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Friendship and faith

My faith has caused a rift in my friendship. How can I handle this? 

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

Over the past year I’ve made a lot of positive changes in my life, including becoming stronger in my faith. I am happier now than I have ever been and feel great about renewing my commitment to God and getting along in my life as well. The only problem is my best friend seems to deeply resent me for this.

She and I used to correspond at least once a week if not several times and now she hardly speaks to me. At first, I thought maybe she was just busy, but in our conversations she has hinted at displeasure at my choice of religion and in my overall happy circumstances.

I know she is still searching a lot in her life and in no way have I tried to push her into anything, including faith, but she still has made several negative remarks about me in regards to that and it hurts me deeply. She also seems to wish me ill for being happy with my life, claiming hers is so much harder than mine and touting her miseries while glossing over my tough times like they were nothing.

I know what it is like to struggle and have a hard life, but I also know how to be thankful and joyful over the good things that I have, unlike her. She seems to be distancing herself from me and I don’t know how to handle things. She has told me several times how she “hates” people who are Christian (despite the fact she is one!) and I can’t help but feel hurt and upset that she would say this to me. I’m certainly not a religious zealot and I embrace people of all faiths and walks of life, so I don’t understand why she is so against me for  believing what I do. It has become such that I wonder if our friendship can survive this. Any ideas?

Nikki

ANSWER

Hi Nikki,

Yes, differences in faith and religion (not unlike differences in political affiliations)—or differences between believing and not believing—can often divide friends. How strongly each one believes, how consuming a role faith plays in the way they conduct their lives, whether or not they try to convert others to their way of thinking, and general openness to different religions and ways of  thinking are all predictors of the toll religious views and affiliations may take on friendships.

Other factors that may be coming into play in your case, however, are:

1) Your friend may be jealous and begrudge your newly found sense of happiness. Perhaps, it brings the negativity in her life in sharper focus.

2) Your friend may be having a hard time reconciling your adopting a religion she clearly dislikes. She may even feel like she is letting you down.

If you haven’t been overly zealous in talking to your friend about religion or criticizing her lifestyle and choices, the rift more likely has to with her feelings about herself rather than your friendship, per se. You might tell her explicitly that you respect her right to find her own spiritual path and hope it won’t interfere with your friendship.

She also may simply need a little time and space to work out her feelings on her own about this change in your life.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


Prior posts on The Friendship Blog touching upon religion, faith and spirituality:

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Category: Faith and friendship

Comments (22)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s good to hear you write in with a few clarifications about your original posting. If your friend grew up in a strict Christian household and now “hates” that religion or has strong feelings and views, then she is entitled to her views and opinions about it. Right? She had first-hand experience with that religion and if she concluded she detests it, then her feelings are valid. Whether anyone else agrees with her about the religion is another issue. No one and I mean no one, especially strangers on this blog who don’t know her, can trounce her feelings. She grew up with Christians, so she has first-hand experiences. This is a very valid point and I wish everyone had known this about her from the beginning.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If your friend is the kind of friend who gets jealous when a friend has happiness, she’s not the kind of friend you want in the first place. Many people are “angry” at Christian proselytizers for for proselytizing. That’s a legitimate gripe. That could be completely separate from any other reasons she has to be angry at you. IN other words, she could legimately be “jealous” of you for whatever reason(s) and at the same time she could be harboring legitimate anger at Christian proselytizing (whether by others or by you–though you say you haven’t done it). I am guessing when she says she “hates” Christians what she means is the ones who proselytize to her. I have met a lot of Christians, many who grew up without it and adopted it later in life. In no instance did any of them think they were pushing, yet in every instance, they did push and try to persuade. And every one of them thinks those of us who are not Chrisitans are “jealous” of their “happiness.” You are the rare exception to this. I wish all of the born-agains I’ve met were like you, if indeed you truly do not push or suggest or try to persuade people through your actions. Food for thought.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello, Nikki here.

