Saturday, July 25, 2009

Religious Friends Part 3

So I said that Steve is a perfect example of why not to be an atheist, and why not to be a theist. What the heck was I talking about? Let's start with why not to be an atheist, since that's probably confusing most of my regular readers.

Steve and I were both raised in secular families. Our parents didn't go to church, didn't talk about religion, didn't explicitly teach us anything about God or Christianity, didn't force some sort of belief system on us. So why do I think Steve ended up a Christian while I ended up an atheist? Because there was one thing my parents taught me that Steve's parents didn't: skepticism.

People have been discussing this a lot now that the new wave of atheists are reproducing. We don't want to indoctrinate our children into atheism, but most of us don't want them to be swayed by religious people either. So what do we do? I think Dale McGowen, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, has it right: we need to instill skeptical thinking into our children. You know, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime? Well, tell a kid something's irrational and you help him for a day, teach a kid how to think rationally and he'll teach himself for a lifetime. ...Not sure if that phrase is going to catch on, but nevermind.

Steve's parents were atheists, but they didn't actively try to instill those skeptical thinking skills in him. So once Steve was exposed to religion, he was easily swayed. He was told something was wrong because he wasn't religious, and he believed it, like so many people unfortunately do.

But I think the bigger issue here is why you should not be a theist.

Why do I really think Steve became religious? I can tell you with some confidence, knowing his personality, that it was because Christianity on campus gave him a sense of community. Like I said before, Steve has always been sort of nerdy and socially awkward - he doesn't make friends very quickly. He was the only person of our group to go to that university, so he was friendless for a long time. But then a student in one of his classes invited him to Bible study, and the rest is history.

I'm sure the Christian students are nice people, and that's just what Steve needed. They offered friendship when no one else did, and those sorts of warm fuzzy feelings are enough to get someone thinking that religion is the thing they've been missing in their life. Compared to Steve's home life, where his parents had a hard time making ends meet and would frequently argue, the stable, happy Christian students probably looked like the better alternative.

I should be happy that he found friends, but I'm sad that they've changed him. He's lost a lot of his wit and won't dare to crack an "inappropriate" joke anymore. He used to be an absolutely brilliant poet and writer, and now all I see on his Facebook are little poems about God. I can't help but think if he just would have gone to Purdue or IU, where many of his high school friends were, that things would have been different. Or even if he had a club for atheists or agnostics at his university - maybe he could have found a community there.

So I guess this is why I'm so upset about his conversion. I feel like it's painfully obvious that he fell into this because he's this shy guy who needed some friends, and the Christian students are looking to snatch up those kind of people. But at the same time, he's still the same wonderful friend, and I don't want to make him miserable by discussing this with him. I'm just going to leave him be.

What would you do?

This is post 2 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.


  1. Good morning from your friendly neighborhood monitor. I'll be checking in from time to time and cheering you on. Contact me if you have any questions! ( Good luck.

  2. I hope he doesn't read your blog, then!

    In the end, when it comes to people and religion, I try not to discuss it unless I know I'm among friends. I won't hide it if asked, but I won't push it, either. Pushing it is what I have seen done by any number of people, and I don't want to be in that crowd.

    With this fellow, though...unfortunately, it looks like it is affecting your friendship, and that is a true shame. But there really isn't anything you should do. We operate under the concept of a freedom of choice, when it comes to religion. And he has made his choice. He might have made it for the wrong reasons, but there it is.

    If you are correct in assuming that Steve became a Christian because he is searching for community, then he has invested in a life-long community. He might get exactly what he wants out of it, has always wanted. Perhaps you're right when you discussed his lack of ingrained skepticism, but is it not possible that he originally joined with you and your friends out of this sense?

    However...joining the Campus Crusade...that is a little scary. Because it is becoming rather more aggressive, and rather more...well, offensive, too. You might inform him that such a Crusade member would be unwelcome in your circle of friends, because while you can appreciate someone becoming a Christian in the way he did, active conversion is a fairly repulsive behaviour. I don't know, there's not an easy answer. To me, going out with that group would be a bottleneck.

