Thursday, March 18, 2010

What to do with old friends?

Recently there have been a few blog entries by friends about deconverts interacting with Christian friends. The question was poignantly asked, Is it possible [for a deconvert] to have Christian friends and family? Obviously anything is possible, and I am sure there are numerous anecdotal accounts regarding individuals who do nicely, thank you very much.

I haven’t seemed to manage it.

To me, its feels like that summer after your first year of college. You get together with your high school buddies and by evening’s end, realize you have no interest getting together with your high school buddies!

In high school you shared experiences with your classmates—same teachers, same halls. Same inside jokes about Ms. Crabapple. The team losing the semi-finals together. The year ends with graduation, parties, and assurances of being BFF’s (contractually enforced through yearbook signatures.)

Then you go away to college. A whole new set of friends, experiences, and growing up. Coming back, the jokes about Ms. Crabapple seem stale. The lost semi-final forgotten amongst new memories of parties and inter-mural Frisbee golf. How many times can one recount the same thing? Either the relationship continues to grow with new experiences (and new jokes and laughter) or it dies. So you maintain a relationship with a few, and the rest fall off, only to be remembered when bumping into each other at Wal-Mart (“Boy did he lose his hair!”) or Facebook.

I wanted to maintain my relationship with Christian friends and my family. I naively thought it could work. But I started to realize I was having new experiences, new laughs, new inside jokes they couldn’t share.

Me: And then she said…get this…’Evolution is just a theory.’ Bwahahaha. Can you believe it?
Them: [Blank stare.]

(“This one time…at college…we created stair sledding. It was the funniest thing EVER!”
[Blank stare.])

I began to have questions that they not only didn’t share—they didn’t want to share:

Me: Why didn’t Paul seem to know anything about the Jesus of the Gospels?
Them: Look, all I want to know is how to apply Paul’s doctrine to my life.

I don’t want to give the impression my journey is somehow better or more full than theirs. It is just…different. As if we were on a train, and I took a side-track. I’m seeing different scenery, going to different places. They are perfectly happy on their track (seeing things I am not), with their friends, and their scenery and stops. They would love to have me re-join the train, but have no interest in joining my side-track. Their life is complete without it.

With these two divergent courses, relationships will suffer, wither and end. They don’t want me to be friend—they want me to be convert. And, to be honest, how much do I want their friendship if I find myself stifling my curiosity, and censuring my statements around them? What kind of friendship is that?—I could do that with any acquaintance.

Facebook has brought this into sharp focus. Having joined many of my former friends, I get to see status updates and posts:

“We went to the Doctor and received a prescription for Tommy’s sickness. Isn’t God great?”
(Me [to myself]: Griznitmicklemuph…)

“Hey! Here’s a great video about how Einstein bested an atheist professor on the question of God. Einstein was only 2 1/2.”
(Me [to myself]: GrizNITMICKLemuph…)

“Why do those atheists have to put ads on buses?”

And if I dare respond…carefully couching it in the most innocuous, harmless, questioning tone possible…I hear that AOL voice, “You’ve been defriended!”

So what—I was defriended by plenty long before Facebook developed it. Ha!

I find my laughter, my talks, my relaxation amongst those I can share new experiences together. Time to look back on those former friends with fond memories of good times with a smile, and look forward to new friends and more good times and a grin.


  1. "Me: Why didn’t Paul seem to know anything about the Jesus of the Gospels?
    Them: Look, all I want to know is how to apply Paul’s doctrine to my life.

    I don’t want to give the impression my journey is somehow better or more full than theirs. It is just…different.

    Well said, and particularly relevent if a main discussion point for both of you is the bible, the very area that brings up the kind of differences you note.

    "And, to be honest, how much do I want their friendship if I find myself stifling my curiosity, and censuring my statements around them?"

    Exactly, my friends are considerate to try to understand what I believe and not evangelize, but I imagine they have the same feeling, not wanting to censure what they say around me.

    You make good points, the relationships do not necessarily need to be divided in a saved/unsaved, black/white kind of dichotomy to fade away, just normal progressions in people's lives as they change.

  2. Great post.

    You are so right about Facebook. I finally had to de-friend most of my christian friends and family. The constant"isn't God good" posts were irritating. (though I am sure quite normal from their perspective)

    When things were posted to my Facebook page they would leave the "I am praying for you" or a (: ,etc, etc, etc.

    I got tired of it. What Christian friends I do have tend to be of the liberal variety. All of my fundy friends and family are gone. I wish it wasn't that way...but it is and I can live with that. Life is too short.


