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.
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:
- vaccine misinformation
- doubt of the legitimacy of the 2020 election results
- tiptoeing around being anti-mask
- anti-Black Lives Matter
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.