Monday, March 15, 2010

See Who I Am

When I was younger, I thought that my evangelical friends and I could just get along. That our differences didn't matter that much, that we could still find lots in common, and since we each used the Bible in our religions, we'd have common ground. I thought that accepting their invitations to church weren't that big of a deal, that it was nice to go along and learn about this huge part of their lives.

Let me just say that I was naive and had that youthful arrogance when I was younger. My mother did try to warn me, but she was an adult and old and stuff, so what did she know?

The realization of how different we were has been building for a while, and there was an incident that about a year and a half ago, that made me understand how much Evangelical Christianity can operate with ulterior motives. I thought we were entering a conversation under one pretense, and the conversation was instead used to try and "convert" me. Not only that, but my portion of the conversation had been revealed to someone who was raised in my religion, and now was an evangelical. That ex-member gave "pointers" as to how to crack through my brainwashing (for my religion is considered a cult by evangelical standards).

The biggest realization I had as a result of this incident is just how much they'll never accept me for who I am. They're always going to pray for my salvation, they're always going to pray that God reveals an opening for me to see the truth, and they'll always be ready. They're always going to want me to change. They're always going to judge my experiences based on those who've left my religion for evangelicalism, rather than asking me themselves about my experiences.

I can't even begin to explain how much that severed something inside of me. I felt like I had been slapped in the face, almost. And how, even a year and a half later, I haven't recovered. There is something very dead inside of me, in terms of this relationship. I don't feel like I can confide in this person at all, because who knows how my life will get used? My experiences aren't her prayer tools to try and convert me.

That incident has only been reinforced by something that happened a few weeks ago. She posted a response on facebook in someone else's notes, and I'm 99% sure she didn't realize the note was public. It was in discussion about postmodernism, and she was explaining her reaction when someone quoted Rob Bell.

Essentially, her reaction arose because one of her closest friends in the world (that would be me) is in a cult. So when she hears too much "Popular postmodern speaker instead of Christ says," what she's hearing is "founder of my religion says" and that somewhat freaks her out.

I haven't been a member of my religion for a few years (which I haven't told her, as I don't want to deal with the questions or her joy at feeling that God is slowly leading me towards the truth. First step -- remove me from my old religion). If I must label myself, I'd go with "hopeful agnostic." But my parents still are devout members (who have no problem with my beliefs, as they raised me to think for myself), and thus their belief set influenced how I was raised. It shaped me. It made into the person I am today, with all the good qualities that supposedly make her feel I'm a good friend.

Maybe she's able to separate the two, but I don't have that ability. The way I see it, the factors that defined me kind of freak her out. If I go back to the incident from a year and a half ago, the factors that defined me aren't elements that should be explored in an effort to know me better, but should be approached with "How can I use this to get what I want out of it?"

And I know that while I'm angry over this, she's simply being who she is. Her belief structure can't allow her to operate any differently. She has no other way of viewing me, and so to be angry with her is unfair.

But I'm also angry because I know just how much it would damage me to become an evangelical Christian. There would be parts of me that I'd have to suffocate just to survive in that world, both intellectually and emotionally. I'd become a colder person, and I'd become a meaner person. And I'd no longer be the person writing this post, because my whole personality would have to shift. She is actively praying for something that I know on every level would harm me.

I'm angry because she's not allowing me to define my past. No matter what I would explain to her about how I felt I encountered God, she gets to define it. It wasn't God, because I'm spiritually blind. She gets to own my experiences, not me.

Perhaps most of all, though, I'm really angry with myself, because what am I doing to resolve this, other than writing this blog post? I hate conflict, but I'm not sure I have a choice in this matter. Not anymore.

25 comments:

Boz said...

You are THE OTHER.

You are to be converted or destroyed.

Andrew said...

I feel for ya. I get that from a few of my Mormon friends... if I am caught off guard and mention my spiritual questionings, I get lectured for the next half hour on how Mormonism can answer all of my questions . Well, maybe not always that bad, but it is always seen as an "opportunity". I think true believers of any background cannot help, as you say, being like that cause their view forces them into that bind.

Being on the receiving end of that cleared out any vestiges of evangelizing that remained in me.

Andrew said...

Come to think of it... nowadays I'm getting it from my evangelical friends too... :)

Jon said...

I read a fantastic book recently called "Between the Monster and the Saint" by Richard Holloway which talks about some of these issues. He was once bishop of Edinburgh and now I guess "post-Christian". Check out my review which also contains links to sites about the book.
http://paintingfakes.blogspot.com/2010/01/between-monster-and-saint.html

Bruce said...

It's tough to be friends with people who see you only as a "prospect for heaven."

I wonder if Evangelicals can truly accept and love people as they are, especially since they worship a Jesus who "when he saves a person never leaves them as they are." Evangelism is in their DNA.

