You’ll recall last week’s kerfuffle over the talk that esteemed Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne gave at a recent meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. To my knowledge, the full text of Prof. Swinburne’s lecture has not been made public, but a person who was present at that talk sent me an outline of Swinburne’s lecture. In it, Swinburne explored the rationality (or lack thereof) of particular divine commands in the Bible, including the prohibition against divorce, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and other acts. Reportedly, Swinburne opined that the Biblical prohibition on homosexual acts is rational, because homosexuality is a “disability” that should be “cured,” if possible. Obviously that is not a popular view today, but it is well within the bounds of the Christian moral tradition, and it should have surprised exactly no one at the SCP that a Christian philosopher took that point of view (especially given the broader context of his talk about rationality and divine commands).
Some people present for the talk melted down when confronted by Swinburne’s view. The president of the SCP, Michael Rea, apologized for all the butthurt caused by the discussion of Christian ideas in a gathering of Christian philosophers. But when word of the controversy got out to the broader philosophy community, some prominent philosophers reacted with anger — at Swinburne’s defenders, and those who were angry that the SCP president had apologized for Swinburne’s speech. Among the critics was Georgetown’s Rebecca Kukla:
So Swinburne, one of the world’s most prominent philosophers, is guilty of “hate” and “privilege,” as are his defenders — this, according to Kukla, a Georgetown philosopher who is also senior researcher at the Jesuit university’s Kennedy School of Ethics.
Well, Kukla went on to post the following comment — now deleted — on the Facebook page of Yale philosopher Jason Stanley, under a remark in which he denounced Swinburne and his defenders this: “F–k you, assholes.” Said the editor-in-chief of the Kennedy Institute’s ethics journal:
I apologize to readers for offense caused by the coarse language here, but it’s important to know exactly what passes for critical discourse among academic progressives near the top of the philosophy profession — especially given that the statement has disappeared down the memory hole.
Over the weekend, a conservative blog that comments on Georgetown events criticized Kukla’s remarks and expressed doubt that the university would do a thing about them. Excerpt:
We also bring it up because we suspect the Georgetown administration probably won’t do anything either since the intolerant hater in question is on the left side of the culture wars, and we all know universities like Georgetown are supposed to provide people like “xir” safe spaces and sanctuary while keeping out and maintaining hostility towards those on the right.
This sad affair is just another reminder that when it comes to the Oppression Olympics, you can more or less do anything, no matter how rude or inappropriate, so long as your target is someone considered more “privileged,” which is not defined as actual privilege, but simply having the wrong skin color, sex, sexual orientation, or religion, which at least in this case, means being white, male, heterosexual, and Christian.
Now, if the shoe were on the other foot and it was a Christian straight male employee telling, say, a queer anti-Catholic female to go ahead and suck his big giant cock, well, we have no doubt President Jack DeGioia would immediately make a formal statement condemning the man; the head of Campus Ministry would send everyone a letter firmly stating “THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!”; CSE and CAPS would mobilize and offer “support” to any students traumatized by the whole incident; the Philosophy department and Kennedy Institute of Ethics would open a joint investigation looking into the matter; GU Pride members would rally in Red Square and accuse publications like TGA of creating a hateful climate in which hate crimes occur even when they don’t; GUSA would pass a condemnatory resolution and hold a moment of silence; both The Hoya and The Voice would write editorials calling for the professor to be suspended if not removed from campus; and ultimately, after a few University-sponsored symposiums and teach-ins and a lot of public hand-wringing, there would be a reallocation of funds, perhaps in the form of new identity group mafia programs or yet another administrator, because tuition isn’t high enough already.
Oh yeah, and the administration would fire the employee.
Well, yes. Just imagine a male Georgetown professor saying words like that in public to people he regarded as his enemies. Bear in mind that Kukla directed her profane comments to Christian philosophers who either defend what the Catholic Church teaches is true about homosexuality, or at least defend the right of a Christian philosopher to embrace that position.
