The Madness of Robert P. George
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 08:40:37 AM EST
Catholic neoconservatism has been guruless since the passing of  Richard John Neuhaus.  I thought at first, that newly minted conservative Catholic Newt Gingrich might be the logical successor.  Much like Neuhaus, Gingrich was a Protestant who converted to a strident form of Catholicism, thus straddling both worlds.

But I was wrong.   Gingrich is, after all, just a politician who may even be casting an eye towards the 2012 Presidential Elections.  Both neoconservatism and its religiously orthodox variant, theoconsevatism, require leaders who do not themselves seek elected office but instead, seek to influence others who do.  To that end there is another contender for the Neuhaus Throne:  Robert P. George.  I should have known.

Two years ago I  wrote that the Princeton University professor certainly had the intellectual heft to lead the theocratic faction:

As the philosophical mouthpiece for the Catholic Right battalion, he is a busy man. His lofty academic credentials lend an air of authoritativeness to many a theocratic, neoconservative policy position. He has a law degree as well as a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard, and has studied at Oxford. These lofty credentials are helpful when arguing against marriage equality, embryonic stem cell research, justifying the war in Iraq on religious grounds, and opposing women's reproductive rights.

But his academic pedigree not withstanding, Robert P. George is never above demagoguery or dissembling. These are skills that have made him a good fit with neoconservative-oriented Religious Right think tanks, including The Ethics Public Policy Center, The Witherspoon Institute,  The Institute on Religion and Public Life , and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

Most recently he served as the founding chair of the board of the  National Organization for Marriage, which has played a leading role in opposing marriage equality, especially in New Jersey.  

It is small wonder that he was appointed by George W. Bush to serve on the The President's Council on Bioethics, whose portfolio includes matters concerning embryonic stem cell research.

In the wake of The Manhattan Declaration Robert George's rise to theoconservative prominence caught the eye of The New York Times Magazine.  In a December 16, 2009 piece, entitled, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker", reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote:

He has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as "one of the biggest brains in America," or, on one broadcast, "Superman of the Earth." Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him "an important and growing influence" on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage.

"If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy," the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, "its leaders probably meet in George's kitchen."

The Manhattan Declaration

 The Manhattan Declaration, a theocratic manifesto drafted primarily by George, reflects the author's non-evolved, School of Salamanca view of natural law, one devoid of any new thought beyond the days of St. Thomas Aquinas.

And there lies the rub. When reproductive rights, embryonic stem cell research, marriage and marriage equality are discussed, it is only through the lens of religious orthodoxy.   Economic justice is briefly mentioned at the out set and is then completely forgotten.  Kirkpatrick explains why:

Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on "the moral social" issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' "making utter nuisances of themselves" about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care - "matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will," as George put it.

Robert P. George, for all his acclaimed intellect, still fails to square such a conclusion with a Jesus who spent an inordinate amount of time emphasizing economic justice and virtually no time addressing homosexuality or abortion.

This topsy-turvy view of the Gospels appears to be a very convenient way to rationalize the buccaneer-economic views of neoconservatism.


First and foremost, the economics espoused by Jesus as depicted in the Gospels is at odds with George's views. His view follows neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol's view that raw Christianity is counter-cultural. And in its raw form, Christianity serves the poor and oppressed, not a neo-platonic oligarchy such as the Koch family or Bradley Foundation patrons (Koch Family and Bradley Foundation money underwrites both theo/neocconservative and libertarian think tanks). George's polemic is the means of removing the counter-cultural economic message from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Secondly, a review of the Manhattan Declaration's primary signatories is a Who's-Who of traditionalist Catholic or Fundamentalist political players who scorn dissent (Opus Dei Archbishop John J. Myers, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput), economic libertarians (Acton Institute Founder Fr. Robert Sirico, Catholic League President and Heritage Foundation fellow William Donohue) and neoconservatives or their religious cooperators (Chuck Colson, Dinesh D'Souza, George Weigel, Institute for Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley). All advocate a laissez-faire economic outlook and all see the Republican Party as the primary means of accomplishing their agenda.

As an American Catholic I find the religious and secular views of Robert P. George maddening. While giving lip service to religious freedom in the Manhattan Declaration, the statement's content actually promotes religious supremacy.

Reading between the lines of Kirkpatrick's The New York Times piece, George is saying that American law must be based upon an unyieldingly orthodox form of Catholicism. Other faiths may be tolerated provided they cede to his subjective interpretation of Christianity on issues of life and death. Catholics who, like me, view dissent as healthy and the Gospels as an on-going journey of understanding appear to have no place at all in the  theoconservative world according to George.

While George claim's that his view of natural law "... disavows dependence on divine revelation or biblical Scripture - or even history and anthropology" it all-too-subjectively draws upon a thirteenth century version, one where the state and Catholic Church were  intertwined. Nowhere in this calculation is any reliance upon Richard Hooker, the sixteenth century Anglican theologian whose views on natural law, latitudinarianism and religious tolerance greatly influenced John Locke and in turn, the Founding Fathers.

