Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Religious Friends

I'm a bit unusual in the sense that I wasn't raised religious, that I never "converted" to atheism. But I also think I'm unusual for another reason.

I don't really have any religious friends.

I don't think I did it on purpose. Even in high school, where I considered myself "agnostic" and basically didn't want to think about religion anymore, almost all of my friends were non-theists. I didn't select them for this reason: many of us had known each other since we were little kids. But when I think of my close group of friends, the demographics were something like this:

2 Atheists
3 Agnostics
1 Not very serious Wiccan (who is now an Atheist)
2 "spiritual but not religious" people

I had other friends who were liberal Christians or Hindu, but they were school friends - we never really spent time together outside of class.

I thought maybe this was a fluke, but the same thing has happened to me in college. Of my original group of friends I made freshman year:

3 Atheists
2 Agnostics
1 Liberal Christian

But I didn't grow up with these people - we just happened to be roommates. Granted, it was on the Honors Science floor of the dorm, so that probably skewed the odds...but it's like we accidentally found each other. I didn't screen the girls on the floor or in my classes to find the heathens - we just happened to clump together.

Do I think this is just a coincidence? No, I'm sure there's a rational explanation. I wouldn't say my high school group found each other because we were all religious outcasts - most of my friends were forced to go to CCD or Jew Camp or all sorts of community things where they could have made religious friends. Even with those opportunities, we accidentally became close friends with all the other heathens. I think we even encouraged each other's nonbelief to an extent. Middle and high school were times where we would discuss belief a lot (we were nerds, shut up), and probably reinforced skeptical thinking in each other.

More importantly though, I bet we're just drawn together because we have similar values. Not only are we all atheists, but we're all liberal, nerdy, slightly perverted, etc... That doesn't mean all atheists have those attributes or that no theists do, but it's a pretty good stereotype. That would also explain college, where we didn't grow up together and reinforce each others beliefs. They were already there, but overall our personalities just happened to match. But one thing about my hypothesis doesn't work: all of my atheist friends have good religious friends.

Why am I the one person with only atheist friends? Now that we have the club, it's even worse. Well, I mean, it's wonderful because I've made so many more good friends through our meetings. But now I have tons of atheist friends. I even "lost" my one token Christian friend because he became an Agnostic - I guess we're a bad influence on him. I'm not actively avoiding theists. Hell, I don't even find out a person's religious beliefs right away - how could I be avoiding them? Am I subconsciously distancing myself from theists? Or do they distance themselves from me when they find out about me being president of a club of atheists?

Part 2 tomorrow: Why this actually matters to me


  1. I wouldn't use the word "subconsciously." It seems t me that your friends share the same value - rationality.

    Among religious people, rationality isn't important. They tend to use the religious scriptures, society, community or herd mentality as the mean of perceiving the reality. As the result, a rational person will not find their conversations interesting and will naturally stay away from them. This happened to me when I grew up even though I was educated in a Catholic high school.

    After college, I worked for quite a few places. This pattern persisted. I often found religious people stupid and annoying because they are usually unable to discuss anything logical and scientific. I had to stay away from them because I just hate stupid people. They are just like organisms that has not developed a brain and has to rely on their genetically preprogrammed instinct to deal the reality. Sometimes, I have trouble to see them as conscious beings.

  2. I say random chance, and a little bit of like like matching

  3. Egoist,

    I can only assume that you also tend to find yourself in the company of non-theists. The generalization that rationality is irrelevant or unimportant to those who consider themselves religious or hold spiritual beliefs is simply untrue. There are a great many deeply religious people who hold rationality to be tremendously important. The preponderance of Christian particle physicists, engineers and biologists is just one example.

    I know many religious people, including Christians, Jews, and Wiccans. I cannot think of any of these people to whom being rational is not important, and for many, it is the source of their greatest passions.

  4. I was also always a non-believer, though I was raised in the Anglican church. (I generally viewed it as a waste of Sunday mornings.) But I have no idea what, if any, religions my school friends back in London, Ontario subscribed to. The subject never came up.

    Well, that's not quite true. I know one was Jewish, because I was invited to his Bar Mitzvah. But that was about it.

  5. Egoist,

    Like Isaac, I have a handful of Christian friends who are passionate about philosophical literature. I also know many of them who are majoring in a science course or about to graduate from medical school.

    Isn't it a bit close-minded to lump them in with the rest?

  6. Jen,

    In the past, my real friends consisted of Atheists and the one Christian friend. This is funny because he went from the Nontheist side to Christian via marriage. Until that point, I was in your shoes as well.

    Regardless, I do believe having diversity in the people you know is important to prevent groupthink. I am trying to experience that in my own life and now have a pretty even number of conservative/liberal/libertarian friends along with atheist/christian/muslim/jewish friends. I think it's positive to have that delicate balance.

  7. That's odd. I'm in Texas, so I've pretty much been the Token Atheist. Even in college, I've not been able to find another one. Most of the people who called themselves atheists were just crazy in another sort of way.

    One believed herself to be the reincarnation of a fictional character she had made up. She just said 'atheist' because it was 'more acceptable' than the craziness she spouted.

    I live with two fundamentalist Christians now. Even I'm not as pessimistic as Egoist Paul, but that may be because I've managed to at least get them to fact-check what they say before spouting out with it.