Today, Kukla writes on Facebook, rallying her academic clan:
Oh, bull. Here is what she objected to (original post on the Rightly Considered philosophy blog here):
Kukla’s ex post facto rationalization for “suck my queer cock” is hilariously weak. More from Kukla’s Facebook post today:
Well, look, nobody should direct vulgar comments to Prof. Kukla, or to anybody else. But she’s trying to evade scrutiny for some incredibly ugly remarks. Exactly nobody claimed that profanity was a greater threat to civil discourse than homophobia, whatever that is. The Rightly Considered philosophy bloggers were simply pointing out that those defending Swinburne’s talk and/or the validity of discussing the issue philosophically were not hateful or uncivil, but the anti-Swinburne people were engaging in vicious, inciteful rhetoric. Kukla piled on with her “queer cock” remark. Kukla is now trying to claim that extreme rhetoric in the offense against homophobia is no vice. Or in other words, she’s a bigot, but for the Left.
What’s interesting about this is that this is how certain philosophers talk publicly about Christians and conservatives in general, even their colleagues. And, in Kukla’s case, her rage against other philosophers who hold views she considers homophobic is so unhinged that she has no moral or ethical scruples preventing her from speaking so hatefully and profanely in public, to other philosophers. If I were a Christian, Orthodox Jew, or Muslim in her classes, I would not say a word in defense of my belief about human sexuality, for fear of being cursed at by the professor, humiliated in front of the class, and out of concern for my grade. What must students like that taking her classes be thinking now? Is Georgetown University a place where conservative students, or Christian conservative students, can feel free to express their opinions in class without being assaulted verbally by their professors (as distinct from being challenged, which is what the classroom experience is supposed to do) or suffering a bad grade because their professor hates people like them? How can Georgetown guarantee that?
Why is this important? Because the Left uses the concept of “safe spaces” to bully others and to police campus discourse. That’s what they’re doing here — and they got caught in an especially foul-mouthed, crude attempt at it. Rebecca Kukla posted her remarks in public, with an intention to provoke. Mission accomplished. Now that people have been provoked, and are calling attention to her vile insult, she’s trying to backtrack, and claim that she’s being harassed by a “far-right” group.
It gets better. Yale philosopher Jason “F–k You, Assholes” Stanley is also attempting to defend himself by claiming that he’s the victim of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. From his comments on Kukla’s (public) Facebook page:
That’s pretty funny. It’s as if they are so far in their own bubble that they don’t understand that when they say things in public, on the Internet, other people can read them, and may even have a negative reaction. There’s no conspiracy here, darlings. I got onto the story because a reader of my blog knows I write a good bit about the attack on free speech and freedom of inquiry on campus, and thought I would like to know about the Swinburne incident. This blog has a very large readership. And there’s this thing called Twitter that spreads news and commentary. Is it really the case that the obnoxious and unprofessional behavior of Stanley, Kukla, and others is so clearly right to them that they can only imagine widespread public objection to it as guided by a conspiracy? What loons!
One thing that ticks critics off is the double standard on campuses. The Georgetown Academy people are absolutely right. If any professor defending a conservative cause or belief had made the same remark as Kukla did, that person would be fighting for his job, and the campus would be coming apart. I don’t think Kukla should have to fight for her job (though surely some professional discipline is in order), but I do think campus administrators and academic liberals should stop and think about the environment they have created on campuses and in their profession. When grown men and women, holders of PhDs and prestigious professorships in philosophy, respond to ideas they don’t like by saying things like “suck my queer cock,” and get away with it, something has gone very bad in the academy.
Recall Jonathan Haidt’s address to the American Psychological Association this summer, in which he talked about how polarization is tearing the country apart. In his talk, he mentions his own discipline, psychology, and how very far to the left it is. From my post on Haidt’s talk:
Haidt says we don’t need “equality” — that is, an equal number of conservatives and liberals in the academy. We just need to have diversity enough for people to be challenged in their viewpoints, so an academic community can flourish according to its nature. But this is not what we have. According to the research Haidt presents, in 1996, liberals in the academy outnumbered conservatives 2:1. Today, it’s 5:1 — and the conservatives are concentrated in engineering and other technical fields. Says Haidt: “In the core areas of the university — in the humanities and social sciences — it’s 10 to 1 and 40 to 1.”
