Is It Good to Have Friends We Disagree With?

Is It Good to Have Friends We Disagree With?

Being friends with people of different beliefs and opinions than us is usually seen as wholesome. I used to think this way when I viewed the world as a dichotomy of Christians and atheists. In a way, I had to see it like this because I was an atheist who knew, and therefore was friends with, almost only Christians. No Christian friends would have meant no friends.

The Christian-atheist YouTube collab

Jaclyn Glenn is one atheist who believes wholeheartedly in the wholesomeness of Christians and atheists being friends. The culmination of her take on this happened this week on her YouTube channel where she and her husband David hosted Christian YouTubers Paul and Morgan Olliges.

The two couples have been public about their feel-good journey towards friendship-against-all-odds for a while, so it wasn’t a surprise. Honestly, the videos of them being open and honest with each other, joking and being more or less comfortable together, were nice to see. Their collab obviously had mixed reception (as Jaclyn said, “It was… received”), and for good reason. I wish I could be on the side of Let’s All Hold Hands And Get Along, but I don’t know if I can.

To be clear, Jaclyn’s collab with Paul and Morgan, fresh in my mind since I just watched it, made a good case study for a post about this. But being friends with differently-minded people is something I’ve been thinking about (and endlessly rambling about to my husband) for a long time. It’s something that virtually everyone, myself included, is grappling with. While I talk about these YouTubers as an example, you and your own friends might come to mind.

I also want to mention before I go on that I’m referring specifically to friends, since it is a lot harder to choose your family. It’s amazing when people’s family’s views align with theirs, but it seems to be quite rare, and endlessly arguing isn’t productive.

“Impressive” friendships

Paul and Morgan are not the first Christian YouTubers Jaclyn has collabed with; she also has videos with Brenda Davies from God is Grey. To my knowledge, those video didn’t get as much criticism and weren’t as surprising. Jaclyn and Brenda’s friendship is beautiful, but it doesn’t have the factor of impressiveness that her friendship with the Olliges has. That’s because Brenda and Jaclyn, a progressive Christian and a progressive atheist, have more in common than either one does with the conservatives Paul and Morgan.

This is where my viewpoint differs from Jaclyn’s. I don’t think it is anyone’s job to impress people with a heartwarming story of an unlikely friendship with someone who is against human rights, equality, and liberation. As I’ve said before, theirs are not mere differences of opinion. I don’t care that Paul and Morgan are Christian. I care that they share things on their channel like the following:

I literally just watched Paul and Morgan for over an hour to compile that list to try and showcase their most harmful views. They have some older videos, especially one that was homophobic, that got a lot of backlash in its day. That video is now unavailable, so I can hope that they’ve changed their minds, but I doubt it. There is a lot more, like opposition to contraception and bikinis, on their channel. Even worse is their other social media, like Paul’s Instagram, where he shares his conspiratorial right-wing beliefs much more bluntly than he does on YouTube.

It’s worth noting that Jaclyn is also friends with the conservative trans-medicalist gatekeeper Blaire White despite all of the vitriol she perpetuates against the rest of the trans community.

I know that Jaclyn gets a lot of opposition for being friends with people like Blaire, but I have to reluctantly agree with these critics. I’m not saying that we should be actively dehumanizing or sending hate to our adversaries, but we don’t need to be giving them publicity or acting like we can overlook our massive differences when those differences can mean life or death.

Why the left is intolerant

Meanwhile, I don’t think that someone with decent progressive values being friends with paranoid Trump supporters is admirable. Recently it has become a trope that the left isn’t as tolerant as we claim to be, because we can’t stand to be in the same room as someone who disagrees with us. If you don’t have the context of what the sides stand for, then that might sound unreasonable. But in my own experience, being in that room is becoming too hard.

(In peak good timing, after I finished writing this post, I found out that this very question was being discussed on today’s Friendly Atheist Podcast. A recent Axios poll found that while only 5% of Republican college students would not be friends with someone who voted for the opposing presidential candidate, 37% of Democrat students would not be friends with an opposing voter.)