The irony of George's position is evidenced by his strident opposition to embryonic stem cell research. Beyond the fact that this research is supported by the majority of American Catholics, it is also supported by other Christian denominations as well as all four forms of Judaism. In Robert P. George's view the opinion of these religious views must take a back seat to his own set of beliefs.

Jesus lived His life on earth as a religious Jew according to the concept of Pikuach nefesh: the obligation to save a life in jeopardy. It is upon this halakic concept that Judaism bases its support for this medical research (as well as the primacy of a mother's life in the case of life-threatening childbirth).

There is a much higher presumption that Jesus would subscribe to the current position of his Jewish co-religionists on these matters than George's own dogmatic Catholic view. Make no mistake: the seemingly mild mannered Princeton professor wants to turn the United States Government into orthodox Catholicism's enforcer on sexual and bioethical issues. Such is the madness of the ascendant king of theoconservatism, Robert P. George.

Boning up on Robert P. George is important because it enables us to address his many fallacies. Here are some excellent articles on the Theocon King:

First there is Max Blumenthal's article from The Nation. Written several years ago, Max, as always, provides a great overview.

Secondly, this diary was posted by Betty Clermont right here at Talk to Action. From a mainstream-progressive Catholic point of view it is a damn good piece, exposing the many inadequacies of George's Manhattan Declaration.

Finally, there is Colleen Kochivar-Baker's recent post over at Enlightened Catholicism, that also exposes the Manhattan Declaration's many shortcomings. Just as with the other two pieces, this is required reading.

Happy New Year!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 08:42:52 AM EST

Great post Frank. Maybe the moral of the story is we should be writing neocon theology and angling for the big bucks. Who cares about Christ inspired social justice---it doesn't sell. Thanks for the mention.

by colkoch on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 06:57:05 PM EST

Thanks again for a timely posting. George sounds like a great nominee for next year's Coughie award.

by khughes1963 on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:46:35 PM EST
RPG is already the frontrunner for 2010.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:12:41 PM EST

WWW Talk To Action

The Sour Grapes Of Wrath: Tenn. County Politician Seeks To Stave Off God's Vengeance
It has become a cliché to say that you spotted an article online that was so strange you first assumed it was from The......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
The Catholic Right Star and the Porn Star -- Revised and Updated
An international network of some of the world’s most vitriolic Religious Right activists and self-proclaimed orthodox religious leaders is holding its ninth global conference......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
Banned In Boston (And Elsewhere): The American Tragedy Of Censorship
When I was kid, the phrase "Banned in Boston" confused me. I thought of Boston as a liberal, cosmopolitan city. Surely they didn't censor......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Bill Donohue Mum While Andrew Napolitano Calls Pope Francis "A False Prophet"
Catholic League president Bill Donohue goes after anyone he believes is engaging in anti-Catholic behavior, real or imagined. But as we have come to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
A Decade Of Disgrace: Marking Ten Years Of The `Values Voter Summit'
The annual Values Voter Summit (VVS), the nation's largest gathering of the Religious Right, begins today. The event, sponsored by the Family Research Council......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Looking Beyond the Francis Frenzy
Much has been and will be written about the Pope regarding his historic visit to the U.S.  But it will be important to try......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Barton Bounces Back: Religious Right Purveyor Of Ersatz History Still Going Strong
Three years ago, Religious Right phony historian David Barton published a ridiculous book called The Jefferson Lies that argued, in part, that Thomas Jefferson......
By Rob Boston (4 comments)
The Papal Visit Brings Forth Ugliness From the Right
In a recent press release, Catholic League president Bill Donohue warned, "Pope Visits To U.S. Occasion Ugliness." Donohue then went on to describe the......
By Frank Cocozzelli (3 comments)
Coercion In Kansas?: State Worker Claims She Was Fired For Non-Attendance At Christian Service
Let's say some people at a company want to get together during lunch hour and hold a Bible study. It's totally voluntary, and they......
By Rob Boston (4 comments)
Kim Davis and Southern Civil Disobedience
Kim Davis, the county official who refused to grant marriage licenses, fits the profile of a long line of civil disobedience from the South.......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
An Anti-Theocratic, Progressive Christian Leader
I recently posted a short excerpt here, from an interview I published with Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the new General Minister and President of......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Litany Of Lies: FRC's Perkins Packs An Email With Copious Falsehoods
I realize that people may be tired of reading about the saga of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who is in jail......
By Rob Boston (6 comments)
Kim Davis is No Jack Kennedy
Kim Davis, the embattled Kentucky county clerk who sits in jail for defying a Federal Court order to issue marriage licenses to everyone who......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Book Report: Yes, Politicians, We Know You Love The Bible. What Else Have You Read?
Real estate magnate Donald Trump says lots of outrageous stuff, but none of it seems to slow him down. His latest gaffe, however, ought......
By Rob Boston (3 comments)
American Renewal Project
On my journey to the American Renewal Project in Austin, Texas, I listened to hard right talk radio out of Houston.  There was an......
By wilkyjr (7 comments)

Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (2 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (1 comment)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (0 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (2 comments)
Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (2 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (2 comments)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (2 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (4 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (5 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.