‘Shut Up, Bigot!’ The Philosophers Argued

Richard Swinburne, the Oxford philosopher and Orthodox Christian, delivered a lecture on Christian sexual ethics at a Midwest Society of Christian Philosophers conference; it offended some in attendance.

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.


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.

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