My take is this: It’s easier for the anti-BLM, the anti-trans, the anti-vax, to claim that they are more tolerant than we are because they don’t let differences like those get in the way of friendship while we on the left often do. I think the reason is obvious. Maybe I am incapable of seeing this from “the other side,” but of course if you are racist and your friend is antiracist, they’re going to be more upset with you than you are with them. You’re the one in the wrong. Call me a snowflake, but being racist is bad.

Similarly, the two sides of the LGBTQ aisle are not LGBTQ people vs. straight people, it’s homophobes vs. LGBTQ people and allies fighting together for queer liberation. The sides are not the same. One is the oppressor and the other is the oppressed. When the oppressor claims that the left is intolerant as they fight for their lives and rights—which can sometimes result in the oppressor losing undeserved privilege—that cry of intolerance is not justified. Once again, these two sides are not equal.

So it’s not cute to me when people across the “political aisle” hold hands and sing together. I did find it more wholesome to see Muslims, Catholics, witches, goths, and the Church of God standing up and fighting in the Black Lives Matter protests. That’s an example of people with opposing religious and spiritual views agreeing on a social justice issue of paramount importance. That’s far more touching than it is to see people who are diametrically opposed on the matter of Black lives standing as friends just because they can.

Diverse vs. toxic friendships

It’s great to have friends who believe in a different God than you or like a different sports team than you. But I don’t understand the view that it is healthy to have friends who help you to “see the other side.” What you’re looking at from different sides is crucial. Sure, show me the other side of whether Pokémon is better than Zelda or whether your TikTok For You Page is funnier than mine. I can really do without being exposed to the other side of whether my gay friends deserve to have rights.

You might think that being friends with someone who holds radically different beliefs from yours does not mean you’re endorsing their beliefs, and that can be true to an extent. Jaclyn Glenn has spoken out against Paul and Morgan (but not so much about Blaire White) enough that we know this is the case with her. Then again, do you have a responsibility to hold your friends accountable for their harmful beliefs and actions? Some people try and change their friends’ minds, and that’s noble enough but doesn’t usually work (and can be annoying). I personally don’t have the patience to do this, and it is a lot healthier for me to not surround myself with bigots when I can help it, thank you very much.

If you have people in your life who won’t use your correct name or pronouns, who belittle you because of your age or gender, who commit microaggressions against you, or who make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, it’s not your responsibility to stay their friend because you’re a good influence. Instead, cutting toxic and bigoted people out of your life sends a clear message that bigotry is not tolerated. This is especially powerful if you’re not a marginalized person, because it shows that you are standing in solidarity with those who are. That’s the soul of allyship.

9 thoughts on “Is It Good to Have Friends We Disagree With?

  • December 12, 2021 at 8:42 am

    I think it is important to distinguish between someone who has different views (including religious and political views), and someone who is a hateful, toxic, or bigoted regardless of the various groups with which they identify. I would much rather be friends with a Trump-supporting Christian who treats others well than a liberal atheist who doesn’t. The political and religious views of the atheist would be closer to mine, but that isn’t generally why I am interesting in being friends with anyone. I’d rather have friends who treat others well, regardless of what they might think about the world. That said, one advantage of maintaining relationships with people who hold different beliefs is that it takes us out of our echo-chambers and may inspire us to be more thoughtful about some of what we believe.

    • December 12, 2021 at 2:17 pm

      I agree to an extent. The hard thing with this post is that everyone’s friendships are different so everyone has a different take which is great. It really comes down to each individual person and what they actually say and do. That’s why I didn’t think it was enough to just say “Paul and Morgan are bad because they’re conservative” but find examples of them saying homophobic or anti-vax things.

      At the risk of being overly general, I think that someone being liberal or Trump-supporting can tie closely into whether they treat others well. The Trump supporter might be nice in person, a good and kind friend even, but meanwhile be voting and advocating for white supremacy or voter suppression. It is super multifaceted so it really comes down to a case-by-case basis.

