Charlie Caplan and I have been roommates here at Harvard since freshman year. When I first got here, I was set on studying mathematics. Well, now I want to go to philosophy grad school, and it all began in the first week of that glorious freshman fall, when Charlie, a philosophy concentrator, first perplexed me with the famous Euthyphro dilemma.
SM: We’ve spent the last four years in a sort of theological and philosophical back-and-forth, you and I. All those late nights, staying up until 5 a.m. talking about the meaning of life, the nature of human freedom, the limits of human knowledge – did we figure anything out?
CC: Well, it must be noted that when we began four years ago, you were a Christian and I was an atheist. Today, you are a Christian and I am an atheist. So I suppose neither of us is all that convincing.
SM: Well, that’s not the whole story. I’m not the same “Christian” I was when I got here, and much of that is thanks to you. You’ve made me feel the pull of your Humean skepticism, your cautious agnosticism, your willingness to live with no easy answers and only a deep epistemic humility to guide you on the journey.
CC: Willingness might be a bit strong. My skepticism, I must admit, is a source of consternation to me. Especially as I approach graduation, trying to figure out what sort of life I want to live and not having a stable foundation to work from. I always think of religion as this stable worldview that would be awfully pleasant to have in my life, if only I believed it. And yet, I’ve spent the last four years watching you struggle in and with Christianity. Do you feel that it is any more stable than my doubting? Or are you just as lost as I am?
SM: The twentieth-century theologian Rudolf Bultmann says somewhere that “God is always running ahead of us… His futurity is his transcendence.” His point, I think, was that following the living God means being committed to a kind of unknown, too. I wish I experienced greater security, greater definiteness, in my knowledge of God’s plans for me. I never seem to get any very detailed instructions, other than, “Think of yourself less, care for others more, be thankful, be humble, and then (and only then) you’ll become wise”. I’m not very good at following the instructions.
[SM and CC get sidetracked by pictures of camels which bear an unaccountable resemblance to Rudolf Bultmann’s frowny face. Fits of uncontrollable giggling.]
SM: Well, Charlie, what are the last things you’ll remember of us and of Harvard?
CC: I think it’s probably rare to find a friend who will argue with you about the existence of God, discuss the nature of free will, explore the prospect of a robot mind, and giggle at silly pictures of camels and Rudolf Bultmann. I think it’s rarer to find a friend with whom you can so openly and actively disagree about such fundamental and personal questions for four years and yet find you like them no less at the end of it. I’ll remember our discussions and I do hope we’ll have many more even once we’ve left school. As for what I’ll remember about Harvard – well, it sounds cliché, but it is the people. The place is just a place. The buildings are just buildings. But the people, at least some of them – especially the ones I was lucky enough to live with freshman year – they are special, and I will always be thankful to have met them.
SM: And I am thankful and proud to be your friend, too. And thankful to have found God at Harvard, and fought with Him, and to have my gaze continually drawn back to Him, and to return to Him, time and time again.
Stephen Mackereth ’15 lives in Mather House and concentrates in Mathematics and Philosophy. He is a former editor-in-chief of the Ichthus.