Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 8.25

Most of us have friends that are true believers of one wooey thing or another.  But when is it too much? 

When do you decide that someone believes in something that makes it impossible to be friends with them? Would you stop being friends with a good friend who believed in that something? Or would it just prevent you from starting a new friendship with them?  Or are there no friendship litmus-test topics, but rather only opportunities to educate friends?

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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101 Comments

  1. I don’t think there is any belief which would stop me from being friends with someone. Mostly because I think the vast majority of weird beliefs are about equally illogical. For instance, while Wiccans’ belief in the efficacy of magic spells is ridiculous, I don’t think it’s any most ridiculous than the power of prayer.

  2. This one seems a little strange to me. I would think that short of a beliefs from hatred, such as misogny, raicism, etc. I couldn’t have some sort of hard and fast rule as too who I will or won’t be friends with. It becomes to much when spending time in their company is no longer pleasurable. In my life I have never had a friend who thought exactly in the same way as I did. But we were able to be friends because we had a good time when we hung out. If you are good enough friends you can say some pretty harsh things about each other’s beliefs. I have been the evil dusch bag atheist destined to burn in hell for all of eternity while they were the santa worshiping, easter bunny following fools with imaginary friends. Then we would get drinks and talk about other stuff. How can it be friendship if you will only be their friends if they agree with you? Or something like that.

  3. I’ve been worrying about this a lot, actually. On the weekends, I sell crap at fairs. And the people I sell crap at fairs with, the company I work for, sells hematite in the booth next to me. And of course they make all kinds of woo claims about the hematite, including that it works for migraines.

    As a migrainer, this infuriates me. I know how desperate migraines make you feel. I’ve come close to injuring myself a few times. I’ve thrown up many times. I’ve even cried once or twice. Migraines suck. And once they get rolling, almost nothing works.

    But the proposed mechanisms of hematite would be useless for a neurological syndrome like migraines. And they don’t work anyway. These people are preying on the desperate, but they don’t even know that they are doing it.

    I’ve told them I don’t buy it. And I won’t tell people that I do. And they respect that. But I’m really bothered by it all the same.

    At what point does skepticism demand some sort of action?

  4. As Gabrielbrawley said, as long as that belief doesn’t stem from hatred, bigotry, or a desire to do harm, then, no, I -probably- wouldn’t stop being friends with someone.

    I think Scientology might be the one thing that would consider my friendship with someone — mostly because it creeps the hell out of me. However, as long as they didn’t try to convert me, I could probably get over that as well.

    Honestly, though, most of my close friends have similar opinions and beliefs as I do. Sure, there are differences, but the big stuff is usually quite close.

  5. A good friendship goes beyond meaningless barriers like religious stances, if the friendship cannot survive with any sort of difference of opinion than it really wasn’t that good of a friendship. When I went to College with someone who I thought was an extremely close friend, he became smothered in the Campus Crusaders For Christ, and when I said I wanted none of that stuff, I was dropped faster than one could blink and then was replaced by someone else who actually drank the kool-aid. You see, until the point of religion came up we were great friends but only when I disagreed with it I realized how shallow it was.
    If you care about someone genuinely (not including the lame “I ‘ll pray for you” idea of caring) then it doesn’t matter what you believe.
    ~

  6. Some of my closest friends are very into horroscopes and the like. It takes all I have not to make snide remarks (especially after a few drinks), but I don’t. There’s not much I could do to change their minds, and I like them way too much to cause a fight, and I think it’s a pretty harmless belief.

  7. For me, I cannot and will not be friends with someone who is an anti-vaxxer if they have children. Part of it is that I don’t care to be exposed, and espeically to have my son exposed, to their germy kids; but part of it is also that I consider not vaccinating your kid to be a form of child abuse.

    For the most part though, I’ve found that my friends and I are all pretty like-minded, so it’s not an issue I have much (if any) experience with.

  8. I’m married to a lapsed pagan. She’s also a pharmacy tech who deals almost exclusively with conventional medicines, but she has more than a passing interest in alternative medicine, organic food, and stuff like that.

    I’ve also been exploring Buddhist spirituality and meditation rather seriously.

    I’m up to my neck in woo, sometimes literally. You could say that I’ve taken my tolerance pretty far.

    My father thinks that the moon landing was faked. And he believes in intelligent design, even though he’s Catholic, and the Vatican officially stated that they have no issue with evolution. Sometimes I think he’s just taking the opposite point of view on purpose to make conversation, but the conversation usually ends when its time to set the table.

    I know there are people out there with chronic illnesses, who are desperate, and conventional medicine has nothing to offer them. If there’s some kind of $3 junk bracelet, or homeopathic pill that’s convincing enough to let the placebo effect kick in, and let them get on with their lives, I’m a little ambivalent about ruining it for them.

    In fact, when I’m particularly ill myself, I’m occasionally able to temporarily turn off my skeptical mind, and let some piece of woo take over. On some level I know it’s a placebo effect, and if I let myself realize it, it stops working just like that. But when I’m in the right mindset, I can just sort of ‘let it work’.