      • December 12, 2021 at 4:00 pm

        This is what came up for me when I read your post. It’s such a conundrum sometimes bc so many people are perfectly kind and generous in person but refuse to see the nuance of systemic oppression, and that matters. It’s like the embodiment of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy. It sounds nice on the surface but doesn’t really help anyone out at all, and in fact is actively harmful.

  • December 12, 2021 at 10:39 am

    A lot hinges on the definition of ‘friend’, as opposed to… colleague? associate? Social media friend has become a different thing altogether, perhaps.
    And our concept of what is and what makes a ‘friend’ changes with time i.e. getting older/maturity.
    Degrees of mental. emotional, and yes, social, fluidity are what we depend on.

    • December 12, 2021 at 2:31 pm

      Yeah, I definitely could have gotten into a more specific definition of what I mean by friend. I don’t have anything super specific in mind beyond the assumption that you can choose a friend. So not family, colleagues, or someone you follow on social media but don’t talk to. Personally I keep small but close-knit groups of friends so I’m really picky about my friends and don’t spend time around people I don’t like. People with bigger circles might see it differently because they might not have such a need to be super close with all of their friends.

  • December 12, 2021 at 11:27 am

    This is a fascinating post. I’m of the mind that birds of a feather do indeed “flock” together. That’s certainly true in my case. My “best” friends, like myself, are liberal democrats who believe in science, and eschew religion–and we like to drink wine. I have lost friends, whose views, over the years, veered off in another direction–as michael9murray mentions above. I think that’s a good point. Friendship is fluid, and perhaps the most important thing is to what extent one can remain flexible enough to maintain friendships as you move up in the years.

    And flexibility is a main ingredient to maintain friendships. For instance, how can I, a Democrat, liberal, non-Christian, consider my Republican, conservative, Christian neighbor, a good friend?

    Because I agree with his ability to think critically. For instance, he admitted that his church’s belief regarding gays: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” is absurd. He also hates Trump. So, his ability to get past conspiracy theories and institutional mind-control binds us together. And the fact that we’re close in age helps as well.

    There has to be some common ground and simply being young or enjoying wine and/or outdoor activity or whatever may not be enough. The common ground, be it shared experience or similar thought processing, has to be broad enough to allow congenial conversation and tolerance.

    • December 12, 2021 at 2:36 pm

      Yes, well said. It sounds like your neighbor being Republican doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad person if he’s anti-Trump and a critical thinker. It’s a person-by-person basis. Someone who’s a die-hard Trump supporter who does like that church saying might be a little harder to get along with 🙂

  • December 12, 2021 at 7:16 pm

    A good post. This is how I see it: if you can be open with one another about your potentially different beliefs and stay true to yourself when spending time with them. then you can remain friends. This is true regardless of different religious or political beliefs. If you can’t or if that causes conflict? It’s probably best to not stay friends.

  • December 13, 2021 at 4:31 am

    Five years ago, none of us probably would have had much of a problem. We all have family to deal with, social contacts, and fellow workers and we made it work.

    However, that was before Trump.

    Religion and politics. I had lost most of my family when Clinton was elected.With my family and many of my in-laws, the religious issues had been resolved to tolerance. My wife lost a lot of hers when Trump was elected.

    No more family dinners. My wife and her sisters, two Trump supporters and ‘Prayer Warriors’, the other sister a Democrat, used to take trips to the beach, the Smokies, and such. They have only got together three or four times in the past four years, and about the second one of those went South when someone brought up the virus and Trump. My wife went ballistic. She is the oldest and declares herself large and in charge.

    It is still tense. She hasn’t spoke to her youngest sister in two years, but the rest are working at getting back to normal.

    We realized early on that many of our friendships were gone. We don’t try to pretend tolerance any more. Trying to be tolerant seems ro invite people to explain the facts according to Q, Fox, OANN, The First Baptist Church, and whatever propaganda machine they listened to last.

    My wife is 78 and I’m 80 going on ????, and we are not going to waste time trying to maintain ‘friendships’ that are not friendships.


What do you think?