One of the best friends I have in the world is this man named Jamie. I don’t think he will mind when I tell you he is an atheist. I am a Christian. I still remember parts of the conversation we had the very first night we met at a lecture entitled “Is Christianity Intolerant?” That is a wonderful story, but for the purposes of the article we must fast forward a year later. I left the town I went to school in to go to work in higher education. This move meant that I moved several states away with little chance of return visits. One of the most profound ways I can now say the move affected me was missing the conversations I had with my friend Jamie.
The greatest thing about my conversations with Jaime is that more times than not we agreed about all sorts of topics including some politics, recent events, weird news stories, circumstances surrounding friends and family. More importantly, we agreed for the need for conversations about all these topics. The one thing we both wanted a great deal for our campus was a more open and welcoming dialogue about religious and philosophical beliefs. We both openly shared our philosophies with one another, and challenged one another in those practices.
There were, I imagine, as many times that we agreed as the times that we disagreed. We sometimes disagreed about how to approach some religious groups on campus, and sometimes we disagreed about how to study religious texts. And though it is a rather popular phrase to use these days, I don’t think either one of us ever decided to “agree to disagree.” We had this habit of talking it out. We would offer up suggestions on how to come to a compromise, and that exchange continued until we had come to an consensus. One of the most effective tools that we often used was letting the person with the ‘right’ words go and confront the issues we had within the interfaith dialogue. We each had a special and specific jargon that seemed to calm the situation. I witnessed Jamie speaking the language of his philosophy to others and explaining my words in ways that I would have never been able to accomplish. I know Jamie could tell the story of a guy who I had to talk down and away from at the “Ask an Atheist” event. We agreed that when people let their emotions get in the way of civility one of us always stepped in to re-frame the conversation.
I remember a long time debating asking Jamie a question that had been on my mind and on my heart…I was new to interfaith. Honestly, even today I feel like I have way more to learn than I can ever possibly know. So when I went to ask the question, I did not know if I was about to mess up one of the best friendships I had ever made. But my interfaith side took over in a fit of curiosity, I asked, “Jamie, are we enemies?” After all, I have faith in God, his existence, and most of all his love. I believe God exists and wants to be a part of my life every second as well as every other amazing human being he created. Jamie doesn’t believe those things. What was great about our friendship was that we weathered that question. I am not going to tell you the answer. Why? Because the process of asking the question, and having those most difficult conversations about religion, philosophy, and world-views require courage and depth from us.
I would like to challenge you. Who are your friends? Do they challenge you? Do they cause you to go deeper into your faith or philosophy? Do your friends cause you to seek answers that you would have never considered otherwise? And is it a safe and nurturing space to have those conversations? If you don’t have them, I encourage you to find those friends. I have one, his name is Jamie, and I thank God every single day for him and his friendship.