I turned forty yesterday. Thanks to Facebook, a record number of people wished me a happy birthday; but to be fair, Facebook makes it very difficult to ignore a birthday. It’s easier to take a few seconds to type a greeting then it is to dismiss its constant prompting to do so. I guess that’s Facebook’s way of keeping us all socially responsible.
Friendships are strange. Modern social media has changed everything—and now all those old friends who may have simply vanished from our lives still hold on to a daily presence. Somehow we adapt. There are a great number of friends who I never communicate with except on special occasions, and some who are so distant I may not even respond then. And for the most part, there is a mutual understanding about that.
Then there are the friends who were once part of our inner circle. They know us too intimately to ever be completely set free. Even if we have become enemies. Most of them are either still close friends, or enjoy a status of always being important no matter how many years go by without physically speaking to each other. These relationships would remain safe if not for religion and politics. I mean, who hasn’t slammed their head against a wall upon finding out an old friend is a Trump supporter? But if you were once close enough, you can bite your tongue and tell yourself: “Well, I never actually hang out with them anymore.” And you just keep scrolling. Nothing changes.
Religion is different.
Pretty much all of my friends are now aware that I am an atheist. The overwhelming majority of my Christian friends are okay with it. Nothing has changed. But the fact that I write about losing faith has triggered some of my more conservative friends, even my closest ones, to no longer have contact with me. They have taken it personally and have become cold toward me.
I am the same person. The only difference is that I can no longer accept that an almighty God inspired a book. That’s it. That’s my crime. In the beginning I went out of my way to show them that I was the same. I never attacked their faith or even expected them to respond. I can only assume that this is the reason they still appear in my social media feeds and have offered no harsh words. Only silence—and a deafening lack of acknowledgement of any communication I attempt with them.
Again, this represents a very small percentage of my Christian friends. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with the belief that these “friends” represent much of what is terrible about humanity. It sounds dramatic to say that; after all, it’s not as if they are out raping and pillaging. But if we cannot make connections when we disagree with those closest to us, how can we possibly find common ground with anyone else? People who are unable to do this are the source of much of what is wrong in the world. I can’t deny that.
I find it not only easy, but necessary to empathize and learn from other perspectives. I am clearly not alone, and for that I am incredibly optimistic. But if so many of us can do it, why can’t they? I am disappointed to discover that these people who I once respected and called a friend are incapable of something so basic. And worse, I understand that conservative biblical viewpoint enough to know just how deep their hatred runs. Their inability to overcome it within the guidelines of the Bible isn’t evidence of their great faith—but rather evidence of who they really are. I know that, too. And that’s the most disappointing part.
I should have known. Maybe there were times I did know. It’s funny how the Christians who most firmly believe that morality comes from the Bible are often the same Christians who seem the least genuine in their love for others. They struggle constantly with it, and often come around later after being “convicted” by scripture. In their defense, they have no way of knowing that other people aren’t like that. It isn’t a struggle for most people. They assume we are all wired the same and have to work toward empathy for others—but some of us even possess the opposite problem.
And we find ourselves making empathetic excuses for old friends who don’t deserve it.
The Bible offers them their own supply of excuses, but it isn’t the Bible’s fault. It’s all on them. The divide among Christians is mostly their fault, too. But this type of personality is too busy accusing liberal Christians of not being “true” Christians to ever realize what’s right in front of their face. Will God really punish those Christians who followed him in their own lives but still loved those who didn’t? And I’m talking about genuine love; the kind that accepts the free will of others and is able to embrace them while keeping their own faith intact.
I know those handful of friends who have discarded me so easily are using the Bible to justify their emotions. The Bible will completely defend their inability to communicate with those who do not share their point of view on the world. It will defend anything at all if you look closely enough. But the inability to empathize and connect represents both emotional and spiritual immaturity. And I’m not sure they can ever overcome it.
Yesterday I turned forty. Life is too short to continue to make excuses for people who never cared about me in the first place. And I have certainly been doing that; because nothing is black and white. Or good and evil. And I feel as if I understand Christianity enough to make connections– at the very least with my oldest and dearest friends. But none of it matters. My atheism may have been the trigger, but I now realize that this has never really been about religion at all.