    But there’s some threshold somewhere that I just won’t let anyone get away with. My wife might buy a rose quartz or hematite bracelet or ring from that New Age shop in Halifax. (Kimbo might know the place) They’re supposed to give you “serenity” or “spiritual balance” or something like that, depending on which stone it is. And as long as they’re under, oh, say, $5, and she doesn’t go and buy a dozen of them, then that’s fine. But an infomercial for a twisted copper “ionized” bracelet, for $20 or $30 a piece crosses the line.

    I let a lot of stuff slide offline. Maybe more than I should. But sometimes I think it’s a little ‘quaint’ or interesting. It’s a fine line, for sure.

  9. Extremes like devout Scientology, strict Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses would likely just make a friendship way to difficult with to many bumps on the road. The same could be said for those preoccupied with some kinds of woo that were central to their world view. I suppose it would just not be all that likely to have a friend given my inclinations with extremes of these kinds of views. Conversely there are just as likely to be some political extremes that could also make a friendship just way to much work to reasonably manage given the prospects for more relaxed friendships with others. My wife and I had some friends who we enjoyed very much and had a lot in common. Many years ago they started selling AmWay and when we told them we are not and would never be interested in “their business” we instantly became persona non grata.

    And Elyse agree wih your point regarding anti-vaxxers. It really is tantamount to child/abuse/neglect.

  10. @James

    And Elyse agree wih your point regarding anti-vaxxers. It really is tantamount to child/abuse/neglect.

    James, I think you are being to kind. It is child abuse. Same as not seeking medical treatment for a broken bone or a stab wound.

  11. Like other people have mentioned, it would take a lot, but it has happened. Racism I will not tolerate. Or any sort of “ism” of a similar nature, really.

    And I would add to that any belief that leads to the harm of others, especially children. I include the anti-vaxxers in that category, but also those parents who feed their kids inappropriate diets for their age (underfeeding and overfeeding) or who don’t give them the “Western” medicine that could cure them.

    Other than that I have few qualms. I have religious friends, we discuss sometimes but generally not. I have friends who think homeopathy is the path to greatness — that one is a little harder to not make a face at. And I have friends that read their daily horoscope.

    But they know my skepticism as much as I know their non-skepticism (about some things) and there’s a kind of understanding there that we’re all different and likely to comment sometimes. I don’t think any of is take things personally when it comes to stuff like that.

  12. Given my twenty one years of investigating child abuse and neglect my wording in these matters tends to be legally descriptive as opposed to reflecting my own personal opinion. No state I’m aware of would compel a parent to vaccinate a child if there were objections based on reasons of religion or conscious, and it is not legally considered child abuse or neglect to just choose not to. I personally feel that it is in fact neglect given the potential for serious outcomes.

  13. Bigotry will send me running in the other direction, but not belief in woo. However, if a person is very dogmatic or vocal in their beliefs and is constantly nagging me to convert or to try some stupid thing, I wouldn’t want to be around that person for very long.

  14. @Peregrine

    I’ve also been exploring Buddhist spirituality and meditation rather seriously.

    Any place I could find your reading list? Or your general direction. To date, “How to Practice” has been the only thing I really found worthwhile…much of the other stuff dives headfirst into ‘achieving enlightenment over succeeding incarnations’, though it’s possible I’m missing subtext somewhere.

  15. When I first started dating my wife, I found out that her brother is actually very racist. I thought I’d never tolerate it, but I’ve managed to be on very good terms with him. Whenever he starts making racist comments, I just give him a withering stare, and he kind of shrugs and says: “jussst kidddding”. I think it’s actually gotten the message to him that it’s NOT OKAY to make comments like that in public. Far better than if I were to get confrontational with him. But then maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

    As far as religious beliefs, I agree with the things that many others have said here. They’re all equally irrational, so what’s the difference? Although I’ll admit that I have a slight more respect for more liberal religions, such as Unitarian Universalism or Wicca, than for fundamentalist religions such as the JWs or Mormons. Maybe that’s hypocritical of me. :(

  16. My reading list is sadly a little behind of late. Mostly I rely on stuff I’ve read years ago, and I listen to the recorded Dharma talks at Audio Dharma, mostly Gil Fronsdal.

    A while ago, I was hanging out with some of the Buddhist groups in SecondLife, including, (you’re going to love this one) Skeptical Buddhists, who are heavily influenced by Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism without Beliefs. I haven’t had much of a chance to get in-world in the past year or so.

    I’m pretty sure I have “How to Practice” too.

  17. Good question. I’d like to say any belief is okay – it’s actions that count.

    But some beliefs (mostly those based on hate) are so close to harmful actions that I wouldn’t wait for the actions to crop up.

    Anti-vax is a tough one for me. Wife and I have two very good friends who, when they had a kid, decided not to vaccinate him. It bugged me, still does. They’re putting him and other kids at risk. I think they (both PhDs in science faculties) should know better.

    But I know they’re not malicious. They’ve looked at the evidence, and made their decision. Not all of the evidence, and not objectively (in my opinion). But they’ve at least made the motions of empirical investigation. Their hearts are in the right place.

    I’m still struggling with the best way to deal with this. Venting my emotions to them on the topic un-censored would do nothing but hurt feelings and damage an otherwise very pleasant relationship. Continuing to bottle it up means I’m always at least a little irritated when we chat about baby having a sniffle or bug.

    What can I say? Sometimes there are no easy answers.

