

These are just two examples. It makes me realize what we are doing here is not anything new at all. But rather, a long standing tradition.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. YorkshireSkeptic permalink
    August 23, 2009 10:52 pm

    ‘…It makes me realize what we are doing here is not anything new at all. But rather, a long standing tradition.’

    Totally agree! Though i’m a confirmed atheist i have a fair few friends who are religiously active (i mean they go to church several times a week and help out at events, etc. Meeting anyone like this in the UK in my experience is quite rare!) and we get on wonderfully!

    We disagree on some issues but it’s quite fun to verbally spar and debate over the differences our various outlooks throw up. Without them, i would be more prone to thinking that ALL believers are creationist, bible-thumping weirdo’s, not just a fair minority. (i can only speak for the UK though, what’s it like elsewhere?)

  2. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    August 24, 2009 1:21 am

    90% of my friends have some sort of faith. A couple are getting a little close to the fundie side, but we are aware that there’s just certain topics we can’t talk about (the neighbors would end up hearing us as the voices start rising) and we leave it at that. My entire family is religious, and a few are offended by my one-time mention of me being atheist (I won’t make that mistake again at home).

    I’m as the confused one though since I’m a overly-liberal redneck who can both shoot and gun and hug a homosexual. Maybe I should start up a program to teach the homosexuals to shoot too and maybe chew tobacco. :-p :-p

  3. August 24, 2009 2:30 am

    In general I had a very secular upbringing, and for the most part my friends were either athiests or at least non-religious. I guess this has continued as I age as most of my friends are atheists now but I do have some very religious friends. Sometimes we disagree and like Ms. Crazy Pants says, there are some topics we just cannot talk about (I would be happy to but I find it does not work out most of the time) but for the most part we get along quite well.

  4. AdamK permalink
    August 24, 2009 2:36 pm

    Ms. Crazy Pants, how very thoughtful.

    I shot a gun once. It was smelly, noisy, and kicked and hurt my shoulder. I did not like it. Chewing tobacco is stinky, causes cancer, makes peoples mouths look asymmetrical and causes them to expel dirty spit.

    Other than causing cancer, I suppose homosexual pleasures can have some similar side effects. But the fun and love more than cancels out the downsides.

    So I fear I must decline your gracious offer.

  5. August 24, 2009 5:52 pm

    @ Ms. CrazyPants: I think someone beat you to it:

  6. Myrdek permalink
    August 24, 2009 10:41 pm

    I don’t understand why you say that all atheists believe in an absolute truth, or what you mean by it. In fact, most atheists I’ve known didn’t.

    You shouldn’t lump all of us together like we’re a religion, all we have in common is our non-belief. That’s not much of a glue to stick us together 🙂

    There are no absolutes, everything is relative

  7. August 24, 2009 10:53 pm

    Most of my friendships don’t touch on religion at all, either for or against. In fact, I couldn’t tell you what the religions of most of my best friends are. For me, these discussions are usually online in places like this, and don’t really cross over into my day-to-day relationships.

  8. David permalink
    August 24, 2009 11:12 pm

    While I agree with you the reality is much more amicable in more cases than the perception, I don’t agree that it is an essential thing -absolute truth- agreed upon that causes friendship.

    If that was the case, then practically everybody would be friends with everyone else, because there are very few people who don’t believe in some absolute truth, at least at the level of “I am here and it is now.”

    There are many mutually exclusive “absolute truths” which cause bitter conflict. I think it is more likely a matter of shared attributes.

    You belong to a religious skeptics society. We are largely a group of irreligious skeptics. Our tendency to analyze and evaluate is one possible reason we get along on this blog.

    The theistic visitors to P.Z. Myers blog, to pick a well known example, have no such tendency. They seem uniform only in being offended by the very existence of godless hordes. And the godless hordes there show less tact than we show here, possibly because here we don’t need to deal with people acting as though being perpetually offended is a badge of honor.

  9. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 25, 2009 3:01 am

    Thanks for being consistant! I really appreciat that, actually. 🙂


  10. August 27, 2009 3:44 pm

    Along the line of atheist and Christian friendships, check out the Garrison-Martineau Project, a dialogue project named after William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Martineau’s dialogues in the mid-1800s. Garrison was a Christian and famous abolitionist. Martineau worked for women’s rights and help for the poor in England, and was an atheist.

    The idea behind the project is to create dialogue between atheists and Christians with a trained facilitator so that people can better understand one another.

    Here’s the site:

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