What To Do When Your Friends Hold Reprehensible Views

Issue 248

Reverend Billy Talen Jun 30, 2019

Hey Reverend Billy,

I’m someone who values friendships, especially friendships that go back over many years. However, in these intensely polarized times, I find it harder to stay in touch with pals who hold problematic views on issues I care about. One example: a pair of old friends who have lived in Israel and have convinced themselves the Palestinians are a “made-up people” who never lived in Palestine in any significant numbers before 1948 and who never want to make peace. These are really nice people who are progressive on most issues, and we’ve shared a lot of good times together. Still, the mindset it takes to erase and not see a whole group of people who are being brutalized on their own land is something I just can’t look past anymore. Their minds are made up as well. I also have a childhood friend who grew up to become an executive in a deeply destructive industry and has made millions of dollars. He too is a nice guy with a lovely family but is disconnected from what he’s doing and won’t acknowledge it despite my best efforts. I know you can always find new friends but in this case that doesn’t feel like an entirely satisfactory answer.

— Joseph, Morningside Heights

Dear Joseph,

Why are you offering courtesy that your friends haven’t given you? Trump and Netanyahu did not invent the confusion of racism with national security, but they have made it very easy to fold hate into “support for Israel” or “American Greatness.” Tell your friends in a straightforward way that Arabs and Jews are children of Abraham and if the two nations must be separate than they should be equal and secure. If your friendship cannot survive that, then move on. Integrate your peaceful values into the friendship and hold the friendship to that test. 

As for the other friend with the ‘destructive’ company — are you talking about Exxon? Monsanto/Bayer? Chase? Well, the same idea should apply. Be straightforward about the violence. Your friends have obviously not been challenged by people they respect. Make sure that you are strong in your defense of peace, so that if this is your last exchange with these people, at least you might be leaving them a bit further from bloodshed or from financial support for killers. Lots and lots of people love peace, Joseph, and you may find better friends among them.


Hi Bill, the Fourth of July is coming up. Me and the fam love hot dogs and fireworks and just getting together with our neighbors every year. But more and more, with that egomaniac in the White House, I feel like our country has turned sour. Yet there’s got to be some room for patriotism these days right? How do I muster up that patriotic spirit?

— Victoria, South Slope

All my life the United States has started wars. From the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam to Reagan’s death squads in Central America, Panama, on and on to the Iraq wars and Afghanistan and Yemen. Always small countries, and always people of color. (Well, the 78-day bombing of Serbia is the exception.) The carnival of exaggerations and lies that presidents use to start American wars is such an old tradition that no-one is believing Trump’s stories about Iran. I hope that makes a difference.

At what point do nation-states lose our loyalty? Now. Right now. The U.S.A., in its blundering arrogance, has mistaken its next manufactured “rogue country” with something more powerful by many orders of magnitude — the Earth itself. Trump has put the source of all life on the terrorist list. The message to the American people seems to be, as the extinction of life accelerates, the income streams of wealthy are more important than breathing. 

The first place we live is the Earth, not the United States, not the West, not Capitalism. The weapons we use to defend our Earth are the bodies she gave us, as we stop pipelines and chemical and oil and big bank climate-change-investing executives. We are armed with our bodies. Sing it to the skies — Earthalujah!

Have a good holiday, with veggie hot dogs!

— Rev

Reverend Billy is an activist and political shouter, a post-religious preacher of the streets and bank lobbies. Have a question for Reverend Billy? Just email and unburden your soul.

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