The authority of reason in defense of marriage, pt 2 Print
Heroes for Life
Thursday, Oct. 03, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Heroes for Life by Lillian Quinones

This article is the second in a four-part series offered as a primer for Catholics on the authority of reason in the defense of marriage. The series is based on author Lillian Quinones’ interviews with Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University.

Author’s note: The need for knowledgeable and articulate Catholics to defend the family as the foundation of society is dire. I am honored to feature Robert P. George, who is hailed by the New York Times as the “country’s most influential Christian thinker.” His clear and concise arguments motivate us to defend traditional marriage courageously and confidently for, as he demonstrates in this article, reason is our strongest weapon.

— Lillian Quinones is a 2013 graduate of St. Ambrose Academy in Madison. She is a freshman at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich.

Robert P. George
Robert P. George
Meet Professor Robert P. George
A graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School, he also received a master’s degree in theology from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford University. He is the author of Conscience and Its Enemies, In Defense of Natural Law, Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, and The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis, and is the co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, and What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. His scholarly articles and reviews have appeared in many journals. Professor George is a drafter of the “Manhattan Declaration,” a manifesto signed by Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical believers 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.” Professor Robert P. George, a devout Catholic, holds Princeton University’s celebrated McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence and is the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is the founding director of the James Madison Program at Princeton and has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.

What occurred in France to motivate the Christians and other believers there to take on the socialist government on this issue? How does the problem in America of homosexual marriage gaining ground in society differ from the situation in France? What must happen in America for us to achieve their level of activism?

The French have a long tradition of appreciating the differences between men and women. It is captured in the familiar French saying “vive la difference.”

What strikes me as most interesting about France is that the coalition that formed in opposition to the socialist’s government effort to redefine marriage wasn’t just people of faith, it wasn’t just Christians and other believers. It was a broad coalition that included secular people and even those who were self-identified as gay.

The pro-marriage coalition in France was built around the idea of children’s rights, particularly children’s right to be reared in a home with a mother and father. Many French self-identified homosexuals rallied to defeat the idea of marriage as something that exists for the satisfactions of adults. They joined Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others to defend the idea of marriage as concerned fundamentally to provide children with a mother and father.

The lesson from France is the importance of the rights of children, that marriage serves the interest of children. When the debate is engaged there, I think it is a lot easier for people to see why it is important to understand marriage as a conjugal bond — the union of a man and woman — and to recognize it that way in law.

When children are pushed off stage, the temptation of many people is to suppose that how marriage is defined in law really doesn’t matter much. But, of course, it matters enormously.

Our situation should be stronger in America than in France because by comparison with France, we are a much more religious country. We still have a strong Catholic community, there are strong Evangelical Protestant churches, and there are other smaller communities that are very active on the marriage issues, such as the Mormon church and others.

A lesson from Pope Francis — Christians are not bigots

What should we do at the parish level and in the workplace to educate people on why one who is Christian and against homosexual marriage is not a bigot?

Everyone needs to learn to make the case for marriage. The churches really need to be in the forefront here. We need to be teaching our own people what marriage is, so that they will understand why it is so important to the Church and to society.

We should not be hesitant to speak the truth. Too often in parishes, clergy and religion instructors are excessively worried about irritating people who disagree with the Church’s teaching or hurting people’s feelings.

The most important role of the Church is to speak the truth. It must be done lovingly — we should never deliberately wound people’s feelings.

Jesus’ Church is a Church that is built around the idea of love for the sinner. This was perfectly taught by Pope Francis in his remarks following World Youth Day in Brazil. He said we do not judge the hearts of anyone — that’s God’s job, not ours. Not even the Church, not even the pope himself, sits in judgment.

But that is not to say that we do not judge conduct. We have no choice but to judge conduct to be good or bad.

Loving the sinner does not mean we sit in judgment of him, but we do try to lead him to God; we do try to teach him and guide him and encourage him to live up to what is truly liberating, truly good, and virtuous. There’s no choice but to make judgments, and the pope understands that. He wasn’t changing Catholic teaching or saying he couldn’t judge whether homosexual conduct was right or wrong.

But love, far from being a reason for soft-pedaling our proclamation of the truth, is actually the reason for proclaiming the truth robustly — lovingly, to be sure — but also robustly. Because everybody, including those are same-sex attracted and those who have inclinations to other sexual immorality, need to hear the Church’s witness to the truth about marriage and human sexuality.

The erosion of the marriage culture

The trouble in America is that for a period of almost 50 years, the marriage culture has eroded under the pressure of an ideology that is quite hostile to the basic idea of marriage.

Expressive individualism puts the focus on the satisfaction of the self’s desire, rather than on our obligations to each other and the common good. It identifies morality merely with whether one consents to behavior and whether any third parties are harmed by the behavior. It is an impoverished understanding of morality.

According to the expressive individualist, marriage is nothing more than sexual romantic companionship or domestic partnership. But marriage is not like any other form of companionship. It unites people not only at the emotional level (as all friendships or forms of companionship do).

When we say that its more than that, we begin to see why the sexual romantic companion model can’t be true. Marriage unites spouses not only at the level of hearts and minds but also, and crucially, on the bodily plane. Marital love unites us at all parts of our being: the emotional, the biological, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual; it’s a comprehensive union.

On biology and marriage consummation

In marriage, the man and woman are becoming a single reproductive unit as an expression of their marriage. That’s why there is a name for it when a married couple mate for the first time — it’s called consummation.

Consummation means the perfecting or concluding of the marriage, making the marriage not just an ethereal emotional thing but completing it by making it a bodily thing. That is why, historically, marriages, if they were not consummated, could be annulled, not just by the Church, but by the state.

It is not merely a union of hearts and minds. It is a union at the bodily level as well. And bodily union is made possible by the sexual reproductive complementarity of women and men.

Next in the series: Redefining norms.