Tag Archives: robby george

The Gay Basketball Star and an Emerging Cultural Narrative

If you’re a sports fan, did you see the news about former Villanova Wildcats basketball player Will Sheridan coming out of the closet?  And the stories about Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts revealing the same?  Whether you like basketball or not, you should care about these stories as a Christian.  The way each narrative has unfolded in the press shows the direction our culture is traveling on the issue of homosexuality.

Christians need to be very aware of the way the mainstream media is treating these kind of stories.  For the broader culture, homosexuality is the new civil rights cause–and just like the civil rights cause, homosexuality is entering the cultural mainstream at least in part through sports.  Reporters are treating gay athletes like heroes, praising their “courage” and “authenticity.”  Read the stories I’ve linked to above, and do a Google search on each topic to find more coverage if you like.  You will find this narrative in spades.  The (religious) parents of Sheridan and other athletes making headlines (like the mother of “Kye Allums,” the first transgender woman’s basketball player) have had a terrible time accepting the newfound orientation of their children.  The writers interviewing these parents treat them with empathy–but take great pains to show how they have accepted this shift and continue to grant “unconditional love” to their children.  The rightness of homosexuality is a given, while opposition to it is a clear transgression.

Here’s a snippet from the ESPN story on Sheridan that backs up this claim:

Josie Sheridan always preached unconditional love, and she meant it.

And when the test came — when her son, whom she calls her best friend, sat her down — loving him wasn’t hard. But accepting the news was.

“Devastated. I was devastated,” she said. “I mean, I was disappointed. Not in him, but in things that were taken away — not having a daughter-in-law, grandchildren, things like that.”

But after the initial shock wore away, Josie looked at her son and saw something that had been missing — happiness. He was always a good child (“too good to be true,” his high school coach once told her), but a tickle in the back of her mind, a mother’s instinct, told her he should have been happier….”Once I saw him, so happy and content, that’s all I needed,” Josie said. “I never loved him any less. In fact, I think I love him more. I’ve always been so proud of him, but he has such courage. This takes courage.”

Christians need to sort through this narrative carefully.  We are those who tout the cosmos-shaking love of a magnificent God, after all.  We have a stake in love.  But our understanding of God’s grace–the channel of His love–differs markedly from that of our culture.  God fully accepts all who are His children, and he never lets them go (John 10:27).  Yet this does not mean that God approves of sin.  Those who choose an evil path will not meet with God’s love, but his justice.  We will taste his wrath.   The only way to escape this wrath is through a complete heart change, full repentance, a renunciation of all our sin.  Only when we have repented of sin and turned completely from it may we experience God’s salvific love.

So the love of God is not a contentless love, an actionless love.  It is the polar opposite of love as culture defines it.  Cultural love requires no change.  In fact, man-centered love requires that no change be required.  Biblical love calls for the reverse.  Wherever love is, change is.  That is, when God loves a person, he profoundly changes them, whether they are gay (contra Romans 1), vainglorious (contra James 3), an adulterer (contra Proverbs 2), or caught in any number of other sins.  He does not accept their prior orientation; in order to meet his holy standards, he requires a new orientation.  He actually makes the sinner “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  True love, God’s love, is transformative, not static; active, not passive.  This is because in the Christian concept of salvation, love and holiness work together.  God’s love shed abroad in our hearts does not compromise God’s holiness.  Love enables us to meet God’s holy standards, to stand pure before him.

Tragically, our culture believes the opposite.  Many people, of course, believe in only the vaguest, weakest sort of God to begin with.  In their understanding, God enfranchises and approves of their authentic selves.  The person they believe they need to be–this is the person God wants them to be.  He (or she, in cultural understanding) acts as the Great Actualizer, the One who Makes All Dreams Come True.  This excellent article about celebrities and spirituality in the Wall Street Journal makes this quite clear.  God is like the supportive friend in a rom-com: always there, always rooting you on, never confronting you or making you feel bad, perpetually guiding you ever so gingerly to your best self.  It is this deity, not the Lord of heaven and earth, who stands behind us today, urging us onward.