  18. James,
    I’m sorry if I came off like an ass. The anti-vaccination movement drives me crazy. Not only could they hurt/kill their children they coulld hurt/kill my children. I’ve read of recent outbreaks of mumps and measles that seem to trace back to these anti-vaccination idiots. Mumps, measles? today, in America? WTF?

  19. Timothy:

    For the record, I don’t think any of the anti-vaxxers do it maliciously. I believe they are all not-vaccinating out of love and concern for their children. I have no doubt they have the very best intentions and are good people.

    However, not meaning to do any harm and actually not doing harm are two completely different things.

    No matter their intent, it is an abusive action, even out of love. I have no issues ending a friendship over it.

  20. One of my favorite coworkers is creationist, and I only figured that out after knowing him and learning from him for quite a while. And he’s a wonderful guy! So I have to think of him whenever I start to grumble to myself about creationist stuff that I read on the web.

    And most of my friends are religious. Either you avoid those topics, or if you can both have a non-confrontational conversation about it, then it’s okay. Most of them who believe in “woo” type stuff aren’t quite married to the ideas, and so I like being able to provide a skeptical viewpoint.

    Also, I have a hematite necklace. I didn’t even know about the pseudoscience, I just thought it was damn pretty. :-)

  21. It takes a lot to cause me to end a friendship. However, if I disagree vehemently with a person’s belief, they’ll rarely want to stay my friend for long. I’ve an argumentative nature, and a tendency to try to poke holes in even perfectly sound arguments. I’m sure one or two people around here have noticed that already.

    Considering the number of deeply held beliefs the average person in this country must set aside to even consider me a decent person, much less a friend, I’d be one Hell of a hypocrite to shun such a person just for knowing less about biology than I do, right? Doubly so if they’ll put up with my constant jibes at them for lacking such knowledge. I mean, if a catholic can accept that I have multiple lovers, and that my lovers also have multiple lovers (and that some of those relationships are homosexual), how could I not likewise accept that she believes in god?

    That said, I do strongly reject bigotry of all stripes. Still, I’d rather try to get someone to set such notions aside than write off another human being as utterly hopeless. I’ve known far too many people who’ve corrected messed-up thought processes for all that.

  22. I don’t know that it’s the belief that will end a friendship in my case. It’s more likely to be the behavior stemming from a whole set of beliefs.

    I’m happy to let people believe whatever they want. It only becomes a problem when they can no longer behave in a civil manner towards those that they disagree with.

    I hate to be one to quote movies, but this line from Batman Begins seems appropriate:
    “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.”

  23. Depends on your definition of “friend”… and I don’t think that’s an easy question, either. I know plenty of people that believe things which make me terribly uncomfortable. I’m friendly with them. I’m not sure I would call them “friends”. They’re not the people I think of first, when I’m planning some weekend “event with friends”.

    That said, there are a few people who have strong religious beliefs that I consider dangerous, yet I still call them friends. So, back to your question (sheesh): what would it take? I can’t draw a line in the sand, so here are some examples:

    – Belief that Bush is a good president.
    – Belief that atheists need to shut up and let America be the Christian nation that it is, or the whole “love it or leave it” bullshit.
    – Sociopathic beliefs. (No joke. I had one in my house; I subsequently banned him, of course.)
    – Sadism.
    – Belief that hygiene is optional.
    – Any us/them belief which puts me in the “them” camp. Selfish? Yes… but I’m being honest: I don’t think I would refuse to be friends with someone who thought, say, Christians are second-class citizens. I wouldn’t agree, but I’d shrug it off and change the subject.

    Would I stop being friends with a good friend who believed in those things? Absolutely.

    Are there only opportunities to educate friends? F*ck no. I’m one of those quiet atheists. If I disagree, I bow out of the conversation. (Not so online, for obvious reasons.)

  24. Considering the number of deeply held beliefs the average person in this country must set aside to even consider me a decent person

    ———-

    I can’t resist….

    Have you skeptically considered the possibility that you aren’t a decent person?

  25. I suppose I could be friends pet psychic. They would need to be very tolerant of my frequent and uncontrollable giggle fits, laughing outbursts and silent shoulder heaving snickers. Aside from that, ya I cold be friends with a smoking hot, rich, and generous pet psychic.

  26. Rystefin, you have an argumentative nature, and a tendency to try to poke holes in even perfectly sound arguments.

    : )

    Really, I was just trying to find a succinct way to say “people who enjoy violence”.

    But to answer you: maybe. If they keep it to themselves, it might not be not a problem. But I doubt it would be okay with me.

    For example, if she’s showing me Break.com videos of people getting killed and giggling… I will not be calling her back. Arguably, no one is getting hurt there, but I would not be at all comfortable with it.

    Remember, we’re talking FRIENDSHIP, here, not ACCEPTANCE.

    As long as there is no abuse of power involved, I can accept it. But that’s a gray area that gets really ugly really quick.

  27. JRice – Yes, there is a difference between friendship and acceptance. In no small part, this is because people often define friendship in startlingly different ways.

    Let’s put in a hypothetical.

