Thursday, October 7

Eric writes perceptively on a topic I've thought a lot about:

Non-Christians are uncomfortable around Christians in social situations because they're afraid any details about their lifestyle are going to lower the respect those people have for them. It's the same going the other way, too. Because once you've decided you like someone and you might want to be friends with them, finding out that they likely won't respect the way you live your life can be devastating. How can you be friends with someone who disapproves of your life on a fundamental level? If someone thinks premarital sex is evil, how do you talk about your current sex-related relationship problems? How do you talk about your crisis of faith if the person drinking with you thinks you're deluded for believing in a god in the first place?

When I still thought of myself as a Christian (in a strong, denominationally oriented sense), I had friends whose faith was built on a radically different set of precepts. The problems with using a term as broad as "Christian" probably can't be better illustrated than by the differences in attitude and orientation between a Missouri-Synod Lutheran and a proselytizing evangelical/non-denominational. Some of the language was superficially similar; the underlying ideas were mostly not. To them, I was not a for-real Christian. And the problem was the same: How can you be friends with someone who disapproves of your life on a fundamental level?

To put it another way, how can you communicate with someone whose bases for judgment are different from your own, not just slightly but in some fundamental way? There is the matter not just of my (a)theology, or of my recreational drug use, but also of the age of the universe, the origin of life, the nature and purpose of art: What kind of intellectual traffic can I sustain with someone who believes not just that I'm guilty of blasphemy or that I worship the principle of evil in the guise of nature, but that Earth is roughly 6000 years old, evolution is a fabrication of conspiracy, and all valid art must be didactic or devotional?

The manifest irrationality and empirical blindness of those ideas are important, but almost beside the point (except inasmuch as a pro-reason or good-empiricist kind of attitude is a very important one of those fundamental bases for judgment, a meta-precept): I have had the same problem communicating with explicitly unreligious friends who can't (or wouldn't, if I mentioned them) understand my faith, my moral assumptions. The same problem over again: If you believe in the sacred, how do you talk to someone who attaches no meaning to the concept - or worse, who would only perceive it as a weakness, a liability, a piece of insanity? Is there anything better than holding your silence?

I guess one answer is that, after all, we are human and share a set of attributes which cannot but give us a shared vocabulary, some level of common experience. What we have in common can sometimes overwhelm what separates us, or I would never have made connections with people who believed in my damnation so strongly.

Maybe too often, my answer has been that it just doesn't work. I'm not satisfied with this.