All these things are in play in the cultural homosexual narrative.  There is not to be any pushback for those who come out of the closet or wish to change their gender.  Like God himself, we are to accept in full the natural orientation of those around us.  Those of the broader culture who disagree with this idea generally have very little moral foundation from which to respond to this narrative.  Robby George and the Catholic natural law school have mounted their arguments, and bravely so; evangelicals are declaring their biblical convictions on the matter, calling the culture to biblical truth.  These and other efforts are salutary, but outside the gracious intervention of God, we should not expect some sort of radical embrace of them by the gatekeepers of western thought.  Such is surely possible, but this is a strong narrative.  To those who have no biblical understanding of morality, it is the new civil rights cause.  Those who stand against homosexuality today will increasingly be equated with those who accomplished the hateful subordination of African-Americans in this country.

None of this means that we should run to the hills.  We should stay right where we are.  We should contend for truth.  We should befriend and show the most genuine kind of love to all kinds of people who are sinners just like we are and lost just like we were.  We should not shrink back, but should declare a far more magnificent brand of love than the culture knows, a strong love, a transformative love, a judgment-killing love.  Lost and hopeless, the culture will offer its narrative of acceptance.  We, in turn, will offer a greater narrative of salvation.  In prayer, we will never stop asking the Lord to do great work in our day to turn the hearts of the people to him (1 Kings 18:36-37).

(Photo: Josh Maready for ESPN)


Filed under homosexuality, sports

Os Guinness in Chicago, Jonathan Edwards, and Baptist21 Events

Socrates in the City is very cool.  And it’s coming to Chicago on May 6, 2010.

The program is “pre-evangelism”, aimed at cultural influencers interested in thoughtful conversation on matters of faith, the mind, and public life.  Based in New York City and led by evangelical public intellectual Eric Metaxas, the program is utterly unique and highly exciting.  It’s featured speakers like Sir John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, and Robby George.  Basically, it rocks.

Here’s the info about the May 6th event in Chicago:

Please join host Eric Metaxas and special guest Dr. Os Guinness, author of The Call and more than twenty other books, who will speak on the topic: “Can Freedom Last Forever?: The Framers’ Forgotten Question and How We Are Doing Today”.

Date: May 6th

Wine and Cheese Reception from 6:30 pm till 7:00 pm

Speaking will begin at 7:00 pm SHARP

Dr. Guinness will sign copies of his books at 8:30 pm

Location: University Club of Chicago

(76 E. Monroe Street)

VPs accepted day of event)

Register for the event here.

So there you have it–Socrates is coming to the Windy City.


Stephen Nichols on the strange unitive power of Jonathan Edwards.  It’s pretty remarkable when you actually think about the diverse patrons of the Edwardsean mind and ministry…


Carl Trueman has the sharpest pen in evangelicalism.  In a recent essay (HT: JT) entitled “Life on the Cultic Fringe”, he takes aim at those who worry over what the world thinks about the church.  His words are strong but needed.  Read the whole piece.

Further, if the world finds me and mine ridiculous, then I can only respond by saying that I do not find the world’s views on a whole host of things particularly judicious or impressive either.  I switch on my TV each night and see politicians behaving like cheap backstreet hucksters; I see `celebrities’ living lives that would make a porn star blush and being applauded for so doing; I watch talk shows where people take seriously the soppy psychobabble of numerous numpties; I stand on the touchline at kids’ sporting events and see parents coming to blows over a refereeing decision in a game involving kids, for goodness sake; and I look at the great, self-important, self-righteous contemporary critics of the church and note the contempt they have shown in their own lives for their marriages and for those they were meant to love and honour, and even for those with whom they disagree within their own guilds. None of these things means that everything the world does and thinks is automatically wrong; but it inclines me to take the world’s wisdom with a pinch of salt and not be too worried if they find me `unloving’ or they dismiss my church when she refuses to conform to their view of reality simply because they tell me it is true. That kind of capitulation to powerful personalities and guilds is indeed where cults, on the Trueman definition, begin.

