Recently I have observed various conversations regarding deconvert’s relationships with friends, and I thought a primer for the friends would be helpful.
O.K. Your friend has come to you with the announcement that he is atheist, or agnostic, or deist; in some way has become convinced the God you two shared is non-existent. Is not reality. What do you do?
Yes, I know it sounds harsh, abrupt and a violation of some code, but let’s face it—he changed the rules, not you. Hey, if he came to you and said he always wanted to be a woman and was having a sex-change operation next week, he wouldn’t expect the relationship to stay the same, true? Of if you informed him that you were moving to Antarctica to study ice flow for the next four years, he would not expect the relationship continue as is, right?
In life—things change. And relationships may change or even end with those changes. God is a large…no, HUGE part of your life. You pray, and study every day. You go to church. Your friends and family all center on your beliefs. If he does not want to be part of it, that is his choice. He cannot expect YOU to all of a sudden drop everything you know is true, simply because he is having “issues.”
Remember that time when you went out looking for dates, and that one girl said she would never date a football player, and you both laughed and laughed since the place was full of football players? You are sure she was a great person, and may be off married to a dancer or artist somewhere, but she was simply in the wrong crowd. You know he is a great guy, but just like that he is in the wrong crowd. “Birds of a feather…” and all that. Better for him to go find some atheist or agnostic buddies.
You just don’t have as much in common any more. What are you going to do Saturday night? Is he going to come to Small Group with you? Not hardly. Or Sunday lunch. Hard to discuss the sermon, or what is happening at church if he is not even there, right?
And how can you discuss anything spiritually with him? How God is impacting your life, or how prayer was answered? He thinks it is all baloney, now! You might even be offended, if he raises an eyebrow when you mention how God gave great weather for Sunday’s…er…Saturday’s church golf outing. What kind of relationship is that?
No, best for both of you to end it here. No need to send a letter, or note explaining your position. When you don’t return his calls, and stop inviting him over for your annual July 4th picnic, you can be sure he will get the message. Besides, you are certain by then he has all his agnostic buddies to hang around and enjoy life here. Because for a non-believer Earth is the best they will ever get, but for a believer, Earth is the worst they will ever get. Nuts, he doesn’t even understand THAT anymore.
Bail out. Be done with it. Not your fault, but what is done is done. He made his bed, he can lie in it.
What are you still reading for?
The primer is done.
I am quite serious, that this is the best way for these friendships to go.
You want more. Right? You want something more hopeful, more helpful, more life-giving rather than “end it.” Well, you can try and continue it, but that takes hard work. Maybe some of the hardest work in a friendship. Maybe more than you want to commit.
All right. I will give some insight, but I warn you—probably better to end the primer right here than read on.
Commit one meeting a week with your friend (Hey, I said it would not be easy.)
Deconverting is a mixed-up feeling. He does not know whether he feels like a widower on a cruise ship of honeymooners or a honeymooner on a cruise ship of widowers. Part of it is a feeling of presenting harsh reality to a group of happy-go-lucky believers, and partly a feeling of a whole new world of reality to a miserable group of dejected followers. He wants to share new information, yet not be overt offensive.
Mostly likely he did not deconvert through face-to-face discussion, but rather through on-line discussion, or reading, or internal reflection. Now he wants to actually talk to a real, live person about some of the thoughts and feelings of what he went through.
You see, most of his friends will opt to bail out. The community which he grew up in, the one he is most familiar with, chooses to have nothing to do with him. Worse, they have damned him to a state of apostasy, and would force him to keep his new ideas to himself.
He has no one to actually talk about what has happened.
Before, as his life progressed, he could share some things with one person, others with another, and have various friends interacting with him on various levels. That is now gone. To even have one friend once a week, actually desire to talk with him would be a real treat.
It would not be easy. There would be things you do not want to hear, and words that would not be pleasant. There are concepts and ideas that are foreign to you and you cannot wrap your hands about even contemplating them. Neither could he one year ago, and now he embraces them.
Humans are social creatures. Deconverts are no different. He will first look for interaction with what he is familiar—his current set of friends. You very likely will be the only one that reciprocates.
Forget judgmental talk
How much water can you fit in a one-gallon bucket? No matter how much you pour and pour, the most you can fit is one gallon. After that, all the pouring in the world makes no difference—no more water is going to fit.
After interacting with theists on-line, your friend the deconvert has certain buckets that are full. You saying it again will make no difference. The following buckets are full:
“You really know there is a God.”
“You hate answering to authority, so you hate God.”
“You want to be God.”
“The wisdom of the world is foolishness.”
“You were never saved in the first place.”
Frankly, deconverts have heard those phrases time and time (and time) again. He knows you think it. He knows that it these are truths that are so grounded in your being they make “2 + 2 = 4” possibly more inaccurate. But he doesn’t need to hear it again.
Interestingly, you can still get the point across, but in the form of a question, rather than an accusation. Instead of saying, “You really know there is a God” you could say, “When you were a Christian, you thought Romans 1 was divinely inspired. As you know, it indicates that all humans know there is a God. How did you deal with that?”
You may not like the answer. But it comes across so much nicer in question form, rather than indictment form.
He knows you cannot fathom the concept that another person can believe, to the very core of their being, there is no God. He knows that you must question his sincerity in saying that. But rather than blurt it out, keep it to yourself. If he calls himself a former Christian, there is not a single ounce of harm to agree.
Yes, you have a duty to speak truth. Yes, you will choke on the words that state he was a Christian. But do you really want to argue “truth” with someone that you are convinced is lying to themselves? What is the gain? Let it go.
Stow the assertions; ask questions instead.
You may have to study
If you are really interested in empathizing to some degree as to what he went through, you may have to pick up a book and read. It will not be a book you would normally choose.
Deconverts become deconverts through study. They have read numerous books, and articles, and forums, and blogs, and have analyzed as best they can, 1000’s of pages of documents. It is a compliment to acknowledge that study with at least reading one measly book.
Ask for a recommendation from your friend for one (1) book. Explain that you have no interest in deconverting, but, because they are your friend, you are interested in what they are interested in. Read the book, take notes, and point out to your friend everywhere it was wrong, or did not resonant with you.
For your friend, this will do two things. First, it will demonstrate your interest and the fact you actually read it. Second it will give him an opportunity to show you there is not always one side to every story.
Give it time
Surprisingly, you will find that he did not change as much as you expected. He still likes the same food. He still laughs at the same jokes, plays the same tricks, and tells the same stupid stories. He may even still go to church.
He will not announce he has become a homosexual swinger, due to the release of a theistic moral system. He will not ask you to join him in bank robberies, murder sprees and village pillaging, due to this new moral ideal.
You may also find that he becomes less and less interested in discussing theism, as the hours you have spent were just enough of a release valve, which he can vent elsewhere. Eventually he will remember that he wants you, too, as a friend, and you may not want to talk about evolution every single time you meet.
And while your relationship will be different, no doubt, on many levels it can be much deeper. You might even, someday, tell others that you have an atheist, agnostic or deist for a friend when it is not a prayer request!