Who are your friends?

Since I don’t have time to write anything long this week, I’ll just ask a question today:

Who are your friends?

Do you socialize only with other skeptics and unbelievers, or do you have friends who believe in God or homeopathy or leprechauns?

One editor who rejected my memoir did so because I was not angry enough. He said that I seemed too concerned with not offending people (OK, Skepchick readers, feel free to snort with derision at that idea.) My book is less angry than other atheist books because I was happy when I was a Christian and I am relating happy memories as part of my tale of why I stopped believing. I guess some publishers just want controversy. And I have noticed that my ranting posts here get the most comments, even though sometimes I get discouraged by the tone of those comments. But in real life I’m a pretty nice person and I have friends who are skeptics and atheists and friends who are believers in very many different kinds of things. Unlike when I was a Christian, today I don’t feel the need to surround myself only with people who share my beliefs. 

Hat tip to Hemant for making me think about this.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I only hang out with people who believe in picking up the tab at the end of the night.

    Actually, this is a very interesting question. I have many friends who, if asked, would call themselves religious, because they grew up in one religious tradition or another, but who go through life with no real connection to any church. They don’t adhere to or even think about any religious philosophy. It’s just not important to them.

    And other friends are devout, and still others are dirty, rotten, atheist scoundrels.

    Variety, spice, life, etc.

  2. I’m fairly sure I do hang around, more or less exclusively, with people who share certain of my beliefs. And I’d bet most people do too, on some level – it’s just a matter of which beliefs are important.

    For me, it’s not the big prominent things like “homeopathy = bunk” or “God? pah!” that seem crucial to match up. I’ve occasionally wondered exactly what my criteria are, but never really done any deep soul-searching to find out what I really do want in a friend. But I think it’s more useful to agree on ideas like “Try not to be a jerk to other people if you can possibly avoid it” than “John Edward doesn’t really talk to dead people”.

  3. i assume family doesn’t count? i’m pretty sure that some of my friends “believe”, but since we never really talk about it i’m not sure how strongly they believe, or how devout they are. work “friends” are another story.

  4. My family is largely Catholic. I’m not entirely sure where my friends stand. Many of them are believers, but the topic doesn’t come up very much. One friend in particular mentioned something once about loosing her faith after her grandmother died, which struck me as odd. Another friend is Anglican, and has often spoke of his belief, but stopped going to church for some reason.

    My wife, as I’ve mentioned before, is pagan. When we first met, she was Wiccan, but she hasn’t really practiced in a while, and I think she identifies more or less with just a general “pagan” ideology than specifically Wiccan now. She also has Jewish heritage, and has considered exploring that to some extent.

    It seems odd that I’d hang out around skeptics web sites so much, since living with my wife, I’m pretty much up to my neck in so-called “woo”. But she believes in faeries and leprechauns, to some extent. I think it’s more wishful thinking than belief. She’d also be willing to give homeopathy an honest try before discounting it. Most of the time, she can spot bullshit when she sees it. The occasional “psychics ” fair is just clean fun.

    I think a lot of atheists get along swell with the believers that we interact with most of the time. The controversy is mostly trying to come up with something interesting on a slow news day. Text makes it difficult to convey tone of voice, especially on the Internet, where people read fast, and long posts often get skipped. Conversely, when you can type a comment, and can keep going without being interrupted, you might attempt to clarify something that you might not get in edgewise in a meatspace conversation. That tends to create a tension that’s usually not there.

  5. I don’t ask. I prefer to see if they’re otherwise rational and pleasant first, as knowing that they’re religious from the outset would color my perception.

    If they are, I do my best to ignore it. If they don’t make it an issue, neither should I. The only scenario in which I’d end a friendship over beliefs would be if they:

    #1. Believed the moon landing was hoaxed
    #2. Believed in creationism, any kind.
    #3. Believed in 9/11 conspiracy theories.
    #4. Believed in the Mayan 2012 crap.

    That’s about it. I can forgive most other forms of nuttery.

  6. There is a lot of diversity of outlooks in my social circle, and not just about religion and the paranormal. There are Atheists, Episcopalians, Jews, neo-Pagans, Mormons, Republicans, Democrats, etc.

    I really don’t understand people who only want to hang out with people who believe the same way they do or have the same political views, etc. It wouldn’t take me long to whittle my friends down to zero with that sort of thinking.

  7. I know the only belief I would ditch a friend over is any form of bigotry. I once had a very good friend for many years. Then one day, out of the blue, she asked me “Isn’t it disgusting that Jane kissed a nigger?” and that’s the last time I ever spoke to her. I could not, and still can’t, understand how she did not know how offensive that would be to me.

