Rejecting your core values, but not you
January 5, 2011 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Can I make a religious friend okay with not-religious me? Sorry, long...

Friend and I met in New City about 2.5 years ago, both on work terms. We clicked, and by sheer coincidence we discovered that not only did we come from the same Original City, we even went to the same university.

We returned to our city, and our respective social circles. Despite time constraints and different scheduling, up until 3 days ago I still thought that, despite our (many and varied) differences, despite polar opposite opinions on religion and social policies, we were good, close friends who are comfortable with each other. (Evidence: long, intellectual discussions about how our different worldviews oppose each other.)

Friend called me 3 days ago (very late at night, the night before her final exam) asking to talk, and it's important. She came over.

She admitted she's been avoiding me for several months (wasn't my imagination, after all). And she laid out (in tears) the many and varied problems she's had with me. There were a few misunderstandings (cleared up, not really forgiven), but the biggest issue boils down to our opposing viewpoints in life.

I am agnostic, she is strongly, deeply Christian. I am pro-abortion, pro-premarital sex, pro-gay-marriage, and probably more things I can't think of right now that she is strongly opposed to. Previously, and ironically, she was the only person other than my boyfriend I felt comfortable discussing my thoughts with, because we tended to have intellectual conversation from our respective points of view, and were at least food for thought even if I didn't agree at the end of the day. Que sera, sera and all that.

Turns out that she was offended/hurt by my (respectfully dissenting) views, but just didn't know how to voice her hurt, so she turned it into an intellectual conversation instead. Repeat for all issues we've had, that I didn't know about, and thought she was okay with.

Let me first make clear: She deeply, deeply cares about me as a friend. She said I'm probably the friend she has let in the most, which is why my opposing views hurt so much - I don't share her religion, and while I don't insult it to her face or anything I've made clear that it's not for me, and I place absolutely no importance on Christianity or any other religion in terms of my life. And she really does believe that my pre-marital sex, my "live and let live" attitude, and everything else will end up in me getting hurt. And she doesn't want me getting hurt. But I have no regard for the rules of life she lives by, the ones that she says that "the rules will set you free". Put simply, while she has never been a preaching evangelical towards me, she wanted to because she thinks my way of living will end up in tears and pain for me. Except she didn't say anything, because she knew I'd reject it. Cue an ever growing landmine of hurt feelings.

Post conversation, hurt. I am very, very hurt, and quite angry as well. I thought we were okay keeping it intellectual, but that's not the case. I feel judged, and I don't like that. And she's been sitting on these feelings for a damn long time. If I had known that she was uncomfortable with all those heavy topics I wouldn't have that kind of conversation with her, but she never said anything, and now she's telling me that what I think, what I do, who I am hurts her. She portrayed everything as intellectual discussion when she was Really Not Okay with this.

There were other things that weren't religion-related, which also boiled down to me doing nothing wrong/living my own life and her knowing intellectually that I'm not wrong, but she's hurt anyway (such as she thinks I don't respect my parents, or that I was abandoning her in favour of other people, and other things that weren't the least bit true and I countered as such, but I doubt that improved her opinion much). She flat-out asked me if I care about her, which I replied - incredulously - that of course I do, but I still don't agree with her.

I...don't know where to go from here. I'm not converting. I've made my choices, many (most) were made long before I met her (she was hopeful that she had influenced me to change my mind, but that has not happened, and that hurt her too). My boyfriend told me to sit on this and mull over if I want to salvage this friendship, and if, IF I do, we need some very long talks after her finals...but if being close friends and caring about me causes her pain and makes me feel judged...I don't know.

I don't know what to do, honestly. I resent that she holds all the cards right now - this friendship now seems dependent on her ability to reconcile her religion and other views with the idea that people that she cares about may not share the same views. I resent that her beliefs and judgement are making me not only lose her as a friend (which is a distinct possibility), but also other friends and social activities as well (I was not invited to a recent get-together when normally I would; then again, Friend's boyfriend was hosting it so I could see where the lack of invite came from...) I want to salvage this friendship - nearly 3 years is a long time to throw away - but I don't know how, I don't know if we can.

Where do we go from here?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have no regard for the rules of life she lives by

To me, this is the crux of it. One can respect another's life choices without following them. I think that neither of you are quite able, at this point, to do that. To get to that place, I think you need to have a conversation where you agree to disagree, and you lay down ground rules for how you deal with one another. If you can do that, you can save the friendship, but if you can't, then it may just be best to let it go.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:23 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

She doesn't seem that honest, does she? How do you know she's being honest now? Drop her.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:24 AM on January 5, 2011

This is not your problem. This is 100 percent her problem, and she is the one making it a wedge between you. I have friends with violently different religious, political, social, whatever views from mine. We have learned not to discuss certain things or to discuss them only in lofty, theoretical terms. If your friend can't do this, then you're not really her friend.
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 AM on January 5, 2011 [34 favorites]

She sounds terribly sweet. But I have to advise you (in my capacity as Random Stranger on Internet With No Credentials Whatsoever) that what you've written about her makes my warning bells go off like CRAZY.

This is the key: "her knowing intellectually that I'm not wrong, but she's hurt anyway"

Being able to hear dissenting viewpoints without them grievously wounding you is a key trait of sane, stable, mature adults. A person who CAN'T... hell, I don't know. Either they're SO insecure that any outside opinion represents a huge threat... or they're so blowhard-y and narrow-minded that they come to view dissenting voices as creepy winos loitering in the well-groomed suburbs of their mind.

In any event: you're right to be hurt. You may also want to be a little scared... certainly cautious. Your friend, while doubtlessly lovely, just displayed a really alarming side of her personality which may preclude legitimate friendship in the future.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:28 AM on January 5, 2011 [22 favorites]

This is really her problem. If she can't see past her own beliefs to accept yours, then it may just not work out. Probably not what you want to hear, but there it is.

I firmly believe that it is possible for someone who is agnostic and someone who is deeply Christian to have a great friendship. Her interpretation of her values is what is getting in the way.

