Hello, everyone. This is my first post. I'm looking for some advice. I'm quite torn.
For a number of years I've co-hosted a podcast that is similar to "Christian and Atheist" which was formerly called "The Believer and Skeptic Show" but is now called "Alarm Clock." I co-host it with my best friend, who is a staunch Christian. So far, though, the format of the show has shied away from the predictable Crossfire-like confrontations, and instead we've spent more time going after the problems we see in our own respective communities. He'll spend a lot of time talking about the frightening and ridiculous hold of right-wing Protestant fundamentalism in the country and I frequently criticize our own community for its extant racism and misogyny (yes, alas, I'm sorry to report that these things indeed exist).
We are united by a generally progressive political world view and we often format the show around the "same conclusion, two vastly different ways of getting there" idea.
The problem is this. He's my best friend. I have a great deal of personal affection for him. He's had a very, very difficult life. He is congenitally blind and grew up in an abusive family. When you say that people are using religion as a crutch, that's him, and very obviously so. Over the years, I've tried rather gently to explain my own divergence from his view, but he keeps hoping I'll come around because I too am his best friend and he wants us to be pals forever in Heaven.
The other reason he absolutely will not give up his faith and see anything resembling reason is because he honestly seems to believe that Jesus is going to cure his blindness. There's no hope, at least not with today's standards of modern medicine. He's told me as much--- that I'm going to eat my words the day Jesus cures him. And that he will see forever in Heaven. I once pressed him on this because I felt like it was a "be honest or cop out completely" sort of moment, and I told him, yes, I believe one day he will see. But it will be because of the advances of medical science. That, I believe, is his very best hope to see. And who knows? Maybe someday science will be able to reform his disfigured optic nerve. I don't know enough about it to say.
He is also going through an enormously bitter divorce from an abusive soon-to-be-ex-wife. So this is very much not the time to kick him while he's already down. Our podcasts mean a lot to him, as does the camaraderie we enjoy putting the podcast together. Heretofore, we thought we were doing a good thing, "modeling respectful dialogue between disparate world views" and all that.
Here's the problem. The more I immerse myself among *like-minded* people, the more contempt I feel for religion itself. All of it. The less and less I feel like modelling anything resembling respectful dialogue. I listen to the Brass-Knuckles approach of a show like Scathing Atheist and, to paraphrase one Barry Goldwater, in my heart I know they're right. I'm very sad to admit this, but I am beginning to feel contempt for my best friend's oh-so-sincere, oh-so-reasonable-seeming religiosity. There's a part of me that would never want to take away his hope that Jesus will make him see again. But there's another part of me that respects him quite less as a mind because of that patently absurd belief.
Ours is a productive partnership. We write a lot of music together that has nothing to do with religion. But on the podcast, as long as I'm dealing with my partner with kid's gloves instead of going after him like a pitbull, as long as the goal of the podcast is to "model respectful dialogue," I feel like I'm just an accommodationist tool. And oddly enough, he thinks that the bare-bones line of challenge that I bring to his views on the rare occasion that I feel the show needs a little punching up--- he thinks he can't even handle that much satisfactorily in defense of "his side." He has no idea--- none--- what he'd be up against if I unleashed a fully prepared, ready-to-rumble Rob Gross up against his piety. But I don't want to do that to him. It would be kicking him when he's down. And it might also be a bit of a bait-and-switch, since I *agreed* to the "modelling respectful dialogue" premise.
I suppose I'm framing a false dichotomy--- it's not a choice between being milquetoast or being absolutely savage--- but the more I immerse myself in the atheist community writ large, the more savage and contemptuous I feel of this obvious absurdity that captivates the minds of most people on earth.
In the larger picture I worry about what my contempt for religion will mean for our friendship long term. I get very tired, very weary, of trying to keep up that "respect" muscle in my brain that is eroding while the "contempt" muscle builds larger and larger. I know I don't want to lose this friendship. But I also don't want to cave in to *anyone's* demands that I pretend to be something I'm not--- that "something I'm not" increasingly becoming someone who is more "tolerant" of religious perspectives.
