Robert George, Prophet of Our Times

May 17, 2014

If you wonder where the times are headed, look at what people are afraid to talk about. A few years ago, people would avoid certain topics out of a sense of decorum and politeness. Today, there is already a much more viceral fear. Our opinions may still be officially protected by the freedom of speech but our sixth sense has already picked up the real conditions in our society, where certain topics no longer permit any deviations of opinion without drastic consequences.

Today, we censure our own speech on certain topics out of a valid fear of losing our jobs and job prospects, a valid fear of ending our career advancement opportunities and official recognition, out of a valid fear of being banished from our social circles, out of valid a fear of ending friendships and ripping apart our extended families.

That's why Princeton Professor Robert George was exactly right in his speech at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast last Tuesday. The full text of his speech is well worth it, but here are some excerpts:
The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over. The days of comfortable Catholicism are past. It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid. There are costs of discipleship—heavy costs, costs that are burdensome and painful to bear. 
...Powerful forces and currents in our society press us to be ashamed of the Gospel—ashamed of the good, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. These forces insist that the Church’s teachings are out of date, retrograde, insensitive, uncompassionate, illiberal, bigoted—even hateful. These currents bring pressure on all of us—and on young Catholics in particular—to yield to this insistence. They threaten us with consequences if we refuse to call what is good evil, and what is evil good. They command us to conform our thinking to their orthodoxy, or else say nothing at all. 
...Do you hold that the precious child in the womb, as a creature made in the very image  nd likeness of God, deserves respect and protection? Then, powerful people and institutions say, you are a misogynist—a hater of women, someone who poses a threat to people’s privacy, an enemy of women’s “reproductive freedom.” You ought to be ashamed! 
...Do you understand marriage as the uniquely comprehensive type of bond—comprehensive in that it unites spouses in a bodily way and not merely at the level of hearts and minds—that is oriented to and would naturally be fulfilled by their conceiving and rearing children together? Then these same forces say you are a homophobe, a bigot, someone who doesn’t believe in equality. You even represent a threat to people’s safety. You ought to be ashamed! 
...To be a witness to the Gospel today is to make oneself a marked man or woman. It is to expose oneself to scorn and reproach. To unashamedly proclaim the Gospel in its fullness is to place in jeopardy one’s security, one’s personal aspirations and ambitions, the peace and tranquility one enjoys, one’s standing in polite society. One may in consequence of one’s public witness be discriminated against and denied educational opportunities and the prestigious credentials they may offer; one may lose valuable opportunities for employment and professional advancement; one may be excluded from worldly recognition and honors of various sorts; one’s witness may even cost one treasured friendships. It may produce familial discord and even alienation from family members. Yes, there are costs of discipleship—heavy costs. 
...There was a time, not long ago, when things were quite different....Biblical and natural law beliefs about morality were culturally normative; they were not challenges to cultural norms. But those days are gone. What was once normative is now regarded as heretical—the moral and cultural equivalent of treason. And so, here we are. 
Aside from exposing the full truth of our times, Robert George did another brilliant thing in his speech: he tied the turn of times to the Gospel account of Jesus's crucifixion, and explained how in Biblical terms we are now at Good Friday. What a perfect symbolism of where we find ourselves today!
You see, for us, as for our faithful Evangelical friends, it is now Good Friday. ...The love affair with Jesus and his Gospel and his Church is over. Elite sectors of the cultures of Europe and North America no longer welcome his message. “Away with him,” they shout. “Give us Barabbas!”  ...Oh, things were easy on Palm Sunday. Standing with Jesus and His truths was the in thing to do. Everybody was shouting “Hosanna.” But now it’s Friday, and the days of acceptable Christianity are over. The days of comfortable Catholicism are past. Jesus is before Pilate. The crowds are shouting “crucify him.” The Lord is being led to Calvary. Jesus is being nailed to the cross. 
This speech by Robert George is historic, and hopefully it will one day be remembered as perhaps the clearest public warning by a highly-placed public figure, so clearly elucidating the way things are, and the way they are about to become. It presents important questions to all those Christians who hold fast to the truths about human life and marriage:
Will we muster the strength, the courage, the faith to be like Mary the Mother of Jesus, and like John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, and stand faithfully at the foot of the cross? Or will we, like all the other disciples, flee in terror? Fearing to place in jeopardy the wealth we have piled up, the businesses we have built, the professional and social standing we have earned, the security and tranquility we enjoy, the opportunities for worldly advancement we cherish, the connections we have cultivated, the relationships we treasure, will we silently acquiesce to the destruction of innocent human lives or the demolition of marriage? Will we seek to “fit in,” to be accepted, to live comfortably in the new Babylon? If so, our silence will speak. Its words will be the words of Peter, warming himself by the fire: “Jesus the Nazorean? I tell you, I do not know the man.” 
...The question of faith and fidelity that is put to us today is not in the form it was put to Peter—“surely you are you this man’s disciple”—it is, rather, do you stand for the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as the union of husband and wife? 
...To be an authentic witness to the Gospel is to proclaim these truths among the rest. ... And it is these integral dimensions of the Gospel that powerful cultural forces and currents today demand that we deny or suppress. 
...If we deny truths of the Gospel, we really are like Peter, avowing that “I do not know the man.” If we go silent about them, we really are like the other apostles, fleeing in fear. But when we proclaim the truths of the Gospel, we really do stand at the foot of the cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus and John the disciple whom Jesus loved. We show by our faithfulness that we are not ashamed of the Gospel. We prove that we are truly Jesus’s disciples, willing to take up his cross and follow him—even to Calvary. 
...Yes, for us Catholics and all who seek to be faithful, it’s Good Friday. We are no longer acceptable. We can no longer be comfortable. It is for us a time of trial, a time of testing by adversity. But lest we fail the test, as perhaps many will do, let us remember that Easter is coming. Jesus will vanquish sin and death. We will experience fear, just as the apostles did—that is inevitable. Like Jesus himself in Gethsemane, we would prefer not to drink this cup. We would much rather be acceptable Christians, comfortable Catholics. But our trust in him, our hope in his resurrection, our faith in the sovereignty of his heavenly Father can conquer fear. By the grace of Almighty God, Easter is indeed coming. Do not be ashamed of the Gospel. Never be ashamed of the Gospel.  
George also beautifully responds to the argument that Christians are on the "wrong side of history." In essence, he responds that history is an impersonal force that does not judge or take sides; instead, it is God who judges and what is important is to be on the right side of truth.
...history does not have sides. It is an impersonal and contingent sequence of events...Nor is history, or future generations, a judge invested with god-like powers to decide, much less dictate, who was right and who was wrong. The idea of a “judgment of history” is secularism’s vain, meaningless, hopeless, and pathetic attempt to devise a substitute for what the great Abrahamic traditions of faith know is the final judgment of Almighty God. History is not God. God is God. History is not our judge. God is our judge. 
One day we will give an account of all we have done and failed to do. Let no one suppose that we will make this accounting to some impersonal sequence of events possessing no more power to judge than a golden calf or a carved and painted totem pole. It is before God—the God of truth, the Lord of history—that we will stand. And as we tremble in His presence it will be no use for any of us to claim that we did everything in our power to put ourselves on “the right side of history.”  One thing alone will matter: Was I a faithful witness to the Gospel? Did I do everything in my power to place myself on the side of truth?
I love this whole speech by Robert George. Something like this SO needed to be said. We can no longer pretend that things are comfortable. They are not. In past years, it was easy not to notice that things were getting worse even as a few were already being affected. That reality used to be only for those few activists protesting at abortion clinics or distributing strongly-worded pamphlets. 

