Most of us can remember the friends we loved during our childhoods, and if we're lucky, we'll have the opportunity to cross paths with these members of our nostalgia every so often throughout our lifetime. I recently had the opportunity to engage with one of my oldest childhood friends, but unfortunately, this latest encounter we had was sad and heartbreaking. My now ex-friend has adopted a Christian world view that ultimately ended our long-term friendship.
Let me take you back a little and say that in our youth, we were ‘thick as thieves'. Two skinny white kids with parents struggling to make ends meet. We discovered and shared a love for hip hop. We went trick or treating together on Halloween, and came up with clever ways to ‘inspire' cash donations for Unicef, which we winded up keeping and spending on more candy later, never having intended to hand in these elicit donations. This one time, we walked into the local corner store and stuffed our school backpacks with whole boxes of chocolate bars and candy. I realize now that we got away with a lot of it because of privilege.
We were both raised Catholic and attended Catholic elementary school in Toronto. We both had contempt for Catholicism, and we mocked its rituals (which I still do to this day :P). For some reason, it didn't seem to speak as loudly to us as it did to our surrounding classmates. We both acted out in predictable ways that befit children whose homes are fueled by alcoholism and separations. We were, in fact, a couple of young punk thieves, and we bonded with that, we gravitated towards each other with new schemes to hatch out hoping to make some quick loot. It was our thing.
We spent a lot of time together, even a couple of Christmases. However, my thieving came to an end when I was pinched for stealing from my job. I was almost 16 years old at the time, and being exposed to those consequences, shifted my moral compass more towards compassion. It did, however, take a substantial amount of time afterwards to develop enough integrity to stop trying to justify my bad behaviour, but once this shift happened, there was no going back, the behaviour was wrong, and I was wrong for having taken from others. I realize now that I was not looking out for the well-being of others, and it could easily be argued that I wasn't even looking out for my own.
My friend, however, chose a much more nomadic lifestyle, going on the adventure by hitchhiking his way across Canada, living in foreign countries, and getting into countless hi-jinx. I was always impressed by his ability to survive without the need for stability, in fact, I envied it. He told me how important it was to gain some life experience to kick-start his dreams of being a writer. The stories he brought back from the road need to find their way in to print… his tales of adventure are that good!
He eventually moved to an entirely different country with different cultures, customs, and justice. He started distributing narcotics to other Ex-Pats and would engage in scamming tourists after he had picked up the language enough to freely interact with the locals. Although the scams where extremely clever, and I know he pulled them off with ease, I could tell he was somewhat conflicted, bouncing the ideas off me in a way that was seeking my familiar support.
I was vocal on areas I disagreed with, and he seemed OK with that and absorbed my honesty with grace because he could trust it. Our relationship felt strong because if anything, I felt we were being completely honest with each other. This bond was not strong enough to last forever though… the beginning of the end was only triggered when he recently embraced the faith-based worldview of Christianity. Most Christians I've had the pleasure of knowing are kind, sensitive, caring individuals who value the well-being of others over their beliefs. Some Christians however, seem to resent non-believers, and receive criticism to their faith (in areas I particularly find illogical) as attacks, and are only interested in engaging with people that can demonstrate a belief in things (or beings) without empirical evidence.
His brand of Christianity arrogantly claims; all other religions as confused; homosexuality as ‘chosen' behaviour undeserving of equal civil rights; men naturally make better leaders and are the true heads of households; same-sex marriage is a sin worthy of punishment; slavery is not the same as indentured servitude; evolution is a hoax; non-believers such as myself are lost, and need help finding a path to Christ, etc… It was shocking and confusing to realize my longtime friend had chosen to subscribe to such an unreasonable and bronze age worldview.
I came to the conclusion that my old friend was no longer interested in being my friend at all. He was, however, interested in ‘taking'… excuse me, ‘saving', my soul. Our conversation went off the rails once he proselytized by sharing a Christian propaganda article in my Private Messages. This article was aimed at exposing the Child Welfare System in Norway as an evil entity that steals children from loving Christian parents in the middle of the night. In hindsight, he only shared this article with me to divert his argument towards the ‘Straw Man‘ he was trying to build. I knew then my old friend was going to vilify my world view as a means to piously disengage.
What I quickly learned from google is that the Child Welfare System in Norway is called Barnevernet, and that they forcefully remove children from families that indoctrinate their children with religious faith, and further protecting them from potential abuses such as genital mutilation, underage marriage, limited access to education, and so on. I applaud the Norwegian government for placing children's rights ahead of parental rights because too much abuse is happening in silence by religious parents who can't exercise enough critical thinking skills to realize that they are willfully exposing their children to unnecessary misery and harm. Seeing as the children in these circumstances have a right to privacy, Barnevernet has never responded to any religious attacks to ensure privacy for the kids. Needless to say this is a one-sided issue from Christians, and it's being fueled by their dogma. My now ex-friend used this as a means to draw his Christian line in the sand.
After our lengthy conversation on Facebook, I can easily say that his newly found faith is but another layer to his ongoing shenanigans to manipulate the ignorant and willing. Our friendship, after all, was an acceptable amount of collateral damage to reinforcing his worldview. He was willing to sacrifice our friendship to prove how much faith he has. I'm no longer sad about this loss because we've shared a lot of history together, and they were good times, but we've grown apart. He can't seem to reconcile being friends with both myself and Jesus at the same time.
Once he said his goodbye's by laying some verses from the book of Romans on me and gave his final blessings to me and my family, I felt sad. I've been hesitating to share the dialogue that took place in our secret group, but feel it's important to be able to spot the familiar narratives that drive religion to sacrifice long term friendships. It's is also important to keep challenging their dogma when it's encroaching into friendships, and rejecting claims that are unsupported by empirical evidence. I did, however, change his name and location to keep his identity concealed.
The final thread.