Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who do you trust?

Here’s what this post is not asking: I’m not asking if polite interaction with a born-again is possible. My doubts aren’t involving whether or not it’s impossible to have a friendly conversation with a born-again Christian, or whether you can enjoy a book/movie/play. I’m not asking whether one can have a casual friendship with one. Maybe even a deep friendship, if the friendship involves how both are focused on community service, or volunteering at an animal shelter, or maybe even a political party.

What my post is asking is whether or not it’s possible to have a deep friendship with a born-again, conservative, evangelical Christian. One that is built on trust, in knowing that the person likes you for who you are, accepts you for who you are, and know that you can trust the other person with the very core of yourself.

Take person A: person A’s identity – the very way in which she interacts with the world, the way she functions, and the way she treats people is directly impacted by her views on the following: the environment, science, reproductive rights, a woman’s place in the home vs. the workplace, education, tolerance, and the fact that she doesn’t feel humanity deserves to be tormented for all eternity simply because humanity had the misfortune of being born. If any of those are changed, then person A has become a different person.

Take person B: person B is a born-again Christian, aligning very closely with the fundamentalist/evangelical mindset, and all that it stereotypically entails.

Person A disagrees with person B on a lot of matters, obviously. And she doesn’t see how much of person B’s mindset can be followed – and they’ve had discussions on this – yet it’s person B’s life (Although person A has had her moments of frustration in wishing for some sort of change).

Person B prays for person A’s salvation, for person A is not a born-again Christian. In essence, though I doubt person B views this as such, person B is asking God to change person A’s identity. Yet person A and B are also very close friends, and a key component of friendship is accepting the other person as she is, virtues, flaws, and all.

So Person B says to person A, “I accept you.” Yet at the same time, person B is praying that the “you” being accepted is saved, and gets the entire identity re-worked.

Can a friendship exist under these conditions? I know that conversations can occur with these two people, common goals can be fought for, and there can even be deep conversations. There can even be a casual friendship, perhaps revolving around the common goals. But can a friendship where both people trust each other implicitly exist, if one person in the friendship is asking a deity to re-work the other person?

For instance, friendship involves listening and understanding. But can person B truly just listen to what person A confides? Or would person B try and use the story in some way to sway person A towards Jesus?

Can person B even be capable of listening? If person A is sharing an experience where person A believed something connected her to the divine, and this experience contradicts person B’s truth, how well can person B listen to that? Or will person B simply assume that she has the truth position, and thus use that truth position to try and poke holes into person A’s worldview?

Will person B be the most compassionate person to talk to? After all, person B firmly believes that person A – like everyone else – deserves to be sent to Hell. Even if Hell is defined only as the absence of God, this is saying that person A believes person B does not deserve love, light, compassion, mercy, justice.

Can person B even be capable of seeing person A, since person B believes that everyone's life is almost empty without Jesus? That person B believes that for true love/life/happiness/purpose, one must have a relationship with Jesus? No matter what person A may say to the contrary, or that person A's life has demonstrated that it's no more empty that person B's?

Or is there just a day, when person A realizes that person B has no idea what she's asking person A to sacrifice in order to have this "salvation?" When person A realizes that it's almost impossible for person B to not only not understand person A, but it's impossible for person B to even try? When person looks at person B and thinks "You want me to become someone else, and see nothing wrong with that."

How long do these two remain good friends?

13 comments:

Luke said...

i don't think it's possible. it's blown up in my face each time i've tried.

could be me... more than likely is as i can't keep quiet on issues... but in my experience it's a no.

Ray said...

Ugh, you're describing my marriage, with me as deconverting Person B. I think that to the extent it could work, you are right, one of the people has to change. The strange thing is that we don't have all the external differences you describe in the article, but just that one big one of "belief."

Zoe said...

It's rare, but yes, it could happen. Having said that, I suspect it's very rare for it to be a deep and abiding friendship.

I suspect it would be easier for Person A to adapt to Person B if she/he wanted to. Person B has a God-given mandate as a born-again person that states she/he has it right and others not like her/him have it wrong. She/he have no other choice then to continue on praying for Person A, spreading seeds of her/his truth into the relationship, always with the goal of getting Person A saved. It is her/his way. It is the born-again way.

