‘Shut Up, Bigot!’ The Philosophers Argued
Richard Swinburne, the distinguished Oxford philosopher and Orthodox Christian, delivered a lecture over the weekend at a Midwest Society of Christian Philosophers conference. The topic? Christian sexual ethics. I can’t find the text of Swinburne’s lecture online anywhere, but he reportedly said some things that offended people in the audience like J. Edward Hackett, who writes, in part:
Yesterday, I gave Richard Swinburne, the famous Oxford Christian philosopher, a piece of my mind. As one of the keynotes of the Midwest Meeting of Society of Christian Philosophers, he referred to homosexuality as a “disability” and a “incurable condition.” While Swinburne did not think homosexuality was intrinsically wrong in the same way that adultery was wrong, he argued (if that’s the right verb under some principle of charity) that homosexuality was extrinsically wrong. Homosexuality was a disability in the lacking of the ability to have children, and God’s commands of abstaining from homosexuality might prevent others from fostering this incurable condition in others.
Yeah. I know.
My response was mixture of abhorrence and overwhelming anger, and I tried as I might to encounter this idea calmly. I told him he medicalized being gay in the same way that phrenology medicalized racism. It was obnoxious to listen to Christians lay claim to sacrificial love at this conference, but at the same time not see the virtue of that same love as a possible quality underlying other configurations, yet I told others this is the reason why Christians should read Foucault. When you do, you start to notice how power manifests in local contexts in which those discourses occur.
Michael Rea, the Notre Dame philosopher who is president of the Midwest SCP, writes this shocking entry on his Facebook page:
I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne’s keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As President of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward.
To which Jewish philosopher Yoram Hazony asks, reasonably:
Society for Christian Philosophers posts an apology for a lecture given by the distinguished Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne that included his views on homosexuality. Personally, I find it painful to see a senior scholar such as Swinburne being apologized for in public. I often disagree with his views. But if we’re assessing pain, it hurts to see him being shamed in this way for taking a side in a philosophical and religious controversy. What are we trying to do–create a world in which philosophers are only permitted to express certain views? Isn’t the traditional response to write an essay arguing with him, rather than posting an apology?
Indeed. I can’t criticize or defend Swinburne’s address without reading it, but for heaven’s sake, if a Christian cannot defend orthodox Christian teaching at conference of Christian philosophers without being denounced (as distinct from argued with), we are in deep trouble.
Notice that Hackett doesn’t bother explaining what Swinburne said. He assumes that his “abhorrence and overwhelming anger” is sufficient. How dare Swinburne! It is an outrageous capitulation that the Society president felt obliged to apologize for Swinburne.
This is just one more example of the rot in academia. This past weekend, as part of my Benedict Option research, I read one of the best books I’ve read in years: The Demon In Democracy, by the Polish Catholic philosopher and statesman Ryszard Legutko. Rob G., a reader and erstwhile commenter here, recommended it to me. I am going to blog a lot more on it, but suffice it to say here that this book is absolutely critical for conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, to understand the times. More on this later today.
The gist of the book is that liberal democracy has a lot more in common with communism than most people realize. They are both modern ideologies, and totalizing ones. Legutko makes it very clear that liberal democracy is far better than communism, but his thesis, as outrageous as it may sound, is a sound one. The book shook me, and made me understand why some emigre friends who defected from communist Hungary say they are reminded these days of their youth.
Legutko, who lived under Polish communism and under Poland’s transition to liberal democracy, writes about how contemporary liberal democracy has adopted the communist habit of denouncing dissenters from its dogmas. He says this is politically useful to the left. Excerpt:
It allowed discrediting one’s opponent without entering into substantive argument. There was no sense in analyzing the opponent’s views on their merits, such an analysis being usually inconclusive and politically inefficient. It was much better to show that his views represented his interests and were conditioned by his social and economic position. This way, under communism, much of philosophy, are, and literature could be discredited as arising from a bourgeois ideology, legitimizing the domination of the bourgeoisie and representing tis interests. By being identified as serving the cause of the bourgeoisie, the philosophers, artists, and writers could be arraigned on a charge of being the enemies of the socialist revolution and standing in the way of the future, often with lamentable consequences for the defendants.
