Yesterday I sat in a lecture room at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. I listened to a panel discussion with Professors Jeffrey Stout, Cornel West, John Bowlin, and Scott Davis. I went into this panel discussion unsure of what exactly it would be. I have enjoyed the Gifford Lectures up to this point without agreeing with everything that Professor Stout has put forward. I expected the panel discussion to be different. It wasn't going to be a lecture, but rather colleagues discussing the topic of religion and its place in the public sphere. What I found was that the conversation was much more than that.
The panel discussion put on display the importance of deep abiding friendships. Cornel West put it best when he noted that he and Professor Stout have known each other for forty-four years and that during that time Stout has gone from being a friend to a soul-mate. Professor West noted that this is rare. There are few people in life who you are able to connect with on such a level that you feel your souls are connected. I am reminded of Chaim Potok's The Chosen. In it he defines this type of friendship as two people who while having separate bodies share one soul.
Last night as I listened and watched the interaction of these men with each other, this sort of friendship was on display. There was a deep abiding love between these men. A mutual respect while at the same time notable differences and disagreements. It was encouraging, beautiful, and for many in the attendance an emotional experience. I can say that there are a few people in my life for whom I feel this variety of affection toward. They are the ones that challenge me and question my assumptions while loving the fact that we are different.
As the panel discussion ended, Mona Siddiqui, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, gave a vote of thanks to the panel. She ended with this quote from C.S. Lewis and it is what I will leave you with today:
"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. . . . It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival."