Each shall seek his own kind

For those of you who may not know, Mormons have 3 different heavens--the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial Kingdoms.  One explanation missionaries sometimes give to people when explaining this concept of how God divides people among these kingdoms at judgement day is that people feel most comfortable around peers--thus the good people who kept all of God's commandments will be most at home with other people who did, in the Celestial Kingdom.  Those who were criminal won't feel comfortable with those who were upstanding because of a guilty conscience (or perhaps some other psychological phenomenon).  So, God sending criminals to a different degree of glory/heaven than the more righteous people is actually a mercy because they would feel more comfortable among their own kind than among people that had maintained a higher level of obedience.

This explanation always made very good sense to me, while I would teach it to other people or when it was explained to me.  I've actually thought about this concept much over the last several months.  Why is it that people like to surround themselves with others who are similar?  I think I've written about this before, but I can't remember exactly when.

Anyway, I've noticed a very interesting phenomenon.  I first noticed it when I came out of the closet, because at the time it was a very stark contrast.  I had old friends unfriending me in droves and I had new friendships forming in equal magnitude.  So many people decided they could no longer be friends with me if I were to be openly gay, and so many gay people (particularly gay Mormons) became friends with me because now they had something to relate to me about.  I was actually expecting this.  (To be honest, I was expecting a much greater exodus of old friends leaving than I actually experienced, which was a pleasant surprise.)

However, one thing that's happened more recently and been (at least, from my perspective) a bit more subtle is the fact that since I have left the Mormon church, I have had many people that before I would have just considered acquaintances that now interact with me regularly and I would now call them friends.  Most of these are people that I know from school.  I know that many of my colleagues are Christian, but I honestly didn't know the religious convictions of many of them.

I find it to be interesting that so many people felt uncomfortable talking to me when I was a devout Mormon but are very good friends with me now that I am no longer religious.  I like to think that I am an open-minded person.  Perhaps I was more judgmental than I thought myself to be, but I never (in all my years as a believer) tried to be antagonistic toward anyone of differing beliefs.  In fact, I did have an office mate who was atheist and didn't mind telling me how silly he thought my beliefs were, but he was always respectful at the same time.  It impressed me that he was so interested in my beliefs--it was a genuine interest--even though he thought it was all fable.  But, aside from that one friend, I don't think there were many who were comfortable talking to me about how they felt until I started posting on my wall about my doubts and loss of faith.

But, I do wonder.  Why is it that people prefer to associate with those of similar beliefs?  Why do all of the conservatives in my family (virtually everyone) all get together and preach to each other about how wonderful republicans are and how awful democrats are?  They all already agree.  Obviously the discussion is not for persuasive value.  Is it for therapeutic value?  That is, do people just like to voice their opinions and have their opinions validated by someone else?  Why is it that people feel like they can't be friends with someone who has differing views?

In fact, I hear many times that people shouldn't ever discuss politics or religion--or that they have friends that are very dear but if they ever talked about controversial issues (such as those) then the friendship would end.  Is this what friendship is about?

I get mad at people who disagree with me.  I respond in anger and often with things that I later regret.  I'm tempted to be anti-social with people who disagree with me--especially when they're persistent in doing so.  I think I understand why people do this.  It's more pleasant to have someone agree with you.  It's frustrating and upsetting to have someone disagree, particularly when it's something that you feel very strongly about.  But, am I right in doing so?  Is this a good course of action?

I think that everyone should have the right to voice their own opinion--and to do so without any fear of retaliation or violence from anyone who disagrees.  I think one of the marks of an intelligent person is being able to discuss ideas with others on which they do not agree--to be able to entertain and understand an idea without actually believing or accepting it.

I hope that I portray myself as a friendly and open-minded person.  I want people to feel like they can be my friends, even if their religious and political beliefs are different than mine.  I want people to feel like they can discuss things with me on which they know I disagree.