This is a helpful counter to those who suggest that the world has the right to act as some kind of imperious and abstract judge over the church.  That’s simply not the case.


Timmy Brister has video from Tony Kummer from Band of Bloggers.  The event was really fun and typically well-done.  I continue to submit that it is strange that no one live-blogged it.  It’s like going to a conference on tables without any tables…

(I’ll let you chew on that one for a while.  Deep thoughts.)


Check out upcoming Baptist21 events.  Exciting stuff…

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The Manhattan Declaration: A Bold Statement on Family and Faith

Today at 12pm, a group of evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox leaders released a statement on the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.  Called the Manhattan Declaration, this statement represents a bold rebuke of current cultural trends and a clear call to the culture to recognize the harm it is doing itself in crucial areas.

The statement was drafted by Robby George, Timothy George, and Chuck Colson.  Prominent evangelical signatories include Al Mohler, Russ Moore, David Dockery, Danny Akin, Marvin Olasky, Ravi Zacharias, Bill Edgar, Michael Easley, and others.  Evangel has a full list of signers.  The MD is not an outreach of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. 

 The Manhattan Declaration is not simply a statement, but a grassroots movement.  All who agree with the statement are strongly encouraged to sign the Declaration in support.

 The Declaration

Join the movement!
Sign the Declaration

More on the MD:

The Manhattan Declaration is a 4,732-word statement signed by a movement of Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders who are collaborating around moral issues of great concern. Its 125+ signers affirm the sanctity of human life, marriage as defined by the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The Manhattan Declaration endorses civil disobedience under certain circumstances.

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

Visit the site for more information.


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Review: Russ Moore’s “Adopted for Life”, a Book to Change Lives

adopted-for-life-Theology is alive.  It should be felt, not merely taught.  It should reach into all areas of our lives, bringing light and health to them.  The heft of God’s teaching transforms both the way we think and the way we live.

Theologians who embody this kind of approach are rare (though increasing in number, I think).  One who stands out is Russ Moore of Southern Seminary of Louisville, KY.  A systematician, Moore has a capacious mind, a gift for wit and drama, and an imagination that grasps the significance of biblical truth.  He is a pastor-theologian, simultaneously the Dean of the world’s largest seminary and a Teaching Pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville.  He is a proud and loving father of four.

Recently, Moore authored the book Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, 2009).  The book comes highly recommended–no less than sixteen scholars and leaders endorse the book, including such luminaries as Robby George, Chuck Colson, Al Mohler, and John MacArthur.  The diversity of this group alone shows the respect Moore draws from the broader Christian community.

The text itself is full of passion, biblical theology, and humor.  It is not a straight theology of adoption, a personal reflection on adoption, or a handbook on the rudiments of the adoption process.  It is a mixture of all three.  As a result, the text simultaneously teaches, edifies, provokes, and moves the reader. Though a text that purports to cover adoption, it ends up covering much more, and stands in my mind as something of a mini-biblical theology of salvation.

I cannot commend the book highly enough.  In the face of numerous heartbreaking miscarriages, Moore and his wife Maria traveled to Russia to adopt two boys some years ago, the story that provides the backbone of the text.  After beginning with this personal touch, Moore proceeds to cover theological and practical aspects of adoption in midrash-like chapters that set the matter in cosmic perspective.  Adopted for Life is a good title, though The Drama of Adoption might also have captured the spirit of the text.

