Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pope Robbie I--Robert George Takes Charge of American Catholicism

The New York Times has an interesting article on the influence of Princeton scholar Robert George on American Catholicism. The core of Robert --or "Robbie" as he's affectionately known among conservative circles--George's position is that Catholics should abolish any kind of social justice agenda and focus entirely on sexual issues like abortion, gay marriage, and embryo research.
Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear.

Actually, "Robbie" is right about the clarity of the "Gospel" on the issues of abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage. In fact, the Gospels say absolutely nothing about any of these issues. There can be no clearer statement about the lack of significance of these issues for Jesus than that. Actually, Jesus might have had suspicions of same-sex marriage, but such suspicions would have been derived from his scepticism about marriage and family in general rather than his views on homosexuality. Jesus most clearly formulates his scepticism about marriage in Luke 14:26 where he states that "If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Obviously, this passage is not the "politically correct" Jesus of the Good Samaritan story, but it clearly expresses the persistent suspicion Jesus had about the likelihood of family bonds competing with the attachment of potential disciples to Him. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, Jesus himself did not marry or form heterosexual attachments with any of his female followers. Jesus also chose other males as his chief confidantes and apostles for his message. And according to Catholic orthodoxy, it is very important that he did so.

Jesus doesn't address homosexuality anywhere in the Gospels. Perhaps Jesus didn't view himself as competing against homosexuality in the same way that he viewed himself as competing against heterosexual marriage. But Jesus does enunciate principles that apply to many if not most gay people. In the opening passage of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus gives a set of blessings that have become known as "The Beatitudes." By defining the first of those blessings as "blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," Jesus gives the first (and foremost) of his blessings to people like suicidal gay teens, the thousands of gay people who suffered and died at the height of the aids epidemic and the millions of gay people who feel themselves excluded the mainstream of American society because they are not allowed to get married like "normal" people. Much as Jesus valued tax collectors, lepers, "fallen women," and the outcasts of ancient Israel, he would value contemporary outcasts from social respectability like gay people, drug addicts, alcoholics, and the homeless. According to the Beatitudes, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The NY Times article gives the impression that Robert George has gained influence among the Catholic bishops because of his emphasis on the justification for his social conservatism in the "natural law" ideas of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas rather than divine revelation. For better or worse (worse in my view), that's made opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights into the guiding principles of American Catholicism and Robert George into the real Pope for American Catholics.

All hail Pope Robbie I.