Christendom College

Clash of Orthodoxies Discussed at Christendom

November 13, 2002

“It is a common supposition among many of our cultural elites that a constitutional ‘wall of separation’ between church and state precludes religious believers from bringing their beliefs to bear on public matters. This is because secular liberals typically assume that their own positions on morally charged issues of public policy are the fruit of pure reason, while those of their morally conservative opponents reflect an irrational religious faith,” began Dr. Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, in his talk on “The Clash of Orthodoxies” at Christendom on November 11.

The talk was based on George’s newest book,“The Clash of Orthodoxies (Read the first chapter of the book by clicking HERE),” which is about the contemporary conflict of worldviews in the political domain, in the courts of law, and in the Church.

Challenging liberalism’s claim to represent the triumph of reason, George argued that on controversial issues like abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage, traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs are actually rationally superior to secular liberal alternatives. Drawing on the natural law philosophical tradition, George demolished various secularist pretenses, such as the notion that the very young and very old among us are somehow subpersonal and not worthy of full legal protection. He revealed the dubious person/body dualism implicit in secularist arguments, and he demonstrated the flawed reasoning behind the idea that the state ought to be neutral regarding competing understandings of the nature and value of marriage.

“As I see it, many Catholics and other Christians have abandoned authentic Christian moral principles in favor of what is sometimes called ‘lifestyle liberalism.’ Of course, they still consider themselves to be faithful Christians; but the morality they embrace on abortion, homosexuality and other fundamental issues is essentially secularist rather than Christian,” said George.

He said that these people typically claim that “reason” or “conscience” requires them to dissent from the firm and constant teaching of the Church. In fact, they demand that the Church revise her teachings on sexuality and the sanctity of human life to bring them “up-to-date.” “It seems to me, though, that these people have things completely backward. The Church’s moral teachings are in line with reason; secularist ideology is not,” George added.

According to George, one of the biggest problems with the “secular orthodoxy,” as he calls it, is that it views man in a dualistic way.

“We are not ‘ghosts in machines,’ he said, “each of us, rather, is a dynamic unity of body, mind and spirit. Our bodies are not subpersonal instruments or possessions, but are aspects of our personal reality. You and I are essentially human, physical organisms. We are not mental or spiritual entities that ‘have’ organisms that we possess and use; rather, we are rational-animal organisms.

“Because the human person is a bodily entity — not a mere consciousness inhabiting and using a body — all human beings, including embryonic and fetal human beings, newborn infants, retarded human beings, and frail, demented and dying human beings, are persons whose rights deserve respect and protection. This, of course, is precisely what the Church teaches, and it is fully vindicated by rational inquiry,” he concluded.