    Say, for the sake of argument, you have a close friend. You’ve known this person for a number of years, and consider her an important part of your life. One day, you find she enjoys cutting on her SO with a razor. Drawing her initials and suchlike. Say, again, hypothetically, you confront her about it, and her response is to say, in no uncertain terms, that she does it, enjoys doing it, and will continue doing it. In addition to this, she will not consider a relationship in which this is not on the table. She then goes on to lament about how she feels the need to hide this from most people because it has cost her many friendships in her life, and even much of her family rejects her because of it. She explains how she never said anything to you before because she values your friendship so very highly… then she looks at you, tears in her eyes, and says “I’ll understand if you never want to talk to me again…”

  28. Rystefn,

    Without speaking for JRice, I agree with him on the sadism thing, but consider what two consenting adults do in their own home(s) to be their business, and I think S&M falls into a different category than “sadism”.

    Someone who enjoys whipping someone who wants to be whipped is one thing. Someone who whips someone who doesn’t want to be whipped and does so because (or in spite of the fact) that person doesn’t want to be whipped is another thing.

  29. But JRice already pointed out that he was talking about situations where there is a real difference in power. So a relevant hypothetical would be someone who enjoyed hurting people who didn’t agree to get hurt and didn’t want to get hurt.

  30. I’m not sure why you’re following this thread.

    But, I’ll bite (so to speak): if the SO agrees to it, it’s none of my nevermind. But I would keep my eye on her. (And her SO.)

    I’ll re-state: it comes down to abuse of power. If anyone abuses their power either systematically or dramatically, they are no friend of mine.

  31. I think S&M falls into a different category than “sadism”.

    You do know what the “S” stands for, right?

    But JRice already pointed out that he was talking about situations where there is a real difference in power.

    Actually, he pointed out that he was talking about situations where there was an abuse of power. An important distinction, because there often is a real difference in power in an S&M relationship. A consensual difference, but a real one – it is, in fact, often the entire point.

    That said, he did point out that it was a potentially ugly situation, and that there was a difference between acceptance and friendship. I’m just trying to invoke a little thought about that difference and how heavily this particular issue weighs in his mind.

    I won’t pretend it’s uncomplicated. I’m just honestly curious. It is, as some of the readers here may know, an issue close to my heart.

  32. I’m not sure why you’re following this thread.

    I follow a great many threads around here. To be very specific to why I am following this thread of your statement about sadism, that is because it is an issue with real impact on my day-to-day life. I cannot see how gaining some insight into how others see it could possibly serve me ill.

    I would keep my eye on her. (And her SO.)

    I know it’s an annoying question, but I cannot resist asking it: Why? Is it because you would be worried it would seep into other aspects of her life? Worried that it might be a sign of some other, deeper problem? General mistrust of a lifestyle you don’t quite “get”? Some other reason? I’m genuinely curious here.

  33. @Timothy:

    Venting my emotions to them on the topic un-censored would do nothing but hurt feelings and damage an otherwise very pleasant relationship. Continuing to bottle it up means I’m always at least a little irritated when we chat about baby having a sniffle or bug.

    False dichotomy. So long as you don’t lose your cool, I think in any good friendship it’s fair to challenge and argue with someone. Disrespect and insults will surely cloud the message, to say the least, and more often than not they’re false statements anyways (like you you wouldn’t want to call them stupid or idiotic, since they’re not – they are at worst misguided).

    Perhaps this is naive, but I think laying out the truth without angry embellishment is the most effective way to get somebody on the same page, if not quite in agreement.

    If that makes things worse, though, I believe that’s where I’d draw the line between friend and not friend. I need people around me who don’t mind being challenged, because then I can trust that they’ll reciprocate when I need it (which is often).

  34. I have often thought that certain beliefs or attitudes would end a friendship, though for the most part I think I have friends who fall into nearly every camp. Beliefs that are heavily woo-ish or just irrational (like racism or sexism) deteriorate my respect for the parties holding those beliefs, but often I hold on to the hope that they might learn to move beyond those beliefs.

    Then again maybe I am full of crap — in fact I think all of the people I’ve stopped being friends with had to do with their beliefs. I guess it has to do more with the extent to which the belief influences their behaviors, and what is their level of conviction to a given belief.

    I think the converse question, “To what extent would you keep silent about or modify your skepticism to preserve a friendship?” is equally interesting.

    I’m finding myself far more open about my anti-supernaturalism and general skepticism, and damn it, I like it!

  35. Have you skeptically considered the possibility that you aren’t a decent person?

    Yes.
    I keep coming back to “I don’t know.”
    Certainly I value the attributes of a decent person integrity, charity, tolerance, etc, but I have data that shows me I don’t always live up to those standards.

  36. @Josh K –

    Nobody lives up to those standards all the time. It’s totally impossible (given the elusive nature of perfection), and so those criteria are useless (what’s the point of defining “decent” in such a way that nobody’s actually decent?).

    I think a much more useful definition of “decency” is merely “a habit of admitting your mistakes and improving yourself”. Something like that, anyway.

  37. I think the converse question, “To what extent would you keep silent about or modify your skepticism to preserve a friendship?” is equally interesting.

    I agree… It is a meaningful question as well, since it pertains directly to all of us in some way. I think we all know where I stand on the whole “keep silent” aspect, being among the more vocal members of the human species most of the time, but the spirit of the question is far more interesting in this case, I think.

    Mostly, I am precisely as willing to say nothing on a subject as the people I’m around are. If a person has desire to converse with me on the subject of religion, I’m perfectly happy to leave that as it lies most of the time. I never went through the “RRS stage,” so to speak.