    To clear up any misconceptions, I don’t even remotely try to push or suggest or look down on anyone who isn’t of my faith.
    I grew up without a religion and adopted one because it helped me to feel secure and stable when my life was at a very unstable and insecure point. I also am nothing like your stereotypical Christian and would appreciate it if people understood that I am not a woman who is running around throwing Bibles at people and looking down my nose at anyone who doesn’t share my views.
    Many of my friends are of other faiths, and it does not at all bother me nor do I see myself as better than them.
    My friend grew up in a strict (and I mean STRICT) Christian household. Sorry if that confused people. 🙂
    Since a few months have passed, I would agree with the people who said that my friend probably was jealous of my happiness (which was partly from my faith and partly because my life has become more positive and fulfilling on the whole) and was just using my faith as an excuse to be angry at me.
    I never even talked about my religion to her or mentioned it except once when she asked me if I believed in a higher power to which I said yes.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Who took up a religion in which I was perceived as immoral. Her previous belief system did not incorporate that view. While she did not push the religion on me in any way, I was not comfortable being friends with someone who, whether she said it or not, looked down on me. My friend’s chosen religion was not Judeo-Christian, but I see the same often in others who go that route. People with newly adopted religions will often say “But why can’t we just disagree!” Well, you can’t, not when you know that, whether they say it or not, someone thinks you are inferior…that never works in a relationship. You might say nothing about your new faith, but all your friend has to do is read the creeds and religious texts to know whether or not you still really accept them and view them the same way.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t necessarily conclude that someone who becomes a born-again and claims they are “happy” IS “happy” or is “happy” in a healthy way. I’ll bet Tom Cruise and his Scientologists don’t think that Katie Holmes reconnecting with the Catholic Church is a happy, healthy thing to do. And I’ll bet Katie Holmes and her Catholics don’t think Tom Cruise is happy and healthy with his Scientology.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m not going to share my convictions on faith. I will share that if someone (and it’s noted objectively, not assumed), is unhappy for you in your new happy position, that seems enough to move on. People of faith are told to stay in relationships where possible, but no-one is told to remain in dysfunction.
    If I were you, I wouldn’t agonize. You got out of your pit. If your so called friend wants you back in it, she’s not a friend. Just someone looking to be miserable with company

  7. Anonymous says:

    The interesting thing is this: SHE would tell you she IS my friend. And she would tell you that she doesn’t proselytize; respects my views; wishes me love; etc. But she would run as fast as possible if I called and said, “Hey, I’m hurting now over (fill in the blank: health problem; work problem; etc.). She would say, “I’m sending prayers and positive thoughts your way,” but she wouldn’t give me the time of day. She’d hang up and send me a card, or maybe a “positive!” generic email. But she wouldn’t spend any time at all with me. Because she doesn’t want to hear ANYONE’s problems. She calls that “negativity.” She just likes to exchange one-line “friendship quotes” in the most generic, barriers-up way possible. But she would tell you with utmost sincerity that she is a very good friend. It just goes to show you how people see things very differently, and people have blinders on as to their behavior. I think one thing she would agree with me about is that we don’t seek the same things out of a friend. I seek more than a card with a “sending positive thoughts to you!!” a couple of times a year. She thinks that’s fine. My problem (if it’s a problem, and I’m not sure it is) is that I would rather throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than endure the snippets I receive from her. I would rather just say, “Let’s go our separate ways.” Now if you asked her about ME, she’d say with utmost sincereity or utmost self-delusion that she’s just so puzzled why I have “pulled away.” It’s complicated, and yet kind of simple. As for persisting in the behavior (proselytizing) that I’ve asked her to stop doing, she has answered the same thing others like her (e.g., Christians of the “rededicated my life” ilk) have said to me: “Oh, I’d rather cut off my arms and legs than stop trying to make you see the Light.” One of them says this to me on a yearly basis and has said it for almost 30 years. And when I pull back, she tells others I am “standoffish” and she doesn’t know what she did to deserve it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    If she persists in behavior that you have specifically asked her to abstain from?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Christians, after they learn I am no longer one, always ask me why I “hate” Christians. Even when I have never said that. They always tell me I “hate their values” when I have never said that, either. All I have ever said or asked of Christians is that they stop suggesting that I rejoin the faith. I ask them to stop sending messages, cards, etc., with little hints or outright statements that I should rejoin them. I get angry at the persistence, but I never, ever, ever, ever say I “hate” them or “hate what they believe” or “hate their values” or “hate” their religion. They don’t listen carefully, though. Because they become quite indignant and angry at me for, again, their words, “hating” Christians. I think many Christians have a “listening comprehensive” problem. I have had this happen to me not once, twice, three times, but probably a dozen or so times. So I am very wary of them.

