SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: Religious Differences

Hello Auntie,

So to get straight to the point: I am Jewish. And my bestest friend in the whole entire world is OK with that. We do everything together – go to the movies, work on assignments, etc. The problem is, however, said friend’s parents.

Y’see, his parents are Christian, and I don’t mean meh Christians, I mean Westboro-type Christians. For example, they will not allow me in their house with a yarmulke, and they will not allow him in my house, for fear of “contamination” from my beliefs. Hell, they deleted and blocked me from being my friend’s, uh, friend on Facebook (hooray for Twitter!). It’s marring our friendship, our acquaintanceship, and our overall lives.

What I don’t want is to outright tell his parents that they’re being wacko jerkwads; that would make the situation worse. What I do want is to be friends without them controlling our every day lives. And, obviously, I need help.

Oh man.

I’ll admit it, I almost didn’t answer this question—because religion is such a touchy subject, and because just thinking about the comments this post will elicit is making my head hurt, and most of all, because no matter what the basis for their attitude, there’s just not a whole lot of room to negotiate with people who treat Jewishness like it’s a communicable disease.

But I want to help you Sparkler, truly, and so let’s do this… despite the fact that my feelings about this situation can probably best be summed up as follows:

And now, about that problem. The one thing that’s conspicuously missing from your letter is any indication of how your friend feels about all this—which is too bad, because it all hinges on him. But assuming that he doesn’t share his parents’ feelings about your religion, that he does share your concerns about your friendship, and that he himself has a good relationship with his folks, then your next step is a classic standard from the Thinking Person’s Guide To Dealing With Suspicious Parents:

You talk to them.
Together.
In person.

Because while it’s easy enough for his parents to treat you with fear and mistrust when they’re doing it from a distance—be it from behind a computer or through their kid—doing the same to your face takes a kind of rudeness (not to mention a set of brass balls) that most people can’t bring themselves to perpetrate. And more importantly, it’s a lot harder to maintain an irrational bias when the object of your suspicion is sitting in your living room, politely sipping a Coke, and explaining in respectful, measured terms that he just enjoys your son’s company and has no interest in bringing him over to the matzoh-eating dark side.

Which, of course, is what you’re going to do—with so much maturity, civility and patience that you make Mahatma Gandhi look like Charlie Sheen. Don’t raise your voice; don’t roll your eyes; don’t be anything other than extraordinarily, excruciatingly polite. Tell them that you respect their son’s religious views, that you like him for who he is, and that you have no interest in challenging or upsetting his faith—and that you only want the same hands-off respect for your own religion. (Your friend should also jump in here, by assuring his folks that nothing, not even prolonged friendly contact with an actual Jew, could sway him from his devotion to the big JC.) Offer to answer any questions they have, or suggest that they’re welcome to speak to your parents if it would help. If they accuse you of “contaminating” their kid, politely correct their misconceptions. And then ask, respectfully, what you can do to make them comfortable with your friendship.

And when this conversation is over, please feel free to bid them good evening, go out to your car, drive a minimum of three blocks away, and then scream for as long as you need to.

The good news: if anything’s going to sway these people in the direction of reason, this is it. The bad news: I’m not sure anything will. There’s a lot of mistrust, fear, and misunderstanding here, and it may not be surmountable. But hey, you can try; at worst, you end up in the same place you started from. And you can take heart in the fact that you did your best, that you performed admirably on behalf of Jews everywhere, and that your friend has somehow managed to become a lovely, tolerant person despite being raised by Judeophobes.

And also, that the time in which your friendships are subject to parental approval is blessedly short! Praise… whoever!

Have you ever negotiated religious differences in a friendship? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at advice@sparknotes.com.

Related post: Life as a Jew