Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Cried Today

A few months ago, I met up with a childhood friend. We had drifted a little apart over the years. I had moved out west, he went to seminary school in Massachusetts.  But we communicated every couple of months and I still counted him as one of my most trusted friends.

When he came into town for the Easter holiday, we made an effort to get together. It was the first time in almost ten years that we met face to face.

It started off great. We caught up on our daily lives (he's building a massive orthodox church in Vermont- I recounted my school application adventures) and then we talked philosophy. It had been a shared passion in high school-one that we'd both explored deeply since.

I minored in moral philosophy in college and absolutely love the intellectual sport of debate. We found ourselves discussing the continental rationalists and I argued Spinoza's work over Leibniz's. I joked that it was ridiculous that Leibniz couldn't comprehend infinite regression in his monadic theory but that he had no problem with it mathematically. After all, calculus is, in part, the study of infinite series.

Everything was going great, we had coffee, we laughed, we reminisced. I treasured that, despite our differences on the religion front- rather because of those differences, he offered an intelligent insightful world viewpoint. One that, as a scientist and atheist, I'm not often privy of. Most of my other friends hold similar views to my own.

Well. As our brunch wound up, he tried to save me, spiritually- that is.

I'm not a militant atheist. I hate that I'm labeled by what I don't believe in. I don't believe in many things- Santa, the toothfairy. I wouldn't like to be called adentemfatist. It seems another useless qualification.

I tend to be very shy about my lack of belief. I've seen how much comfort the sick, the dying and those left behind obtain through their beliefs. I saw how much it helps my grandmother to believe that she'll be with my mother again in the Catholic heaven.  It seems to me, that broadcasting my own thoughts to others would only result in being hurtful for them. In fact, I sometimes wish that I could acquire that same comfort. I miss my mom.  But I can't convince my rational mind that it exists. It's just not there.

And I can live my life, fulfilled, happy and with purpose without believing in god. I truly think that it is impossible to convince, with a rational argument, the rightness in a religious belief to someone who doesn't hold that belief.

Anyway. Suffice to say, our brunch did not end happily. I tried to explain that I wasn't going to change my mind and "let's celebrate the diversity our differences bring to the lives of each other".

He wouldn't have it. He told me that he couldn't truly trust someone who didn't believe in god.  And he dropped our friendship in the rubbish can on his way out.

Well, that hurt. All of my care in choosing: eating ethically, minimizing my carbon footprint, volunteering in underdeveloped countries, helping people, spending days helping to clean out his father's church after a flood, all negated in his mind because morality can't exist without a deity to police our behaviors.

Today, I received a call from the financial aid office of BCMS. They chose me as the recipient in my class of their *Service to Humankind* Scholarship. It's a huge huge honor and I'm floored and humbled and thrilled and sad. 

I cried because a big institution, one that doesn't yet know my heart, the responsibility I feel to people and the world, looked at my CV and talked to my interviewers and decided that of all the brilliant amazing and worthy 200 people in my class, that I -stupid, underachieving, insignificant me- most represented to them, a moral spirit. (which is totally weird btw- seriously? me? I'm going to school with Rhodes Scholars, people who organized major endeavors to help others, people who have accomplished so much more than I in much less time. Weird.)  But my 'friend', someone who had known me, my heart, my choices and actions for over two decades... Bah.

Sigh. I guess everybody has to deal with getting over toxic relationships at some point in their lives.  I'm just having a really hard time doing that today.


  1. So sorry to hear that your friend treated you this way. As an atheist, I had a similar experience with a Christian friend from university who routinely passed judgment on me for my lack of faith. In the end, I was the one who decided I didn't need her and her judgment in my life anymore, but it was still crappy to lose a friend.

    I wish people would recognize that religious belief and morality/ethics are not the same thing. While there are a lot of good moral teachings within the various religions, there are also a lot of religious people who behave immorally and a lot of atheists/agnostics who behave morally. Believing in God is no guarantee that someone will be a good person.

    On another note, congratulations on a scholarship! While you may not think yourself worthy, clearly those in charge recognized something of great worth in what you've done. Awesome!

  2. Sigh. I think that my friend is dealing with issues unrelated to our relationship and they precipitated to shit over our friendship. My views haven't changed over the years. At no time in my life have I really believed in a deity. Culturally Catholic, Santa and God were interchangeable and when I outgrew the one, I outgrew the other. Worship just wasn't part of my daily vernacular. He knew in junior high that I was an atheist. I think that something else was going on to trigger his repudiation.

    Stupid man.

    Thanks for the congrats :) I can't believe that just a few months ago I didn't think that any school would ever want me and now this! I can't wrap my mind around it.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear that about your friend. I know it hurts a bunch, but from what I've read, you sound like a wonderful person and your friends and family are really lucky to have you.

    I've just stumbled across your blog and I absolutely love it and cannot wait to hear about your experiences in med school! I'll definitely be commiserating with you a ton as we both start 1st year :)

  4. dolce vita

    Thanks! Your comment introduced me to your own blog and I'm thrilled to be able to co-commiserate with someone who has such a witty perspective! I wonder if you're starting school at my own alma mater. If you are, have fun! It's a great town. Oh, and let me know if you want any cheap good take-out recommendations.

  5. I am really sorry that this happened to you.

    I have had a similar experience. I was at university, a practising Catholic at the time and thought of myself as fairly decent/a good person. But I did not realise that being Catholic wasn't Christian enough. It started off subtly, and then the next thing I knew, my friend had her whole church praying for me. I found this out when her church prayer list 'slipped' out of her wallet one day and there was my name at the top of it!(It is not uncommon for my name to alphabetically, end up at the top of lists.) After an awkward conversation, I realised that our lunches, coffees, walks etc. were nothing more than an opportunity to get fodder on "where my soul was at?" The whole encounter left me feeling angry, insulted and sad. It took me a while to remember that a)I am a good person and b)each one of us can choose to practice goodness, regardless of our religious persuasion.

    Clearly, you are a good person. Congratulations on an auspicious award and good luck with your transition to medical school. I look forward to following along.

    P.S. Solitary Diner introduced sent me your way. I'm glad she did.

  6. It's awful when people you trust have such ulterior agendas. Thanks for the good wishes.