    That said, there are times when I will remain silent, and say nothing in contrast to a statement with which I disagree. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it is true. There are people who are far more important to me than my disbelief in god, my rejection of moon-hoax silliness, or any of that sort of thing.

    Not so very many, mind you, but they exist. There are a very, very few for whom I would pretend to convert, go to church every day, create a 9/11 truth blog, write a homeopathy book, and even donate my money to anti-vaxxers. It is, however, partly because they would not ask me to do those things that I love them.

  38. Rystefin: Would I be worried it would seep into other aspects of her life? Absolutely.

    Would I be worried that it might be a sign of some other, deeper problem? No, not some other problem: sadism. : )

    Would it be general mistrust of a lifestyle I don’t quite “get”? [shrug] This would be a difficult thing to self-assess, don’t you think? I would like to believe that’s not the case, though it’s absolutely true that I don’t get it. I understand masochism. But not sadism.

    Is there some other reason? Yes: fear. And I mean personal, physical fear. If I get on that person’s bad side… if some seriously bad shit comes down, I fear that a sadist would be capable of inflicting more pain on me and mine than non-sadists… possibly even a “polite” sadist as in our hypothetical. Like I said: I would keep an eye on them.

  39. There are a very, very few for whom I would pretend to convert, go to church every day, create a 9/11 truth blog, write a homeopathy book, and even donate my money to anti-vaxxers.

    ————–

    That’s just sad. There are people I’d give a kidney to, and people I’d gladly die for, but people I’d lie to in order to stay close to them?

  40. Would I be worried it would seep into other aspects of her life? Absolutely.

    Fair enough.

    Would I be worried that it might be a sign of some other, deeper problem? No, not some other problem: sadism. : )

    So you do hold the belief that sadism is, in and of itself, intrinsically a problem?

    Would it be general mistrust of a lifestyle I don’t quite “get”? [shrug] This would be a difficult thing to self-assess, don’t you think? I would like to believe that’s not the case, though it’s absolutely true that I don’t get it.

    A very honest answer. It is the thing I’d like to see more people doing in life: difficult self-assessment. That it is unknown, and perhaps unknowable, only makes it more worthy of consideration, I think.

    If I get on that person’s bad side… if some seriously bad shit comes down, I fear that a sadist would be capable of inflicting more pain on me and mine than non-sadists…

    A valid fear, as a sadist would almost definitely be capable of inflicting more pain. Of course, such a person would likely have the skills to do so without inflicting serious physical harm, but in some ways, that could make it more scary, not less. It surely doesn’t help that some revel in the aura of fear being a known sadist generates…

    This is a common answer to these kinds of questions, and not one easily addressed. It is, as I said, a valid fear.

    I understand masochism. But not sadism.

    Pardon me for prying, and feel free to tell me to piss off if I’ve overstepped my bounds, but this statement intrigues me… How is it that you can understand the one, but not the other?

  41. I enjoy discussing religion. I can associate with anyone, no matter what they believe, but if they’re going to bring up religion, then I will respond, and they might not want to associate with me because of it.

    As far as friends, I’m a few friends guy. I prefer a group of about 5 that I can absolutely trust. I could not trust a religious true believer to not say, “well, that’s God’s will” or “the Lord works in mysterious ways” when something bad happens to me or someone I care about. Phrases like that are worse than nails on a chalkboard to me.

  42. That’s just sad. There are people I’d give a kidney to, and people I’d gladly die for, but people I’d lie to in order to stay close to them?

    Indeed. Remember when I said that I cannot consider myself a decent person? Now you begin to see a small part of why I would say it. I’ve never claimed to be a good person. I know my weaknesses, and this is one of them. I am perfectly capable of subsuming even my own morality. Does this make me a dangerous and unstable person? I suppose it does, though I’d venture to say more of a danger to myself than to anyone else.

    However, I would add here that my previous statement lessens the horrors of such a mindstate: “It is, however, partly because they would not ask me to do those things that I love them.”

  43. I just re-read the IP and it appears that the presented issue involved a friend who subsequently to being a friend adopted a religious/woo/ideological view that one found objectionable. I think the answer would be dependent on the “severity” and nature of the belief. As a de-converted type I have many religious friends, relatives in-laws and many others some of who have titles like god-parent of my children. These religious beliefs are not in any way a determining factor in these friendships. I have had to make the conscious choice to no longer discuss spiritual/religious issues with these friends. I have found that a friendship absent the mantel of “spirituality” is difficult for many religious people; not a problem from my side ofthe fence however.

  44. Rystefn: Your question was loaded. (“indicates a deeper problem” implies that sadism is already a less-deep problem.) Admission of my ostensible implication that sadism is a problem is inadmissible! : ) That said, you seem to be looking for stark honesty. I’m good at “painful truth”! (Does that make me a truth-sadist?) So I’ll indulge you: I don’t know if sadism is, in and of itself, intrinsically a problem. I don’t have much experience with it. But I would be wary. Does that make sense?

    As for how I can understand M but not S… I was being presumptuous if I claimed to really understand it. I should have said “I think I understand…”

    I can imagine a M’ic person not only fully experiencing the sensation of pain, but also the pride that comes from enduring it …and the self-control. Pain is something that can be used for control, and when you master your own pain, you take away that means of control. I respect that.

