I hope this will get published as I would like not only your views on this, but the general web views as well. Either way here is my story:
Let me first start off by saying that I am Agnostic and I do not believe in any religion.
I have a friend, let’s call him SM, who was born into Catholicism. He is the only child in his family and therefore the only son. He grew up being led to believe that Paris Hilton was sent from the devil himself, and he was only allowed to play amongst baptized children. Being in Asia, and with so many other religions around, he was only allowed to play with a selected few from his parents’ church.
I met SM when he was in high school, and we’ve been close friends ever since. About two years ago, at age 22, he decided to come out of the closet and admitted to a group of us that he was or is in fact a homosexual. This was okay by us because no matter what he will still be our friend but it wasn’t that way with his parents. They told him basically to ‘change’ or get out of the house. He chose the former, and he has lied to them ever since.
The problem here is not his parents or his homosexuality. This is him choosing to still remain a devoted Catholic. He still goes to the church with his parents every Sunday for mass, or every Christmas days, singing in church choirs and playing in church plays. In many occasions I have argued with him on the fact that his “God” is a homophobic God and asked him if he really did believe in this homophobic God, that he would eventually go to hell. Isn’t this a form of hypocrisy?
He believes that people ACTUALLY are descendants of Adam and Eve and that ‘God’ created the world in seven days. He also said that Christianity is open for interpretation and he will interpret it however he likes. He said that I kept quoting from the Old Testament and that the new Testament is much better.
I tried to reason with him, to quote science and humanity reasons but he always manages to get angry. He would say, “Why can’t you just let people believe what they want to believe? Why do you have to condemn my religion?” and I would always respond with the same thing: “If you know someone’s on drugs and he thought drugs was the best thing in the world, would you still reason with him to get off it?”
Is it wrong of me to keep pushing him off a religion that hates his kind (and I don’t mean this in a bad way) repeatedly? We’re still really great friends and hang out every weekend, but to see him embrace his sexuality and then having to hide it and going to church and believing that ‘God’ is the only one that understands him and gets him and yet he is still going to hell is beyond me. I do not know how to deal with this situation. Please help.
Troubled Asian Friend
I think the best thing you can do for your friend is to keep the promise that you and your friends gave him: “No matter what, he will still be our friend.” At the time, you were talking about his sexual orientation, but he needs you to extend that to the rest of what he is for the time being.
He’s caught between his parents who don’t accept his sexuality, but do accept his religious choices, and his friend who accepts his sexuality but does not accept his religious choices.
Everyone in his life is being conditional and selective in their acceptance of him. He needs someone who will just let him be exactly as he is, in all his self-contradictory complexity, and you are the best candidate.
He’s not asking his parents to accept all that he is because they are too deeply entrenched in their narrow, xenophobic beliefs to be able to provide him unconditional love and acceptance. However, he is asking you to accept all that he is, because you are the freethinker. You are the one who hopefully has the ability to rise above your own bias, and to let him be what he currently needs to be. He isn’t trying to “save” you from your agnosticism, and you don’t need to “save” him from his faith.
Deconverting is very often a painful upheaval, and each person has to become ready for that in their own time. I don’t think it is wise or respectful for someone else to decide when that should be and try to push them away from their religious beliefs before they’re ready. I’m sure you mean well for your friend, but it’s very easy for your priority to shift from wanting what’s right for him, to your being right about his religion.
Paradoxically, I think if you are fully openhearted and allowing of how he currently thinks, he will be more open-minded to how you think. You don’t have to agree with his ideas, but you will be the truest friend when you are genuinely free of having an agenda for what you want him to believe. Love and friendship are “as is” propositions, not “only if” propositions.
He’s very young in many ways. He’s only 24, and having been raised in so insular an environment, he could be emotionally much younger than that. Right now he wants to live in harmony with is parents. In one way he’s being flexible in his thinking. He’s talking about being able to interpret his religion so that it works for him right now, which sounds like a better approach than his parents use. It will take time for him to gradually mature and to become more confident, assertive and independent. Having friends who don’t push, don’t require, and don’t disapprove will help him develop his sense of self.
So I suggest that you stop the arguing and debating about religion with him that he’s asked you to stop, as well as the metaphor about drug addiction. At this point in time it’s only adding to his several experiences of disapproval and rejection. Encourage him to relax and have fun with you and your shared group of friends, and if he begins to explore his sexuality while away from his parents, that’s good. If he begins to express doubt about his faith, fine, don’t immediately seize on it. Let him choose the pace. Just answer his questions and offer your reassurance.
He’s lucky to have you as a friend, and I think you will discover that you’re lucky to have him as a friend. You both have valuable lessons to teach each other. He will grow because of you, and you will grow because of him.