I try not to judge people based on their beliefs because I don't like them judging me about mine, but I have this one very close friend — let's call her "Lilly" — whose fundamentalism is really starting to make me not like her anymore. I feel really bad about it because she really is a very nice person and we've been friends for almost eight years, but some of the comments she makes really rub me the wrong way.
Lilly doesn't have much respect for other religions, or anyone who isn't Christian, and never misses a chance to say that everyone who doesn't believe what she believes is going to hell. She says that Muslims should have to convert to Christianity if they want to come to America, and that Islam makes people more likely to be terrorists (which particularly confused me seeing as how one of our nicest, closest friends is a Muslim girl.) And after we discussed the Holocaust in history class, she said, "The Holocaust was especially sad because none of the Jews that died went to Heaven."
I don't believe in hell or heaven, but she does, and the fact that she's okay with the idea that people who aren't Christian automatically go to hell, the land of eternal torture, no matter what, really bothers me. These kinds of comments have been popping up more and more, and I'm not the only one who has noticed it. I talked to our little group of friends about it (two of whom are devoutly religious), and we all agree that it's getting harder to continue our friendship.
The problem is, Lilly actually is a nice person, and that's why I hesitate to call her a bigot, because I don't think she means to be offensive. And I don't want to dump her as a friend just because she has beliefs that I don't agree with. But it's gotten so bad lately that I've had to just leave the room entirely to stop from yelling right in her face, and I don't know if the friendship is worth it anymore. I and some of our other friends have tried on multiple occasions to tell her that she's being really offensive, but she won't listen. Please help!
Before we begin, darling Sparklers, a suggestion: if you cannot read this letter without freaking out over the fact that it contains a religious component, please feel free to do a mental find/change and replace the word "Christian" with an ideology of your choice—be it veganism or atheism, the Green Party or the Tea Party, the Holy Ghost or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even the Bikini-Wearing Badger. Because despite appearances, the problem here has nothing to do with the specifics of Lilly's religious beliefs...
...and everything to do with her being a jerk.
Because here's the thing: being friends with someone whose beliefs you disagree with is easy. Being friends with someone whose beliefs you both disagree with and find morally repugnant is more difficult, but still possible under the right circumstances. But being friends with someone whose beliefs you disagree with and find morally repugnant and who doesn't even have the decency and maturity to just shut up about them already for the sake of peaceful coexistence?
That, my friend, is impossible.
Which, just to reiterate, is a defect of character that has nothing to do with Lilly's religion, and everything to do with the fact that she's a strident, self-important blockhead. (In fact, one of the worst perpetrators of this type of behavior I've ever known was a socially progressive uber-atheist who just couldn't restrain himself from dissing my husband's religious beliefs over dinner. At my family's table. On CHRISTMAS.) And that's why you're feeling the urge to cut ties: not because your disagree with her beliefs, and not even because her beliefs are bigoted, but because she believes in expressing them at the expense of everyone else's comfort.
(Although, for the record: bigot: n: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance
...Which means that a person who says that Muslims are a bunch of terrorists-waiting-to-happen who should not be allowed in the country unless they stop being Muslims is, by definition, a big ol' bigot. Yes, even if she's really nice about it.)
So, what should you do? For starters, stop censoring your reactions for her sake... especially when she's not censoring her actions for anyone else's. If her venomous attitudes and bilious spewings bother you enough to make you want to leave the room, then leave the room. If her comments about Muslims are so phobic and insulting that it's ethically irresponsible to keep quiet, then speak up. If her blatant disregard for other people's feelings makes it hard to continue the friendship, then distance yourself. And tell her the reason why.
Which, again, is not that you disagree with her beliefs, but that you disagree with her wildly insensitive way of voicing them with no regard for how much she might be offending or hurting other people. (Ex: "Lilly, you're entitled to your opinions, but you create needless hurt and conflict every time you slander Muslims/tell us we're going to hell/make disrespectful comments about other religions. I understand your feelings, but I will never agree with them, and there's no point in continuing to discuss this. Please don't bring it up again.")
Will this make the difference between making your friendship palatable or not? I'll be honest: it's not likely. Your friend has demonstrated already that she doesn't give a damn whether or not her words are hurtful, and people like her rarely understand the principles at work here—that being asked to think before you speak your mind is not the same as being asked to change it, and that the opinions we're all entitled to are nevertheless sometimes better left unexpressed (or at least not hammered on incessantly) for the sake of not alienating the people we love. But if she doesn't stop, and your friendship ends, you can take heart in the knowledge that it wasn't over a disagreement about your beliefs.
Unless you count the belief that friendship is best served by not acting like a strident asshat.
Have you ever had to distance yourself from a strident friend? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.