I am presently reading Michael Spry’s book No Santa, No Tooth Fairy, No God: The Need to Challenge Faith in America. He reiterated a point that I have often made as to why friendships break up when religion gets in the way.
There is a need in the faithful, mandated by their beliefs, to spread the seed of religion to all. Frequently they assume that everyone believes and here in the United States that belief they feel they share with everyone is Christianity. As a manner of daily habit they make statements of faith as if were commonplace, expecting blithe agreement. When they encounter even the smallest resistance it comes as a shock leaving them aghast. From everything I have read and from my personal experiences it seems that they, the average believers, are unprepared for even the most timid challenge.
When an atheist makes his or her viewpoints on the validity of religious belief generally known he or she is taking upon a risk. People that have been of his/her acquaintance for many years and are faithful believers will express shock, dismay, and finally pity. The ardent believer will make numerous attempts to correct the “faulty” behavior. With resolute determinism they will quote Biblical passages. They will point out that the population at large is mostly in agreement with their religious message. They will make statements about the immoral nature and hopelessness of an atheist stance. Never do they cite evidence supporting belief. Never do they do more than offer logical fallacies. From the Loaded Question fallacy, the Ad Hominem attack, Appeal to Authority, Appeal to Nature, to Anecdotal experiences or examples, the adamant believer never gets around to substantiating their position with ‘real world’ facts. A lot of times it comes down to “How can so many millions of Christians be wrong” or “Who are you to question the beliefs of so many Christians”. They can become very emotional in their appeals. Appealing to emotions is one of the avenues used in proselytizing the un-churched.
Faced with logically sound arguments and possessing no real ammunition to refute them the average Christian soon becomes resigned to the reality that you, the atheist, will never come to realize your error. Even the articulate believer, versed in the methods used to counteract the facts, offers no real facts of their own and often begin blowing billowing clouds of unconnected, unreasoning, scientific-sounding jargon in hopes that you will not examine it too closely. Many atheists, befuddled by such nonsense, do not argue further, and then the articulate believer proclaims to have won the day.
The atheist and the believer, though they may have been close friends for many years, then part. The believer is nearly always the initiator of the severing of these ties, announcing upon departure that he or she will “pray” for his/her friend with the hopes that someday he/she will turn to God. The Christian has no choice. If he or she truly believes they will feel the truthfulness of what their atheist friend has to say and sense the weakening of resolve. A need to flee will be initiated in order to protect the faith.
Religion has been compared to a virus, a mental virus, which appropriates its host. More like some parasite it commandeers its host and assumes its identity. When threatened it controls the primal fight or flee mechanisms that have developed through evolution to protect an animal and uses them to protect the faith. Like a frightened animal, the overwhelmed Christian, faced with contradictory data, feels a need to get away, to flee to the safety of those also likewise compromised. By encapsulating themselves, staying separate from the general population, they find comfort and encouragement from their peers. This revival, this reinforcement is why it is so hard for some to break from such groups.
I have experienced departing friends first hand. Realizing that everyone perceives from their own perspectives I present this example for the readers assessment. I had a friend from childhood to adulthood that happened to be a Baptist. He made more than one attempt to shape me to the Baptist mold. I even began to attend his church, this back in the mid-1970s. My grievous error was to question the moral character of the pastor. I simply disagreed with what was going on in the church. They had put me in a study group which was no doubt meant to assimilate me into the faith most completely. At the time I had considered myself matured enough in the faith and was slighted that they thought I needed such assimilation. Needless to say, after my conflict with the image my friend had of his “beloved” pastor, I left the church. Subsequent encounters with my former friend were tense. After I had publicly declared my atheism, he sent me an anonymous email, which I knew was from him nevertheless, and in which he stated that he could not understand my change in behavior. He was aghast, as Christians are wont to be upon discovering an atheist in their midst. After that, chance meetings were indifferent. He would acknowledge my presence but engage in no meaningful conversation. Whether he is still praying for me I do not know. If he is still on hands and knees begging his divine master to bring me home I am sure he will receive the same results as all Christians receive in return for their prayers.