Many Christians are catching a heart for adoption.  This is a most welcome trend.  I am quite sure that those who are on the fence about adoption will, after reading this powerful book, find themselves irresistibly drawn to contributing to the cause in some way.  The image painted by Moore of his first visit to the Russian orphanage where his sons lay in darkness and filth is indelibly printed in my mind.  It will be in yours, too, and with the rest of the book, it will drive you to pray and to work to contribute to the culture of gospel-centered adoption as an application of the theological doctrine.

I am deeply thankful for this unique and engrossing book.  It is not often that a text incites one to want to thank an author for it.  But I am grateful to Russ Moore for Adopted for Life, and also to Justin Taylor and Crossway Books for pushing this project (and living it out in Justin’s case).  I agree with Al Mohler’s assessment of it: “one of the most compelling books I have ever read.”

In orphanages across the world, children languish, unwanted, unnoticed, unheard.  Their lives have no purpose or beauty.  Most of them will suffer through childhood and go on to an early death, fizzling out like comets in a sky that nobody sees.  It is my hope and prayer that the book will go far and wide, spreading a culture of adoption in Christian churches, causing families to abandon ordinary, easy, low-cost, low-reward Christianity and drive them instead to take on the challenge of adoption.  Whether fertile or infertile, rich or poor, all who live wisely and generously can in some way participate in this outworking of biblical theology.

May we not allow these children to languish and pass away.  May we embrace a culture of life that is costly and full of grace.  May we spend less on ourselves and more on missions and missional adoption.  Let us join the Moores, my own parents, and countless others who have acted on a vision for adoption and make our way into darkened, decrepit orphanages across this earth, bringing light to the abandoned just as Jesus Christ our Lord has brought it to us.


Filed under adoption, book reviews

Robby George and Greg Thornbury on Natural Law: A Valuable InSight Podcast

union3The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has just released an excellent podcast on natural-law thinking featuring an interview conducted by Doug Baker with constitutional law scholar Robby George and systematician Greg Thornbury. It is called “Morality: Past its Prime”, and it will prove profitable to the listener.

For those who are new to this discussion of natural-law theory, I would highly commend this podcast.  I was able to sit in on it and found it very helpful.  Pastors and thinking Christians will benefit from the careful but clear presentation of the issues provided by George and Thornbury, each representing different traditions and modes of thought.

Issues considered in this podcast:

  • Morality – what is it?; the Pre-liberal tradition – What it is and what has become of it?; Legislating morality – can it be done?
  • Moral law and just law; The meaning of justice; The making of just law – how is it done?; First Principles and “the good”; What is good?”
  • Jesus, the Rich Young Ruler and the good; The Wolfenden Report of 1957 and laws against homosexuality; the sexual revolution; Private behavior and public morality; “victimless” crimes and justice.
  • California’s Proposition 8; Marriage – victim of public opinion?; Personal autonomy and the culture of “my body – my choice”; Mario Cuomo and the legality of abortion; morality, slavery, and abortion.
  • Carl F.H. Henry – natural law and divine revelation; Do judges interpret or create law?; Judicial boundaries – what are they and how do you know?
  • The separation of church and state; the role of the church in the public square; the path forward in a culture of death.

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Making Men Moral: Closing Thoughts and Conference Audio

moral24Well, the dust cloud is settling.  The Making Men Moral conference is over.  It has been an incredible privilege to do this event.  I am hugely impressed with Union University, David Dockery, Micah Watson, Robby George and the other theorists who contributed to this exceptional conference.  My brain is so full of content right now that it’s hard to summarize it.  In short, let me just quickly say that I am leaving this conference with a renewed understanding of the connection between morality and law. 

If you come away with nothing else from these many summations, take home that point, and remind yourself that we have tremendous opportunity as Christians to influence the law and culture of this country for good.  Great things could happen, but they will not take place by accident.  Parents, teachers, churches, and social organizations of the Christian community need to invest themselves in the publishing of the gospel and the advancement of the kingdom.  But we must remember that while we need tons of them, many of our youth will not become pastors and missionaries. 