  10. Anonymous says:

    … but I think what her friend “hates” about Christians is their tendency to urge (aka push, proselytize, try to convert, persuade–pick your verb) others to take up Christianity, too. Even when they’ve been asked to not do so.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I respectfully disagree that the only way to have good relationships is to include “believing in faith.” Not every person who is a person of faith is a good friend. And not every person who has no faith is a bad friend. The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I don’t think the poster who wrote the original post was necessarily saying that either.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Logic would, but your faith does not!

    If you are who you say you are, then you DO NOT END the relationship, rather you ALWAYS keep your love and hope available for your friend…no, not to be flim-flammed, or brought down, but to make her aware that you care for her, love her and will ALWAYS be there for her when and if she needs you…

    I suspect what you’re friend is saying is that she “hates” the hypocrisy that is so prevalent in the Christian faith…two-faced, self-righteous individuals who often-times do not come across any more reliable then the indignant unbeliever… mean and sucky people exist in ALL realms of society, so perhaps that is where she is coming from…

  13. Anonymous says:

    I did not say that my experience “directly reflects the same experience.” I offered the point of view of someone who has been told by a friend that I’m not being judged for not sharing her Christianity, but at the same time I am being urged to share her Christianity. I would never “make it clear that their belief system makes them an incompatible friend.” My complaint isn’t the fact that my friend believes in Christianity. My complaint is that she persisted in trying to convert me, and all the while claiming she wasn’t doing that. It’s not what a person believes that is the problem. It’s how they will not stop trying, in overt and covert ways, to make you “see the Light,” too. I also dislike controlling, overbearing behavior. And sending Christian tapes and books over and over and over again to a friend who has asked repeatedly to stop doing that is, in my view, “controlling and overbearing behavior.”

  14. Anonymous says:

    This! So much this!

  15. Anonymous says:

    This was an awesome reply – especially the 2nd paragraph. Thanks for posting it!

  16. Anonymous says:

    we should believe in both friendship and faith then only we can have good relationship.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Logic would dictate that if you find the person’s belief system so distasteful, why do you talk to them? Just end the relationship.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’m very sorry that was your experience. But clearly, that’s not what’s being described here.

    The angry friend being described here glosses over her friend’s past bad experiences and discounts them and has manifested open hostility to her friend’s beliefs. It would be unfair to say that this account directly reflects your same experience without all of the facts. Each relationship is unique and has unique factors.

    The other issue is that if a non-religious friend doesn’t want to preserve the relationship, they are under no obligation to keep receiving calls, emails, etc. from the religious friend. You can make it clear that you valued their past friendship but that their belief system makes them an incompatible friend to you.

    To illustrate: one of the most verbally abusive people in my life was an atheist, my own father. But I have never said “I hate atheists.” I hate controlling, overbearing, prideful behavior but I make sure to separate a person’s identity from their behavior.