Today, it is hard not to notice that we are all starting to be affected, just for believing certain things (without even acting on our beliefs). Today, we really have to stick our heads in the sand to think that the times are still with us. Today, we are being mightily pushed to turn away from the truths we believe, in order to remain socially acceptable. 

Today, people already DO lose their jobs because they believe that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Today, lawyers already ARE denied admittance to the bar because they believe that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Today, Christians already are considered by many to be the new racists, with all the consequences that follow.

But this is probably not surprising to you. I do believe that most people sense the signs of our times, at least on an intuitive level. We are social creatures and our social radars are very finely tuned. We know where the tide is turning, and many people are already jumping ship and joining the new bandwagon. It's part of our natural sense of self-preservation. Not everyone can be a hero, right? Especially when the price gets too high.

We could benefit today from a new attitude. Among Christians, there is starting to be an understanding of being like the "first Christians" in a secular Rome. The first Christians were persecuted and many of them died as martyrs. But there is yet another way to see our role in today's world. Practising Christians are also increasingly becoming very much like the political dissidents in the Communist regimes of the Cold War. 

In fact, I believe that our ultimate fate will be far more like that of dissidents than like that of the first Christians. Unlike the first Christians, we will not be martyred by being crucified upside down on a cross or torn from limb to limb - actual corporal punishment will not be our fate. 

Instead, like the political dissidents of oppresive regimes, we will simply be marginalized out of civilized society, and this is already starting to happen. More and more frequently, we will be passed over for jobs and promotions, we will be excluded from social circles and from professional opportunities and recognitions. A very few of us might end up in jail, but the majority will just be silently reduced to social and professional zeros.  

If the history of Communism is any indication of how things will work here, then even our children might one day have to disassociate themselves from our views, or they may simply be penalized without any chance to explain themselves, for the unacceptable opinions of their parents.

In Communist regimes (where the people were just like us), most people were not prepared to be heroes. They would have preferred to be free, and most were probably not on-board with the Communist manifesto. But they were silent. They paid a huge price for silence - they acquiesced to being oppressed by the government, to losing their freedoms and many opportunities. But for most people, being oppressed as a group was still better than being singled out for special oppression as an individual. There were few dissidents.

Here's the kicker: the truth may not come to light in our lifetimes. How many of us are prepared for a lifetime in the margins, a life without worldly success and recognition, the life of social outcasts where most consider us the equivalent of racists? 

Robert George is right. The days of comfortable Christianity are definitely over.

Photo: Grant MacDonald via photopin cc

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We provide commentary on the cultural decline of the Western world, from a conservative perspective.