Maybe you can condense this post into a letter and send it to her as a kind of final salvo?
posted by Leezie at 8:33 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, wait, let me get this straight. You want to be friends with her. And she wants to be friends with you, but only on HER terms, with you obeying rules as laid out by a religion you don't believe in? And she put this to you in a way that reads to me as incredibly guilt-trippy, with the added implied threat of your entire circle of friends siding with her and pushing you out?

Yeah, I'd be walking away from that.
posted by LN at 8:35 AM on January 5, 2011 [32 favorites]

The only possible thing that I think you could do from your end is to examine what you've said about her beliefs, to see if there is anything you may have said that POSSIBLY could be construed as judgemental towards her. I'm not saying this because I think you may have; I just know that sometimes when something like this happens I'll look back at stuff I said, and will sometimes realize that 'oh, wait, yeah, if you look at what I said in THIS light, that sounds a little dickish".

If that all checks out, though, then...this is entirely in her court. Which still hurts, and sucks. Ultimately, in that case, about the only thing you can do is politely but firmly say that you're happy as you are, and that even though you disagree with her beliefs as workable for your OWN life, you accept that they work for her, and wish she could extend you the same courtesy. Then gently let her know that she is always free to contact you under those conditions.

She may, she may not, but you've let her know that this is where your boundary is, and that the door is open at any time if she changes her mind about that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

As you've described it, I think otherdraco has it right. This is about respect. It seems you have respect for her opinions but she does not for yours.

Unfortunately, this isn't truly about her religious differences but about her insecurity. It's what caused her to not speak up for so long and it's what causes her to have overwhelming concern about other things (like that you were were abandoning her in favor of others).

My parents have been together for almost 40 years, raised 3 children, and could probably be called each others best friends throughout most of that time, and they have differing religious and political opinions. My partner and I do as well (though not nearly as extreme). Such a hurdle isn't impossible but if one person doesn't respect the other, then, unless you can swallow your (well-deserved IMO) hurt, then she's going to have to change.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Life is too short to be taking shit from people, let alone supposed "friends."

This is her problem, and frankly if she wants to throw away a very good friendship because of her views, well that's on her. It's not a matter of you not caring or being indifferent, but dammit, a friend is is supposed to be a friend rather than sitting there silently judging you and wanting to fix you.

Leave the door open, but let her know that you are who you are and she'll have to accept that or not, choice is hers. And then you get busy with getting on with your life and mourning the loss.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

For many conservative Christians, having close non-Christian frieds is deemed as a possible sin/stumbling block (see for instance this blog post). Perhaps she was originally friends with you with the ultimate goal of converting you. Now that you've laid out your position (un-convertable), she may view your friendship as something she can't continue.

It sucks for both of you. I remember back in my conservative Christian phase when the only people I really got along with were non-Christians (or, just as bad, Catholic or Assembly of God). And oh, the guilt every time the youth pastor would preach the yearly sermon on not being unequally yoked with unbelievers! It must be really tough for you, too. The good news, should you choose to see it, is that she must have really liked you and enjoyed your friendship if she was willing to deal with the guilt of having a non-believing friend. The bad news is that, at least for now, she may not want to be friends with you.

Where to go from here? Tell her again that you really care about her and that you enjoy discussing your different views....and then accept that it's highly likely that she'll decide you are an obstacle to her effort to be a good conservative Christian, and start cultivating new friendships.
posted by brambory at 8:39 AM on January 5, 2011

Wow, how to parse all of this...

One thing that jumps out at me is that you initially frame the question as one of whether you can make your friend okay with you, but this is not the whole problem. You, after all, are very, very hurt, and quite angry, so there's the question of whether you can be okay with her, too.

Part of the answer to the first question is: no, you cannot "make" her be okay. She's got to accomplish that on her own. But what you can do is give her every opportunity to work through the struggles that friendship with you bring on. My guess is that on one hand she's got these longstanding beliefs that people who live and think like you live and think are bad people, and that their lives are sure to be a mess because they're not on the virtuous path. But here you are, and you don't seem like a bad person, and your life doesn't seem so terrible either. So your very existence and willingness to relate to her is a challenge to her faith as she has so far understood it. This has got to be a very difficult situation for her. To be a friend to her, you have to realize that all of her upset with you is the product of her own personal crisis, and that you are just the catalyst for a process that she would've had to go through sooner or later anyhow, whether she knew you or not. In other words, this isn't really about you. If you can grasp that much, then it's relatively easy to move on to offering her some patience and sympathy as she wrestles with these big issues.

Unfortunately, it still all hinges on whether she's able to adjust her belief system to allow for the possibility that someone like you can exist as a good and healthy person. If she can manage that, then she will have a major growth experience and your friendship will get stronger. But if she can't manage that, then she'll probably try to make you into the bad guy that the more simplistic concepts of her faith say you must be. That would be intolerable, and your friendship would probably end.

tl;dr: It's not about you. Give her some space and some compassion. Lend an ear if she makes good use of it. This is a Chinese handcuffs sort of situation -- pulling too hard just keeps you stuck, but slow and gentle gets you free of it.
posted by jon1270 at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have had close Christian friends. I'm open-minded when it comes to the beliefs of others, and I expect that in return from anyone who wants to be my friend. It never naturally came up in conversation so the potential for disagreement was low, but when it did I was interested as to why people made what seemed to me, as an agnostic, fairly restrictive and not necessarily god-serving choices. Do you ask her about her religious beliefs in this way, or do you tend to go in with 'I don't agree and here's why?'

To be honest, if someone took the time to tell me constantly that being gay was wrong and abortion was wrong and my sexual/life choices were wrong, I'd start thinking hard about whether I could really be friends with this person. I'd be more likely to seriously disagree over politics rather than religion, but are you happy with her judging you by beliefs which you do not hold to be true?
posted by mippy at 8:47 AM on January 5, 2011

She admitted she's been avoiding me for several months (wasn't my imagination, after all). And she laid out (in tears) the many and varied problems she's had with me.

These two sentences say everything. This is so, so far from how a "friend" is supposed to act.

Why put yourself through this, when you could be spending time with other friends who are laid-back and accepting of you?

