Unbelievably Changed by Religion
I recently came across an old letter from an old friend, and it made me reflect on the sudden change I'd seen in him.
It was quite remarkable. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed that someone could change quite so much.
Late one night in a college bar a long time ago, he and I were having a very drunken conversation about the evils of religion and how it didn't make sense, and how all it did was cause wars and massive problems within families, and people to do dreadful things in its name - and other such beer-fuelled rants.
As a Jew-ish Agnostic it was refreshing to talk with someone who had similar views and similar doubts about the whole religion thing. Particularly because in our small church-town university, a lot of our good friends were Christians whose social life revolved around the Christian groups, and we often went along for the ride because they were our friends.
But we felt like we were in the minority, and while we didn't mean any disrespect to our friends it was good to be letting off steam, airing views without offending people, and being able to talk about subjects which for some were considered taboo, or likely to shock.
We had a lot of good talks like that, we liked to "put the world to rights". We were good friends, we clicked. We found it easy to talk to one another. Friendships like that are rare. And I think it's only when you get older, and you've maybe lost touch with those friends that you realise this.
Shortly after that conversation about religion my friend graduated and I didn't see him for several months.
When we met up later on in town he was a changed man. At first I wasn't sure if I was being scammed. He was the kind of guy to play a practical joke. Or at least he had been.
I did a double-take when I first spotted my friend that day, dressed up smart in a suit. He had always been a baggy-jeans kind of a man, and scruffy, much like a male version of me.
He sat down, looking somewhat serious. And he pointed out that he wasn't going to light a cigarette as he didn't smoke any more. This was bomb-shell number two. At college he had been a chain-smoker. I noted on that day that his familiar stale-smoke smell had indeed gone.
He explained that he had given up smoking overnight after he decided to accept Jesus into his life and become a Christian. I nearly choked on my coffee. That was bomb-shell number three, and it was the big one.
He started to explain that he'd had some problems in his life, and started to question what was important. He felt the need to go and visit a local church and the minister's wife talked to him about Jesus, and everything that she said had made perfect sense to him. He began to attend the church regularly and made lots of friends. He'd even met a girl there, who he thought he was in love with.
I could see that he was happy and was delighted for him, but I felt like he was a completely different person. Other than his face and his voice, my friend was no longer in there. Ironic though it may sound as I'm talking about Christianity, it was like he had been possessed.
The conversation took a turn for the disturbing when he started saying that maybe I should explore Christianity too. And that hadn't Jesus been a Jew?
Ok, so my views on religion had calmed slightly since the drunken rant-night, and I would never deny anybody their right to believe in exactly what they wished, but this was not the friend I remembered. In his previous incarnation he would never have dreamed of evangelising to me. He knew how much I hated this.
I had been stopped on campus far too many times, by well-meaning strangers trying to save my soul. Criticising my own religion and saying that theirs was the only true way. I arrived in tears at one of my final exams, having been delayed by a Christian gentleman who told me I was going to go to hell. My friend knew this, he knew I was not somebody he should preach to.
I left very confused that day. I had just had lunch with someone I didn't know. Before, he had always been full of life - larger than life some would say. He liked a joke, he liked going to pubs and to parties, he liked the ladies, but at the same time he was honest, kind and respectful. Everybody liked him. He had the gift of getting on with people, every kind of person, students and teachers alike.
Now his personality seemed smaller, deflated. He was two-dimensional instead of three. The vibrancy was no longer there, something was missing. I no longer knew him and I felt cheated. Was I wrong to feel that? He was still physically there after all. But it felt as if I'd lost someone, lost my friend.
We kept in touch for a while, but no longer having anything in common we drifted apart. How can somebody change so very dramatically? How can they become somebody we no longer recognise? And when they've changed into this other person, where does the old person go?