My Frenemy, the Christian

By Hemant Mehta

This article first appeared on The Friendly Atheist, now hosted on Patheos.


C. R. Wiley, a Presbyterian pastor, has an article in RELEVANT (a Christian magazine) about why Christians ought to befriend atheists — and not for the sole purpose of converting them. There are several benefits, he says, to having godless friends.

While his points might sound generous, the article is full of backhanded compliments.

My atheist friends have made me more humane.

… since they say “no” to my most important “yes” I must cull out the essential, the truly human in them, and hold it apart from their atheism. Wonderfully, a tool for the job has been handed to me by Christianity. It helps me distinguish an intellectual sin from an intellectual sinner. I can affirm an atheist’s humanity in spite of his dehumanizing philosophy. 

Aww, isn’t that sweet of him?

Our philosophy is anything but dehumanizing. If this is the only life we have, we have to make the most of it. That means doing what makes us happy (without stopping anyone else from doing the same). It also means helping out others so they can get the most out of their lives as well. One thing that evolution teaches us is that we’re related to every living being on Earth — we really are one huge family. And, at least in theory, families take care of each other.

But saying someone else has to die for your sins? Teaching women that they should be docile and submissive to their husbands? Having a holy book that tells gay people their loving relationships aren’t as worthy as ones straight people have? That’s dehumanizing.

My atheist friends have made me smarter.

Recently, sociobiologists have made a measure of peace with belief in God by proposing that it must have a biological basis, and if so, it must have served a role in the survival of our species. This would mean that faith in God is somehow “hardwired” into us. This would also imply that atheism is a sort of deficiency, even a birth defect. On the other hand maybe it is the next leap in human evolution. How can we know? Sociobiology can’t say.


The existence of a “god gene” is very much in doubt. But even if there’s an evolutionary benefit to believing in something delusional, it doesn’t make it true. Furthermore, Wiley’s implication that atheists have this “birth defect” makes me reconsider if he really has any atheist friends at all. Most atheists I know were raised in a faith and left it later in life because we realized the arguments in favor of god’s existence were sloppy and full of fallacy. We weren’t deficient of anything when we were born.

Keeping a few atheists for friends is caffeinating. I can be sure they will challenge my arguments. Like most people, I am a bit lazy. Atheists force me to think.

WTF is up with that sentence? Talk about “dehumanizing”…

And if your atheist friends are the only people in your life who “force you to think,” maybe you need some new friends. Or a better church.

My atheist friends have taught me compassion.

Since atheists believe the universe began with a bang, but without the benefit of someone lighting the fuse, the second law of thermodynamics is their only guide as to how it will end. Everything will float apart in a cold eternal night. What difference does that make? The universe isn’t going anywhere. It has no meaningful purpose. Since the world does not serve the will of God, atheists must find their meaning in their own willing.

If matter is all there is in the end nothing matters. The only hope for real meaning is a Creator.

Apparently, none of us have any meaning in our lives — and finding our own path is futile because this world won’t always be around.

I don’t see a problem with finding our own meaning in this world. Ultimately, Christians are going to end up in the same place we do. If they derive their life’s meaning from a holy book full of logical holes and bad ideas, I feel sorry for them. If I give my life meaning through the people I surround myself with and the work I’m passionate about, I’d be very fulfilled.

It brings to mind my favorite passage by Richard Dawkins:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

We’re lucky to be here, so let’s not waste a moment of it.

You know, I actually do have some Christian friends. They’re good people who do wonderful things with their lives and I enjoy the time I spend with them. I’m not friends with them because of their Christianity or in spite of it. The thought just doesn’t go through my head that I must surround myself with people who believe the same things I do. It’s pretty sad that Christians need to be taught that there might be an upside to having friends who don’t believe in their god and who might actually (*gasp*) challenge their ways of thinking.

We have more things in common than they might think:

Hemant Mehta is the blogger for Friendly Atheist. He is the author of I Sold My Soul on eBay.