I say this as a secular humanist (-ish) who has two very close friends who are devoutly Christian. We debate our beliefs (often the 3 of us together, with the 2 of them taking a fairly unified stance against mine). It's not just "intellectual." We feel strongly about them. That's why we're interested in debating them -- often passionately. But as long as our socializing is going to include religious/moral/philosophical debates, we can't let them stop ourselves from respecting each other. At least, not if we want to stay good friends.
posted by John Cohen at 8:49 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Many deeply religious people feel genuine distress, pain, and/or fear for their friends or family who don't hold their beliefs. Like, if you were in a very dangerous profession, or had a dangerous hobby, it wouldn't seem strange that someone who cares about you but doesn't share your hobby/job would be truly distressed and afraid for your well-being whenever you went out to do that dangerous thing.

But the fact that her feelings may be genuine and deeply felt and coming from a place of really, honestly caring about you doesn't mean that they can't also be at least somewhat manipulative, and bad for a true relationship. Those above who have talked about what seems to be her lack of respect for you have hit (one of) the nail(s) on the head, I think.

If she is unable to accept you for who you are, even if you were to both agree to not discuss politics/abortion/etc. in the future, then I think there's no hope for a good, strong friendship. Being a good friend doesn't mean agreeing with everything your friend says or does. It does need a certain amount of honesty, both with oneself and the friend, and it requires respect.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

She only friended you to convert you. Since it's been shown that that's off the table, she's not sure how to continue friendship with you.
posted by notsnot at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

The problem here is not that she's religious. The problem is that she is co-dependent.

She might need some help and reassurance identifying the legitimate boundaries of your relationship. Let her know that you want her as a friend who can just "be" with without making you into some sort of evangelistic project for her. And encourage her to define her boundaries likewise.

Also she sounds like she is not very mature in her faith. Encourage her to grow in her faith. At some point, hopefully, she might transition from a need to convert the world to understanding that how one loves is the measure of faith. A mature christian will reach the point where they understand that it is not their job to save the world, but to do what they can and realize that the whole saving thing is really God's (secular translation: Love's) job.

Speaking of love, you have much in common. Focus on the common and strive to heal and respect the rifts between you. If we can't be friends with people who hurt or annoy us regularly, then we cannot really be true friends to anybody at all.
posted by cross_impact at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

As others have noted, you cannot change or make your friend accept your viewpoints. This is her issue to deal with not yours. In your situation, I question if she is really a friend you want if she couldn't be more forth right with her feelings.

I seem to share many of the same view points you do. I am a bleeding heart, liberal, commie, socialist, pro-abortion (I like how you phrased that!) atheist heathen!
I have many friends of different shades of religious, political, and ideological differences.
With that said, I still love them dearly, and on occasion have offended them inadvertently with some of my blunt viewpoints.
For example, I have one friend who when I first started to know him would mention Jesus all-the-damn-time, even though he knew I didn't want to hear it, and would make comments like "I'll pray for you" (which isn't bad in and of itself, its just if you are going to pray and waste energy, put it towards world peace or something worthwhile). We would discuss intellectual, ideological topics that would occasionally rub him the wrong way. What would make the situation better was discussing that while I don't share the common beliefs that he does, I respect them, even if I don't agree with them, and I would make it clear that I value his friendship despite our differences.
Recently, I offended a very good friend because I posted a topic on our group board discussing Christianity, and he called me out on attacking him. A phone call to him, with an explanation and clarification of the topic at hand cleared that up.

Communication is key in any relationship or friendship, and it takes compromise on both sides and the ability to agree to disagree. I don't get personally offended if someone doesn't conform to my beliefs, because they are MY BELIEFS, just as the other person has theirs.
posted by handbanana at 8:53 AM on January 5, 2011

I agree with Etrigan. This is absolutely not your problem. Which means there's nothing you can really do about it.

It strikes me as key, here, that she came to you the night before a final exam. Because clearly her dilemma about your immortal soul is more important than her studies... Which is a sarcastic way to say that your friend is being a drama queen here, for her own reasons (possibly stress about school?).

The best way to handle ideological drama queens (trust me, I used to be one in the opposite direction from your friend) is to let them get it all out, and DON'T TAKE THE BAIT. They mostly just want something to get worked up over.

I have a strong feeling that, with all that off her chest, your friend is going to take her exam, chill out, move on, and will probably be coming back to apologize any time now.

Or maybe not, and you have truly lost a friend here. If that's the case, I'm really sorry, but if you "friend" is really that kind of person, you probably don't want her in your life after all.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not converting. I've made my choices, many (most) were made long before I met her (she was hopeful that she had influenced me to change my mind, but that has not happened, and that hurt her too).

Well, there you go.

The deal is this: You don't have the same worldview she does but you have been (from what I gather) respectful of that, both out loud and internally. She does not do the same. That right there is the issue, and it has nothing to do with her specific religious convictions.

So if you want to salvage things, try this.

Tell her that you're sorry that she's hurt and sad, and that you're happy she's decided to come forward with this. Explain that you would have refrained from talking about these heavy subjects if you'd known it would upset her. And set some terms.

One would be that you don't need her to agree with your choices but you do need her to respect them. And if she's having trouble doing that then she at least needs to respect the fact that you, as an adult, have full agency and intelligence to make those choices and to live with the consequences - and to respect that she and you may not define negative consequences the same way.

If certain topics make her uncomfortable, well, okay - you'll avoid discussing them.

If, despite all that, she still cannot bear the pain of seeing you have a life that's different from hers, then you really are better off not dealing with her anymore. Would you lose friends? Maybe. Honestly if I were in the same situation, any friends who took her side would be people I'd be comfortable writing off.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:56 AM on January 5, 2011

I've said before and I'll say again that there is always a gap between our perceptions of another person and the way that person really is. When that gap is made apparent to us, as it has to you in this case, it can be confusing and painful.

So now you need to reconcile yourself to the way your friend really is, or put that friendship behind you. For your friend's part, because you've been open with her, the gap is not so much between how she perceives you and how you really are as it is between how she wishes you would be and how you really are.