The Right has left the university faculties, he said — and a lot of that is because they got tired of the “hostile climate and discrimination”
“People who are not on the left … are often in the closet,” says Haidt. “They can’t speak up. They can’t criticize. They hear somebody say something, they believe it’s false, but they can’t speak up and say why they believe it’s false. And that is a breakdown in our science.”
Until they repent (my word, not his), university professors will continue to be part of the problem, not the solution, says Haidt. He ends by calling on his colleagues to “get our hearts in order.” To stop being moralistic hypocrites. To be humble. To be more forgiving, and more open to hearing what their opponents have to say. Says Haidt, “If we want to change things, we need to do it more from the perspective of love, not of hate.”
A thought for the Jason Stanleys and Rebecca Kuklas of the world. I am not a Trump supporter, but I sympathize to a large extent with people who are, and I wish I could bring myself to vote for him. For a lot of people, voting for Trump is their way of answering the likes of a degenerate Georgetown professor who taunts her ideological enemies by telling them to “suck my queer cock.”
UPDATE: As many readers point out in the comments section (thanks!), First Things has republished Prof. Swinburne’s paper. I am going to comment on the paper separately.
By the way, I think “Kukla Clan” is a great name for a mob of politically correct academics.
UPDATE.2: Actually, I won’t write a separate post on Swinburne’s paper. Having just read it, it strikes me as thoroughly dry and unremarkable. I don’t mean that as a criticism; I mean it’s just normal philosophizing, it seems to me, and unquestionably within the Christian tradition. As Swinburne says in his section analyzing homosexuality, nowhere before the 20th century is there any Christian writing approving of homosexual sex. I’m going to leave all this as a comment on the Kukla Clan post so you readers can see exactly what kind of ordinary philosophizing gets condemned with screeching public profanity and denunciation.
The paper begins:
As we all know, traditional Christian teaching on many moral issues, but in particular on sex, family, and life is regarded by all non-religious and some religious believers as totally and evidently mistaken. Of the issues in this area, I shall take time to consider and only very briefly the issues of adultery, divorce, fornication, homosexual sexual acts, contraception, abortion, suicide and euthanasia, all which have been declared morally wrong by traditional Christian morality; and also the traditional teaching that the husband is head of the family, and so wife and children have an obligation to obey him. My main concern will be with the general principles for determining whether and why traditional Christian teaching on these issues is correct, rather than with the particular solutions to each issue. In this paper I seek to analyse the general structure of any plausible defence of traditional views on these issues. All arguments begin from premises, and my arguments in this paper begin from many premises, some of them much disputed. They are however all premises which can themselves be defended by arguments quite independent of the issues of the present paper; and I have myself tried to defend all of them at some time or other.
Having established and explained his premises, Swinburne (who is an Orthodox Christian convert) says, “In my view only adultery, late abortion, suicide and so euthanasia are intrinsically wrong.” This makes him more liberal than official, magisterial Roman Catholic teaching, which holds that homosexual desire is “intrinsically disordered.” Just wanted to make that clear.
His remarks on homosexuality, which caused the poor Kukla Clan to swoon and take to the bed, are here:
I come next to homosexual sexual acts ( between consenting adults). It has been traditional to assume that the Bible and subsequent Christian tradition has condemned such acts. I’m going to assume, despite the effects of many to show that the Bible and various theologians all meant something different by (what seems to many of us to be) apparent condemnations of such acts, that some such passages as I Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:24-27 and the continuing weight of subsequent tradition does condemn such acts. Where, after all, do we ever find before the twentieth century any explicit approval of such acts by any theologian orthodox in other respects?
