How To Deal When Your Friend Is Religious And You're Not
The Debrief: How easy is it to maintain a friendship when you have wildly different views on what 9AM on Sunday morning looks like?
My best friend Georgina isn’t coming to my wedding. Normally that revelation would be followed by a story full of drama, arguments and passive aggressive Facebook statuses, but there’s none of that around here. Because I’m actually (honestly) completely fine with the person I would’ve chosen to be my maid of honour not being there.
Long story short: she won’t be there because my distinctly unreligious wedding (complete with enough booze and cake to bring down an elk) will be taking place on a Saturday. She’s a Seventh Day Adventist, so this is her sabbath. Hence the no-show.
Her dedication to her beliefs shouldn’t come as a surprise: more and more young women are attending church in the UK, and not just for weddings or the free wine. According to the latest findings from UK Christian relief agency Tearfund, women make up the devoted core of regular churchgoers (19%) and churches in general are 65% women.
And Stephen Fry’s recent dennouncement of God as ‘utterly evil’ was met with plenty of people – young women included – jumping in to defend their faith.
Young women finding their religion is not news, but what do you do when you find out a new person you’ve connected with doesn’t share your enthusiasm for exuberant sinning on the weekend?
Friendship expert Irene S Levine says it’s easy for issues to arise in that situation: ‘No two people are raised the same or have the same personality, values and convictions, even best friends. The nature of the problems that may arise vary based on a number of factors: how devout each person is, whether religion pervades most aspects of the person’s life, whether the person is tolerant of other religions and the strength of the relationship between the two friends.’
Says Alicia, a 30-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Stockwell: ‘The subject usually comes up quite early on in a relationship so I don’t generally get a nasty surprise later on down the line.’ But she admits if someone isn’t accepting of her beliefs it’s pretty impossible to maintain any kind of friendship.
‘I find those with close-minded views of others make me hesitate to form bonds. I have many acquaintances with differing views but a minority I would call friends.’
I’d be lying if I said I’d rather wait for people to pray before a meal instead of stuffing my face immediately, but how’s that any different to friends tolerating my football chat when they only know Gary Linekar from crisp adverts?
Irene thinks it’s important to remember what brought you together in the first place to get over those bumpy moments. ‘What friends can do to maintain their friendship is respect the differences and focus on the bonds and values that drew you together,’ she explains. ‘Also, refrain from being judgmental.’ Don’t be a cock, basically.
‘Several people at uni thought the very idea of Christianity was quite foolish,’ explains Uwa, a Christian Londoner. ‘I never participated in these conversations, as most of the time I would hear them slipping out of the mouths of the extremely ignorant so I made a point not to argue.
‘This did, however, keep me from making friends with people because I felt like they would never understand why I do things the way I do or why I believe in what I believe in. It would be a different matter if I felt like despite our different beliefs they could still accept and respect another person’s beliefs, but there was none of that.’
While pondering this relationship minefield, I asked Georgina if she, a teetotaller due to religion, found it difficult to be around me, a semi-permanent drunk who’s made cereal with Bailey’s, on a night out.
‘Not really; you’re not falling all over the place and vomiting on my suede shoes so it’s not something I have to tolerate,’ she says. ‘The fact is, you’re accepting of the things I do so I’m accepting of your choices, too.’
Accepting is one thing, but if you’re too different you may be fighting a losing battle. ‘I do not enforce my beliefs on others. However, I would feel a hypocrite to closely associate myself with someone who lives in a way that flies in the face of my morals and beliefs,’ explains Alicia.
‘If, for example, I know they are the type to deliberately go out to get blind drunk I wouldn’t go out with them. And if this is all they do, then what happens to that friendship?’ It goes to shit, that’s what.
To be honest there really isn’t any way to ‘deal’ with someone’s fundamental beliefs because it isn’t a bad habit or annoying trait; it’s how someone – your friend – has chosen to live their life.
And if neither of you can accept your differences than you’re not friends and probably never were in the first place.
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Picture: Beth Hoeckel
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