It is imperative, then, that we push them to engage society and culture from a deeply Christocentric viewpoint.  We should not allow our kids to coast by in school–we should push them from their earliest years to be leaders, thinkers, movers and shakers for the gospel.  We cannot cede this work to our Catholic and Jewish friends, as we did for many years.  We need to be deeply, deeply engaged in the culture, transforming it, renewing it, calling it to repentance and wholeness.

With that word, I conclude.  It has been an honor.  Blessings to all reading this out there, and many thanks for reading.

Here is the conference audio that is up so far: go to the conference website, and it’s all clickable from there. (updated 3/2/09)


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Making Men Moral: Hadley Arkes on the Indissoluble Connection Between Law and Morality

moral22The biography of Hadley Arkes, the conference’s final speaker:

“Hadley Arkes has been a member of the Amherst College faculty since 1966. He was the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence, and was appointed, in 1987, as the Edward Ney Professor of American Institutions. He has written five books with Princeton University press: Bureaucracy, the Marshall Plan, and the National Interest (1972), The Philoarkes-150sopher in the City (1981), First Things (1986), Beyond the Constitution (1990), and The Return of George Sutherland (1994). His most recent book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, was published by Cambridge University Press in the fall of 2002. Professor Arkes has been the founder, at Amherst, of the Committee for the American Founding, a group of alumni and students seeking to preserve, at Amherst, the doctrines of “natural rights” taught by the American Founders and Lincoln.”

The following is my summation of Arkes’s closing remarks.

I am breathing the fresh air of a red state!  This is quite the joy, coming from Massachusetts, the people’s republic.  They wouldn’t take my currency down here, with it’s picture of Dukakis on it. 

Quoting Samuel Johnson: “geometricians by accident, but moralists by necessity.”  The very mark of the polis was the law.  This binds our private preference in favor of a public concern.  To come to moral judgment is to speak in the voice of command, which forbids the torture of children or the killing of a baby.

Yet the most curious thing is that many elites have denied this fundamental principle.  Robby’s book stands as a notable marker to restore the classic connection between morality and law.  It’s impossible to have law without morality.  It’s like asking for coffee without syntax.  We now see legislators who work extremely hard to avoid any notion of morality in their legal language.  This is ridiculous.  When David Souter, for examples, encounters the issue of topless dancing, he moves to the secondary issue of how an establishment featuring this activity will draw pickpockets.  This is bankrupt.

Laws Are Not Invitations
When we make laws, we do not invite people to obey, we say that we are displacing their personal choice.  The rule of action will shape all subsequent conduct in this realm.  Every great political philosopher has considered this question.  We must explain the principle of “rightness” so that we can make laws that are “right” and “valid” for others.  If something is wrong, it’s wrong for everyone.  In the Lincoln-Douglas debate, Douglas professed to have no moral judgment.  Lincoln retorted rightly that this was a moral judgment. 

A part of what I want to bring out today is that the logic of morals is anchored in the logic of reason.  From the left, with the homosexual lobby, first the left denied the presence of morality in laws, then brought morality back in to silence those who oppose gay marriage.  First, we heard that one could not legislate “taste” on sexuality any more than one could legislate taste for frozen yogurt.  So there was no grounds for casting judgments–but wait!  There was a wrong: casting judgments!  So those who barred gay couples from adopting needed to have judgments cast against them.  It also becomes fine for people to be prosecuted when they dare to preach about the homosexual lifestyle, which is “judging.” 

The Purpose of the State
With these steps, we move closer to Aristotle’s understanding of the state: to inculcate moral sense and good judgment in the people.  The law teaches that we will move from the domain of private preference to a matter of moral consquence.  In Massachusetts in November 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional rules on marriage.  The judgment of the Court produced “natural recoil of shock.”  However, several years later, the people had changed their mind.  Where once most opposed same-sex marriage, now there seemed to be a slight majority for it.  This was what Machiavelli called “a new regime” with new laws.  Schoolchildren were now taught from as early as the first-grade what sexual acts between men look like.  School budgets would now pay for gay and lesbian-friendly programs.  Money came into play; legislators were bought off. 