I think the situation calls for an old-fashioned letter in which you say that you wish you had known how difficult she found your religious discussions, apologize for unintentionally causing distress, and suggest ground rules for the friendship in the future. Basically she's going to need to find a way to come to terms with being open, or you'll need to come to terms with tiptoeing around uncomfortable subjects—and she'll still need to be able to tell you they make her uncomfortable.
posted by adamrice at 8:58 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

You became friends in a new city, had some great long, open talks about your different beliefs and values during which you detected no hint of offense or hurt. And now that you're back home things have changed radically.

I'd put money on your relationship only being problematic now that she's back with her religious community. Because she's spending more time with them she could be more conscious of fitting in and be putting more pressure on herself to live how she thinks she should. It's also possible that a religious mentor or parental figure is giving her more direct influence on your friendship specifically. I wouldn't be surprised if she was given the "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" line.

Unfortunately I'm not sure there's a solution that leaves you two as friends. If I were in your shoes and felt that the relationship was worth saving I would do some research on religious figures and their non-religious friends and colleagues. Still, this might come across as argumentative and intellectual, when really what she wants is for you to convert. If she won't agree to disagree, if she won't let you be yourself to be her friend, then you'll have to let her go.
posted by ODiV at 8:59 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, by the way, one of my oldest friends is a devout Christian, the sort who wishes you "A Blessed Day" on her voicemail greeting, speaks in tongues, briefly preached and spends all day at church on Sundays.

She's never pulled anything like what your friend described and she'd be appalled at anyone who did. Now, it might be different because we were friends in high school and college before she was saved, so we had a solid non-religious foundation to build and grow on. But still, you know? The person you described doesn't sound like a friend i.e. someone who admires, respects and really likes you. Don't you deserve better?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:00 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a religious person: this doesn't sound like the way friends think about and treat each other. I am friends with lots of nonbelievers, anti-theists, and folks who believe I'm going to Hell. Accepting that someone else is praying for you, choosing not to start fights, focusing on what you agree on, and so forth is the name of the game - it's about being OK with other people's choices for themselves.

Unless you can "make" her grow up a little, and maybe go back in time, I don't know that you can fix this. Maybe give it a rest and try again in a few months?
posted by SMPA at 9:13 AM on January 5, 2011

Perhaps direct her to Matthew 7:1
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:21 AM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of people are giving you thoughtful advice weighing various considerations and trying to address your concerns balanced with what may be going through this other person's mind.

I'm going to take the low road: Christ, what an asshole. DTMFA.

You don't need "friends" who can't see past their own shallow (religious or otherwise) perspective enough to actually want to, you know, be your friend. And actually, it seems to me that you've already lost her as a friend and at this point what you are going through is grieving. Give yourself some time and try to forget about her, and focus on your real friends, those who actually like you for who you are and don't expect you to change as a condition for friendship.
posted by dubitable at 9:22 AM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

Mirroring what other folks have said - odds are good this is about her family and community and how it's affecting her. I bet she wasn't able to step up and say how she felt at Big City, because she's used to be punished and judged for saying how she feels from the community she came from. That's not your problem and there's not much you can do about that, but it is a point of understanding you can at least have in working through what's going on for yourself.

Since the issue sits with her, and whether she can/will change, the only way this relationship might be salvaged is this:

You communicate with her (maybe writing?) that you still care about her as a friend, that you wish she would have let you know earlier, so you both could find a better way of communicating, and maybe if you could meet up for coffee in a year to check in on each other?

It keeps the door open if she manages to get enough boundaries to figure out what she cares about in life, and if she doesn't, it's not like you're making big plans here. You can't make anyone change, but you can be patient without committing a lot of resources or energy towards it, if you think it's worth doing.
posted by yeloson at 9:32 AM on January 5, 2011

She feels threatened by your ideas because she cannot *honestly* defend her own, though she may have put up a pretense of intellectual exchange before. Faced with rejecting her old worldview and engaging with fresh eyes, or reacting emotionally to your coherent freedom, she has chosen the latter.

She probably doesn't know any of this, either. Many social constructs permit and even reward her continuing intransigence.

Pity her.
posted by General Tonic at 9:33 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

She religion she adheres to is obsessed with the concept of personal sacrifice, and it sounds like she's struggling with what that means for her. Whether or not she's happy to be in this position, it is a natural outcome of her life choices, and she needs to deal with that. It's unfortunate that she has hurt someone through her inability to reconcile this.

You're a good friend for wanting to find a way to work things out, but until SHE works things out, nearly everything you can do is pointless.
posted by hermitosis at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also have devoutly Evangelical Christian* friends. Mainly from before they "Got Saved", but a few are people I grew up with whose families always had different beliefs from mine. While I find that it's hard to be absolute besties 4-eva in that situation, we can live and let live and still have common ground to base a friendship on. Because we care for each other. And yes, I worry about their kids, and yes, they worry about the fact that I'm going to burn in hell. But we don't confront each other about it, and that's OK.

*It strikes me as interesting that my devoutly Catholic friends and I can be the sorts of friends who met as adults in college and have different views about stuff like abortion, and that's OK.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 AM on January 5, 2011

So much for my vow to stay away from controversial topics....

First off, I think your friend really cares about you. The problem is, in her view of the world (and the afterlife), you are going to Hell. She is genuinely scared of what is going to happen to you and this is making her incredibly upset. Now it doesn't matter that this viewpoint is nuts, in her brain your lifestyle is setting you up for eternal torment. And she can't reconcile your apparent niceness with what she is conditioned to believe is the end result.

Oh and you might be dragging her down with you- imagine the guilt if you got her to "misbehave"?

I'd let this friendship takes its natural course and fade away. You might get along great but in the end she looks at you and sees a damned soul, I don't think she'll ever be a true friend if that is always the case.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 9:45 AM on January 5, 2011

notsnot: She only friended you to convert you. Since it's been shown that that's off the table, she's not sure how to continue friendship with you.

