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Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Keep People from Thinking I’m the Devil?

Dearest Auntie,

The closest existing word that I’m aware of which describes my stance on religion is “agnostic,” and I live in the Bible-belt, as I believe the region is termed. The overwhelming majority of my friends, acquaintances, and peers are devoutly religious in one way or another, and have extremely well-defined stances regarding most any moral quandary one might care to name.

Now, not only am I unsure as to the existence or nonexistence of a deity or really any supernatural force, but I also retain an interest in these sorts of things, not the least of which is a rather un-passive interest in the occult (not to mention a general enjoyment of the dark and macabre). I may not be one for putting faith in much of anything, but it doesn’t make the material or thought-processes behind such things any less interesting to read.

Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if I had the ability to keep my interests to myself. I would describe myself as a bit impulsive, and I’ve noticed that I bring up interesting tidbits of information gleaned from my various pursuits at most any opportunity. However, most of these “interesting” standpoints run counter to those very well-established morals I mentioned earlier, to the point of their being regarded as dangerously close to blasphemy or other social unacceptability.

I have very little to talk about otherwise, as few in my circle become very passionate about things like theoretical physics or astronomy. At least the conversation continues, if it’s about weird-ass theological concepts, rather than just terminated with murmurs of polite disinterest.

Most of my closer friends at least put up with my random grim interjections and impulsive comments, as well as the neverending tide of heresy that streams forth from my face, but the heartwood of my question is this: Is there any way for me to stop being that guy who immediately comes off as someone whose soul’s salvation is something to be concerned for, if not some godless anathema placed on this Earth to tempt humans, as does the serpent? It’s beginning to take its toll, as people are drifting away, as doors are slammed, the potential for new relationships snuffed out in a way about as rekindle-able as a candle on the moon—and yet I really can’t get over the fact that a certain cult makes some really pretty books, and that I enjoy rather lighthearted theological conversations, given my lack of investment in any one in particular. I don’t exactly want to change, but if you have any tips at all for how to navigate, socially, in a situation where to try and play devil’s advocate (occasionally literally) is corrosive to any relationships one might care to garner, I would certainly appreciate them.

Um. Well, here’s a thought, darling: Have you tried not being a pretentious troublemaker who gets off on making people uncomfortable?

Because honestly, Sparkler. I know that resisting the impulse to play the enfant terrible isn’t always easy, but if you don’t want to be that guy, you just kind of have to… y’know, stop being that guy. Nobody is forcing you to mention your casual/intellectual interest in devil worship at every available opportunity, and all your excuses for doing so are just that: excuses. (And transparent ones, at that, because you are not seriously trying to tell me that the only two conversation topics available to you are either theoretical physics or Satanic literature, right? No, you’re not. It is too ridiculous. Even if you are interested in literally nothing else, you can still talk about the weather like a normal person.)

In short, you’re making people uncomfortable because you want to—and you want to, I’m guessing, because it amuses you, in a smug, superior, pushing-buttons-just-for-the-hell-of-it sort of way.

For the record, that really is just a guess. But reading your letter, one definitely gets the impression that you think you’re smart, interesting, complex and brave in a way that all those boring, Bible-thumping normies you have to engage with on a daily basis are not. One also gets the sense that you think it’s totally fair game for you to make the normies squirm, because you’re just so bored and they’re just so boring, with their silly little moral compasses that always point in just one direction.

Here’s the thing: If I, a stranger on the internet, can pick up on this within a few paragraphs, then it’s a safe bet that other people are getting the same vibe when they meet you IRL. And if the population at large keeps looking at you sideways when you start spouting interesting factoids about the occult, I would gently suggest that it’s not because they think you’re the devil, but because you’re being a doink—and because despite what you may think, they’re not oblivious to the fact that you’re trolling them.

The good news is, this is fixable, even within your own self-described parameters of acceptability.

For starters, I’d suggest that you quit making it your default conversational tactic to play devil’s advocate—not because you’re blowing people’s minds with your insights, but because it’s tiresome and boring. I’d also suggest that you stop treating every conversation like a chance to advertise how edgy you are, and actually talk to people. Or better yet, listen to them. You say you have very little to talk about—and maybe that’s true, if the list of things you’re interested in is really only three items long—but if you can’t find some common ground within your own limited conversational repertoire, have you ever considered asking others about their lives? The results might surprise you; you might even find your own horizons broadening in exciting new ways.

Basically, Sparkler, you don’t have to change as a person in order to change the way you approach other people. You can still be agnostic, thoughtful, curious, and always up for a good debate about the nature of human morality; the only difference is that you’re going to stop being rude about it. And when you choose to engage with your fellow humans instead of treating them like a mirror made to reflect your crushing intellect, you’ll end up with many more friends who are willing to engage with you about the stuff you’re interested in, without judging you for it.

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