Manhattan Declaration is to Theology what Fox is to Journalism
bettyclermont printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Dec 25, 2009 at 01:02:21 PM EST
The December 20, 2009, New York Times ran a lengthy article by David D. Kirkpatrick about Robert P. George, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker." The occasion was release of George's "Manhattan Declaration" signed by the usual leaders of the Religious Right.
The "Manhattan Declaration" is to Christian theology what Fox Cable News is to journalism - perhaps even worse when, according to Kirkpatrick, "There is no built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another -- the goals of Mother Teresa over the goals of Adolf Hitler, in George's hypothetical." Yet, George defends his twisted ideology as a postulation of natural law which actually posits just the opposite - mankind shares a divine essence with his creator so that, while knowing nothing about civil or religious law, a human being will instinctively choose what is good and reject what is evil.

Regardless of George's tortured explication of philosophy and theology to justify an unjustifiable war, capital punishment and society's neglect to educate and care for its members, one can claim that natural law - or just plain common decency - tells us that lies, omissions, distortions and half-truths are not only wrong but even more egregious when stated by professors and clergy who claim to be our moral arbiters than by sophomoric loud mouths.

The Manhattan Declaration states, "we claim the heritage of those Christians who defended innocent life by rescuing discarded babies from trash heaps in Roman cities and publicly denouncing the Empire's sanctioning of infanticide" but omits the fact that Christians have always been divided on the subject of abortion, that Augustine, Aquinas, Ivo of Chartres, Gratian, Bede of England and early Irish texts all approved of abortion of the "unformed embryo." Even as late as 1974, the Vatican's "Declaration on Procured Abortion" included the footnote: "This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement....It is not within the competence of science to decide...because the existence of an immortal soul is not in its field." (Some may remember how candidate Barack Obama was vilified for agreeing with the Vatican when he stated the question of when human life begins was "above my pay grade", or when Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden were excoriated by Catholic bishops for reminding their audience on "Meet the Press" of the teachings of Augustine and Aquinas.)

With typical Religious Right triumphalism, the Declaration continues: "This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes." Yet the Declaration neglects to mention that in the preceding decade of the 1990s the "troubles" in Northern Ireland and genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda were equally the work of Christians. The Declaration also notes, "It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery," and "In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers," fully confident that its intended readers are not even casual students of history.

Nothing addressed to the Religious Right would be complete without the entirely fabricated fear factor: "[T]axpayer funding of therapeutic cloning" resulting in "industrial mass production of human embryos to be killed for...genetically customized stem cell lines." "[I]increasingly powerful movements" promoting "assisted suicide and `voluntary' euthanasia" to kill off "vulnerable elderly and disabled persons." "Eugenic notions such as lebensunwertes Leben (`life unworthy of life`)...have returned from the grave...dressed up in the language of `liberty,' `autonomy,' and choice.'"

The section on same-sex marriage continuously links the terms "homosexual and polyamorous" together but avers all the signers only want "equal dignity" for all while "we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they...regard as wayward." George has been head of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage for many years. Had he married his Jewish wife only a generation earlier, they would have been equally ostracized by both their communities.

Any refusal to allow Christians the use of tax-payer monies to proselytize is regarded as "trampling upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments." Of all the charges made in the Declaration, only two concrete examples are provided and both involved denial of government funding to religious organizations to discriminate.

The information regarding "conscience clauses" is entirely fabricated. No such "effort to compel pro-life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro-life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions" exists. There are already three federal laws protecting funding of both corporate and individual health-care providers who do not wish to participate in abortions or sterilizations, according to Cathleen Kaveny, the same Notre Dame Law School scholar quoted by Kirkpatrick.

As noted by Kirkpatrick, George is "this country's most influential conservative Christian thinker", adviser not only to those Catholic prelates most vociferously anti-Obama but also to a larger group of bishops who George advised to "concentrate their authority on `the moral social' issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage," and not to make "utter nuisances of themselves" about poverty and injustice. Since its been decades since Catholic bishops have led this country on such issues, George can claim an immediate success in that regard. In fact, what all the signers of the Manhattan Declaration can successfully claim is the same level of "truthiness" as tea baggers, birthers and those who warned us against "death panels."

[Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.]

Betty, you are so right.  I am a theologian and am currently drafting the counter-declaration with the help of other theologians and Barry Lynn from Americans United.  I would urge you and other Talk2Action members to read and sign our counter-declaration once we launch it in early Jan.  I will be keeping Talk2Action updated about this.  Thanks for your thoughts!  

Also, you may be interested in this: UnAmerican.html

by TMurray on Mon Dec 28, 2009 at 04:48:59 AM EST

We'll be looking forward to more information regarding the counter-declaration. Thanks for the link to your great essay. Betty

by bettyclermont on Mon Dec 28, 2009 at 01:24:17 PM EST

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