Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…

Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends anyone who drank or smoked. I even refused to socialize with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as being “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.

I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.

Is Islam a Religion of Tolerance?

In my armchair observation of the world’s major religions, they each have scriptures, righteous examples or commandments that seek the destruction or subjugation of other races, infidels or non-believers. In short, among all the talk of love, peace and coexistence, there is inevitably a doctrine, which—if interpreted literally—espouses hate or the smiting of people who are different. Is this the case for every religion? Perhaps an exception is Buddhism and other religions that are associated more with spiritual or political philosophies rather than a deity (e.g. Confucianism is not really a religion).

islam_385x261But here’s the thing: Despite holy scripture that places adherents spiritually or morally above their neighbors, few individuals believe or act on scripture that suggests burning neighbors, cutting off their hands, or raping their daughters. They also leave their neighbors to establish and administer their own political and cultural practices, according to their own set of beliefs. That is, most cultures accept the universal maxims: “Live and let live” and “Treat others as you wish to be treated”.  Adhering to these two simple golden principles of non-interference and cooperation are the keys to living in a multicultural world. Everyone understands this. Everyone lives it! Well, not quite everyone…

islamThe problem with Islam, as I see it, is that a large fraction of followers actually implement an “interference doctrine”. But when an institution combines a nihilistic philosophy with growth and evangelism, it takes the form of a cancer: Constantly pushing out its boarders and consuming anything in the way. Many Islamic adherents (how many?) refuse to accommodate tolerance—at least for those outside of its beliefs, even when an Islamist community is a minority in the homeland of other cultures and philosophies.

I believe in tolerance. Given a connected world with a great many cultures and beliefs, it is the only way to foster peaceful and productive coexistence. The concept of Sharia Law—practiced against non-believers and especially outside of an Islamist homeland—is not only intolerant and abhorrent, it is impossible to reconcile within any framework of coexistence. Therefore, the only philosophy or practice of which we should be intolerant is intolerance itself.


I honestly don’t know the fraction of Islamists who teach hate and who seek to spread intolerance. But I can see that the absolute numbers are staggering. It’s not just growing in the Arab world, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali and Timbuktu. It has taken root in France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Finland and even in North America. While I cringe in response to some reader suggestions (“We must destroy Islam. We need to institute a genocide”), I honestly don’t see how to contain a cancer by any means other than destroying it. As with any cancer, there is an urgent imperative to prevent spread and the consumption of surrounding tissue.

Is it possible that Islam can be gently prodded to correct the extremism within its many sects and among its zealous Mullahs? I don’t know. And I don’t know if we have time to engage on such a benign level. Despite my disdain for intolerance, I keep returning to my own maxim: The only thing of which we can be justifiably intolerant is intolerance itself. I believe that if we do not quickly squash intolerance, the haters will consume us.

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That’s my opinion on the growth of a very destructive force from the dark side. My father had a considerably less tolerant plan… He died before there was a western acronym for ISIS [ISIL, Daesh, The Caliphate], but he once wrote that captured Taliban and Hammas fighters should be killed and a video sent to their families. The video would show the corpse of a religious extremist as it is buried alongside open carcasses of pigs, including intestines and pork brains. He figured that the graphic display of eternal damnation might persuade the next generation from spreading their hate and killing across other cultures. I hold out hope for a more civilized and humane way to encourage tolerance among neighbors.

In response to the titular question: Is Islam a religion of tolerance? It doesn’t appear to promote tolerance at any level. Not from religious leaders and not that I can see from the adherents. If Islam were tolerant, we would see swift condemnation of terrorist acts. We would see acceptance of other cultures and practices. We would sense an acceptance that women can be educated and treated as something other than cattle, and we would see a peaceful and productive coexistence with the greater communities, both religious and secular.

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