Recently Frank Schaeffer posted an editorial on Huffington Post (“Catholic Bishops Ignore Their Own Sins While Telling Us What To Do” that, among other things, argues that natural law, “is just another way to impose one group’s ideology on other groups and is as arbitrary, limited and nuts as any other theory of law that claims absolute moral superiority over all other theories.” Along the way to making this argument, Schaeffer criticizes the Catholic Church (who he defamed as “the world’s best organized pedophile network”–evidently he hasn’t heard of NAMBL, National Association of Man and Boy Lovers or, for that matter, or read his own fellow bloggers at Huffington Post, “Polanski’s Arrest: Shame on the Swiss”), the signers of the Manhattan Declaration (all of whom did so because they are “eager to take a shot at our first black president”), his father (the late Francis Schaeffer) and Princeton professor and natural law advocate, Robert George. As Schaeffer points out,
it’s worth noting that George is a member of the Roman Catholic Church. George-The-Moralizer, who wants to roll back Jeffersonian democracy in favor of a 13th century adaptation of Greek philosophy that’s being used as a cover for imposing unreconstructed Protestant fundamentalism on our diverse country, is a member of a denomination that has consistently collaborated with anti-democratic forces of all sorts from Bloody Mary up to and including dictators like Mussolini, Franco and Hitler.
Glutton for punishment that I am, I read Frank Schaeffer’s piece as well the 10 or so comments that were there. I also read George’s response (“Natural Law” and “far right Reconstructionist extremism!“). I’ve linked to both of them, I’d encourage you to read both and make your own judgment.
What I will say is that while I am very disappointed, I am not surprised, by Schaeffer’s post. I think George is right, Schaeffer is looking for an audience among the left “by defaming those on the other side.” Unfortunately, George writes, Schaeffer “hasn’t figured out that the left is not composed entirely or even mainly of people like him. There are men and women . . . who won’t countenance calumny or demagoguery even against their political opponents, or in the service of political goals they share.”
What distresses me most about Schaeffer’s editorial is not simply that he advocates for positions contrary to the moral tradition of the Church (abortion and gay rights). No, what is most troubling is that his views are shared by many, and possibly even the majority, of American Orthodox Christians. And while social conservatives in the Church might take exception to his politics and moral philosophy, they together with many other Orthodox Christians, would embrace what George calls Schaeffer’s “heavy dollop of anti-Catholic bigotry”
The general acceptance of Schaeffer’s moral positions reflects a serious disconnect between the tradition of the Church and the lives of most Orthodox Christian.
As George argues in a 2006 essay, (“Public Morality, Public Reason“) like “devout Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other believers” Orthodox Christians find ourselves in a “contest of worldviews . . . against secularist liberals and those who, while remaining within the religious denominations, have adopted essentially secularist liberal ideas about personal and political morality.” And as in these other traditions, so too in in the Orthodox Church this ” contest manifests itself in disputes over abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia, as well as in issues of sex, marriage, and family life.” Finally, and as Schaeffer’s essay illustrates, “Underlying these specific conflicts are profound differences about the nature of morality and the proper relation of moral judgment to law and public policy.”
I suspect that George is correct when he argues that, at least in the civil realm, “the issues dividing the two camps are of such profound moral significance—on either side’s account—that merely procedural solutions are not good enough. Neither side will be happy to agree on decision procedures for resolving the key differences of opinion at the level of public policy where the procedures do not guarantee victory for the substantive policies they favor.” Whether this is also the case in the Church I can’t say.
What I can say is that if left unchecked, secularism will continue to make inroads and peal away the faithful. Slowly at first but then evermore quickly, much like a rising tide will erode a child’s seaside sandcastle. Central to an effective response to secularism is willingness for the Church, both theologically and canonically, to “maintain that on certain issues, including certain fundamental moral and political issues, there are uniquely correct answers.” In other words, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye toward those who publicly dissent from the Church’s moral witness. This is especially important when this includes public statements include inciting others to dissent as well.
This is language that many Orthodox Christians find troubling; I find such language troubling as well. Ideally, and in imitation of Christ, the Church should persuade rather than command. What concerns me is that we may have forgotten the art of public persuasion or possible lost our desire for it.
But unless we reclaim a rhetoric appropriate for the public square, I fear that rather more than a rhetorical device will be lost.