Faith Forays

Coexist: When Your Friends Have Different Beliefs

In high school, I had a friend who happened to be Hindu. I was a staunch right-wing Christian at the time. We started a tradition of writing each other letters during school talking about what we believed, why we believed it and what it meant to us. Neither of us were preaching to the other; it was just an exploration of our belief systems with someone whose faith was completely different. I learned so much from her about peace and morality and why we try to lead good lives. And I also learned how to simply accept that not everyone will be a whatever-version-of-Christian I am. Not all of my friends, past present or future, will believe the same exact way I do.

Unfortunately, not everyone can operate as harmoniously as my friend did with me. I’ve failed many times when trying to wobble on the line between “my faith is the only way to go and you’re going to hell” and “oh, your faith is so interesting, let me convert!” I’ve been condescending, arrogant and just plain rude at times to people who I actually value and desire to treat with respect. For every successful inter-faith exchange I’ve had, I’ve probably created at least three messes in my wake.

There are even differences in belief between myself and my other Christian friends. I’ve got friends who share the same religious label as I do that completely condemn things I am passionate about, such as gay marriage. I’ve got friends who are Christians and are pro-life, Republican and subscribe to traditional gender roles. I’ve also got friends father on the left side of the spectrum than I am. These are all people who I love dearly, and who have been amazing friends to me throughout my life.

Obviously we want to have friends who are different than us. I mean, I don’t want to hang out with fifty clones of me because I would go insane from all the corny jokes all the mes would tell. Our friends have different interests than us, and they introduce us to new ways of thinking, great books, and also the wonders of Studio Ghibli (okay, maybe that’s just MY friends). But I think we like this idea in theory–but not in practice–when it comes to faith and religious beliefs.

Part of what makes us devout followers of religion is our strong belief that this is right. We look at our faith and say, this makes sense to me. This right here is how I want to lead my life. It cuts deeper than most other areas. So when we’re confronted with a different idea of faith, it can be hard to reconcile that that person believes this is right too. I don’t know why we always want to win, but we do. Sometimes it can feel like if we let them believe that their way is right, ours can’t be right, and so unless we condemn their whole religious belief system ours will have been invalidated.

That’s really sad. But I think it happens more often that we’d like to admit. I know I’ve felt that way at times. In order to peacefully coexist with our friends who believe just as strongly as we do, but believe in different things, I think we need to go back to the root of what our religions have in common.

Some of us share the same god, but we just follow it differently. Some of us read from the same religious texts, but we just interpret it differently. At the root of our religions, we all want to love and be loved and to lead a good, moral life. There are so many more things we can trace between our faith systems, so many more commonalities and similarities. Love and goodness are two great places to start.

We can also show our friends how we value them in our lives by remembering to respect them. Resist the urge to put them down at all because they find their rightness somewhere different than yours. We can mentally do this all the time without saying it out loud to them; but if we think a certain way about a person, that will always show through in our actions toward them. If we believe in our heart that a good friend is wrong about something, we can always engage with them about it in a respectful manner. But realize that after a time, nothing we say is going to change their minds–and that is totally okay.

It comes down to respect. Respecting that they have their own unique personhood, and they have all the rights that come with it. That includes the right to make up their own minds about what they believe and why. Loving our friends despite our differences of belief can be hard. I’ve always found that loving when it’s difficult is the best love of all.

 Featured image by ephraimandgomer on Flickr

  • Nikolina Serdar

    I think a certain amount of nihilism does everyone good when it comes to this topic. I don’t mean neglecting you beliefs but be aware that no one actually KNOWS what life is all about. Beliefs are called beliefs because no one is or can be certain about them. I for my part are an atheist but I have many religious friends and it never has been a problem for me (or for them). Everyone has their ways to deal with the world and everyone should respect other people’s ways to do so, even when they differ from your own.

  • Colleen Sweeney

    I grew up without religion in my life. My parents went to church every Sunday as kids, but they didn’t do that with my sisters and I. Until I was eighteen, I believed in a Higher Power, but not devoutly. My best friend was religious, I wouldn’t say staunchly so, but to the point that when I would use the word ‘pissed’ she would correct me by saying ‘P-oh’ed’. I accepted that, and we got along great. But I don’t know how I would deal with someone who was very religious, since sometimes their opinions grate on my nerves.

  • Birgit Tell

    My best friend and I have different beliefs and I’m glad we have never had any problem because of that.. I’m sure we will never have problems because that as well!

  • Elisabeth Miller

    I’m a very liberal Jew. My best friend is a conservative fundamentalist Christian. We discuss our faiths openly, agree to disagree, and enjoy each other’s company.

  • Megz Stroback

    This was well put. I went to my churches youth group until a leader told me my Hindu friend was going to go to hell. That upset me and I never went back

    • Becca Rose

      Ouch. that’s super harsh. And also, something I’ve had a lot of people tell me about my friends/myself!

  • Callie Leone

    I have several friends that I have very close relations with and we don’t agree on anything. Seriously, it’s probably a miracle that we are the way that we are.

    But I can’t help but feel left out when the freedom of religion and as you importantly pointed out, maybe the freedom of respect for one’s religion, doesn’t seem to apply to me, an agnostic. I’m not even an atheist, so you I love it when people go in with the assumption that they *know* what I believe. False. I get told that my religious choices are “wimpy” by atheists and simply nonexistent by those who follow an organized religion. So it hurts when I constantly have to tiptoe around everyone else’s beliefs, but I’m expected to just take it when people talk about mine.

    • Becca Rose

      Yeah, that seems like it would get really aggravating after a while! Agnostic is such a wide label and people often just assume it’s the same all across the spectrum.

  • Kelly Holt

    My best friend in the world is a devout Catholic and I’m an Atheist, and the greatest thing is that we know that we can discuss what we believe in at any time without judgment. When she was considering becoming a nun, I sat with her and listened as she spoke about her deep relationship with God. When I lost a baby I was having with someone I wasn’t married to, she didn’t judge just because it’s a situation she wouldn’t find herself in. In fact, I think our ability to discuss things so diametrically opposed in so many ways has allowed us to become better, closer friends.

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