Do people go through phases where they feel more contemptuous and less tolerant of the religiosity of their friends? I mean, is this a common thing? I find myself quite surprised by this, that I'm feeling this way suddenly for the past few days. It's sort of new to me. My friend isn't *trying* to convert me, but he does *hope* I'll one day "see the light," if you see what I mean. But he respects my boundaries.
Yeah. That resonates with me.
It sounds like your Mormon excision was a good procedure! (And let's not forget Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction whilst memorializing cinematic kooks.)
>If we are going to criticize religion for being intolerant, we can't be intolerant. If we criticize religionists for excluding others, then we should accept one another. If we say the "us/them" dichotomy of religion is bad, then we should try to avoid that dichotomy.
Words of wisdom, Daniel. I agree with you completely on this, but unfortunately it doesn't blunt the horns of Robert's dilemma. At issue here is the notion of truth. I rationalize or justify my tendency to STFU around people I otherwise respect who are believers by considering it's not the case that "we" have "the truth" and "they" don't.
A formalist approach would hold that there isn't any ultimate truth "out there" to which some understandings are closer than others. There are only interpretations. Any "argument" over belief v. non-belief is unwinnable without a completely voluntary change of perception on the part of one or other of the parties involved, i.e. a new interpretation. I can get way out there on a wave on contempt for "stupid beliefs," but I always try to remember that the stupidity is just part of my interpretation, not a corner on the market of reality.
But would you really be open to discussing the pros and cons of different axes? ;-)
I too am very selective with my friendships. They don't have to be atheists, but they have to not be the kinds of people who would drop their jaws flabbergasted at the mere invocation of the word.
It seems to me that you're ready to come out as you are. You've hidden a big part of your opinions in order not to offend your friend, but the friendship crumbles because you cannot honest about yourself. And what ís your friendship? Part of it is pity, part of it is contempt... what about the rest, what can you do? Make music together must be possible, but the podcast perhaps not. Your friend is tolerant to your opinions, but only to a certain point. You are tolerant to his opinions, but contempt comes in. How much and how long must you lie about yourself in order to save the friendship?
Many questions and no answers. This has been my way to work at the problem, and I'm still not sure that it was a good way. I always lost people, however hard I tried. I usually accept people, except when they push religion at me.
He never pushes religion at me. The problem is that he can't understand how it is someone could look at his belief system and find it ridiculous. Even though he acknowledges that he himself has trouble defending his own views. He *always* retreats to "Well, there are still many things I don't understand about religion and I'm still learning" when confronted with an obvious contradiction. He always retreats to the position that there *must* be some reasonable and logical explanation for the contradiction--- there just has to be--- and that he is the one falling short of comprehending it. He never once entertains the possibility that it's the religion itself that's ridiculous, and it's starting to drive me absolutely nuts every time he does this.
The other thing I'm getting at that I want to query here, in general:
How does the community here feel about "Christian and Atheist" type formats that try to model "respecful dialogue" between the two camps? Is it a good ideal to which to aspire? Is it just accommodationist time wasting? Something in between?
Something in between, I think. I like the attitude, but so far I've never seen a xtian who is ready to put his ´one and only truth´ in the fridge while honestly discussing the middle ground. And of course xtians cannot understand someone looking at their belief and finding it ridiculous - they WON'T understand that, for fear of losing their religion. And their one and only truth and their fears make a discussion unbalanced and lopsided; there's little chance that something fruitful will come of it. I tried discussing with my parents and their church. They never came beyond the conclusion that I was a lost sheep in satan's claws.
I get the idea that not many people here have had much experience being surrounded by *particularly bright* theists. My friend is not stupid. Neither is the composer I'm writing my book about. That's all the more reason for why I feel so much contempt sometimes--- I think, "you're so otherwise smart; I can't believe you believe this crap."
Of course there is much more to the religious world than Christianity. I have found indeed that many Jews are willing to suspend their belief for the sake of an earnest argument about the "middle ground." Like I said, there is a value in Judaism to the actual intellectual grappling that one does not find in Christianity, with its emphasis on ready, unchanging, always "correct" answers.