“This practically put an end to any form of intellectual argumentation,” says Legutko. “No one argued, but either accused someone of ideological treason or defended himself against such a charge.” More:
One encounters a similarly narrow intellectual space in today’s humanities, which, ultimately, are dependent on liberal democracy to the same degree that the communist humanities depended on communism. The language they use is not only political, but derived directly from the terminological storehouse of the liber-democratic ideology: rights exclusion, recognition, emancipation, equality, domination, colonialism, imperialism, etc. Entered the field of the humanities today — exactly as in the communist past — is like entering into the battlefield: one has to join the forces to defend what is right against what is wrong. Literary critics, writers, performers, filmmakers and theater directors imagine themselves to be listening to the voices of the excluded and searching or the deep roots of domination: anthropologists, social scientists, journalists, and celebrities are preoccupied with pretty much the same, believing — of course — that what they do has a momentous weight upon the world that is, as well as upon the world that will be. Once we understand how strikingly the liberal-democratic artists and intellectuals are, mentally, a mirror reflection of their communist counterparts, we will notice that the resemblance also extends to the way they behave. In each system the artists and intellectuals willingly gather in herds; they treat dissenters and outsiders with contempt and enmity; they shamelessly enthuse over idiocies that bear the stamps of modernity and exhibit a revolting temerity in the face of what they consider to be the imperatives of the times. Their cowardly behavior they call dignity, and their dishonorable adulation — stupidity, a conscious act of attunement — the spirit of the times.
Today, when someone is accused of homophobia, the mere fact of accusation allows no effective reply. To defend oneself by saying that homosexual and heterosexual unions are not equal, even if supported by most persuasive arguments, only confirms the charge of homophobia because the charge itself is never a matter of discussion. The only way out for the defendant is to submit a self-criticism, which may or may not be accepted. When the poor daredevil is adamant and imprudently answers back, a furious pack of enraged lumpen-intellectuals inevitably trample the careless polemicist into the ground.
Prudent people — both then and now — anticipate such reactions and made a preemptive move before saying anything reckless. Under communism, the best tactic was to start by condemning the forces of reaction and praising the socialist progress; then one could risk smuggling in a reasonable, though somewhat audacious statement, preferably wrapped in quotations from Marx and Lenin. In a liberal democracy, it is best to start with a condemnation of homophobia followed by the praise of the homosexual movement, and only then sheepishly include something commonsensical, but only using the rhetoric of tolerance, human rights, and the documents issued by the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. Otherwise one invites trouble.
The characteristic feature of both societies — communist and liberal democratic — was that a lot of things simply could not be discussed because they were unquestionably bad or unquestionably good. Discussing them was tantamount to casting doubts on something whose value had been unequivocally determined.
I urge you to read the whole book.
If you read Hackett’s reaction to Swinburne’s speech, it fits the pattern Legutko sets out. Note among these critics the constant citing of the “pain” Swinburne’s philosophical contention caused to some who heard it, and the “harm” these ideas have done to others in the past. For example:
Incalculable! Note that Van Dyke, who teaches philosophy at Calvin College, doesn’t take on Swinburne’s arguments at all. This is entirely a “who/whom” statement. Plus, it’s nonsense that Van Dyke does not want to take away the right of Swinburne (or anybody else) to express these ideas. Quite clearly that’s exactly what she wants, as she blames what Swinburne said (or allegedly said — again, we don’t have the text) for causing “incalculable harm to vast numbers of already disadvantaged people.” Is Van Dyke in favor of causing incalculable harm to vast numbers of already disadvantaged people”? One supposes not. So in what sense is she not arguing for the silencing of Swinburne and those who agree with him?
Again, that the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers felt obliged to apologize for a speech given by one of the world’s most accomplished Christian philosophers — a speech in which the 82-year-old Swinburne defended basic Christian orthodoxy — and indeed to garland his apology with the Orwellian terms “diversity” and “inclusion,” is a very bad sign. These people are going to have their diversity and inclusion, no matter how monotonous and exclusive they have to be to get it. Four legs good, two legs bad!
Of what use is the Society of Christian Philosophers if one cannot go to its meetings and debate basic philosophical positions derived from Christian teaching ?
UPDATE: This blog post captures more of the hysterical ideological bleating at Swinburne from the Left. You really need to read the things these philosophers have been saying. Legutko is right: this stuff is Soviet-like. These aren’t undergraduate militants; these are professional academic philosophers, and (presumably) Christians at that.
UPDATE.2: A Christian philosopher who was in the audience for Swinburne’s talk e-mails:
All the stuff Swinburne spoke about is in his 2007 book Revelation (2nd edition). https://www.amazon.com/Revelation-Metaphor-Analogy-Richard-Swinburne/dp/0199212473 And he’s talked on it many times before.
So, for Van Dyke, who, as executive director, approves the speakers, to act as if she’s surprised or shocked is completely disingenuous.
Swinburne is also set to speak at Notre Dame next week, where Rea, current SCP president, teaches.
I think they set the 81-year-old man up to be shamed publicly to teach a lesson to the younger philosophers who hold traditional views: shut the f*ck up.
UPDATE.3: I’ve changed the photo from one of Ryszard Legutko to a stock shot. I didn’t want people thinking that Legutko was the one telling Swinburne to shut up.