Will Person B ever change, ever soften, ever adapt to Person A? Maybe, around the age of 45 or so. :-) Can Person A wait that long?

DagoodS said...

Ouch.

This one hit on two (2) fronts. Much of it has to do with the belief in hell. Does Person B (I couldn’t help notice “B” was “Born-again” and “A” was atheist/agnostic. *grin*) truly believe there is an eternal torture chamber lasting forever and ever and ever?

In fact, if I was Person A, wouldn’t I expect a true and deep friend would attempt to keep me from such a place at all costs? I could imagine my friends letting we walk around with my fly open. A little embarrassment, but a few chuckles. My friends may even let me get into some bad situations to teach me a lesson. But a horrific, terrible, painful, monumental, over-whelming hell?

I would want them to do everything possible to prevent me from that! Look, if my buddy discovered the woman I was about to marry was a “Black Widow” with three (3) former husbands who all died from mushroom soup, I would hope he tell me! If he didn’t—I would significantly question the depth of our relationship!

I find it bizarrely strange how little my friends and family do this. I admit—it does cause me to wonder how much they really care…I know I am a hard person to talk to, and I have more knowledge than twice as much as all of them combined—but if they really think I am going to be fried oysters for a coupla billion years—shouldn’t they try?

On the other front—I have a good friend, the only friend, who has remained in my circle of acquaintances. Yet I find a great many times how I cannot share my experiences with him.

“Hey, I argued against…cosmology……in…….the……er…….oh.”

“A Presidential debate at Saddleback? How ridiculous? Why must each candidate out-Christian each other? Oh, wait…..nevermind.”

“Saw the Friendly atheist at church and…thought….nevermind.”

“Do you want to discuss Euripedes and Luke? No? Oh….”

I am stifling my…no…I am stifling me and he is stifling himself to avoid offending me. I am not sure how such suppression could lead to a deep and abiding friendship.

Ray,

I am sorry about your situation. Being a deconvert and married to a devout Christian, I can relate on many levels. I have seen such marriages work, but primarily in two situations:

1) The other spouse greatly liberalizes his/her theistic belief; or

2) It becomes a topic never discussed between spouses.

As bad as option 2 may seem (and it is what I live), I have been surprised at how many mixed-religious couples do this to make it work.

Tit for Tat said...

OSS

Relationships are build on trust and from my understanding, Evangelical Christians are taught not to trust the outside world. So if they are true to their belief system, it would not be possible.


Dagoods

"As bad as option 2 may seem (and it is what I live), I have been surprised at how many mixed-religious couples do this to make it work."

Are they truly making it work though? Reminds me of a joke.

For many people Denial is a river in Egypt.

Lorena said...

In an effort to not judge millions of Christians, I am going to use myself as example.

You couldn't be my friend when I was a Christian without having an earful of my opinions every time you told me your problems. I was, like a computer virus, always looking for a chance to intrude.

I've known some Christians that are not like I was, but they don't fit your profile.

These more tolerant Christians were what's known in evangelical circles as "lukewarm." You know, people who have a beer when out for lunch and a glass of wine at dinner. People who don't really have a prayer life or a regular
Bible reading schedule.

Ray said...

dagoods: Yes, I've read your blog entry about your marriage (with tears), have been meaning to post a comment there. I'm living option 2 as well. I guess we keep hoping to move to option 1.

OneSmallStep said...

Luke,

**more than likely is as i can't keep quiet on issues... but in my experience it's a no.**

That would be key, though. If one person is quiet about the issues, or just doesn't want to get into a debate, then the relationship could last a lot longer compared to someone who can't keep quiet on issues. So personalities would be a big factor.

Ray,

**The strange thing is that we don't have all the external differences you describe in the article, but just that one big one of "belief."**
Which is interesting, because if you and your spouse see eye-to-eye on a lot of the same issues, you'd almost think the pressure would be less. Although the lack of belief would no doubt greatly tie into the idea of someone being the old man vs. the new man.

Zoe,

**It is her/his way. It is the born-again way.**

I agree that if there's a compromise, it would have to come from Person A's side. Of course, this would inevitably lead to frustration on Person A's side. S/he either has to be the one to back down, or keep quiet, or almost be willing to put up with more.