  19. Anonymous says:

    One of my best friends decided to recommit herself to Christ. She knew full well I am not of the Christian belief, though that’s my upbringing. Before she rededicated herself, we had many discussions on a deep and thoughtful level about all religions, spirituality, philosophy of life. It was never a “I believe this, so you should to.” It was a discussion more of the ideas. Then she changed completely after rededicating herself. You would have thought she’d never been told by me that I didn’t share her beliefs on this. Every conversation sounded like someone trying to convince the other to join her faith. Then she started sending me books on tape and books, all about Christianity. I never asked for any of this, and was annoyed and offended. I never said anything, though. Then she asked directly what I thought. So I told her. And she suddenly had amnesia, told me she didn’t recall that I didn’t share the beliefs. So I asked why did you send me books urging me to be a Christian. Because she said she was simply trying to pass on something joyful. I asked her not to, and did so nicely. But she continued. So then I became very stern and demanded she stop sending me the tapes. And I got the same things that were stated here: She accused me of not appreciating the joy she’d found and claimed she respected all religions and my view … but still wanted me to dedicate myself to Christ. She never wanted to own the word “proselytize” but that’s what she was doing. I would have had more respect for her if she’d come out and said what other born again Chrisitans have told me (and I’m not making this up): “I am not going to stop until you have converted and seen the Light.” I’m sure if my former friend–and yes, this destroyed our friendship–would tell all of you that the problem lay with ME, because I didn’t want her to be joyful or happy. But that’s not true. And I certainly wasn’t jealous of her faith. It’s not for me, so why should I covet that. So that’s my side of the story. And, no, I don’t “hate” Christians. I just “hate” when Christians try to convert me to their faith and refuse to admit that that’s what they’re doing. It’s a real friendship killer. So that’s the other side of the story. There are always two sides, you know.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I am a little confused about something. You said she said she “hates Christians”; but you also said she herself is a Christian. Is she someone who was reared in the Christian religion but now no longer practices it or believes in it? Is that what you mean? Is it possible you misunderstood her when she said she “hates” Christians? Is it possible she meant she hates the behavior (“hates the sin but not the sinner” kind of thing?)? I’m sincerely perplexed. If you can to explain more, I’d be happy to try to offer my own point of view or thoughts. Thank you, Nikki.

  21. Angelcake says:

    I have also experienced exactly what you address in your comment..But bottom line if a friend can not be happy for positive addtion to your ilfe, then they are the one imposing their thoughts and opinions onto your life…if a person gets upset over a friend’s personal life style choices, that is a very controling person.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I would also have trouble with a friend who admits to hating a particular group of people, whoever they are. You can hate behavior or find it distasteful, but saying you hate a particular group of people is disturbing unless they are truly a despicable person or group – e.g. rapists, serial murderers like BTK killer, race supermacists.

    Also, part and parcel of being in a minority group – like being an observant Christian in a largely more secular society – is that if you don’t do what people do – like, drink, smoke, curse – somehow they conclude that you think you’re better than they are when it’s just that you choose to observe stricter guidelines, for lack of a better word. You don’t judge them but they take it personal that you don’t join them in behavior you find distasteful. Vegans get it, former drug addicts get it, in essence everyone who has left a “tribe” of some sort is looked upon in mostly similar ways: who are you to leave us?

    I would let this friendship die a merciful death by only answering if she reaches out, or if you have to be around her for reasons of work or you live in the same neighborhood, just being kind and greeting her without going into personal details is the civilized thing to do. This has worked for me; I’m there if there is a true crisis like sickness, death etc. but socially I pick who I’m going to be around for enjoyment.

    Showing personal interest at a distance like via email – sort of downgrading the relationship – might be better for you emotionally. Also, it seems that she doesn’t share your values – since she doesn’t seem to mince words about you or your faith.

    The other extreme approach is to confront her about how she feels about you and then make a decision based upon what she says. For example: some morbidly obese people when they lose weight actually lose friends because their friends have actually said “I liked you better when you were fat.” They feel that person is not the same anymore and have trouble being happy for them. That’s not the thin person’s problem – it’s the other person’s problem that they can’t accept their friend’s new physical shape. Sounds very hypocritical, doesn’t it? But those are human beings just like us. http://theantijared.com/2011/10/i-liked-you-better-when-you-were-fat.html

    You friend also sounds a bit angry-depressed. I have a sibling like that who lashes out angrily instead of facing their problems with the help of a therapist. Maybe saying something like “I can’t be the friend that you need but I do hope you consider therapy to help you along the struggles that you have.” And then leave it at that.

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