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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Thursday, February 20, 2003

 

Christian colleges and truth
Matt Kaufman, editor of Boundless Webzine, has written an article criticising Catholic University for inviting Elanor Holmes Norton, an pro-abortion activist, to speak there, despite the fact that her beliefs in that area obviously conflict with Catholic teaching. Here's a great paragraph:
Once upon a time, for a very long time that ended not so long ago, academics accepted that some ideas were true and others false. The point of “the free exchange of ideas” was to have an ongoing debate in order to find out which ideas were true (or closer to the truth than others, anyway). It was assumed that when conflicting ideas were advanced by their most thoughtful advocates, some ideas would actually win — that is, intelligent and moral people would be continually persuaded that those ideas were true. While this philosophy may’ve been idealistic, at least it aimed at the right goal.
Unfortunately, the article goes downhill from there. I agree with him, in that people who teach things utterly opposed to Christianity should not be invited to speak on those things at a Christian college. However, I disagree with him on two other solid points. One, abortion, however heinous and disgusting it is, is not a key tenet of orthodox Christianity. It is in none of the creeds, and isn't even mentioned in the Bible. It's still wrong--but some people, Christians even, may think otherwise, and they have a right to express those opinions. And, Christian Institutions have a right, even a duty, to provide Christians an opportunity to dialogue about those things. (Those things, mind you, do not include key tenets of the Christian faith, as summed up fairly well in the Nicene Creed.)
And beyond that, if someone who is deadly wrong about something like abortion--or, heck, even about Jesus Christ in general--wants to come in and talk about the immorality of badger hunting or something else, there's no problem with that. I take issue with Kaufman when he says
Instead, she was invited as if her ongoing campaign for “abortion rights” were an irrelevancy — no big deal, just a reflection of the glorious diversity of pluralism and multiculturalism, or something like that.
The fact is, everyone is wrong about something. Even me. I'm almost certain of it. And Norton being deadly wrong about abortion does not make in innapropriate for her to discuss a book, even in the context of a Christian school.
Admittedly, I'm speaking from an ultra-irenic evangelical perspective, in which everything but the Nicene Creed is, at least hypothetically, up in the air. A Catholic perspective would be quite different, in that they're doctrine is pretty well nailed down for them, and someone who has actually devoted their life to undermining that doctrine should probably be less welcome--but it's unclear whether Norton has really done this with abortion, or whether she is simply another vehemently pro-abortion Democrat.
These may seem like quibbles, but that's what life is--it comes down to making hard choices in the moment, and broad, sweeping statements have to be applied case by case. This doesn't make any true broad sweeping statements any less true--this isn't situational ethics--but a recognition of the fact that life consists of events that must be dealt with--and events generally require quibbling.
Kaufman, I think, misses that, as do a lot of people on the conservative side of the Christian aisle. And just as many on the left, I'd say. It's more of a human failing than a Christian, or leftward, or rightward failing, but it is a failing, and one that we should be on the watch for. Eternal truths work themselves out in very nuts-and-bolts fashions, and those fashions, being in the world that they are in, aren't always as nice and squeaky-clean as we would like.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!
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