Having strong opinions on controversial topics can be hazardous to friendships, but in most cases we know exactly what to expect and who to expect it from. Religion is different. I recently became more open about my atheism on Facebook and it wasn’t at all what I expected.
I wasn’t a jerk about it, so that helped. I lost one friend; a stranger from the autism parenting world who had recently requested my friendship. We have a few mutual friends but we have never had any actual interactions. Everyone else stuck around…. technically. That doesn’t mean they will ever speak to me again.
A wise person warned me that when it comes to religious confessions, expect nothing. The ones you thought would abandon you might reach out and offer reassurance, while the friends you thought you were sure of might cut you off completely. And that, my friends, is truth.
One advantage I have over other former believers is that long ago I physically separated myself from my closest Christian friends. I moved away and found a new crowd that didn’t center relationships around belief. I have found those to be my strongest friendships, but that doesn’t mean there are not people from my past who will always be important.
Some friends are friends for life whether we like it or not. And many of my friends for life have made god the number one priority in their lives. God overrules all else. Including me. Of course, Facebook brings this all together in a whole new complicated way.
I’m not the kind of atheist who needs anyone to change their mind about god. I just believe a lot of conflict could be resolved in relationships if we were all able to admit that we could be wrong. And not because I want someone to doubt god, but because being 100% sure about Christianity makes me invisible to people who would otherwise see me clearly.
If the most vigilant evangelical could honestly say, “I choose to believe in the Christian god with all my heart because it makes sense to me, but I recognize I could be completely wrong about that,” maybe my believing something else would feel less threatening to them. The quest for perfect faith gets in the way. If they allow me to doubt god then it must mean that they doubt him, too. It isn’t true.
Thankfully most of my old Christian friends fall into the “reasonable” category. Perhaps in their hearts Christians know that “reasonable” can easily be mistaken for “worldly;” but most only acknowledge it when they need an excuse to not like something. So if a Christian friend ever tells you that supporting you would mean accepting the ways of the world? Take that shit personally.
A few old friends made a point to let me know that our friendship is definitely not god-conditional. One friend said something that was particularly moving. He said: we will always be okay. He also said other nice things about how I would always have a special place in his heart, and that I meant more to him than my politics or my religion…. but “we will always be okay” is enough.
I know these are just the words one says to be decent, but his ability to grasp the appropriate thing to say in moments like these is what makes him a better Christian than most. Whether I believe in god or not, I will always know the difference. My occasional interactions with this man sometimes gives me hope for the world. Because on paper I should hate this guy. And I don’t. I’m in love with the idea of conflict not being a dead end, and once in a while we manage to prove it.
While it is true that the friendships of our youth are unique and will always hold a special place in our nostalgic hearts…. time also changes us. Maybe I am no longer emotionally invested in the opinions of those friends I barely keep up with on Facebook; but some people can seem to disappear almost completely from our hearts and minds and still be loved unconditionally.
That’s where this friend and many others exist for me. We are no longer yoking around together, but I think I did need to know that my unconditional theory could still be true for us. Why? Because it hasn’t proven to be true with everyone I thought it would be true for. And my skin is maybe not as thick as I thought it was.
There was a time when I was really into god and some of my friends were not. It’s eye-opening when the tables turn and you get to find out if those same friends would treat you as good as you treated them. It’s even more eye-opening when some of them are hypocritical enough to believe that climbing up on their pedestal of judgment over you is pleasing to their god.
My blog may not be all sunshine and roses to any Christian who stumbles across it, but when talking with Christians I am always genuine in my attempt to find common ground. Dismissing me as a troll is a common theme I find among online Christians. Not surprising. But in real life? Either way, if you cannot have a real conversation about faith with an atheist like me, then you might as well admit you are only in it for the battle.
I like talking about what we believe and why. I’m not doing this because religion has hurt me or I need a place to vent. I love talking about this stuff, and I know enough to be useful to others once in a while. Debates are great, but does every conversation have to be about proving something to our enemy? Why can’t a Christian and an atheist talk about god or what leads to doubt without the whole “who’s right or wrong” factor always getting in the way? We have a lot in common. Let’s talk about it.
Christians are automatically on the defense. If I am kind they act suspicious. If I offer advice on a better way to handle a situation, I am dismissed. Because haven’t you heard? I’m deceived. I’m a liar. I love sin too much. I work for the devil. Besides, what could an ex-Christian possibly know about faith?
I am always prepared to meet such ignorance online. They don’t know me. But I do not expect to confront it among those who know me in real life. Especially when I counted some of these opponents as the type of friends who would say: we will always be okay. It’s a hard thing to be wrong about. But when it comes to religious confessions? Expect nothing.
If these same people represented my current support system it would be devastating; which is one of the main reasons I have become so involved in reaching out to those who are losing faith now. Because losing faith means much more than just losing god. As if that weren’t enough.