On Friends and Change

One of the difficult parts of this process is talking it through with the friends you’ve had for decades of shared Christian experience.  These are friends you met and grew with wholly in the context of Christianity.  Every conversation you had, every struggle you shared, every joy you delighted in was in the name of Jesus Christ.  You understood that every good thing came from above.  You understood that every bad thing was a means of testing, proving, correcting; driving you closer to the all-loving God of the universe.  Even if you weren’t talking about God at all, there was always that mutual understanding of a shared faith.  It was a trust connection from without that didn’t exist for people outside the faith.

Now, suddenly, that particular connection is severed.  Not on my part, I would like to think.  To me, the connection was only ever a human one anyway.  Outside of the devotion to a biblical God, we could still carry on that depth of friendship and trust.  After all, in our devotion to each other we’ve gotten to know the human behind the profession of faith.  Aren’t we still the same people?  Am I not every bit who I was a year ago when it all still seemed real to me?

But to my friends, it is severed.  In their eyes I am cut off from the power and blessings of the Holy Spirit.  It is not a question of an equal devotion to different philosophies.  It is a deficient position, bereft of a spiritual rudder, one that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly, and therefore from making sound decisions.

To them, the existence of god, more specifically, a biblical, personal God, is understood – to the point in which you either believe in that god, or you are in willful denial to serve a selfish end.  It’s not that you don’t believe, it’s that you deny believing what you know deep down is actually true.  The related assumption is that there is some sort of sin you wish to indulge in and therefore deny and repress the spirit of god in order to pursue your indulgence in sin.  One of the first online exchanges I had about leaving the fold included a poster whose willfully and openly arrogant question was, “So, what’s your favorite sin.”

So the conversation already starts off handicapped.  I don’t mean that to say their position is deficient.  I mean it to say we have a specific difference in a foundational understanding of the nature and existence of god.  We are on different planes, trying to find a common ground.  It is an understanding that will never wholly arrive, I’m certain.  Not that we will be unable to be friends.  I’m sure we will, but I will always be that friend who needs extra prayer, who needs god to somehow shake him up and bring him back to the flock, who they’re sure someday will come around.

I have had several of these ‘friend’ conversations.  I felt it was important to see and speak to several of my closest friends.  I wanted to make sure they heard it directly from me.  I didn’t want them getting a fourth or fifth hand hearsay laced account of how I deconverted and had taken to roasting babies and puppies on the backyard grill.  Also, I wanted to respect their place in my life, and the time and energy they had put into me over the years, and I back in them.  Finally, I wanted to make sure they knew that, regardless of their response, I still loved them and considered them the dearest of friends.

One conversation I had with a friend I’ll call Titus.  I’ve known Titus for most of my Christian life, over 20 years.  By the time we had a chance to sit down he had an inkling that I had veered from the path.  The conversation was concerned and loving, but it was also very strange.  Over the years I’ve sat on his side of the table, listening to others tell my why they couldn’t believe.  You pick up key phrases in these conversations.  As a reasoning agnostic they mean one thing, usually something positive.  As a Christian they are red flags.

One phrase that I used several times during this conversation was “Open myself up to,” as in, “I had to OPEN MYSELF UP TO other ideas.”  After I had told my story, Titus keyed very quickly onto that phrase.  To be open-minded and consider that one might be wrong is anathema to the Christian.  To question God, his son, his word, one questions all that is real.  To put reason on the same level as the Bible itself is blasphemous.  Paul wrote: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” and later in the same passage (I Corinthians 1:18-25), “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

You can imagine how this destroys the ability of a Christian and non-Christian to dialogue about wisdom.  He who reasons with his mind and considers the world as it is, without the filter of the bible, is already considered a fool, one who is perishing, and the very act of questioning the bible in contrast with worldly wisdom is itself evidence of one’s fallen state.  It’s a non-starter.  There can be no mutual understanding, no respect of the process, because the process wasn’t subordinated to the bible itself.

Of course, had it been, the conversation wouldn’t be taking place at all.