  3. I manage, mostly. My family's all still Facebook-friended. I avoid trolling, but I don't try to avoid "being real". Occasionally this will garner comments. If there's something interesting being said, I'll respond; if not ("I'd rather be an idiot in this life, than wrong about the next!"), then I won't.

    I generally don't comment on God-gushing posts, though I will occasionally pipe in if there's something particularly loony being said. Occasionally I'll defriend or, more often, hide folks, but it's harder to do that with family: I'll lose the stupid stuff but I'll miss juicy news tidbits too.

  4. **What kind of friendship is that?—I could do that with any acquaintance.**

    I find myself becoming more and more unable to stifle. The last time religion came up, it was in relation to whether it was permissible to leave an abusive husband (Bible isn't clear-cut) and discussing a Christian woman going to lesbian sister's wedding, and Christian sister told she should, as she was the only light in the lesbian's sister's life. I commented on the abuse thing (with incredulity) and the lesbian thing (then she's going with ulterior motive). The topic was changed.

    When I told this to my mother later, she said that this friend wouldn't want to bring religion up around me.

    My response: "I CANNOT STAY SILENT!" (Yes, said in all-caps).

    My issue isn't that they believe it. I keep commenting because they want me to believe it.

  5. Yeah, when you realize that although it's very hurtful to be rejected by them, you are simply not willing to go back to pretending to be someone you are not or pretending to believe stuff you don't believe anymore.

    Why should they get to be themselves, but you don't get to be yourself? I think atheists or agnostics are more accepting of their Christian friends than the Christian friends are of them. Realizing that their beliefs top your friendship definitely hurts.

  6. You're so right. When my brother visited from Texas in the fall, we had nothing to talk about. And I had to endure him saying constantly that he had to go to church.

    In my case, family has always been bad news. Now they're undesirable. Friends, well, not working out with them, plain and simple.

    One of the reasons why I will enjoy working "at McDonald's" is that I will get the change to befriend new people. Or I can always hope!

  7. Going through it myself. You describe the questions and problems well. Family is the hardest part, especially when they feel justified in expressing their opinions, but feel attacked when I express mine. Sigh....

  8. i hate treading lightly with my fundy family but it's an unfortunate necessity.
    and i really do love my parents, so i'm not going to shut off all communication. i guess i have a high BS tolerance because of them. :P

  9. I find it interesting…and very familiar…the common undercurrent in these comments. We maintain our friendships and family for other shared interests—babies, funerals, weddings, etc.—but find ourselves not being ourselves when the topic turns to theism.

    And how the theists find our views offensive, but think nothing of pushing their views. I struggle with whether that is healthy. I end up taking the chicken’s way out and leaving the friendship behind.

  10. My philosophy is this: I have a lot of different friends (including family), and we're friends for different reasons, some of which have nothing to do with theism or atheism.

    If the reasons we're friends don't have anything (or much) to do with theism/atheism, I typically won't intentionally bring up the subject or anything having to do with it, in much the same sense that I won't bring up the delicious steak I had for dinner last night with my vegan friends.

    On the other hand, if they bring up the subject, or the subject just kind of pops up naturally, I'll express my opinions and views without much restraint. Again, in much the same sense, if one of my vegan friends starts talking about the morality of eating animals, I'll state flatly that I don't have a moral problem with it.

    I'm very clear with all my friends that I'm a communist, an atheist, and a lot of other -ists. There are some things I won't tolerate in my friends -- racism, sexism, Libertarianism, Republicanism or a creationism -- but I don't demand exact conformance with my views. I expect my friends to have similar areas of tolerance, and if they can't tolerate some of my beliefs, they're welcome to tell me and I'll break off the friendship without complaint.

    No matter what you do, you can't be friends with everyone and you can't please everyone.

  11. Er...

    I won't bring up the delicious steak I had for dinner last night with my vegan friends.

    should be

    I won't bring up with my vegan friends the delicious steak dinner I had last night.

    Don't'cha just love dangling participles?

  12. If it dangles, I love it. Oh, wait, that didn't sound right. *grin*

    What to do with friends who left the church and whom you evangelized every chance possible, and they in mid-life return to the church and the evangelist (me) becomes an agnostic atheist? Me and my great big mouth!

    She accepts me but I'm having the problem! And I'm typically the tolerant one. I'm the accomdationist Zoe and I'm having a problem accomodating.

  13. This is another seriously awesome post I like how you approach this, and it rather fits my own experience.