This is possible, but not the only option. I started college as a Christian, ended a non-believer. Raised as a protestant (Lutheran), I went to church with family when I went home, then I was invited to church with some college friends. I became devoted, but very uncomfortable with trying to convert anyone. I was good friends with a guy who was raised in a Muslim family, and a practicing Jew. We would have religious debates, and some of our Christian friends would really be pushing their beliefs, held personally as the truth. No one changed their minds from these talks, but some (not all) of the Christians really did believe that they were trying to save the very souls of our friends. My beliefs changed, and with that I have drifted apart from some of my devoutly Christian friends.

For some, their beliefs are so steadfast that their views of the life of the non-believer are very much as rtha said, as if you were in a very dangerous profession, or had a dangerous hobby. Except unlike motorcycle riding or skydiving which could kill you, the life of the nonbeliever will end in eternal damnation and suffering, more like a slow game of Russian roulette. You will die, and it will be forever. So why wouldn't your good friend try to save you from shooting yourself?

Give yourself time to think about the friendship you had, and what you'd do to get that back, and if that would be enough, knowing what you know now about your friend's views. As adamrice mentioned, you may want to write out your thoughts in a letter, either describing how you are sad to realize that you aren't compatible in ways you didn't realize before, or how you think your worldviews could work with hers.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My bet is that there is no way you two will be able to continue a friendship. Not only are your worldviews different -- something which can be overcome -- but from her point of view, your worldview is fundamentally wrong. And by wrong, I mean evil. Friendships cannot tolerate those kinds of differences.

For your Christian friend, trying to be friends with you must be like you trying to be friends with, lets say, a white supremacist. You might enjoy certain aspects of that person, but it would be all but impossible to overcome your feelings about their worldview. For example, your friend (making what I think is a fair generalization for Christians) probably believes that abortion is the murder of children. If she truly believes that, it would be as difficult for her to reconcile your pro-abortion beliefs as it would be for you to reconcile (from my example) your white supremacist friend’s belief that the Aryan race is the master race.
posted by rtimmel at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm with ODiV and others who have said that your friend is almost certainly feeling pressure from others in her group to not be friends with you as things stand. My guess is that she came back and started telling the people that she knew that she had talked to you about a lot of things and that, perhaps, she was even doubting whether what she had been taught was the whole truth.

This eventually probably made it's way to someone who had a position of authority in her community or in her life (be it a pastor, parents or whatever). They probably told her that the Devil was working through you to try to lead her astray. I come from a very religious background and I heard this kind of stuff all the time. It sounds kind of ridiculous sometimes, if you aren't familiar with that background. So now she is in conflict, she probably somewhere inside feels like what this other person is saying is ridiculous, but at the same time this is part and parcel of the culture that she is from.

Unfortunately, I am not sure that there is going to be a happy solution. Really, I would be honest with her and tell her that you feel hurt by her attitude and that if she wants to be friends you are both going to have to learn to accept each other how you are, and not proceed with the idea that you are going to change one another.
posted by jefeweiss at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2011

You know, blowups like this hurt, but fall into the category of "that which does not kill us makes us stronger." You can let this conversation kill the friendship, or you can take it on board, and watch the frienship grow in new directions, probably as a stronger relationship.

Basically, she was carrying the burden of aggravation over the differences in your religious/personal perspectives. In a sense, she is asking you to share it. She is taking a big risk by doing that --the risk that you will not be willing to modify your behaviors, and the risk that you will reject her caring in the form that she best expresses it.

I'm not expressing this well, and I'm sorry about that. But this is totally do-able, and you can still have a very rich, rewarding friendship, but it does require joint accomodation of perspective: She has to let you be about your beliefs & lifestyle as best she is able --and here's the important part-- while still honoring who she is and what she believes her obligations are to a friend. And you need to not reject her beliefs so vehemently that she cannot express herself and her concerns openly and honestly around you.

I have a *DEEPLY* religious friend, and have for years. We became friends long before I made my peace with religion --when I was still vehemently anti organized religion. We were able to coexist & thrive as friends, and I think the key to it was this: I recognized and acknowleged her beliefs and modified my behavior to accomodate her perspective, AND she recognized and acknowledged my beliefs and modified her behavior to accomodate my perspective. The behavioral modification was not 'pretend to have different beliefs,' it was 'go out of your way not to offend, and be patient with your friend's beliefs.'

My deeply religious friend would occasionally offer to pray for me. I always accepted that when offered. It was something she felt she could do to look after me and help me, and I see no disrespect in that. I can use all the help I can get, and if it turns out she's right & I'm wrong, even better. I didn't have to reject that offer of help just because I disagreed with her religious beliefs. On the other hand, she didn't abuse the privilege: She didn't crowd me with offers of prayers, and she didn't use her prayers to criticize who I was. She chose wisely about when and what to offer. And once a year, on Christmas, she would send me a Christmas card expressing her concerns and her hopes for the state of my soul.

Did I love getting that Christmas card? No. But it eased her mind that she was not ignoring a problem, and it I chose to be gracious in accepting that a friend was concerned for me and expressing it as sincerely as she knew how. And in the meantime, we could be good and honest friends for each other, and discuss our problems both within and without the context of religion. Because we were tolerant of each other's perspectives.
posted by Ys at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

The two of you are completely incompatiable as friends. She's only willing to have a relationship with you on her (boring) terms. You would have to change virtually every aspect of your life to suit her; she can't possibly be worth that, so there shouldn't be any question.

The friendship is already over, and it never really existed.

People of different beliefs can be close (as evidenced by the above testimonials); but not when it's accompanied by this person's evangelical zeal, rigidness and superiority. (These traits are, ironically, probably born out of her limited life experience, rather than actually knowing better than you.)

Those are the actual core values at play here. It's per personality, not her faith, that's the problem here.

Run, and be glad you're getting away before she has you manipulated and guilt-ridden enough to start changing your life in the serivce of things you don't believe.
posted by spaltavian at 10:09 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I want you to know that I love you and that I really value our friendship. I'd hate to not have you in my life any more.

