Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Musings from 5th Street

I had the pleasure of attending my third Erasmus lecture, at the Union League Club on 37th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City, last evening with my parents and Uncle Mark. The Erasmus lecture is sponsored by the Institute for Religious and Public Life (publisher of First Things) and serves the purpose of enhancing the religious and moral dialogue in the public square. Past lecturers have included such figures as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, Clarence Thomas, George Weigel and Charles Colson.

Last evening’s speaker was Dr. Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. His lecture addressed the moral foundations of law and government. While Professor George believes that government should be limited and should exist to uphold the individual’s search for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he does not believe that morality should be left aside in the public square.

In fact, George argued that all who are involved with making political decisions engage their claims and positions with a sense of morality. George promoted the respectful and civil dialogue between those who claim a system of morality based on religious principles and those who claim to argue from a more secular perspective. The person of faith, according to Professor George, engages this discussion out of concern for the consequence of political ideas for the culture at large and for the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Professor George highlighted two causes of concern for the person of faith in the political arena. He believes that protecting the sanctity of all human life and defending the marriage covenant as the committed conjugal union of a man and a woman are of particular importance in forming culture and protecting those who cannot speak up for themselves. George vehemently disputed the proposal that these arenas should be left to the private sector in a libertarian political effort precisely because to do so would be to abandon the government’s role to uphold the great cause of the Declaration.

Especially eloquent, in support of this proposition, was George’s defense of the family as the building block of all society and culture. Looking to marriage as the foundation of the family, George finds no alternative but to stoically guard this ageless institution. If marriage no longer involves the committed conjugal union of one man and one woman, George argues that culture will not thrive because the family unit is disassembled at its core and cannot support the upbringing of moral citizens. In turn, the individual’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is compromised. George is convinced that if our aim is truly limited government, the most important political defense for continued limited government is to support healthy familial life. It is within the context of this family unit that citizens will be raised who will be a part of faith-based communities who will care for those who currently rely heavily on governmental support.

I dare not repeat George’s moral and intellectual defense of marriage, because my inept ramblings would silence not only his eloquence, but his inspired insights. For all who are interested in an intellectually thoughtful and influential read, I recommend his own essay in a book of compiled essays entitled Marriage and Same Sex Unions.

I have listened to Dr. George speak before and I am always left with a great deal of cud for chew. This time was no exception. Ideas have consequences and we must vigilantly discern our ideas, that our actions may be profitable.