    I can’t imagine enjoying inflicting pain, even if the pre-determined results are those ends.

  45. My question was not necessarily about religion, though it seems to be the direction most commenters have gone. I suppose it’s easily the most contentious and emotional topic we deal with as skeptics and/or atheists. But I sort of suspect that if anyone had a friend that suddenly became a bible-thumping evangelical machine, they would lose most of their friends whether friends were atheists, skeptics, Wiccan, Jewish or Lutheran. No one likes those people… except their preachers.

    What I really wonder about is, what if I met some really cool lady in my neighborhood and we seemed to hit it off and when I went to her house for the first time, she walked me to her back yard herb garden and said, “… and this is my medicine cabinet.” Could I really be friends with her?

    I don’t know.

    And I’m pretty lonely out here in the middle of no where.

  46. Your question was loaded.

    If it had been a question standing alone, it would have been, but it was merely a response I’d seen before listed as an optional answer among others. Perhaps it was a mistake for me to organize it the way I did… I was asking if it was your answer, not as a direct question of you. I apologize for the miscommunication.

    That said, you seem to be looking for stark honesty.

    That is precisely what I’m looking for.

    I don’t know if sadism is, in and of itself, intrinsically a problem. I don’t have much experience with it. But I would be wary. Does that make sense?

    It does. It is something with which you are unfamiliar and do not understand. It is only natural to be wary, especially since it directly involves inflicting pain on others. If it is, in and of itself, a problem, then it’s a problem any rational person would be concerned by. Since you do not profess to know for sure, you are concerned that it may be. Do I understand you correctly?

    I can imagine a M’ic person not only fully experiencing the sensation of pain, but also the pride that comes from enduring it …and the self-control. Pain is something that can be used for control, and when you master your own pain, you take away that means of control. I respect that.

    You understand it fairly well, then. That is an aspect of it. The only aspect to some, at least so far as they say, and I have no reason to disbelieve them.

    Please understand that I’m asking these questions because I truly want to know. It is sometimes very difficult to have discussions on the subject with someone outside of it, as I’m sure you can imagine. I recently had to help someone I care about very deeply to work through the trauma of being told by a psychologist that she was a sick, sick person who really should be locked away for her own safety because she is a masochist. Luckily, she didn’t particularly believe him, but it’s still no easy thing to hear.

    I apologize for half-hijacking this thread, but an opportunity for open discussion without hostilities is a rare thing, and I would hate myself for wasting it.

  47. DH goes to a chiropractor. Not on a regular basis, mind you – the last time he went must have been a year ago. Nevertheless, he believes that it helps with this back pain. The BFF converted to Islam 4 years ago, but still calls me 3 times a week for advice (if she goes to Allah for advice, she sure asks a lot of questions twice.)

    However, I don’t think I can be friends with people who are adamant in their beliefs. The BFF and I are still close on one condition – that she doesn’t try to convert me.

    I think it’s all about compartmentalizing our different sets of beliefs, and those beliefs don’t have to conflict unless we choose to let them. (paraphrasing Sam Harris here) The DH believes in the conspiracy theory versions of the Kennedy assasination but it doesn’t mean I have to, or that it needs to comes up in everyday conversation.

    When it comes down to it, I’m not going to let whatreallyhappened.com ruin our relationship, that that’s that. However, I cannot knowingly START a relationship with a conspiracy nut or a religious fanatic. If the person we end up loving / having a friendship with changes, the relationship doesn’t have to change, given that the person at their core hasn’t changed.

  48. Perhaps an interesting question to ask in light of this, Elyse, is what criteria people use to filter friends from non-friends.

    When I meet someone whom I consider a potential friend (as opposed to a passer-by), the very first thing I try to discern is if they are Republican. If they are, I move on. If they’re Libertarian, I’m keeping my eye on them: chances are not good. Socialists are rare but acceptable. ; ) The next thing I try to find out is if they are Christian*. If they are, they had better be really subdued about it and open-minded to non-Christians, otherwise I’m already over them.

    I should add: I don’t do this by asking directly, but by looking for ancillary evidence.

    Politics for me trumps religion… not sure why. Besides, most people on the right are also Xian, anyway.

    Actually, I guess hygiene trumps both of them. I just don’t like smelly people. Sorry, it’s a personal failing of mine. So it goes.

    I have tons of friends who are into the homeopathy thing, so I have to let that go. (My wife actually bought me some the other day! I had to sit her down and explain the whole thing… she didn’t seem too keen on the lecture, though.) It’s low on my friend-radar… Nay, it’s not ON my friend-radar.

    I guess the next level of my radar would be geekdom. Do they recognize Firefly references? Do they appreciate my quote from Big Trouble In Little China?

    If they pass those three (four, providing they don’t stink) litmus tests, they’ve got a good shot of being a friend of mine. : )

    (*Yes, specifically Christian. I haven’t met anyone from another religion that bothered me. When I do, maybe I’ll expand my list.)

  49. Elyse said “I don’t know. And I’m pretty lonely out here in the middle of no where. ”

    The human connection means a lot. I’ve mentioned some of my recent health problems previously on threads (cancer, great survival rate very fucking irritating treatment and long term management and secondary isues) My “Christian” fiends, many of long standing, have been some of the most absent or lacking in offerings of simple sympathy for my plight. My generally pagan or even somewhat wooish friends have more readily expressed some honest sympathy. So if Ms garden of homeopathic wonders was a friend or new acquaintance. the herbal wonders would not be a problem unless there was some insistence that I have to throw away my critical thinking to be friends.