As for how long Person A can wait ... I'm not sure. Maybe as their lives progress, things would just naturally erode to begin with.

DagoodS,

**Does Person B (I couldn’t help notice “B” was “Born-again” and “A” was atheist/agnostic. *grin*)**

That was completely unintentional. And the funny thing is, I made the connection of Person B to 'born-again' after I made this post, but didn't make the connection of Person A to agnostic/atheist until you pointed it out.

**In fact, if I was Person A, wouldn’t I expect a true and deep friend would attempt to keep me from such a place at all costs?**
I often take this a step further, and would expect a true and deep friend to never find it acceptable that I be in such a place to begin with. This isn't even a matter of what I deserve or don't deserve in the first place. We've seen throughout history that people have done some truly horrendous things, people who we desperately hope get what's coming to them. Yet I would never wish them to be tormented for all eternity. How am I then better than the evil person?

And this was somewhat of a tangent.

**I find it bizarrely strange how little my friends and family do this. I admit—it does cause me to wonder how much they really care**

It would also cause me to question how deeply they believe in their own theology in the first place. And not just in terms of those they interact with. If they truly believe that a majority of the world will end up in hell, shouldn't every single Christian be out there, preaching just like Paul did?

On the other hand, what does help me at times is knowing that my friends do what they do out of a sense of love for me, because they truly don't want me to end up where they think I'm going.

**I am stifling my…no…I am stifling me and he is stifling himself to avoid offending me. I am not sure how such suppression could lead to a deep and abiding friendship.**

And this is the sobering aspect for me, because my friends and I do both surpress things. In their case, they wouldn't share their Christian journey with me, or their spiritual struggles. We wouldn't discuss Bible verses, or what God is doing in their lives. What could I possibly offer? And thus, how much I am excluded from simply because we lack the ability to connect on that level?

In my case, there are also things I don't bother sharing, again because of that lack of common ground.

So if we call each other best friends ... what does that even mean, when there's so much we can't share?

Tit for Tat,

**Evangelical Christians are taught not to trust the outside world. So if they are true to their belief system, it would not be possible.**

That's a whole 'nother area that I'm considering blogging about. Based on their belief system, Person A is the "old man." So if Person B is trusting Person A, Person B must also be trusting that Person A will not impede Person B's journey/relationship with God. Yet, based on the Bible, is such a thing possible?

Lorena,

**I was, like a computer virus, always looking for a chance to intrude.**

So you fulfilled all the sterotypes? ;)

A said...

Option 2, definitely.

gracerules said...

As you describe it - impossible. Thus the problem with "conversion" being the goal. The goal for christians should be love. I speak as a christian.

OneSmallStep said...

Graceruls,

Love in what form? Even that goal can carry it's dark side. I often cringe when I read how people say that they don't preach to their unsaved friends, they just be incredibly loving and kind in order to inspire the people to find Jesus.

If that's the case, then I almost find that love and compassion to hold an ulterior motive. It's still being used to convince the person to convert, it's simply a much less abrasive method.

zeekeekee said...

Thanks for this post OSS. I'm really glad ATTR linked to it, it's good to hear that this isn't some 'made-up' problem that I've had since deconverting, but that it's a valid, experienced issue.
I have Christian friends (a few) who will accept the conundrum this presents in our friendship. Some of them are relaxed enough to admit they have difficulty believing I will go to hell - and the confusion that idea brings them. Still others are not so honest, to themselves or to me. They believe they are being supportive, humble and loving but it just feels like they're trying to keep the connection so there's more time to 'fix' me. It boggles them that I am not 'looking' for God. The worst part, is having been on the inside of that group of people - even if they aren't openly fundamentalist in this way, knowing what I do know makes it difficult to accept the picture they present to those on the outside - of which I am now. I hear the words coming out of their mouths, but I know what they really think, and that's the confusing part.
Thanks again for the post.

OneSmallStep said...

Zeekeekee,

I'm glad this post helped you. When I originally typed it out, I was wondering if I was being too sensitive, and making a mountain out of a molehill. The more I read from de-converts, the more I'm pretty sure the mountain was always a mountain.