I explained to Titus that I would be more than happy to explore the issues in detail, but that it would be up to him, as I didn’t want to be the one casting doubts around for the heck of it.  After the conversation we exchanged a couple of private messages on Facebook.  He probed lightly around some of the things we talked about at first.  Finally he said exactly what he was thinking.  It was loving in its way, and it didn’t surprise me in the least, but it still… well, see for yourself:

I forwarded it to you via email. Easter presentation many many years ago. I believe it was in that presentation where you play the blind man … and when they asked “How is that you see?” Your line was something like “All I know is I was once was blind but now I see!!!” I truly believe with all my heart that you have been blinded once again bro! I hope you hear me in love. You were seeing! You were “touching the world” the world was lost (sic). Through music and drama, through prayer and faith. And so what you’ve done in this search for truth is that you’ve opened yourself up to an enemy that you once believed in. He has duped you into believing there is no real God of the bible, He didn’t send His Son Jesus to be your Savior, and so if you don’t believe in that, than there’s is no reason to believe in satan. He has caused you to take all of your doubts and stock pile them, showing you them time and time again, adding to them, causing you to research and read and read and read, he had given you the list of top best sellers according to atheism, anti-God and anti-Christ. He has caused you to intellectualize right out of your faith which you held so dear at one point. “Lord God! Father and creator of the universe! Jesus! Son of The Living God! Open my brother’s eyes once more!!

How am I to proceed?  What else is there to say.  He cannot begin to question, and therefore he cannot begin to understand my doubts.  He cannot give them credence.  Atheist writer and blogger John Loftus made an interesting observation recently.  He said: “[Christians] must be convinced their faith is impossible before they will consider it to be improbable…”  Christians cannot begin to question the bible and all they’ve been taught until they’re convinced they won’t be on the next train to hell by doing so.  No wonder so few of us get across that bridge.

It’s not that I have any vested interest in Titus giving up his faith.  Not at all.  I would like him to simply treat me as his friend and respect what I believe as well.  I don’t want to be his project.

I’m getting the feeling that I won’t be getting my wish.

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20 thoughts on “On Friends and Change

  1. “But to my friends, it is severed. In their eyes I am cut off from the power and blessings of the Holy Spirit. It is not a question of an equal devotion to different philosophies. It is a deficient position, bereft of a spiritual rudder, one that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly, and therefore from making sound decisions.”

    Yep.

    Big, big hug. What you’ve written here has been my life the last few years, too. Perhaps in time your friends will be more understanding because as my own friends have aged, they’ve also mellowed in what were once some very hardcore beliefs and are more comfortable over why I’ve gone the way I have. We don’t talk like we used to, though. Without that shared foundation that was once woven throughout every topic we’re sometimes at a loss with one another. The truth is, to them, you really aren’t the same person. You’ve become a stranger, and it’s also a bit threatening because if you could be snared, omg, they could be in danger of reaching for that fruit themselves if they listen to you. It’s sad. No one wants to lose friends, but it’s especially hurtful when one hasn’t done anything wrong, but is judged as though one has!

    It’s worse with my BIL the Baptist preacher. He’ll get into a discussion with my husband, trying to find an opening to hopefully get him to see the light again, but when my husband asks him compelling questions, he stops talking, doesn’t even try to continue the discussion because for him to question his faith would be to destroy his life-he’s a missionary in Africa married to a preacher’s daughter and has 5 children, all mini-evangelists. I’m sure he tells himself there’s no point throwing pearls to swine. Ha!

    I have another challenge. Where I live. EVERYONE is a Christian. One of my co-workers a few weeks ago got into a conversation in which her antipathy toward atheists bordered on hostile work environment behavior. Needless to say I don’t say much about my beliefs, I just practice them.

  2. “…but it’s especially hurtful when one hasn’t done anything wrong, but is judged as though one has!”

    That’s it in a nutshell – thank you for articulating that so well. We’re viewed as though we need correction. I think I knew it would blow a hole in some of our friendships… but it’s so hard. I can count the good friends I have outside the fold on one hand and have fingers left over.

    I know over time I will develop some friendships to replace the ones who couldn’t stick with me through such a change, but right now it hurts a little bit.