"The problem is that we disagree about some fundamental things. And, you know, we're both grown ups, so neither of us is likely to change our beliefs anytime soon. I certainly don't expect you to become an agnostic or atheist. And, I know this is hard for you, and I know you want what's best for me, but I'm just not going to become a Christian or live according to Christian values. If you just can't be friends with a non-believer, than I guess we can't be friends. I hope that's not the case.

"I am hoping we can be friends, anyway, even if we are different in these fundamental ways. I know the stakes are high. I know that from your perspective, my life choices are really foolish and will cause me to suffer. And I totally understand how, as my friend, you want to keep me from suffering. In your shoes, I think I'd act the same way. But, foolish or not, I'm going to stick to the choices I've made. I hope that you can be friends with me, knowing I'm not going to make different choices. It will probably be hard for you, but I think our friendship is worth it. Don't you?

"Maybe we can learn from each other. If you ever do sway me -- which I doubt you will, but it's possible -- it will be by example rather than by us fighting and hurting each-other's feelings. If we quit our friendship, then I won't have the example in my live of a good Christian. So I'm hoping you'll live your life and be true to yourself -- while being part of my life. I may not share your views, but I value you and I am genuinely interested in how you live. So while I'm not on the same page as you in terms of religion, I really am paying attention.

"As far as I'm concerned, we can be friends and continue our conversations. I love hearing your point of view, even if I disagree with it. It helps me grow. And I'd love the chance to share my way of thinking with you, as long as we can talk respectfully.

"I promise to never try to convert you. I want you to be you, not me. Of course, I expect you to not try to convert me, either.

"Like I said, I'm happy to continue to have our intellectual discussions. But if they are too hurtful to you, I am also okay with us not discussing certain things. I don't have to discuss everything with everyone. So if you want to be friends with me without us talking about certain topics, just tell me. I know that I can be friends under those circumstances. I would certainly be willing to keep quiet about some stuff around you if the alternative is losing you as a friend.

"What do you think?"
posted by grumblebee at 10:32 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoa, wait. I was totally trying to think of ways to salvage the friendship until I saw:

making me not only lose her as a friend (which is a distinct possibility), but also other friends and social activities as well (I was not invited to a recent get-together when normally I would; then again, Friend's boyfriend was hosting it so I could see where the lack of invite came from...)

She is evidently twelve. Seriously, because you are agnostic, and she is "hurt" by it, you get left out of activities? That is not grown up behaviour. The rest of it is not grown up behaviour either, but I have seen religion do strange things to people, and I was going to let that slide. Your friend is not very mature. She has a lot of growing up to do before you should try salvaging the relationship. I am sorry that you lost a friend like this.
posted by kellyblah at 11:11 AM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Your very existence is a challenge to her worldview. Everything she's been taught, everything she continues to be taught, everything her friends say and her family says -- your life proves it to be a lie. She believes that your views are wrong and sinful and yet she loves you. She believes that you must be evil while simultaneously believing that you are not evil.

She's experiencing extreme cognitive dissonance, which is uncomfortable, and all of her options will cause her pain. She can dump you, which would cause her pain, or she could accept you which means ditching some of her most firmly-held beliefs, which would cause her pain. And then if she accepts you, she might feel she has to defend you to her friends and family, which would not only cause her pain but put those relationships at risk as well. So she's in a tough spot, and you can maybe spend some time trying to understand that and empathize to the extent you can, even as you feel the hurt of it.

It could really go any way from here, but unfortunately, the choice is all hers and she has no good options. The fault is not yours or hers, per se, but religion's. I know MeFi hates us "new atheists," but there's a reason we think of (this kind of) religion as a virus of the mind. It lets us see people like your friend not as mean or nasty or selfish, but as victims. She is a victim of her religion. It could change -- she could break free entirely or she could simply find a better equilibrium with a more liberal understanding of her religion. Or it might not change, in which case I'm afraid your relationship is unlikely to continue in a genuine way.
posted by callmejay at 11:32 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

IMHO, there is no friendship here to continue. I think that you need to let her go. The kind of problem that she had with you is something that you can't fix. The bigotry is baked in, and it's not going away based on anything that you do.
posted by Citrus at 12:24 PM on January 5, 2011

I agree with a lot of what people are saying here but I think you might want to consider pulling back from the relationship rather than severing ties completely. Especially if you are friends with other people in her circle. Most of my friends who were very religious growing up and in college are much more tolerant and just... cooler about their religion and other peoples' religions (or lack thereof) than they were when they were younger. (I'm a 32-year-old atheist with Christian, Jewish, and "Miscellaneous" friends.)

I don't think you can be friends with this girl right now, but who knows, you could be besties again if your lives intersect in five or ten years. In the meantime, you don't need to spend a whole lot of time with someone when you're making her feel pain and she's making you feel judged.
posted by mskyle at 12:53 PM on January 5, 2011


I'm a pretty conservative Christian. I have lots of friends who are not.

Thing is, it probably really is quite difficult to be BEST friends with someone who holds diametrically opposed opinions to one's own, no matter what spectrum those opinions are on. But I am rather puzzled why she felt the need to a) avoid you or b) get all teary on you.

Here's the thing. I can respect a person as a person even if I think their opinions are flat crap. Obviously I am not the only one who can do that as some of MY friends think MY opinions and views are flat crap (most of you can guess the issues, but it's kinda irrelevant.)

I don't know what she was trying to accomplish by dumping all this on you. But I think she shouldn't have.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:21 PM on January 5, 2011

I am a religious person who is married to a really, really anti-religious person. Here's what we do: we don't talk about it.

If that's not cool for both of you, the friendship isn't going to work.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

For example, your friend (making what I think is a fair generalization for Christians) probably believes that abortion is the murder of children.