As we can see, all people do indeed make moral judgments.  The preceding shows that there is a moral dimension built into the very fabric of politics.  It is in the very heart of it.  One cannot avoid it.  Arkes pointed to a law that argued that the discrimination against blacks was hurting the inter-state commerce in meat.  He pointed out satirically that the abortion industry, with 1.3 million babies killed, hurt the sale of bassinets.  There is something wrong with this rationale that the federal government is using to legislate morality.

Being Clear About Right and Wrong
We need to be clearer about the wrong.  In the past, state governments and local governments took responsibly for moral matters.  The federal government was thought to have a far more limited scope of concerns.  John Marshall once mused on what would happen if a state desired to dissolve marriage without the consent of the couple.  Here he showed that something could arise that could bring marriage within the reach of the federal constitution.  So Dred Scott would have to come back to Missouri, because it didn’t recognize marriage between slaves.  This has happened more recently as well.

It requires one Kantian insight to make sense of this matter.  There is nothing that we can name, no activity, so prosaic that it cannot be part of a means-end chain that cannot inflict harm.  An ambulance can either help save lives or kill a street-crossing pedestrian.  As we have seen, even the most local of subjects could handle issues that bear on matters of the Constitution.  My argument is that there is no way that one can make law without moral arguments.  The effort to finesse moral questions on secondary grounds fails.  Laws must be made through the substance of moral thinking itself.  The notion of a national government of limited powers falls into a fallacy if we think that we can write a list of subjects that the federal government cannot reach.  The example of Roe v. Wade, among other laws, show us that the national government will readily reach into all areas.

In closing, then, the notion of a limited government makes eminent sense.  I would suggest that a limited government does not require a Constitution.  Restraint may be found, I think, in the very idea of the self, the human person.  Limits come upon human autonomy; there are certain wrongful things that people must forgo in living in the state.  To put it differently, they are thus encouraged to concentrate their full range of powers on good things. 

Plato: the person with the well-ordered soul, governed by reason, had a constitutional ruler within himself.  A government under constitutional restraint takes its model from the person who controls himself and rules his appetites by the power of reason.  The person with self-control is not the weaker person, but the stronger.  So it is with government.

Again: geometricians by accident, but moralists by necessity.  We must face moral questions either well or badly.  We cannot escape them.  It is time to reconcile ourselves to the notion that this is the life we lead, and the life we must learn to do well. 

Remarks on Neuhaus
His persistent line: we can still turn this around.  He always saw the capacity of human beings to reach outside themselves and do something extraordinary.  We buy up our friends, and ply others with compensation, saying, whenever you are as certain about something as I am, go forward; when you are uncertain, hesitate; if ever you go wrong, come back.  In this way, we will make our way to the One of whom it is said: Seek His face.  Seek His face always.

My Take
This was a splendid lecture.  Arkes has a golden pen.  He also speaks very clearly and peppers his speaking with all sorts of fun stories and practical illustrations.  His central contention, that none of us can help but be moralists, immediately convinced me of its aptness.  This is surely, incontrovertibly right.  If you sit back and think about it for a moment, and let it sink in, you’ll be convinced.  We can’t avoid moral questions.  We all face them.  Our society cannot help but confront them.

Arkes left the logic of the left exposed like the emperor marching in his parade.  He showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the left plays an ideological shell game to advance its ideas.  First, it says that we shouldn’t legislate morality; then, it creates a case for its positions; then, it invokes the language of morality to ground its positions, claiming unassailable moral territory; finally, it brings the hammer, enacting its laws and excoriating and judging all who go against its views. 