    Especially that part of me that wants to blame myself for becoming so skeptical…

    • I know over time I will develop some friendships to replace the ones who couldn’t stick with me

      I’m sure you will, but I’ve found making friends has become a little more difficult the older I get. There’s just something about those friends you made when you were younger, and that’s sad, too.

      I understand the self-blame, as well. We were indoctrinated well, weren’t we? It may be why I can’t easily call myself an atheist. I still feel as though there’s something, but it’s not something we can define as a deity, more like something I’d call the law of existence, maybe. My experience seems to show me that there’s something about thought, perhaps something that operates on an unseen level, but it’s still following some sort of universal law, in the same way that physics, chemistry, and math follow laws. There are times when I really do feel as though I’m creating things as I go along, that I’m having an effect on what I experience. Not that I create it all because our thoughts can bump into each other just like we do physically, causing all sorts of unseen actions and reactions that can’t be controlled, but perhaps they act like atoms with attraction and repulsion properties like that between electrons and protons. Or perhaps it’s all just in my head. 🙂

      • Re: Friends from younger days – It is sad – especially when they’re friends who knew you and backed you up and even mentored you when you were young, naive, insecure, undisciplined, and a little mixed up.

        Neither am I an atheist. I’m very much an agnostic. In fact, I probably lean toward either pantheism or panentheism at this point. It seems there is a spiritual dimension to life that transcends our individual consciousness and is part of the interconnection we have as people.

  3. Pingback: The Line Between Hot and Cold | Why I No Longer Believe

  4. I am really enjoying your blog posts so far. Intelligent, well thought out, well written. I hope you continue to post, as it will be interesting to follow your thinking. Best wishes.

  5. Keep the faith! <grin>

    Srsly, hon, I realize there’s a great deal of pain involved in this. The churches I’ve taken part in have never been quite as bound up with their faith as what you describe, and as people wibble and wobble around inside of them, friendships were never severed as you describe, but I have experienced the loss of friends through other means and I know about the mourning process you are undergoing.

    Peace and love, Toon. Strength for you, on your new journey.

    • Yep, they were a pretty conservative lot. I think a lot of us have had to go through that at one time or another. I think there’s a point where you think it will be okay, then suddenly it’s not quite so okay, and it’s more like others warned you it would be. It’s a bummer – but I’m not bereft of friends, both IRL and online (and often the twain shall meet, fortunately!)

      Thanks 🙂

  6. Nearly 20 years ago my wife and I left the church where we met just months before we were married. We were something of the first wave of an eventual exodus of several people. It was good that we never invested ourselves much there in friendships, proved in our realization that as our “heresy” was coming to fruition, there was plenty of backstabbing and loss of favor with members of whom we were already suspicious. It was not hard to decide to cut the cord (implementing it was sticky).

    You, on the other hand, have made an investment that is now understandably causing some emotional difficulty, for which I both don’t and do envy you a bit. I sympathize with your struggle over the loss/change among friends you’ve had for decades, but I am confident it is a key part in helping provide you with a clearer picture of the path ahead – we were in a bit of a tailspin for a year or so, and to this day are still a bit gun shy about joining groups.

    • I think it is very hard in that way, in that I was so central to our little church body. I have a lot of people tell me how they miss me there, my music, my prayers, etc. *Sigh*

      However, because my wife preceded me in unbelief, I sort of get the soft landing thing. We’re not dropping out into the ether, alone to make new friends. We’re very tied in with several groups, mostly through the arts, where we have a sense of community and such. My life has always been pretty charmed, with a few occasional bumps in the road (2008, to be sure) so I can’t complain 🙂

      A big part of the reason for writing this blog is to address those Christian friends from the last quarter century who think I’m off my head.

      • “A big part of the reason for writing this blog is to address those Christian friends from the last quarter century who think I’m off my head.”

        I look forward to the work and participating in it. Should help me focus a bit more on the “blessings” of being outside of the “Body of Christ,” which is much too inwardly-focused.

  7. I haven’t belonged to a church since I was eight, so I have no personal understanding of what you’re going through, but your words certainly convey the pain and I am sorry you’re having to deal with it.