  8. I don’t have too much of a friend filter, but then again I tend to not have too many friends. I have a core group of close friends, and I believe I’m the only skeptic among them, none of them are fanatics about any of their beliefs and the topic of my Atheism rarely comes up, when it does it’s usually a small test to see if I still don’t believe and it never goes beyond that. I would love to have more like minded friends but so far I have not had much success.

  9. According to new research the biggest determining factor in new friendships is proximiy (which to me sounds as obvious as saying your odds of drowning go up the closer you get to water).

    I honor of that, if you ever find yourself near me in DFW, I will gladly pick up the tab.

  10. I’m a moderate Christian, and have friend completely covering the religious and political spectrum. Many are fundamentalist Christians,
    some are atheists, and a handful are Muslim.

    I don’t discuss religion with the majority of my friends. My closer friends all share one important trait: we can disagree politely, and consider the other person’s perspective.

  11. Andrew C, I’m sorry that I keep saying things that make it seem like all skepchick readers are atheists. I know better than that.

  12. Most of my friends are skeptics to one degree or another, though very few are obsessive about it like I am. OTOH, I do have some religious friends as well, so it doesn’t seem to be a deal breaker for any of us.

    No creationists, geocentrists or moon deniers among them, though.

  13. I’m with Blake Stacey:

    “… friends?”

    I get along with coworkers and my wife’s friends, but there honestly is nobody with whom I would wish to spend my social time.
    It’s not so much about their lack of critical thinking, it’s more just their … banality. With most men I’ve ever met, it’s all about sex and cars and drinking and farting…

  14. “#1. Believed the moon landing was hoaxed
    #2. Believed in creationism, any kind.
    #3. Believed in 9/11 conspiracy theories.
    #4. Believed in the Mayan 2012 crap.”

    My husband believed the moon landing was hoaxed for the longest time. I finally managed to convince him otherwise.

    I have several friends who are hardcore ID proponents including my best friends husband and my mother and father-in-law.

    My roommate believed in bigfoot to the point that he had tapes of all the specials on the Discovery Channel.

    I have a friend who believes in the mayan 2012 stuff. I told him straight out he was an idiot and he laughed.

    I think all my friends have the ability to not get offended when I tell them what they believe is crap. They know me well enough to know that when I say something is crap I probably have a very good reason for it. They might not agree but they respect that I take the time to learn about it and come up with logical reasons to disbelieve instead of dismissing it right away. I’ve convinced one of my friends John Edwards was full of crap, she shouldn’t watch Sylvia Brown, and not to buy those detox foot pads. Now she comes to me to ask what I think of paranormal things and alternative health claims. It’s fun :)

    Also writerdd, I always love your entries. I have a very similar background. I was raised in the CRC church and went to private Christian Schools my whole life. I’m not angry at religion. In fact, I love a lot of the aspects of religion I just don’t believe in it any more.

  15. Eh, me thinks our pool of friends is in a way a form of natural selection, where we tend to select based on beneficial traits. Of course, that all depends on how one defines beneficial and this is the key. Obviously someone who has a diverse pool of friends naturally feels comfortable being challenged on different levels whereas someone with an ultra-narrow pool obviously selects for very strict criteria. From what I’ve seen, the latter is done either for selfish reasons (“I only associate with people who can do things for me”) and/or because of some psychological comfort (“people who think just like me make me comfortable”).

  16. As a college student, my friends are naturally all over the map. I am friends with a lot of people in one of the campus ministry groups, as well as the campus skeptical group. And then there are several other people who are somewhere in the vast freethinker spectrum. Most of the rest of my friends have beliefs that are unknown to me. If any of my friends have truly weird beliefs (ie Creationism, conspiracies, deep altie woo) I don’t know about it.

  17. Between long hours at work, long hours of school and study what I have left is devoted to my wife and kids. If I actually find myself with a free evening I don’t know what to do. Friends would be cool and I hope to have time for them someday. My kids should all be more or less grown in about 6 years and I should be done with school at about the same time so I hope to make some around then.

  18. @Brando:”From what I’ve seen, the latter is done either for selfish reasons (”I only associate with people who can do things for me”) and/or because of some psychological comfort (”people who think just like me make me comfortable”).”

    Yeah, I guess I kind of fit that. I can’t think of one friend that I have who isn’t either a musician or music freak (I’m both..). Because of that, though, I have buddies ranging the entire spectrum of woo – three of my bandmates are pretty hardcore : one is a rosicrucian/stienerite, two are into aliens and pretty much anything that d0esn’t make sense, and all three are New World Order believers. And a LOT of people I know (granted, mostly the chicks) are into astrology in some form. One of my closest friends, however (jazz bass), is as rational materialist as they come. But he’s also a certified mega-high-IQ-er.

