I've recently been thinking of former Xtian friends. (I say former, but they are still 'friends' on facebook. I am actually a bit torn as to whether or not I'd like to change that, but I'll save that rant for another day!) I should mention that I am well past the pain I'd felt years ago for having left these friends behind, but the relationship I aim to maintain with my father has got me wondering how far it can really go. This all has led to the re-evaluation of friendships with Xtians of the past. One in particular, we'll call her Jovie, was undeniably one of the best friends I've ever had.
A little background information: It has always been a struggle for me to open up to people, likely due to the many 'sinful' urges I'd always felt pressured into holding back (sexuality of course, but in this case: the urge to doubt, to question, and to think for myself). Now, there were some Xtians I can recall that were stuffy or even downright mean to anyone who dared to question, blatantly viewing them as inferior/sinful. I must also remember those that made an effort to, at the very least, appear understanding as they attempted to ease the doubts or even understand. While I appreciate the kinder approaches of these individuals (obviously having sense enough know, at least on some buried level, that questioning is not in fact evil), there is no getting around that a 'child-like faith' is what is most highly praised in the Bible, as the term 'doubting Thomas' has definite negative connotations in Xtian circles.
That said, I'd always refrained from opening up even to close friends about certain things, because of the fear that they might judge harshly. Obviously, I'm speaking of religious concerns, but it went deeper than that; this fear infected the core of my being. Not only was I nervous of doubts concerning God/Jesus/the Bible/Xtians, but I became uneasy whenever I had an opinion of my own. I still spoke up from time to time within the home, if it was a non-religious differing opinion (although, my parents found ways to apply religion to everything, as 'good' Xtians often do), but that was linked to the knowledge that I may never be 'acceptable' by my mother's standards. I'd learned that early on and gradually became more and more concerned with finding acceptance outside of the home. I don't think it would be fair to blame religion entirely for my wimpish tendencies. I do however think the supposed 'positive' aspects of religion never did appeal to my personality type while the negative ones latched onto the insecurities connected to my timid nature, and fed on them like a leech.
Back on topic: I met Jovie at church, the only place I was encouraged (and eventually the only place I was permitted) to engage in social interaction aside from family, Xtian events, and acceptable extended family. We clicked on many 'important' levels (spiritual included, at the time), but more importantly an intellectual one, which was new for me. My other 'close' friends of the time had either taken it to such a shallow level that they may as well have been 'of the world' or they were more emotional than logical (not the brightest crayons...) thusly using religion as more of an emotional high. Jovie was not overly emotional and was in fact level-headed and rather bright. She took her faith seriously, but didn't get on weird levels with it the way another friend of mine did (Jesus orgasm, anyone?). She was far more bubbly than I, more confident and outgoing while also less questioning and a bit less imaginative. However, we thought on such similar levels and in such similar ways, which made me feel more connected to her than any other friend. All in all, I felt as though we balanced each other out quite nicely.
Could I have still been friends with her today? Could we still connect the way we used to, even as I want nothing anymore to do with religion? For me, the intellectual aspects of our conversations meant far more than the 'spiritual', which I, even as a serious Xtian, could never feel deeply to begin with (it was always rather forced). I can never know because I chose to assume that our friendship could not continue and acted accordingly. I'd already concluded that she could not handle the changes in me, and kept contact light and shallow until there was nothing left. It hurt, and I knew that I was hurting her too, but decided it was for the best. I robbed her the opportunity to try and understand. Maybe I was right. Perhaps one of the biggest connectors in her mind was in fact the 'spiritual' one. That certainly is often the case, and the reason behind the former fundamentalist's struggle associated with 'loss of community'. Still, I should not have chosen for her. Could I have been the one to provoke within in her the need to question, even her beliefs? She may not have had reason to doubt (she was not as abused by religion as was I, and we are prone only to change what we can tell affects us negatively) but she certainly had the capacity to see from another angle, if needed. I know that I made a mistake, but this is much more a lesson learned than a regret.
Even though I know it is important to give people a fair chance (those who have earned it, that is), I am still a bit uncertain as to how to handle certain quirks within the Atheist/Christian relationship. Should I really have the Creationism vs Evolution debate with my father, even though he, based on information slipped from our conversations, wants so desperately to believe that the nice things in the Bible are true? I'm not so sure about my mother, but I know that my dad genuinely loves me as his "feisty" (yes, as timid as I am, every so often my inner 'whipper-snapper' comes to surface) daughter and that nothing could change that. Still, the core of his belief system requires him to look at people through those black and white "believer-or-non-believer" lenses. This suggests a superiority complex, whether subtle or strong. Would this not get in the way of having a healthy relationship? I think as to what extent depends on one's personality (i.e. my mother is emotional and eccentric, so it gets in the way much more with us. My dad on the other hand is calm and level-headed). Still, it is just unfortunate that something as worthless as an outdated, fear-based mindset gets in the way at all.