    I of course do not know these people personally but I surmise that their reaction is born of fear. Because if they truly believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God, can they also believe that he’s so insecure that he can’t handle some doubters without losing his shit and throwing you in hell for asking questions? Of course not. They’re the insecure ones. And faith that has to squinch up its eyes tight and shout “La la la I can’t hear you!” is not a very strong faith, is it? A truly faithful person would not feel threatened by someone else’s questions and someone else’s journey. They’d have enough trust in both their friend and their God to keep their noses out of it. This is a problem I’ve always had with evangelical religions.

    Having lived most of my life Very Very Certain, then gone through my own doubts, then come out the other side (to a different place than you, but that’s not the point), I’ve come to view doubt and questioning as necessary and am very suspicious of anyone who claims to be faithful but can’t handle other people viewing things differently than they do.

    That, and I’ve always been a Plato’s Cave kind of girl, so have always been baffled by the lengths people will go to to insist that they’re the only ones who are seeing the shadow correctly. As if it’s the shadow that matters at all.

    • Hey, Teacake 🙂 That is the most frustrating part. And I’m willing to dialogue. One of my friends has no fear in the matter and has jumped into the conversation. I love that. I think he’s wrong about a lot of things, but who cares. He’s engaging. It’s the other friends who are praying for me, calling me “back to my senses” (yes, direct quote) telling me I’m deceived, etc. – but refusing to engage with the content of my doubts. I’m sorta running out of patience with that… I mean, let’s debate, right???

      • But they have nothing to debate. As far as they’re concerned, you’re just wrong.

        John 20:29
        Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

        This is where looking at yourself and your reaction to them comes into play. The situation isn’t just how they’re responding to you, but how you’re responding to them. They haven’t changed. Why are you frustrated with them for being the same people that they’ve always been? That’s a rhetorical question. I fully understand your frustration as I originally said, but you’re not going to see any changes happening very quickly, if at all. What you want of them requires the exact same sort of journey that brought you here. That didn’t take place overnight, did it? How would you have responded ten years ago to one of your friends changing as you have? Probably better because you’ve always been pretty accepting of people in general, but even so, you’d have though they were misguided, wouldn’t you? Would you have worried for them. Maybe even let slip some of your worry?

        In a way it’s like divorce. One partner suddenly says they aren’t in love any more, they want something/someone else, and the other partner is hurt. By walking away from God, you are walking away from them, too, because they’re one with God. If you reject God, you’re rejecting the best part of themselves.

        It would be so much lovelier if they could have Teacake’s understanding of God, but so often people wrap themselves and their identity in God and never come to the realization of who they really are in and of themselves. They can’t come to that realization because they’re not supposed to be anything but worms apart from God.

  8. “Toon”…the word that comes to mind reading your post and the replies is “lazy”. Not you, but the believers you describe. It’s easy to say something about “praying your eyes will be opened”, but hard to take the time to interact with you about belief systems. It’s easy to just parrot what we hear on Sunday, but hard to internally personalize the concept in a way that allows us to share. It’s easy to accept what we are told to believe, but hard to look deeper into why we believe what we do. I don’t want to judge or condemn others, but if I just let you go without dialog to find out what you think, I would be lazy.

    Just so you know, I was an agnostic, raised in a non-church family. My conversion to biblical christian belief was as an adult, so I went through much of the same search you are on. I will try to always be available to answer the what & why I believe, and hopefully my words won’t get in the way of understanding. I love you, my friend.

  9. I am now 62 years old, but I never got back any of those friends after I left the fold as a 20 year-old. I went through my entire life wondering why I am a doubting Thomas. I had endless conversations over those years with so many of my relatives, all trying to “win me back”. Now most of them are gone. Even my conversations with Mike were fruitless (for me).

    Toon, what impressed me when I discovered you today was your ability to speak sense to people like Mike. I do admire his ability to articulate his faith, but I have no recourse when discussing things with him but to shut up and go away. He leaves me speechless.

    I have just been told, basically, to keep my comments to myself over at Experimental Theology (Dr. Richard Beck). There again is the insular thinking (but, as an academic, with the self-assured righteousness of faux open-mindedness). Imagine a professor of psychology making the assertion that one of his posters is “personalizing” his posts too much. This when discussing the most fundamental questions a person can contemplate.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts as they come.

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