DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a genuine fascination with cultures and religions that are not my own. I know it is incredibly rude to pester people about this, so I usually find answers to my questions online or in books.
However, a somewhat close friend of mine shared a mutual curiosity about religion, and we had an interesting conversation about our (very different) faiths. Curious about the concept of hell, I asked her, “If I was a good person all my life, a kind, giving, completely unselfish person, yet someone who believes differently, would I go to hell?”
She told me in no uncertain terms that I would. Was this rude of her? Logically, I know I asked for it. But it felt as though she was telling me I was going to hell for having a different religion.
Should I be offended? Must I avoid the topic of religion at all times in the future? I know that it is a largely personal and inflammatory topic, but I am eager to have open and honest conversations about it. Is this impossible?
GENTLE READER: You should not expect salvation from Miss Manners.
You committed a social sin by pulling a conversational bait-and-switch on your friend. Having proposed a theological discussion, you appeared to be using yourself merely as stand-in for anyone of your views. Then you turned around and took her answer personally.
What was she supposed to say? “Well, yes, most people of your faith will go to hell, but you’re so good that I’m sure God will make an exception for you”?
So yes, open and honest conversations are impossible if you expect to weigh information to make sure that it is flattering.