How to befriend an unbeliever

Friendship (Japanese)

Friendship (Japanese)

How can a Calvinist or an Arminian Christian maintain an honest relationship with a friend who is a non-believer when they believe that their friend will live in eternal torment.  I propose two ways to pull this off:

1) Constantly evangelize your friend

A truly compassionate, exclusivist believer should constantly try to convert their unbeliever friend.  For if they truly believe that people who do not accept Jesus as their savior in this life are doomed to loveless eternity, then out of compassion they should always be strategizing how to convert their friend.  They should sneak religious conversations in any moment they can.  They should constantly keep an eye on moments when slipping in allusions to the big questions can be done persuasively.

But which non-believer would consider such a friendship as an “honest relationship”?  For if the pagan friend already said that they had no interest in converting, it would be a friendship of manipulation and secrecy on the part of the believer.  Another dirty little secret such believers only whisper to each other in their honest moments is that they hopefully await times when the non-believer friend suffers some loss so as to perhaps draw him closer to the Lord.  At such a time of sorrow, the believer, with a half-smile, will say to their fellow believers, “Ah, now maybe my friend’s pain will help open his eyes to our need for God.” Boy, who needs friends like that ?

2) Become a “Cafeteria Believer”

But a better option for such friendships is for the believer to become a Cafeteria Believer.  Many wonderful people who also happen to belong to an Exclusivist’s version of Christianity, actually do not buy into the whole package of their sect’s beliefs.  In this case, they do not really need to fully embrace the salvation scheme of their church. And thus these Cafeteria believers could maintain an honest relationship with their non-believer friends. For they could believe, contrary to the doctrine of their faith-of-allegiance, that their God is good and judges peoples’ hearts rather than their beliefs.  Thus, Cafeteria Christians could relax by believing that their non-believing good friends will have another chance for eternal life after they die even if they reject Christianity now.  Therefore the can enjoy their friendship without the constant sorrow of imagining their friend being doomed to eternal torture.  And they don’t have to constantly strategize on evangelizing the friend during every get-together.

In theology, your beliefs about how to treat non-believers is called “Goyology“.  The above story is just one example of how critical it is to think through your own Goyology.  Of course, as an atheist, I believe both these options are mistaken but if I have to choose, I could full-heartedly embrace a friendship with a Cafeteria Christian with Universalist tendencies.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “How to befriend an unbeliever

  1. bataille9

    At first I was going to object to your “cynical” view of the secret whisperings of group #1, but then the accepting nature of group #2 puts it into perspective, and makes me think that this is probably true. And sick.

    It seems like the cafeteria believer is far more common, though it might not seem so on the surface. I imagine the only time these issues would even come up would be in the presence of members of group #1. On the other hand, Christians I work with, Christian neighbors, Christian relatives, friends of my parents who happen to be Christian – it doesn’t even come up. In fact, in some cases years go by before I even know what religion they are. On the other side of the fence, we all know people who, within ten minutes of meeting them for the first time, make reference to the glory of their God, unprovoked and seemingly from out of nowhere. And with all the subtlety of a jackhammer grinding pavement.

  2. Yes, I think that none of us fully believes anything we profess and that none of us is fully aware of the nature of what they call their “self”. So none of this should be surprising.

  3. In my experience in conservative Christianity, there were a number of sermons which would exhort believers to evangelism with a statement to the effect that, “If we really believed people are going to hell for eternity, we would be doing *everything* we could to stop them.”

    A very telling statement….

  4. Indeed, ATTR, thank goodness people are conflicted !

  5. I have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like on both sides of Scenario 1. It isn’t pleasant for either person as one constantly believes their friend could be damned to hell at any moment, which is a tragedy, and the other is constantly being told that their way of life is inferior and wrong. It simply isn’t a friendship in the truest sense of the word.

    Oh, and I have heard some variation on this bit a number of times, actually spoken aloud, in prayer sessions:

    “At such a time of sorrow, the believer, with a half-smile, will say to their fellow believers, ‘Ah, now maybe my friend’s pain will help open his eyes to our need for God.’ ”

    It’s frightening because I used to think that way. I feel somewhat ill to think that I embraced the sufferings of others as an opportunity to coerce them into believing what I believe, but I thought it was a positive thing.

    Now, even understanding that it’s coming from a good place, it sickens me. I don’t care if the intentions are good, if someone constantly talks down to me at every given opportunity (and some manufactured ones) then why am I going to tolerate that? Talk about frustrating.

  6. Interesting and something that needs to be added is what I’ve learned to do, Sabio.

    I have now learned to not get too close. It’s taken a lot of time to learn this, but I can actually distance myself now and perhaps that is what is meant by the passage “do not be yoked with unbelievers.” I am learning to love them, but not become so invested that loving them hurts me emotionally, because it has in the past. Seriously.

  7. Yes, W,
    You can harden your heart, distance yourself and care less about people and more about the tribe and the army and the book. People don’t matter, after all.
    You are right, I forgot about the callous option.
    There is also the apathetic option.
    But Jesus seemed to speak against both those options, so I did not think Christians would opt for them — my mistake.

  8. There is love, the kind of love Jesus has, “agape.” I have that kind of love for you and every other human being on this planet. There is also the fact that what is going to be will be, no matter what you or I think. I can’t force my beliefs on you or visa versa. I have to respect yours with that in mind as you should mine.

    I can love you, but I’m not going to forget that we’re traveling widely different avenues that diverge in different locations at the end of this thing called life. In the interim, we can be close, but there’s a limit to how much I will put myself out there to be mistreated, hurt, and essentially abused within the friendship.

    You understand what I’m saying? As long as there is real respect, no problem, but I have seen very few atheists actually consistently respect & live and let live.

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