A Catholic Often Gets the Short End of the Stick on Both Sides of Academia

Paul Griffiths is an expert on Catholic thought, holding the Warren Professor of Catholic thought at Duke Divinity School but this past month he was forced to resign for questioning liberal orthodoxy.

On the other hand, last week, the Newman Society listed nine Catholic colleges who were commencement speakers who disagreed with Catholic teaching. One of these honorees went so far as to say, “New York will not tolerate any impediments or impairments of women’s rights and access to reproductive health care,” while forcing insurance companies to cover contraception and some abortions. Another commencement speaker had a 100% pro-abortion voting record, according to NARAL, during his 14 years in Congress.

Many Catholic Schools Capitulate

Catholic schools also face huge fines and protests if they fire someone for being in a gay marriage while others cave on Catholic teaching to defend their right to hire active homosexuals as staff.

This seems to follow a pattern where Catholic schools capitulate on the basis of academic freedom while secular schools discriminate against Catholicism based on their own orthodox neoliberalism. Classical liberalism is open to various opinions and will be perfectly fine with a professor who taught Catholic thought and believes what the Catholic Church teaches.

Dr. Griffiths seems to have been a well-respected scholar focusing on Augustine, Catholic thought, and Buddhism. Robert P. George observed, “Over the twenty or so years I’ve known Paul Griffiths, I have agreed with him on some things and disagreed with him about others. He is, however, indisputably an eminent scholar.”

Dr. Griffiths troubles began in February when another professor sent all the Divinity School faculty a proposal to attend a 2-day “Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training.” Dr. Griffiths responded indicating that he wanted a free exchange: the other professor had clearly indicated her preference for such a course, while he thought it would not be intellectually stimulating or needed.

He stated: “It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.” And he stated it didn’t seem like it would be in keeping with their mission of teaching Christian theology.

Dr. Griffiths’s words may have been a little bombastic but his comment about bromides and clichés seems to match the course description on the organization’s own website. The course “helps to provide talking points, historical factors and an organizational definition of racism.” As an informed person – which I presume Dr. Griffiths also is – I could provide an outline of this without a two-day weekend course.

The later part of the course description seems to emphasize its goal of promoting an agenda over provoking thought:

“REI believes that organizations are often working in very intentionally civil ways yet operating from multiple understandings that rely more on personal feelings and popular opinion. This creates complications to the goal of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities and producing equitable outcomes.”

Let me decode that: anti-racism policies are actually misguided because they rely on understandings this organization – and academic neo-liberalism – disagrees with. Probably meaning nobody can talk about racism unless they’ve experienced it. Oddly, they seem to apply this in reverse to Christianity: you can’t talk about it if you’ve experienced it as a sincere believer.

Dr. Griffiths never said that racism didn’t exist or the goal of eliminating it was noble. He just sensed this program was not the best way of doing so. I agree that we need to eliminate racism and reading the course description, I tend to agree with him that this isn’t the best way to do so.

Robert George concurred: “What he said in his controversial email has the ring of truth to me. In any event, he had every right to say it.” Professor George’s main concern was not the retirement of a professor in his 60s but the effect of silencing young professors: “This sends a terrible signal to other scholars – especially younger ones and those who are considering the possibility of pursuing academic careers.”

On the other hand, when a Catholic school fires someone for being a married homosexual, all hell breaks loose. In Philadelphia, 23,000 signatures were collected against firing a female director of religious education who was married to another woman. This story garnered national attention with most supporting Margie Winters, the fired teacher, and even had Barack Obama inviting Margie and her “wife” to the White House for the Papal reception.

On several occasions, like Lonnie Billard in North Carolina, Catholic schools have faced significant lawsuits for firing teachers after they announced their own same-sex “weddings.” This is not about an individual’s private behavior as many claim but marriage is by nature a public act.

Some Catholic institutions have instead chosen capitulation to neo-liberal orthodoxy. When the theology chair at Fordham University married another man, the university said it was OK. One might wonder how someone in a legal homosexual “marriage” done in an Episcopal church could effectively teach Catholic theology as one would expect from a theology chair.

Catholic Teaching

Instead of defending Catholic teaching, Robert Howe, senior director of communications, argued, “Same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

Right now, we face an uphill battle with Catholic teaching, seeming to get the short end of the stick in academia and education. If we capitulate, Catholic teaching will be lost to this culture. If we just say “thou shall not” over and over, we face the challenge of being misunderstood. (Nonetheless, we should still fight for our rights when discriminated against.)

Instead,  we need to show the vision of the full human person. The secular neo-liberal version reduces man to his psyche and misses both his body and his soul. This is shown in the idea that you are whatever gender you affirm psychologically. They also affirm there is no objective good for man; your good is whatever you define it as.

If we show a complete Christian vision, including the beauty of all the levels of humanity, we can help people see how Christianity is freeing. The early Church spread because its fuller vision of the human person was freeing in a pagan hedonistic society. Both today’s society and the late Roman empire eliminate the transcendent and reduce man to a being of pleasure. Hopefully, presenting a full vision can spread the Church today like it did in the first centuries.