  19. I have an extremely diverse set of friends that I’ve picked up over the years, and certain you couldn’t find a single common thread beyond ” everyone knows Rystefn” if your life depended on it. The full spectrum from militant atheist to fundy ID people are on the list. Neo-pagans, deists, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and more I don’t much care to list off at this time. For the longest time, two of my best friends simultaneously were a moon hoaxer and a PhD working at NASA.

    A long time ago, I came to the realization that most people aren’t as smart/educated/logical/whatever-my-ego-decides-that -day as I am, and that either I would have to accept that and move on or become some crazy hermit living in a cave on the mountain.

    Honestly, I enjoy rock-climbing and spelunking, but I enjoy parties and sex more, so I picked the path with people on it and never looked back.

  20. My close friends tend to be free-thinking types, even if they don’t self-identify as such.

  21. I have friends that are belivers in many things I find foolish. I don’t have a problem with that, so long as they are willing to accept that I disagree with them. If they ask for my opinion, I’ll give it, otherwise, they’re welcome to believe what they want.

    The people I tend to avoid are the ones that feel personally threatened by the idea that someone doesn’t share their world view. Unfortunately, that includes most of my extended family, including my wife’s mother and step-father, who are all devout evangelical Christians of one variety or another. Young earthers, bible literalists… the works. Let’s just say that I’ve learned to sidestep certain topics at family gatherings in order to keep the peace.

    Side note: not to offend anyone here, but I also tend to avoid people on the opposite end of the belief spectrum. I’ve met atheists who feel just as threatened by the idea that someone doesn’t share *their* world view.

    Personally, I consider myself in the agnostic category. That may be why I don’t have a problem hanging out with (polite) believers.

  22. Ugh. Actually, most of my friends are believers in one form of crap or another.I have one friend who is a chiropractor who denies germ theory. GERM THEORY! My wife overheard a conversation between him and a father about the dangers of getting kids vaccinated. I have one friend who believes he’s psychic and a medium. This is how he makes his living. He also believes that in a past life he was William Shakespeare’s favorite actor. They’re not bad people. They’re not trying to scam anybody. They actually believe in the woo they peddle. That doesn’t mean that the woo they peddle isn’t harmful, I know.

    Most of my friends I’ve made through doing theatre. Theatre peeps are generally good people, but are also generally crazy in one way or another, myself included. Woo is quite prevalent in theatrical circles. The last play we were involved in, my wife repeatedly shouted “Macbeth” in the dressing room prior to the show instead of referring to it as “the Scottish play.” One cast member got quite upset by this. Had anything gone wrong with the performance I’m sure it would have been blamed on my wife, but it was the best performance of the run, so it was virtually forgotten.

    Friendship is maintained by not talking about it. It’s not always possible. In the case of the conversation about not vaccinating kids, my wife, after trying to reason with them both, just turned to the father and said, “Your kids could die!” It had an impact. Whether it actually sunk in…who knows.

  23. The last play we were involved in, my wife repeatedly shouted “Macbeth” in the dressing room prior to the show instead of referring to it as “the Scottish play.” …it was the best performance of the run, so it was virtually forgotten.

    So shouting “Macbeth” is actually good luck! It is now hereby part of my pre-show ritual.

  24. A friend of mine is a performer/actor, and another friend, without realizing it, said “Good Luck” before a show once. He never lived it down.

    In my experience, it’s more tradition than superstition with actors, though. Even if you’re not superstitious, the suggestion could have a psychological effect that might impact their performance.

    I also jinxed him out of a perfect game at Wii Bowling once.

  25. Effectively all my close friends are non-believers, though belief isn’t a direct factor in friend choice.
    I think the lack of belief (in deities or woo) is more due to its correlation (in the UK) with the people in question often being science/engineering graduates, and largely being cavers, who whatever their level of education or life experience, do seem to have a particular kind of personality which is possibly rather different to the average believer.

    However, thinking about it, I’m not even sure how many work acquaintances of mine have been believers, let alone overtly religious.
    Maybe one or two at the universities I’ve worked at. Probably even less at the computer games company.
    To actually have many believers as friends, I’d have to have done some serious positive discrimination and gone out looking for them.

  26. I have lots of religious friends, of many different stripes, one even leaning towards fundamentalism.

    The only thing all my religious friends have in common is a sense of humor.

    It’s a rare fundamentalist who doesn’t take himself or his beliefs too seriously. Seems oxymoronic, but he’s a great guy.

