I was in Currier dining hall, sitting down to a working lunch with a stack of books, when a guy came up and asked to join me.
In an effort to be polite, I introduced myself. "Aurora?" he asked. "Like Aurora Griffin? Author of those awful pro-life articles? I'm Parker, who has been writing the articles against you." He accused me of being a "threat to women's rights". At that point, I was tempted to tell him, "No, I'm a different Aurora", but instead we got into a rather lengthy argument, after which we agreed that eating lunch on our own was more pleasant than being in the other's company.
The next week, Parker apologized to me and said that he would be genuinely interested in understanding my position. I was surprised but accepted the olive branch. We had a long talk about all kinds of topics, from pro-life philosophy to New York Times best sellers. After that, we frequently had lunch together in Currier when the other did not have company. We never agreed on much, but my conversations with Parker greatly enriched my intellectual experience at Harvard.
Looking back, I wish I had done a better job of making friends with people who weren't like me in college. The biggest debates within my friend group were between libertarians and Republicans, or between liturgical traditionalists and centrists.
Having Catholic friends is wonderful because you have the most important things in common with them. You worship the same God, hold the same moral values, and attend the same Mass on Sunday. You feel alienated by the same aspects of a secular university — the binge drinking, the dogmatic atheism, the casual sex. There are good reasons to have Catholics, or at least Christians, as your core group of friends. In fact, making friends who don't share your values and draw you away from your faith is a far greater danger than making friends with people who are too much like yourself.
Nevertheless, when you are Catholic and you make only Catholic friends at school, you can end up in a position where you always talk to people who agree with you. Within the Catholic community, you might befriend only the people who interpret the Faith in the same way you do. You can sit in your own little echo chamber and complain about how the rest of the university suffers from homogenized groupthink. If you go to a place like Harvard that boasts such an incredible diversity of people, you can miss out on some of the best things that the university has to offer.
If you talk only to people who agree with you, you will never understand the best objections to your positions. You need to hear the other side's arguments from people who believe them, not from the people who are on your side. The personal aspect is important as well: confronting profound differences in beliefs with another human being helps you to grow in charity. You can read all the apologetics books you want, but when someone with genuine religious doubt or disbelief is in front of you, you can't just rattle off arguments for the existence of God. You have to learn about them and relate to their experiences. You have to form friendships.
I think that this is especially the case for people who have different moral values. You may talk only to people who think that sex should happen within marriage, but then what do you do when you meet people who live with their significant others? Do you condemn their behavior with the same boldness as you do when with other Catholics? It's one thing to say that you need charity when talking to people about these issues, and another thing to exercise it well in real-life situations.
It's one thing to say that you need charity when talking to people about these issues, and another thing to exercise it well in real-life situations.
Since graduation, I have learned much from the Rhodes community about being friends with people of different worldviews. I am one of the few openly practicing Catholics in my class of scholars, which means that most of my friends disagree with me about most issues, from the purpose of life to morality and politics. On the first day that I met the other American scholars, we were asked to sit in a circle and say something "vulnerable" about ourselves as an icebreaker. I said, "I am a Roman Catholic who believes all the teachings of the Church. My faith helps me to love people with whom I disagree more than I otherwise would."
I knew that this could go one of two ways. Either it would lead to great conversations about the Faith with people who were not Catholic, or my esteemed peers would dismiss me as a religious fanatic. If they rejected me for my faith, then the Beatitudes tell me that I would be blessed. If not, I would get to witness to the Gospel. It was a win-win!
The result has been a bit of both. Some of my fellow scholars think that the Catholic Church is backward, paternalistic, and superstitious and do their best to avoid me. I think it's worth it for the amazing conversations that my profession of faith opened up with others. I have learned a lot about Catholicism by talking to people who have no background in it whatsoever. It has forced me to think about what the Trinity really is (other than a divine mystery) and to confront how the Church is negatively perceived among secular people of goodwill. I do not aim to convert anyone — that's up to the Lord. I am sowing seeds, and learning a lot about my faith in the process.
As long as you maintain a Catholic community for support, some of the best opportunities to grow in your faith in college come from making friends with people who aren't like you, like Parker and the Rhodes Scholars. It means taking the Great Commission seriously and putting yourself out there to proclaim the Good News, one friendship at a time.
Aurora Griffin. "Make Friends Who Aren’t Like You." chapter ten from How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2016): 62-65.
Reprinted with permission of Ignatius Press.
Aurora Griffin attended Harvard University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Classics in 2014. She was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where she received a graduate degree in Theology. Her research interests include Scholastic theology, private property, critiques of liberation theology, and the role of women in the Christian Church. She is the author of How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard.Copyright © 2016 Ignatius Press
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