Atheist feels guilty putting evangelical friends on ‘mute’
DEAR CAROLYN: I was raised evangelical Christian but converted to atheism 30 years ago. Now 77, I’m finding my friends are not comfortable with my “free will” and have been inundating me with emails, texts and phone calls telling me how “dear” I am to them and that they want me to go to heaven with them and not to hell.
I’ve known two of these friends for 65 years and this was never a problem until now. One, whose daughter committed suicide a year ago, cried and prayed that she wanted me to join her and her daughter in heaven. Another, who is dying of kidney failure, told me how much he will miss me in heaven while I suffer in hell.
I was unable to get a word in edgewise with either of these long-term friends and chose to mute them on all my devices.
I miss them and feel guilty that I’ve tossed them away. Have I done the wrong thing?
DEAR READER: If you think so, then you have; there’s no absolute measure of right and wrong here. There is only what your heart and conscience tell you.
If you felt relief, and/or that these friendships had run their course, or such inundation crossed a line, then that would say you made the right, or merely necessary, choice — though I’d be urging you now to explain this to your friends instead of hiding behind mute buttons. They’re both quite clearly deep into their own existential struggles, facing death in ways maybe beyond their worst fears. Maybe their eyes just rested on you as a place they feel they can make a difference — a more manageable place for their fears.
For that reason, and since you miss your friends, and since you have nearly half a lifetime of uneventful, mutual acceptance between you, you might as well find out whether this is something you all can get past — and can even use to help each other.
Let’s say they know how resistant you are to their message, and their persistence is a reaction to that. If true, that doesn’t make their desperation tactics your fault, of course; it just offers you some options, since changing your behavior might be the most effective way to change theirs.
Specifically: If you’re willing to hear them out, really hear them, then maybe that will ease their minds.
You don’t have to agree with your friends to hear them. You don’t even have to agree they have any right to be heard, or any standing to apply such pressure.
But you can embrace in your personal life the same pragmatism you hold close in your spiritual life, and forgive their trespasses, this time, as a gift: “I’m sorry I muted you. With time to think, I realized it might give you comfort to say your piece.”
Then, let them. Then ask questions. Good ones, real ones, like, “How can I can ease your mind?” And, “What of my soul if I am not sincere?” This topic is all questions, really.
Then conclude: “I understand this is your way of showing you care. I care about you, too.” Close topic. For good.
Maybe they won’t join you in this place of acceptance. But I doubt you’ll regret having offered, once, clearly, to meet them there.