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AdviceHey, Bonita!

Losing My (Friend’s) Religion

One of my closest friends is extremely religious, and I’m extremely not religious. It’s usually not a big deal; we don’t ever have a reason to talk about it, and it doesn’t come between our friendship. Well, it didn’t. I’ve had a rough few months, different personal things going on with a bad relationship, work, housing, all of that. Naturally, I talk to my friend about a lot of this. Their support and advice to what I have going on has just become a cycle of faith-based comforts, Bible stories and “leave it to God” type of sentiments. Without hurting their feelings, I’ve tried to tell them I appreciate their efforts, but those things really, really don’t help me. Maybe what I haven’t told them is that that type of stuff feels more hurtful than helpful to me, like it makes things much worse. The response is just kind of, “Well yeah I know we feel differently, but this is what helps me…” and then repeats it all. 

I guess the easy answer is, don’t talk to this friend about these things anymore? But that also hurts, and I feel like I’d be putting distance between us. What do I do?

Anonymous

Hey Anonymous,

You’re right that I often recommend walking away from problematic people or relationships that show no sign of improving. I think that’s because I get more and more comfortable with myself as the years pass, and I also accept how difficult it is for people to shift their paradigms. Also, there are so many people in the world, and “my” people are absolutely out there waiting for me. I don’t see the point in maintaining relationships that make me feel terrible about myself when I can go out and find friends or lovers who would never make the conscious choice to hurt or disrespect me. A true friend who feels real love for me would not feel driven to subject me to something they know I hate.

Religion and spirituality can be such big parts of a person’s self-image and the way they see their own life playing out. It becomes so woven into the ways people exist that maybe they can’t even conceive of a person who wouldn’t welcome advice from a religious perspective. Everything in their life is colored by their religion, and they either aren’t respectful or aware of the diversity of human spirituality—including the existence of people who lack it entirely. They just don’t exist in a world where people aren’t religious, and so they can’t abide by someone asking that they not proselytize to them. In their world, who would ever NOT want to hear about their god’s blessings?

Also, don’t forget that “witnessing” is literally a tenant of some sects of Christianity—they’re required to try to convert people to their cause, and that sense of duty can override any ideas of decorum or personal respect. Your friend is doing what she believes is demanded of her by her god, and she’s already made it clear that she’s not going to stop. So I guess now you have to decide: Will you continue to ask that she respect your choice whenever she tries preaching to you, or will you just bite your tongue and continue to let her beat up your self esteem by reminding you that she thinks you’ll go to hell if you’re not exactly like her? But maybe you haven’t been super clear with this person. I think you should definitely tell her that her attempts to “save” you feel more hurtful than helpful. Your exact words are that it “makes things much worse,” and a true friend would want to know if they were hurting you instead of helping you. Be really honest with her about the way her preaching makes you feel and that you’ve considered no longer bringing these issues to her if that’s how she insists on responding. Remember that what you want for yourself is correct and that you don’t have to endure things that make you feel awful just so you can continue to call someone a friend. The onus of responsibility is on her, not you—she’s the one causing pain and hurt with her actions, and it’s her responsibility to correct that. You’re not the one here who needs to change.

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