  27. Most of my good friends are atheists and very pro-science (one’s even a biologist!), but that’s almost more by coincidence than any conscious selection. (Natural selection by compatibility as opposed to artificial selection by ideological purity? ;))

    That said, I do have friends who are religious (including one I’ve kept in touch with since high school). I also have a really cool co-worker who falls into that category as well, plus another co-worker I get along with really well who buys the whole “thermite in the WTC” 911 Truther theory (but is surprisingly skeptical of most other things).

    My perspective is that, like sci fi, everyone is allowed their one out-there thing. For some folk, it’s religion, for others it might be a belief in ghosts or whatever. But when they start piling on multiple things, that suggests a deeper problem than just having a pet non-skeptical area where we have to agree to disagree.

  28. I am Atheist, but my wife and family is Catholic and they know about my Atheism. I still do all the religious rituals (Xmas, Easter, and allow my son to get a religious education) out of tradition and respect for my wife. When my son asks about God or religious subjects, I send him to my wife, but if he asks whether I believe I will tell him no.

    That said, my friends are usually people with whom I share a common interest(s). Usually the topic of religion, politics, skepticism are not discussed. For example, I may have a friend who is a drinking buddy, another whom I go fishing with, another who shares my interest in music, etc. There maybe some overlap, but there does not have to be. I just might share a single interest with a person and only get together for the shared interest. With others we may share many interests and those I see more often. With a child the most common shared interest is parenting, and thus I do not have many single friends. Married people tend to hang with married people, singles with other singles, and parents with other parents. When one is married with children, most friends tend to be the parents of children who are friends with your child either through sports, school, scouting, etc.

    I do have a problem with religious zealots who tend to frighten me. Usually I listen politely, but do not advertise my own Atheism. Then I try to avoid them if possible, but I am always polite. As mentioned earlier the topic of religion rarely comes up. I do not wear my Atheism on my sleeve and if someone is a religious zealot and does not wear it on his/her sleeve I generally can still be friends with them. I am not a militant Atheist like PZ Myers.

  29. What friends? Everyone is boring and stupid except for me.

    Just kidding. Seriously, these issues are not issues at all when it comes to people I would call a friend or acquaintance… unless it comes up – in which case I will voice my opinion as briefly and eloquently as possible. I will pose questions rather than flat-out denouncements, regarding woo-woo beliefs, and quackery.
    At the very least I will not let a mystical subject pass without providing that small voice of dissent… even a simple “Oh come on…” is enough to stick up for the brights’ corner.

    I was raised a door-knocking JW, I’m determined not to be evangelistic about my newfound world-view.

    As I say, mostly, skeptical interests are my own and aren’t a big issue between myself and my friends of other beliefs. Sometimes we’ll have interesting discussions on those matters, but at the end of the day it is no more emotionally charged than a lively debate about politics or sporting teams. Which is how it bloody well should be…

  30. I have more support for saying MacBeth aloud being lucky.

    I was trying to piss off my mother, the actor, by invoking the name of the play as many times as possible before we were to attend a performance. (She has “corrected” me for actually uttering the words MacBeth for years.)
    Anyway, I ran into Rebecca during the intermission of that very performance.

    I’m sure this is enough proof for everyone that saying MacBeth is lucky.

  31. My oldest friend is, of all things, a Scientologist, but he was always into odd spiritualities, so it didn’t really surprise me when he joined them.
    I have a couple of fundamentalist friends, but they don’t try to convert me (although they will argue with me sometimes), a few agnostic-ish friends, and a lot of mainstream “I believe in God but it doesn’t have any great impact on my life” Christians.
    I’ve never really gotten a tremendous amount of flack for my atheism from any of them, although I did get the “You’re not an atheist” line a couple of times.

  32. There are, IMHO, two types of friend. There is the type of friend that you keep around because they give you pleasure. There is the type of friend you keep around because they are a part of your community; to reject them is to reject the community.

    My friends tend to be the community ones not because I don’t like pleasurable friends, but because I am a pain in the butt. I mix with most people like skeptics and Gene Ray – not that I am like Gene Ray; it is a simile.

    I digress. The people I know will only befriend me out of community needs. I have work friends. I have family friends. I have study-group friends. But no one spends time around me for pleasure.

    Interesting question, writerdd, but a hard one to think about honestly.

  33. I don’t really have many friends either. When I look back to the times of my life when I did have a larger circle of friends it was usually community related (church, work, clubs). Interesting thought.

  34. Put me squarely in the “don’t have many friends” camp, too.

    I will say that, because of where I live (Albuquerque), most of my friends are new-agey types, and most definitely not skeptics.

    THAT said, the few (three?) people I’ve gotten closest to were definitely unbelievers.

    THAT said, I went and married a “non-practicing” pagan. ; )

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