This is not a fair generalization for the majority of Christians in the US, no. At least not according to surveys.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:11 PM on January 5, 2011

I'd pity her instead of being upset.
posted by lizbunny at 2:56 PM on January 5, 2011

My Christian friends have no issues with the fact that I'm agnostic. Some of them know I was in an abusive church situation; others don't. She could be a member of a church like my old one, where they tell you not to hang out with "sinners" because it will drag you down. These church people may be pressuring her into not being your friend anymore and that may be hurting her deeply. If this is the case, she would need to realize that your church does not get to dictate your life before anything would get better. I had to walk away from my old church before I could see all the manipulative things they'd done to me, including making me think bad things about my family and friends because they weren't "saved."
posted by IndigoRain at 4:39 PM on January 5, 2011

Maybe I'm projecting, but I'm not sure this friendship can, or should, be saved. I don't know that it will be good for you, and I don't know that you have enough of a common ground anymore.

Several years ago, I had a best, best friend. I've never had such a close friend before or since. She was awesome, we had the same politics and opinions on most things, we talked about everything, we were friends through high school and college and really grew up together, etc etc. Then she found religion, and well, she went 180 and became a different person. One day she asked me to meet her at a Dunkin' Donuts, and she told me we couldn't be friends anymore because I didn't believe in god. That's it. Flat out. My best friend ever (of about six years at that point, more than a quarter of our lives) dumped me in a dirty, touristy DD on the Boston Commons. It hurt. That was over ten years ago, and I still remember how much it hurt--in fact, it hurt more than any romantic breakup I've ever had. My friend's church seems to be a cult and I think they may have been pressuring her to cut me off, which, as IndigoRain suggested, may be a part of what you're going through. But, I will say that as much as my friend hurt me, as much as it sucked, I can look back and say that I think she probably did us both a favor. We couldn't share our lives anymore, and she just ripped the bandaid off rather than letting the friendship rot. She couldn't respect me, and I couldn't relate to her life. We didn't have anything to share anymore. I still kind of miss her, but at this point I don't regret not having her in my life. Since then I've made friends with some very religious people, and it works just fine. Someone who is mature, and who is comfortable in their religious choices, will be able to be friends with you and not be judgmental all the time--it sounds like she's not there. Someone who is a real friend will love you despite your disagreements. Someone who will dump you for disagreeing isn't a real solid friend you can depend on.

I'm sorry--believe me, I know how much this sucks. But I think you're better off letting go of her as a friend.
posted by min at 5:28 PM on January 5, 2011

The subtext of her guilt trip is that she thinks she knows how to live your life better than you do. Regardless of the reasons (religion, etc.) if you disagree with this assessment, it's going to be very difficult to reconcile things with her--people who think they know better are always finding ways to tell others what they should do.
posted by Terriniski at 6:37 PM on January 5, 2011

I had a situation very similar to min - my friend joined an odd Christian sect and was told to limit interactions with non-Christians. I was raised Catholic but am now agnostic/atheistic. The majority of my friends are religious, mostly Jewish but also some Catholics, Hindi, Buddhists, and others. As my friend got more and more involved in her religion she began to insult the religions of my friends, sometimes to their faces, which I did not appreciate and told her so. When she had crises of faith she would ask for my opinion and when I gave it to her (like min's friend my friend's group was a little cultish - I didn't say that but I did mention how they seemed to be overtaking her life...) and suggested to take a little time to herself - for example go to church functions once or twice a week instead of five nights a week - and weeks later when her crisis had been resolved (by spending more time with the church) I was accused of trying to make her leave the Church and God....

She played the same game as your friend is playing - time not speaking to me, then talking to me about how *I'd* insulted her religion (by not letting her insult my friends' religion, by not joining her religion, etc.) - and it went on and off for quite a while before I ended it. It is a much better situation.

Do I miss the friend? Yes. But the amount of drama and BS that she began to bring to the friendship far outweighed any of the advantages of the friendship.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:48 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If she had respect for you as a person and a friend, she would have been willing to treat your religious differences as just one of the many things friends don't always have in common. Or she would have mentioned the issue years ago, in a normal, "maybe we shouldn't talk about religion anymore" sort of way.

Instead, she saved this up into a massive guilt-grenade, pulled the pin, and threw herself on it the night before finals. Prepare to be blamed not only for brimstone, hellfire, and the likely collapse of your shared social circle, but for her impending C-.

People who Stage Interventions for their perfectly-normal friends are never worth the drama. I know it hurts to hear this, but I speak from personal experience: you can break this friendship off now, or you can watch her do it later, after you've expended a ton of energy trying to fix things. She dumped this on you because she wants the end of your relationship to be All Your Fault, not because she shares your desire to salvage the friendship.
posted by vorfeed at 8:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful responses.

I wrote the above question in a rush (of anger, unsurprisingly), and was perhaps not clear on a few points.

Firstly (not sure if it makes any difference), we've been back home in Original City for quite a while now. When we were at New City, it was for a temporary (8 month) workterm; we came back home to Original City afterwards. If there are pressures upon her from her religious community, it's not recent, since we've been back home for nearly 1.5 years, although it is more than possible that the pressure has just been building up. And yeah, we've both been busy since we came home, but up until the Revelation we seemed normal, other than her getting progressively more distant since about Sept. 2010 (ie. avoiding me). She did say--and I'm inclined to believe her on this one--that she hasn't spoken of her issues with me to anyone (she mentioned being hurt about me befriending an ex of hers to her current boyfriend, but nothing past that. I was baffled about that one too, since I mentioned befriending Ex to her and she said she was fine with it, but I tangent...).

I've been doing some serious thinking since reading all these responses, and I honestly can't think of a single instance, other than the remark about my parents, which my intentions could have been misconstrued. My view has always been something along the lines of "Look, if your dealbreaker is that you'd only date men who wear red socks on Tuesdays then you'd better start looking for men in red socks, because it's your choice and you have every right to make your choices regardless of whoever else, be it a person or the rest of society, agrees with you or not." Same philosophy applies to everything else. The reason why I called our conversations intellectual is because we've both asked questions of each other's views and LISTENED, never raised our voices, and generally had a Discussion in which it never ever got heated. I've told her before, in said Long And Intimate Conversations about Life and Relationships and Philosophies and whatnot, that I don't agree with her choices for MY life, but if it works for HERS, more power to her.

That's as gentle as a non-believer can get, right? I honestly cannot fathom where she got the "sometimes I feel like you don't care for me at all" came from, other than perhaps just the fact that I do not, and will not, share her religion with her...something along the lines of when she said "when you really really believe in something, and want so badly to just SHARE it with everyone, and they turn it down...that hurts."

