Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.
I’ve been an atheist since the 7th grade, and now I’m a junior in college. I’ve never been that great at making friends, and my one really close friend at school is quite possibly the most religious person I’ve ever met. The second time we got together to hang out, I told her I wasn’t religious, and asked if that would be a problem. She said it wouldn’t.
Now, two years later, I’m beginning to wonder.
When we watched a movie with a corrupt priest as a minor character, she said it was an attack on all of Christianity. When we watched a Hindi film that contained the line “even the divine beings have sinned,” she said she didn’t know how they could be divine then. She asks me around Christmas whether or not I believe in an after-life. Once she was talking about her Bible Study class and asked my opinion. When I said that topic had never been of interest to me, she took offense. Now out of the blue she’s texted asking “If man is capable of evil, where does good come from?”
Most of the time she’s okay, and I can ignore her or change the subject when she tries to bring it up. Should I, though? I don’t know what to do. Should I keep ignoring it, or confront her? Or should I just end the friendship?
I’d appreciate any advice you could give me.
Be yourself, neither more nor less.
If you are comfortable with ignoring her religious remarks or changing the subject, fine, but you don’t need to make yourself uncomfortable by stifling yourself if you really want to voice your opinion. If you are comfortable with answering honestly when she asks for your opinion, fine, but you don’t need to make yourself uncomfortable by being more confrontive than you wish. If your reply is straightforward and polite but she takes offense, that feeling of offense is her responsibility. If her religious remarks are straightforward and polite but you take offense, that feeling of offense is your responsibility.
A good friendship is one that accommodates you being yourself and she being herself. If either person has to deny something they are, or pretend to be something they’re not, then it’s not a friendship worth maintaining. People are not static; they change over time. Sometimes friends can adjust to each other’s changes while still being true to themselves, and sometimes they cannot.
Your friend is probably getting these ideas from wherever she takes that Bible study class, and her remarks sound odd and off the wall because she’s not telling you any of the context. She might be bouncing these ideas off of you just to try them out instead attempting to proselytize you. It’s okay for friends to ask each other why they are saying something to them. With a mild tone ask her, “I don’t understand where you’re coming from with this. Are you just thinking out loud, or trying to convince me of something, or what?” This might help to clarify things, and it will also alert her to the fact that she’s not being fully understood. With better information about her motives, you can better decide if you should continue to ignore these remarks, or if you should confront her and if so, how, or if you should end the friendship.
One thing about yourself that you should look at is in this statement:
“I’ve never been that great at making friends,”
The best friendships celebrate their free choice to be friends from an abundance of possible friends. If you have the ongoing belief that you don’t make friends easily, and so maybe you’re lucky to have one at all, then you’ll have rather low standards for what is acceptable in a friendship, and you’ll hesitate to risk what you have in any attempt to improve it.
Question skeptically this idea that you have never been good at making friends, and more importantly the unsaid implication that you never will be good at making friends. Put that assumption to the test. Go out and look for more friends, perhaps where people have opinions similar to your own, such as a secular student group. You’re a junior in college. You’re surrounded by potential friends with similar views. Try it. You have nothing to lose but your self-limiting self-image. Most of our handicaps are not our actual inabilities, but our believed inabilities.
As you acquire new friends, you will be able to approach your present friend with a more self-confident attitude. You’ll be more willing to just be yourself with her, neither more nor less. Encourage her to just be herself with you, neither more or less, in particular sharing more of the context of her thoughts. That will either enrich your friendship with her, or will bring it to an end if one of you cannot adjust to accommodate the other. Either way, I think it will be an improvement in your life.