12/23/2009—Last Sunday’s New York Times magazine carried a story by David D. Kirkpatrick about Princeton professor Robert P. George, who was described in the article as “the reigning brain of the Christian right.” George is a Catholic natural law thinker. He argues that abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage are violations of human reason as well as violations of tradition in general and Catholic Church teaching in particular. It is this emphasis on human reason that marks him as more than just a Catholic thinker.
The moral irresponsibility of George's position is not in his conclusions, which I think are wrong in part, but in his willingness to bunch these three issues as if they share a degree of moral seriousness. George even “drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.”
But, from George’s own point of view, any linkage of these three issues is spurious. Abortion and embryo destruction are matters of human life. George is entitled to oppose same sex marriage, of course, but he is not entitled to suggest that recognition of same sex marriage represents a moral wrong equivalent to the taking of human life.
George is aware of this disproportion. That is why he speaks about denying communion to Catholic politicians who vote for choice, but does not say that communion should be denied to those who support gay marriage. He knows the moral stakes are very different.
Why then does he link these three issues? George has become a purely partisan flack. He has ceased to be a serious moral voice. Thus, George argues whatever will strengthen the bond between the Catholic hierarchy and the Republican Party.
I want to be clear that I agree with George in large part about abortion and stem-cell research and disagree with him strongly about gay marriage, which can easily be shown to be consonant not only with reason but with nature. Nevertheless, even if I agreed with him on all three issues, or even if I disagreed with him on all three issues, I would feel that his treatment of these issues as fungible is absurd.