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Response: Friends Meet in the Middle

This article is a response to the article in the Glasgow Guardian entitled, 'Friends from the other side'. Rohan Bald, the outgoing GUCA President argues that the author's attack on disagreement in friendship is not suited to an academic environment.

Is it possible to maintain friendships with people on the other end of the political spectrum? In a world of echo chambers and increasing political polarisation, this is certainly an important question for the Glasgow Guardian to address. Though many good points were raised, in Rothery Sullivan’s recent article “Friends From The Other Side”, we were disappointed with her conclusion that “true friendship can only exist between people who share the same morality”.

In the article, Sullivan divides political views into two groups: strictly political matters such as gun control, healthcare, and education; and moral issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights, gender inequality and abortion. These moral issues cannot, the author says, be determined by reason and logic. Rather people’s moral views stem from “their view of the world” and often from a religion. Using Aristotle, the article argues that friendship cannot be maintained between people with differing moral outlooks. The author concludes that if you are friends with someone who actively disagrees with you on moral issues, “this is not a safe friendship to be in.

If the author is saying that we should not tolerate friendships where people are abusive and discriminatory, we agree. If the author is saying that true friendship involves respect, acceptance and love, we agree. If the author is saying that we should be able to openly discuss moral issues with our friends, we agree. But we are concerned that the author’s argument goes too far. We are concerned that the author is reinforcing stereotypes, precluding healthy discussion and marginalising minority groups.

First, stereotyping. The author appears to assume that religious people are not capable or willing to discuss difficult or controversial issues. She does not explore the possibility that their religious friend might be open to any discussion. We believe that this perpetuates a stereotype in which religious people are narrow-minded and uncritical in their views. It also alleges that religious people are against human rights. This is obviously untrue. It was Christian thought that brought about the very idea of natural human rights. Most major religions today help those in most need, we need only think of charities like Islamic Aid and SCIAF that give millions each year to help the most vulnerable.

Second, the author does not allow for discussion about morality. Initially, the author appeared to hold a positive view of open discussion, describing: “eye-opening debates that will enhance both people’s view on the world and lead to a flourishing relationship.” Yet this does not appear to include dialogue about morality and human rights, since “this is not something that can be debated with reasons and logic”. However, we would argue that universities are meant to be places for cultural encounter and debate. We should not place limits on discussion - especially when it concerns the most important topics.

Surprisingly, Sullivan argues against her own position. Initially, she highlights the problem with prejudices such as Islamophobia and anti-semitism, yet she concludes that some religious friendships are not safe. Would this conclusion not cause further discrimination against Jews, Muslisms and others? Religious people are already a minority amongst young people.[1] They already feel discriminated against.[2] This attitude could perpetuate religious marginalisation on campus by deeming some religious friends “not safe”.

Though this article may appear harmless, myself and some other Catholics on campus felt obligated to highlight these concerns. Perhaps the author did not intend it, but we believe this article may increase division on campus. From a human rights perspective, Sullivan’s article marginalises the very groups that we ought to protect. Friendships with religious people are not merely ‘safe’, but a necessity for any intellectually honest engagement with the world. At a university, that engagement is crucial to the experience. Moral beliefs always affect political views; this is just as true in the university as it is in the real world. Friendships are the primary way in which we find common ground.

As Catholics, we all have friends with varying religious, moral and – consequently – political beliefs, but we do not let this define our engagements, debates and comraderie with others on campus. Our first obligation is to love – which we can do even amid disagreement.

As the Catholic student body on campus, we hope that this same attitude can be brought to all friendships across the University of Glasgow.

Glasgow University Catholic Association

[1] BBC News, “70% of young Brits are 'not religious'” (21 March 2018) [2] Kristin Aune, “How can universities tackle religious discrimination?” (The Guardian, 13 April 2017)


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