This process, furthermore, has the effect of creating cultural impressions.  People’s minds change as this process develops, such that in the beginning they disagree and by the end they end up thinking, “Yeah, this issue (gay marriage, abortion as choice, etc.) really isn’t my business.  It really is a matter of choice, and I don’t want anybody impinging on my right to choose.”  But Arkes shows us that this thinking is off-course from the start.  We have to legislate choices.  Unless we desire a law-less state in which anyone can do anything that they want, we must realize that we already desire a state driven by law, which is of course driven by morality (the basic moral questions, remember, must make their way into our legal code).  In addition, all who affirm a doctrine of sin (and even those who don’t!) must remeber per Arkes that it is not wrong to mark actions as wrong, but right.  We Christians must not buy the left’s logic on morality, both because it is disingenuous and also because we must restrain sin and evil.

Arkes’s taxonomy of liberal activism was itself worth the time of the lecture.  But his talk was much richer than that.  He is a deeply profound thinker.  I commend his thinking and writing to all.


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Making Men Moral: The Book Itself

moral21As the conference concludes, I want to give you a brief sense of the book upon which this event is based.  Robby George’s Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality was published fifteen years ago by Oxford University Press.  It made quite a splash in its day, and it is a book worth considering and thinking hard about. 

Here is some more information about the text from the official Oxford website:

“Contemporary liberal thinkers commonly suppose that there is something in principle unjust about the legal prohibition of putatively victimless crimes. Here Robert P. George defends the traditional justification of morals legislation against criticisms advanced by leading liberal theorists. He argues that such legislation can play a legitimate role in maintaining a moral environment conducive to virtue and inhospitable to at least some forms of bookshot1vice. Among the liberal critics of morals legislation whose views George considers are Ronald Dworkin, Jeremy Waldron, David A.J. Richards, and Joseph Raz. He also considers the influential modern justification for morals legislation offered by Patrick Devlin as an alternative to the traditional approach. George closes with a sketch of a “pluralistic perfectionist” theory of civil liberties and public morality, showing that it is fully compatible with a defense of morals legislation. Making Men Moral will interest legal scholars and political theorists as well as theologians and philosophers focusing on questions of social justice and political morality.”

“George is an accomplished controversialist; his arguments are always clear, sophisticated, and highly interesting. Making Men Moral deserves the attention of moral, political, and legal theorists.”–Choice

Making Men Moral is a strong defense of morals laws against arguments critical of traditional jurisprudence by contemporary liberal legal scholars.”–Modern Age

“…contains much erudition and wisdom worthy of study and reflection.”–Modern Age

“There is much to praise in George’s book.”–Ethics

“This book is clear, incisive, and well argued. I highly recommend it.”The Review of Metaphysics

An excerpt from a review of the text by a Harvard PhD student in First Things:

“George’s perfectionist theory of civil liberties merits scholarly attention, especially from liberals who too easily dismiss natural law thinking as an outdated approach to politics and ethics. Making Men Moral shows unequivocally that natural law thinking can support and improve our liberal political regime.”

I commend the text to you; it has spawned a discussion that has now sprawled over fifteen years and continues into the current day.

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Making Men Moral: Robby George’s Chapel Message, the Conference Keynote

moral20The biography of the conference’s keynote speaker, Robby George, who spoke in Union’s chapel service:

Professor George is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and formerly served as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.

He is the author of In Defense of Natural Law, Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, and The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, robbiegeorge6Religion and Morality in Crisis. He has published numerous scholarly articles and book reviews. Professor George is a recipient of many honors and awards, including a 2005 Bradley Prize for Intellectual and Civic Achievement and the Stanley Kelley, Jr. Teaching Award from Princeton’s Department of Politics. He holds honorary doctorates of law, ethics, letters, science and humane letters and is the Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton.

The following is an edited summary of George’s chapel message.