  50. Honestly, I’ve found that my woo friends cut me off a lot faster than I cut them off. They don’t want to hear it. Someone who, for example, sells hematite for a living, and uses woo to do it, doesn’t want to hear that migraines cannot possibly be helped by whatever mechanism they’ve invented for the hematite.

  51. Doesn’t anyone here read Greta Christina’s fantastic blog?

    I’m a regular reader and occasional commenter. Opportunities to speak with like-minded souls I have in abundance. Opportunities to speak with the “other” – if I may be excused the expression – without malice or misapprehension… well, that’s a much rarer animal.

    Also, hematite peddlers don’t need to pitch woo to sell their shiny rocks. There will always be a market for things which are pretty and otherwise without value.

  52. Maybe so, but I’d personally be willing to pay a bit extra to get mine from a person who stood around shouting “perfectly normal hematite! Guaranteed to hold no magical powers of any kind! Enchantment free, or double your money back!”

    Of course, maybe it’s just that I spent longer working the Ren Fair circuit than was good for me, and now my head is a little messed-up inside. Probably the latter. It’s pretty unliekly anyway. I know I’d have been fired if I walked around shouting “Get your 100% aluminum blades, here! Completely unsuitable for any kind of combat! More likely to injure yourself than any foe with half of the merchandise in the store!”

  53. A 9/11 conspiracy theorist. The idea that someone could question actual events we all watched unfold live together as a culture on our televisions is just too creepy. It was years before I could watch the towers come down without getting upset. They constantly pour over each frame or photograph or quote, watching people die over and over again and listening to detailed accounts in their quest to document every irrelevant triviality. This deeply traumatic event seems to be nothing more than a canvas for a sort of twisted version of fan fiction to them.

    I’ve also noticed it’s almost impossible to talk to them about anything else. Any discussion of a subject outside their immediate surroundings or even remotely abstract will inevitably lead to a diatribe about its relationship to the conspiracy. Accidentally bring up popular music, and you’ll find out how Deathcab for Cutie supports the Bush Administration’s cover up of radiation poisoning after Katrina.

    So yea. No way I could handle a friend like that.

  54. Damn, I hate having to join these conversations so late.

    S+M and D/s don’t bother me at all, but I have zero interest in partaking of either lifestyle. Just not MY fetish. But about the transfer or surrender of power, I’ve heard from some acquaintances (I guess I can’t call them “friends” on this thread) and from some videos on the subject, that the submissive actually has the power/control.

    And of course talking about D/s invariably reminds me of the old joke:
    Why did Christ die on the cross?
    He forgot his “safe” word!

  55. Please tell me that last one was tongue-in-cheek. Vegans? What have vegans ever done to you (or to anyone)?

    Have to disagree with the Koran one. Being basically ignorant about most of the beliefs people have based on the Koran, I think it would be great to get to know a Muslim. I know for a fact that many of them support similar causes to me (see this site for example). Why do they do that? Why do some of their fellow-Muslims seem so opposed to these values? I’ll only ever learn the answers by remaining open to dialogue with them.

    I don’t know whether I could become close friends with them, but to rule out the possibility just because of a book they revere? A book whose interpretations are as varied as that of the Bible (which, remember, inspires not only Fred Phelps but John Shelby Spong)? No thanks.

    Elyse, I completely agree that the consequences of actions are important, not just the intentions. That’s why I still struggle with the best way to deal with my anti-vax friends. But to cut them off? Can’t do it. Call me inconsistent or unprincipled if you like, but if I have built an emotional bond with someone, I can’t simply sever it because they make one stupid, even dangerous or harmful, decision. I understand the desire to. Sometimes I just want to shout at them, “Can’t you understand? You’re putting your child and other children at risk, against all good evidence!”

    Maybe someday I will.

    (On the other hand, if I learned of anti-vax leanings before becoming friends, it would definitely put me off.)

  56. Bah, as usual I haven’t had time to read all the comments *yet*.

    I’d say that if I’ve just met someone, and my first impression of them includes a good dose of woo, I am much less likely to pursue friendship. But, if I get to know someone and really like them, and then find out they have weird beliefs, I can live with it, especially if we can have respectful discussions about it.

  57. Funny, even though I think most people are ludicrous for not vaccinating (I do believe there are some who have valid reasons – possible of adverse reaction, deeply held religious opposition, etc.), it has not been a deal-breaker for me. A lot of the people whose other parenting values I really share and who have come to be close friends don’t vaccinate, and unfortunately it’s something we just don’t talk about. They think I’m nuts for doing it, I think they’re nuts for not, and on we go. I guess these friendships were too important to me for other reasons to let anti-vax be a deal-breaker.

    In general I think it’s difficult to truly be close friends with someone with a radically different belief system (be it religious, or whatever). You can respect each other, like each other, but at the end of the day those closest to us are likely to line up with us in certain important ways of viewing the world.

  58. It’s not the beliefs that would make me distance myself from someone, but the level of debate about those beliefs and it affects our interactions.