  3. I don't think he reads my blog, but if he does, I'm pretty sure I've already made clear to him that I feel this way. Sigh. I mean, I still love the guy dearly, but it just kind of bums me out to see him joining CRU. I mean, CRU, really?

    Oh well...if it makes him happy, so being. I wouldn't wish misery on him just so he has the same beliefs as me.

  4. That's pretty tough, I've never had a good friend become so feverantly religious. I do however have a few good aquantinces who are strongly christian. However I was shocked about a year ago when a friend of mine at varsity, who's house I'd often stayed over at, and partied with her and her housemates frequently, saw me reading The God Delusion and started spouting creationist arguments about micro and macro evolution and the likes. We kind of drifted apart after that. C'est la vie I suppose

  5. Yeah, I know. CRU is pretty horrid. Luckily we didn't have them up here, but the Catholics were pretty damn bad. Lots of fun stories when my D&D group would take over a Student Union conference room after one of their meetings.

  6. Ugh. Yeah. There's not much that can be done there, unfortunately. It's taken four years since knowing one guy to get him into a sane level of non-obsessive Christianity.

    The other one is still obsessive. I just got him to cuss casually and listen to music recently.

    I haven't been in contact with the control group*, but I'm guessing they're still as crazy as ever.

    * the local Baptist Student Ministry. They think CRU is a bunch of snotty wussies who aren't following the True Lord.

  7. Really enjoyed this "Religious Friends" series.

    Yeah, I have seen this many times - Friendless guy get befriended then converted approach before.

    I have to admit at first I was like "Why is she upset about Steve?!?" let him be... but I get where you are coming from now.

  8. While I was going to church with my parents, I heard MANY sermons on how to convert people by becoming a community for them. 'Arguments don't work, you have to love them in." It never made any sort of sense to me, because it was basically an argument of "we're right, but we can't convince people honestly, so we just have to offer lonely people community and sell it by policing their thoughts."

    I thought it was kinda disgusting. I'm sorry about your friend. I have a friend, son of a pastor, who is hard core "believe in belief" sort of guy, but I think a year ago he was more with me on religion being dangerous. I kinda do expect him to reconvert to Christianity, we'll see what happens.

  9. You make it sound so sinister, like there are evil Christians snatching defenseless atheists in the middle of the night. Do you really blame them for offering Steve friendship when, as you say, no one else did? Would you have preferred them to ignore Steve, and leave him friendless? If this makes Steve happier, then shouldn't you, as his friend, be happy for him? And can you really blame the Christians for wanting to share what they honestly believe is the way to salvation? Christianity is evil, but most Christians are not. How can you blame them for offering friendship and what they believe is truth?

    I ask this without ever having been in your shoes. Some of my closest friends are Christians, one a former leader of the local Cru group, but they've been Christians as long as I've known them, I couldn't even imagine them not being Christian. None of my atheist friends have ever converted. Perhaps that's why it's easier for me to see this from the other side.

  10. I tried to really stress that I thought the Christians students were nice people. Like you said, they did extend a hand when no one else did. But their motive for extending a hand is what bugs me. They're taught to be charismatic and friendly in order to get more people in the group, to get people to convert. I'm sure the vast majority of them aren't consciously thinking that - I'm sure they really are friendly people. But that's a tried and true method for getting new people. My friend didn't convert because they presented a better argument for God - he converted because they happened to be nice when he needed it. And while I'm glad he's happy, I don't think niceness should dictate something as important as religious belief.


    I liked your thing about teaching a kid rational thought, so I thought I'd honor it by making it a Quote of the Day on my little blog. Let's hope it does catch on :)

  12. So where exactly do you think the problem is? With Steve for being so gullible? With the Christians for being motivated by the hope of a convert to be friendly? With human psychology for making us not be perfectly rational?