George began with a discussion of goods: we have a friend, we are a friend, we pursue knowledge as ends unto themselves.  No one would be much of a friend if one only did so to get something out of it.  No, friendship is intrinsically valuable.  It is also distinct from other goods.  Human good is variegated.  What distinguishes morality from other goods?

We should will what is good for persons in its fullness and completeness.  Our obligation is to love and respect persons.  Many of our choices are not between moral and immoral choices, but between two or more moral choices.  They are between good and good.  We are finite creatures.

Norms of morality require us to live lives with coherence.  This can take many forms.  One can be an insurance worker, watch football, and coach Little League.  One can be a pastor, not watch television, and teach church history at the local seminary.  These are both morally acceptable but mutually exclusive opportunities.

Persons face these questions whether or not they are men or women of faith.  Some people think that utiltarianism will lead them to the right option; they try to quantify what can’t be quantified.  There is no such ultimate measurement, however.  This makes moral judgment a matter of math, of quantification.

A Christian, however, will not regard himself as on his own in matters of moral reflection.  A Christian presupposes that God has a plan for him.  Catholics call this a vocation and believe that everyone has one.  Some think that only religious workers serve God, but this is not right.  Everyone’s work has secular dimensions.  Our challenge is how to serve God with our gifts.  Faith is at the center of figuring out what we should do.  How can we maximize our talents for God instead of merely making money, or getting “satisfaction,” or some other end.  God attaches responsibilities to our gifts.  Our lives will hang together if we live out this sort of life.

God gives us reason so that we can honor the Lord.  This is the natural law, the law “written on our hearts” (Romans 1).  The Christian believer in natural law also believes that biblical moral norms also clearly apply.  Faith allows us to see the cosmic consequences of our actions.  This is a kind of participation in Christ’s own work, the work of building God’s kingdom.  We look forward to the fullness of this kingdom, which is not yet completed, though already inaugurated.

There is also the biblical call to perfection, involving the call of the Christian to follow Christ in self-sacrificial love.  In response to the rich young ruler’s question on what he should do in following the Lord, Christ first told him that he should keep the Ten Commandments.  The young man must have been elated to hear this–he had kept these!  Then, however, Christ told him that he needed to sell all that he had.  This is the vocation of every Christian.  This demand is, humanly speaking, impossible.  The Christian call, though, is to walk with Christ wherever we may be used.  This might mean that we stand against abortion and become culturally marginalized.  This might mean that we have to put our prospects for career advancement at risk.

Each of us, if we will be faithful to the gospel, must pray for divine assistance, the grace, to meet his divine call.  Being a Christian, a man or a woman of faith, means believing that we are not on our own.  The love of Christ empowers and emboldens us to say yes, Lord, in your grace and your awesome power, I will do it.

My Take
Robby George is one of the clearest communicators I’ve ever heard.  This is especially noteworthy because he’s often breaking down dense content for his audiences.  In this short but moving address, he challenged the Union University student body to do something great for God in a manner consonant with their gifting.  He briefly defended natural law theory but spent the bulk of his time drawing the attention of his audience to what one might call a God-centered life.  With precise, brisk, finely chosen prose, he exhorted those in attendance to pursue not fame, but faithfulness, not riches, but service to Christ. 

I have this said before, but I will say it again.  Robby George’s life, from my perspective, authenticates his message.  His leadership of the religious conservatives from the elite American academy has, it is true, brought him a certain fame and opportunity.  It has also, though, branded him, and has likely cost him dearly in ways one cannot easily quantify.  As one who went to a “little Ivy” in Maine, I can say that I know of almost no one like him in the secular Northeast.  He is a hero.  I don’t mean this in a fawning way.  I mean it in the most honest sense.  He is courageous, and dogged, and nothing short of heroic.  His championing of the pro-life position is a model for young scholars.  One can only hope that others will follow in his footsteps who do not shy away from advocating for the helpless, the defenseless, the marginalized, the killed

From here, we’ll move to our last program, a lunch featuring closing remarks by Hadley Arkes.

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