So I pass to consider what reason God would have for prohibiting such acts; and I suggest that the same kind of consideration applies to the prohibition of homosexual acts as to the prohibition of divorce or extra-marital intercourse. Having homosexual orientation is a disability – for a homosexual cannot beget children through a loving act with a person to whom they have a unique lifelong commitment. Of course some homosexuals do not want to beget children, but the behaviour of other homosexuals indicates that they clearly do; and a disability is a disability whether or not the disabled person minds about it. (If they didn’t have the disability, they might realize that it is good for them that they don’t have it.)
It might one day be possible for some complicated operation to combine the genetic material from two sperms or two eggs so as to produce a fertilized egg, though there are very considerable difficulties to be overcome before this could be achieved. But if it could be achieved, then two lesbians could only produce another female. And two gay men would need an egg from another female into which their genetic material could be inserted, and the womb of a surrogate mother in which the fertilized egg could grow into a baby. Then the whole process would mean that the resulting baby would have three or four ‘semiparents’, some of whom might not have any subsequent role in nurturing them. And, as I read the much disputed evidence available on line about whether children nurtured by homosexual parents flourish as well as other children, the balance of that evidence seems to me to indicate that children whose nurturing parents are also their male and female biological parents in a happy marriage flourish better than all other children. And so that is the kind of reproduction and the kind of marriage which we should be encouraging; and those who cannot provide it for their children have a disability. The possible development of this kind of genetic engineering would not alter this fact.
Disabilities should be prevented. The evidence seems to me to indicate clearly that genes and environment (nature and nurture) both play a role in determining sexual orientation; and also that this orientation is sometimes to a considerable extent reversible10. So if there was a general recognition in society of an obligation to abstain from homosexual acts, that would prevent homosexual behaviour being presented as an option for young people of equal value to the 13 heterosexual one which makes possible procreative marriage. That would deter the young from wondering whether they are really homosexual when previously it would not have occurred to them, in consequence experimenting with homosexual sexual acts, getting accustomed to such behaviour and so developing a homosexual orientation. Such a climate of opinion that homosexual acts are wrong,would encourage those who have begun to develop such an orientation to go no further; and it would encourage research into how the orientation can be cured. Medicine has made great strides in recent years. Diseases of mind or body hitherto believed incurable have proved curable; it would be odd if sexual orientation was the only incurable condition. But it looks as if for many homosexuals, but probably not for all, their condition is now incurable; and sympathy, not censure, must be our first reaction – as it must be for all those who find themselves in any situation not of their own choice where their sexual longings cannot be satisfied in a happy marriage.
Yet if older and incurable homosexuals abstained from homosexual acts that would have a great influence on young and curable ones; and the older ones would be doing a great service to others, and one which would help to make them themselves saints. But of course, if I’m mistaken in supposing that the climate of clear, yet sympathetic opinion would make any difference to the sexual orientation of any humans who would otherwise acquire a homosexual orientation, we would need to look for some other reason why God would prohibit homosexual sexual acts, or to look again at the meaning of biblical texts and supposedly authoritative church tradition. But I stress that inability to discover a reason why God might have prohibited one kind of act would hardly count much against the reliability of the Church’s moral tradition that God had prohibited acts of this kind- although inability to discover any reasons why God might have prohibited any of the kinds of acts which I have been discussing would, I think, count significantly against the reliability of the Church’s general moral tradition.
Swinburne ends the paper on a note of humility:
I should add in conclusion that if I am right in claiming that most of the moral obligations which I have been considering are obligations only because God has commanded them, there is no point in rebuking non-Christians for not conforming to these obligations; the only way to get them to conform is to get them to become Christians, and then they may begin to appreciate arguments for conforming to them.
In other words, he’s saying that he might be wrong about this stuff, but even if he’s right, these arguments don’t apply to non-Christians.
Clearly, the man is Triple Hitler.
Read the whole paper. I am not philosophically sophisticated enough to evaluate the soundness of Swinburne’s paper, so I can’t say for sure how much of it I agree with. But this I know: if it is considered an outrageous moral offense to philosophize in this key, then there is no place for orthodox Christians in academic philosophy any more than there was a place for Thomists at Moscow State University during the Soviet years.