    If someone holds wacky political, conspiratorial, natural health, religious, “spiritual” beliefs, and that’s all we talk about, then I wouldn’t want to continue that relationship. But, if that’s only a small part of the relationship, and both parties find value in connection, then it really doesn’t matter.

    I have friends who don’t vaccinate, and we have discussions all the time about their reasons, but it’s a small part of our relationship, so I wouldn’t cut them out. It’s hard for me to say that it’s child abuse because, while there is a danger involved, it’s still relatively small. So it’s not an immediate danger.

    Parenting and kids are always a powder keg topic. I’ve known people who won’t talk to people who don’t breast feed or have circumcised their sons, because they call it child abuse.

    In the end, for me, it is about actions and character, and not so much about beliefs.

  59. I do believe there are some who have valid reasons – possible of adverse reaction, deeply held religious opposition, etc.

    ——————

    First off, a belief in fairy tales and boojums is not excuse for putting your children’s lives at risk, and second, it’s no excuse for putting the lives of other children at risk, and third, the children most vulnerable to this sort of superstitious tomfoolery are precisely those who for whatever reason are unable to tolerate the vaccination and depend on our herd immunity to protect them.

  60. @writerdd:

    Well, *I* don’t believe in religion, but I have known people who really believe it’s wrong to use vaccines that were developed from embryonic tissue. I’m not saying I agree with it, but it’s not an argument I’m going to win and it’s one of those “do I respect this person’s beliefs or not” things. While I may not respect a particular religion’s assessment of a situation, I try to respect the people who make decisions based on that belief system so long as they accord my choices the same respect.

  61. Flygrrl:

    I’m with writerdd and sethmanapio on this one. I think there are only two valid reasons to not vaccinate your kid.

    – Your child has a medical condition for which vaccinations are contraindicated.

    – You lack access to medical care.

    God told me not to is not on that list.

  62. I guess your wording was a bit confusing. I think we assumed by “valid reason” you meant “good reason” when maybe you meant “not influenced by Jenny McCarthy reason” or “understandable reason”

    I still stand that religion is a “stupid reason” and that keeping your child from medical care because God is going to keep her safe and healthy if He wants to is the very definition of shitty parenting.

  63. Still doesn’t make people bad parents.

    I can understand the fear that some parents have about vaccinations, so I don’t judge them that harshly.

    Since the immediate threat of disease has been lessened by vaccinations, but the increase of diagnosis of autism and such are on the rise, I can see where fear trumps rationality and people are fearing the wrong things. It’s easy to mock such behavior, but I don’t think it’s that outside the norm to fear the immediate and not that abstract.

  64. Elyse,

    Yes, perhaps “valid” was an inaccurate word choice. God is a stupid reason, but I try not to tell my friends they’re stupid… although I can’t say that is the reason any of my close friends use that particular rationale. It’s more along the lines of what wet blanket just said. I think people are more comfortable taking a passive role (not vaccinating) in possibly harming their children than an active one (vaccinating), especially when they don’t feel they have good information to weigh the relative risks and benefits…

  65. I think it’s easy to label people and put them into these little pens because they don’t understand the science. But isn’t there a difference between those who are blindly following religious doctrine and those who are confused, concerned and scared for their child’s health?

    Not all who refuse to vaccinate are hardcore religious/WOO types.

  66. @wet blanket:

    I totally get what you’re saying, but I think the opinion of some in the skeptical community is that it doesn’t really matter what the justification is, if the end result is the same (risk of herd immunity breaking down, risk of spreading preventable disease).

  67. I once dated a guy who believed all sorts of wooey things, from ghosts to astral projection to the miracles of the cave man’s diet. As far as I know, he’s still deep into this stuff, but I haven’t talked to him since I dumped him, because he’s just so weird, and he wanted me to eat raw meat with him!

  68. Ummmm…Well, I guess I’ve learned to exercise some patience and tolerance with these folks. As long as they don’t try to force their wacky beliefs on me, we can enjoy each other’s company. I just let them know that I don’t agree with them.
    Of course, this doesn’t work with evangelicals – It just makes me a target for their fervent prayers for my “salvation.”
    Besides, how can I be a good model of a secular humanist to them without being around them? You’d be surprised how many people don’t even realize that I am a humanist – I guess I should start wearing devil horns and a forked tail?

  69. But about the transfer or surrender of power, I’ve heard from some acquaintances (I guess I can’t call them “friends” on this thread) and from some videos on the subject, that the submissive actually has the power/control.

    In some cases, this is true… arguably, in most cases. It is certainly true in the “scene” as it’s called. Most of the Dom/sub situations in the BDSM community are a kind of game. I dislike using the phrase, because I know it upsets some people, but I don’t know a better way to describe it. Sometimes it’s kind of a competition where the one is seeing how far things can be pushed and the other is seeing how long they can last, and sometimes they’re playing on the same team to try to go as far as possible.

    Sometimes, though, a person really does want someone else to make their decisions for them. Lots of people are like this, in fact. Set aside the BDSM thing for a bit, and think about the people you’ve known in your life, and I’m sure you can come with a stack of examples of people who’d rather be told what to do than make a decision for themselves.

    Interestingly enough, this type of person is far more likely to “play” the Dom role in a dom/sub relationship. It lets them feel like they have some degree of power and control while relinquishing the actual power and control to the sub, you see.

    People are complicated.

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