As for specific hot-button issues...we talk(ed) a lot, sometimes random things, sometimes deep. I don't exactly advertise my thoughts for fear of this exact issue; I'll allude to them in conversation but it's not like I tell the world "Hey, I just had extremely hot sex with my boyfriend last night" -- that's a little too frank for me, too crude for most company, and I value my privacy. I do spell out my general philosophy and views frankly, but for specific intimate details, it takes correct context, it being germane to the discussion at hand, AND a direct question - she asked me "so, ARE you having sex with your boyfriend?" before I answered yes.

Per the advice given: I've mentioned the "why the heck didn't you tell me all this before now?", that I'm happy she at least told me, but I'm Not Going To Change during her teary revelation and conversation thereafter. Her only real response was that she knows it's my life, but she's not okay with it, and will be avoiding me until she can sort it out, even after we've both agreed to not talk about philosophical topics anymore. Maybe I will write a letter eventually, but I think I'm not capable of keeping calm during it (as evidenced by the length of MY question and this response...)

I'll stop rambling now. Just...this really sucks, and her boyfriend was a friend of mine too (hell, we met our boyfriends together). I'm sorry I'm not more coherent, but all of your thoughts, advice, and well-wishes are deeply appreciated, and if anyone else wants to add more, please do.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:21 PM on January 5, 2011

So here is my theory:

You represent doubt. A doubt she cannot handle and one that at this time she cannot process and cannot reconcile with her current beliefs. Yours is the path she didn't choose. Yours is the life she could have had, bur didn't. When she's around you, she's forced to confront ideas, feelings, and more than anything, doubts that greatly upset her.

Because let's face it, you are probably more or less happy, healthy, and fulfilled. I'm guessing obviously, but I'm guessing your life is no better or worse than your friends. And she knows you very well. She knows you aren't a bad person. Why else would she be such a good friend to you for so many years? But you didn't play by the rules. You didn't make the same sacrifices. Yet all the horrors she's been taught would be the natural consequences of your "sinful" actions haven't rained down upon you.

And on top of that your just so damn reasonable and open minded.

Your life stands in direct contradiction to everything she's been taught that someone like yours life should be. This is hugely upsetting because it throws into doubt many of her life choices and makes her wonder if her sacrifices were for nothing. She can't currently come to grip with these feelings rumbling beneath the surface, so instead she lashes out at you. Now if only you were to convert, her world view could fall back into order. You were just lost, but then you'd be found.

Now doubt can certainly be an integral part of faith and I'm not trying to attack her religious views, but it's clear she is has yet to face her fears and doubts head on and may have been taught that doubt is wrong and sinful as opposed to a natural part of faith that ought to be openly explored. Unfortunately, I think you are just collateral damage, which is very selfish of her, but this isn't your fault. So don't beat yourself up and recognize that this really isn't about you at all.
posted by whoaali at 10:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

There's this weird thing that happens sometimes when a member of a privileged group has their privilege questioned. I don't really understand it, but I've noticed it in a few cases, so I thought I would mention it here in the hopes that it will either help you or at least be interesting.

Remember that whole thing about the War on Christmas? Of course non-religious people didn't want to prevent others from enjoying Christmas but merely to not celebrate it themselves. But some religious people instantly jumped to feeling persecuted. I believe that this is a genuine feeling, rather than a cynical tactic. That's not to say that it's an accurate belief about reality, but that it's an accurate report of their own feelings. I think I've heard proposed that this sort of defense mechanism has an evolutionary explanation: any time a situation benefits you, any attempt to change that situation must be resisted at all costs.

What's interesting is that there's not really a problem at the conscious level. It's not that you're saying, "I don't believe in God", and your friend is hearing, "You're stupid to believe in God." If asked to summarize your discussions, your friend would (possibly) give an accurate summary. But at a subconscious level, the *effect* is as if you said, "You're stupid to believe in God." Then the conscious thoughts get driven by the feelings into a bad place. That's not to say that you're doing something wrong. You're not. Instead, there's a failure mode in the human brain that hasn't been widely noticed enough that there's a well-known work-around.

I once got into a discussion with a religious person, which sadly I can't share because it was under her friends-lock, about these sorts of feelings. One thing I found to be effective in getting her subconscious in line was to share my feelings about what it is like to be a member of the most hated minority in America. I also explicitly called out the subconscious misunderstanding, and related it to privilege. Since this religious person was already familiar with privilege, I was able to use that as a shorthand to get her to notice what was going on. I don't think this would work with someone who wasn't coming from a feminist/anti-racist/etc position.

Anyway, I have historically found the the disconnect between feelings and conscious thoughts confusing, but since I've noticed this pattern, I've (a) tried to notice cases when my own privilege causes a mismatch between my thoughts and feelings, and (b) point out the cases where I see the pattern in others in discussions I'm having.

That said, if this doesn't work, DTMFA.
posted by novalis_dt at 10:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

OP: Just wanted to clarify, when I mentioned thinking about anything you may have said that could have been weird taken out of context, that I didn't think you actually had. It was more of a suggestion because you wanted to know if there was something YOU could do to help the situation, and that was about all I could think of.

This really is something only she can wrestle with, I think; it sounds like, from what you've said now, that this is a crisis of faith SHE'S having, and...the only thing you can do is continue to just be you and do what you've been doing, and she will either decide she can or cannot deal with that. It will suck if she can't. But it sounds like you've done all you can do, and it's out of your hands.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 AM on January 6, 2011

Dubitable has it. What an asshole; DTMFA. Seriously, how childish to leave you out of things and avoid you and judge you. You have every right to be upset and angry - don't feel you have to be all calm about it and shrug and say 'Oh well, we just had different beliefs'. She has behaved like an asshole and a child - do all the venting you want (as long as it's to someone you know won't repeat it to her, you don't want to perpetuate all the junior high school stuff). Good luck to you.
posted by mudkicker at 12:45 PM on January 6, 2011

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