For me...I had to let those friendships go. It was hard but there was no peace to be had as long as people were trying to win me back to Jesus.

Bruce

Sarge said...

There is a lot of objectification (??!!) of the 'other' by many of the "twice born".

Sometimes, depending on what and how much a relationship means to you, you just have to have a tough hide and simply shrug your shoulders, and decide how much of a relationship you want.

The cultural lense that the evangelicals and fundamentalists view the "other" through is something I don't understand, never did, although I was culturally a southern Baptist in my up-bringing.

The body and personality of the "other" isn't really important as these will be "lost" after death (so I'm told). It's the "soul" that's so "important".

Laura said...

I have come to the realization that prayer for someone is incredibly condescending. It's saying, "I don't care if you're happy if you don't believe exactly the way I do!"

I'm sorry that happened to you. I am in the process of coming to the same conclusion over the last week or so. It's not that I can't be friends with a Christian, or even an evangelical. But I don't think that some of the passive aggressive arrogance I've seen over the past week qualifies any of those people as my friends. Guess I'll have to take it on a case by case basis from now on.

DagoodS said...

There isn’t anything you can do to resolve it.

Either accept this person the way they are—keeping the relationship at the depth you chose; or end it. Frankly, it won’t make a bit of difference HOW you end it. If you would feel better meeting them and confronting them—do so. They won’t change; they won’t care; they won’t be impacted. They Will. Not. Listen.

Or end it by walking away. The person will justify and rationalize whatever you do to fit their paradigm regardless of what you do.

Sure they get to create your history. Yes, it is completely incorrect. Yeah—it sucks and causes one to punch pillows in frustration. But after that, what you do with it is up to you. Either learn to deal with it, or let it fester.

I prefer the former.

Xander said...

You should be able to be friends with people that have different religious views without it coming to this. I have friends who are Mormon, Pagan, Agnostic, and Atheists and there are no issues. We respect each other's right to choose their own beliefs and do our best to not demean each others beliefs. They usually have a harder time since Christians can be a real pain in the ass.

If I pray for them, I don’t go around telling them. We can talk openly and ask each other questions and leave it at that. Your friend sounds self righteous and some what insecure. She needs to have the attention on her about how much she cares for you and wants you to know it. I would distance myself from her just because of that.

OneSmallStep said...

Andrew,

**get lectured for the next half hour on how Mormonism can answer all of my questions . Well, maybe not always that bad, but it is always seen as an "opportunity". **

Yes. The situation can't simply "be" or it can't just be explored. It must be exploited, almost.

OneSmallStep said...

Bruce,

**I wonder if Evangelicals can truly accept and love people as they are, especially since they worship a Jesus who "when he saves a person never leaves them as they are." **

In this case, I would say no. Especially as this strain of evangelicalism comes across as presenting a God who doesn't even accept you as you are -- you need Jesus in order for Him to approve of you and let you into Heaven. If God can't accept people as they are, why would His followers be any different?

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

My complication comes from my personality. I'm not one for surface/casual friendships. It's an all-or-nothing sort of thing with me, and the only thing I'd have is a surface one, because I don't feel like I can trust her.

OneSmallStep said...

Laura,

Thank you. For me, I could be friends with a Christian. I'm just not sure I could be friends with an evangelical one, given their theology and mission. As it is, I have a hard time not generalizing about the whole group.

OneSmallStep said...

DagoodS,

As I told Sarge, I don't really have a personality that allows for "levels." I either have a deep friendship with someone, or don't really converse with them. It makes me horrible at small talk and attending get-togethers. But I'm glad to see, based on the reactions, that I'm not out of line in my reaction.

And what's wrong with letting it fester? ;)

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

I don't care if people pray that I find happiness/health/other good things. If that's all she was praying for, I wouldn't have an issue. Even if she simply thought I was wrong in my beliefs, I wouldn't have an issue. It's the attitude towards the beliefs, and that she specifically prays that I change that bothers me.

But it does sound like you have quite an eclectic group of friends. It must make for some interesting discussions, which are always good.

David Henson said...

I think Xander hit on something that was true for me when I was like your friend, so many years ago.

The need to proselytize masks deep insecurities that needs to see those different from me as inferior to me spiritually. Kind like the theory of action. She probably, deep down, has similar doubts but won't acknowledge them. Coming in contact with you forces her to. And it's easier to make you wrong than to face herself.

Not that it makes your situation any less annoying or disturbing.

For what it's worth, I just don't hang out with my old friends like that. It makes my world happier, sadly.

Grace said...

Well, One, I think you don't have a choice, if you want to continue to be this person's friend, but to honestly share your feelings.

Otherwise, you are also doing an injustice to your friendship with her.

I would feel extremely hurt if a friend was talking about me to strangers on a blog, but not to me directly.

I'm feeling this is an extremely difficult issue.

All committed Christians are going to care about people spiritually, and will want them to experience the love of God in their lives. It really is in our DNA. It doesn't matter if the person is conservative or more progressive.

Would it make a difference if your friend was more open to see God's working in your life, and what you could also teach her, if she made more of an effort to meet you where you're at, as opposed to trying to drag you to where she's at??

If so, maybe you could share that with her.

I admit, I have a huge struggle with this myself. I certainly don't think we should look at people as nothing more than these projects to be "converted."

But, on the other hand, what does it mean to "accept someone where they're at?" Can anyone truly do this completely?

I mean, to give an example in another area.... I am this huge proponent of eating a more "plant-based" diet both for health reasons, and for the welfare of the planet, a concern to be able to feed more hungry people, etc.

If I share this with friends who are living differently, am I being insensitive, and not "accepting them for who they are?" Should I just keep my mouth shut? In a sense, I am trying to "change" them.Where do we draw the line here?

For me, I don't know, I think if I understand someone genuinely cares, and they are willing to work on the relationship, to be real, I'm going to be pretty darn reluctant to toss them away.

Good friends who will be there for you, no matter what, are not that easy to find, One.

OneSmallStep said...

David,

**Coming in contact with you forces her to. And it's easier to make you wrong than to face herself.**

I do sometimes think this. The viewpoint she holds in terms of how I was raised must come in conflict with what she sees in myself and my family. My parents have had a fantastic life, they're caring, they're helpful and I attribute a lot of what's happened to them to the religion they raised me in. Per her belief system, such a thing should not be possible (and may be excused as God showing the just and unjust or something non-God related).

**It makes my world happier, sadly.**

This, I understand. It's like a weight has been lifted, and you don't have to be on guard all the time.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**Otherwise, you are also doing an injustice to your friendship with her.**

I know -- on some level, I'm operating in this relationship on false pretenses. Which is what part of my frustration stems from.

**All committed Christians are going to care about people spiritually, and will want them to experience the love of God in their lives.**

Which is precisely the problem, because to nonbelievers, this comes across as incredibly dismissive. There is a difference between saying, "Let me share something with you that has completely bettered my life. Maybe it'll work for you, too" and saying, "Let me share something that will better your life, and I know your life isn't better because you don't believe as I do, and I know this even though I barely know you and nothing of your experiences."

Christians too often are the latter.

**If so, maybe you could share that with her.**

She can't be. Her theology and belief system make this impossible, as indicated by her statement that hearing about it freaks her out, and by other things I haven't shared in this post. It would make a difference, yes -- but she can't do that. She can't meet me where I'm at, because in her mind, God's not where I'm at, He's where she's at.

**But, on the other hand, what does it mean to "accept someone where they're at?" Can anyone truly do this completely?**

Perhaps not, but in this situation, this is flat out lack of acceptance of everything about me. The example you use as a comparison doesn't really mesh, because converting is a complete change of someone's identity. Telling someone about vegetarianism and trying to convince them to change isn't asking them to overhaul everything that defines them. I don't think it influences how they view other people, their politics, their sense of compassion, justice, mercy and I don't think asking them to change to vegetarianism would require them to sacrifice so much of who they are.

Lorena said...

I seem to remember about that situation 1.5 years ago. I didn't realize that it was an "intervention" of sorts. What a horrible thing to do to a person. I can't believe you're still "friends."

I wish you healing. I hope that one day soon you will recover from such violation

Grace said...

One,

You're in a tough situation. I think no one can tell you exactly what to do. You have to have a peace about it.

But, I'm a like lot you. I could not have a true friendship with someone, and not at some point let them know who I really am. What would be the point.

One thing I can say, as painful as this is, if you are honest with your friend, in the long run, you will help her spiritually, and to grow as a person.

But, in the process, it's true, you may lose your relationship with her.

Wisdom, and grace for you, One.

Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

Yup, the situation I mention briefly is the one I mentioned in your blog 1.5 years ago. Part of the problem is that the friend isn't aware that I'm aware of the intervention, because no one directly approached me. It's something I stumbled across.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**I could not have a true friendship with someone, and not at some point let them know who I really am. What would be the point.**

Exactly. This would be easier if I were like most people who can have the casual friendships, but I'm not. So ... one day at a time, I guess.

OneSmallStep said...

Kay,

I think part of maintaining the friendship is that I entered this one very unaware of how her theology operated, because I didn't have fundamentalist friends when I was growing up. So I didn't have any "baggage" to hinder this.

And I don't mean to say that your past is baggage, but you no doubt had direct knowledge of what happened to other ex-Jehovah Witnesses, and so knew exactly what your reception would be. That, and you were probably still reeling on some level from the shift your very identity. Whereas it took me a long time to realize that I have this giant invisible "Unsaved! Unsaved!" sign above my head, and just how much her belief system requires certain behaviors.