"As a world view, atheism cannot of course be refuted, since Faith is, always has been, and always will be, stronger than facts."
— Francis Parker Yockey
Dr. Kenneth Howell was an adjunct lecturer in the University of Illinois Department of Religion for nine years. Howell was told after this year’s spring semester that his tenure with the Department of Religion had ended. This decision came after a Howell, who is Catholic, wrote an email about the morality of homosexual activity in light of Natural Law to his students in an introductory course on Catholicism. A student complained on behalf of an anonymous friend that Howell was engaging in “hate speech.” This complaint resulted in Howell’s termination.
The student complained that Howell’s statements about homosexual activity “ostracize[d] people of a certain sexual orientation.” The student suggests that it is acceptable to teach “a student about the tenets of a religion” but not to declare “that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man...” This complaint is odd insofar as his two concerns would have been nullified by attentively reading Howell’s initial email.
Howell carefully distinguished between actions and persons: “In short, to judge an action wrong is not to condemn a person. A person and his/her acts can be distinguished for the purposes of morality.” Howell made this statement before diving into his discussion of homosexual activity. The student’s complaint (and UI’s response to it) reflects an intellectual immaturity that cannot distinguish actors from actions. Under this student’s theory, and that which UI has apparently adopted, any condemnation of action is condemnation of a person (a.k.a. “hate speech”).
Howell also addressed the second prong of the student’s complaint that Howell went beyond his role to teach Catholic tenets by addressing Natural Law. “Catholics don’t arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion,” Howell wrote, “They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.” Insofar as this statement is true, UI and this student might prefer that Howell simply tested his students on a comprehensive list entitled “What Catholics Believe” with the footnote, “For an honest discussion of why, please consider the University of Notre Dame.”
UI, according to its chancellor for public affairs, remains “absolutely committed to teaching the theory of Catholicism.” In Howell’s email, Howell was doing exactly that. Yet the associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences said that, “the emails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would entitle us to discontinue his teaching arrangement with us.” This forces me to toy with the absurd conclusion that Howell was fired for doing his job. I am stuck here unless I consider some alternative explanations.
One explanation was addressed above, that UI simply does not want a rigorous discussion of the Catholic faith. Perhaps this is because the UI’s Department of Religion does not subscribe to the apparently radical notion that a religion can have a “why” or be based in, as Howell’s email suggests, reality and human nature.
If this isn’t the case, I’m left to conclude that Howell wasn’t fired for teaching what he taught with the depth that he offered. Rather, he was fired for having the chutzpah to actually believe what he was teaching, thereby giving credibility to the incredible “theory” of Catholicism. Perhaps at UI, professors are forbidden from being what Fr. Luigi Giussani said teachers need to be, namely, reference points of a tradition, at least when that tradition is as archaic, unsubstantiated and politically incorrect as Catholic moral thought.
Whether UI’s leadership cannot distinguish between actors and actions and fired Howell for hate speech; whether he was fired for suggesting that religion is reasonable and that the Catholics are Catholic because of (not despite) reality; or whether UI acted because Howell is foolish enough to believe what he says, UI has publicly borne intellectual shortcomings within its Department of Religion, and a distaste for academic freedom. All in all, it looks like UI’s decision was as much an indictment of Catholicism, as it was of Howell the person and teacher, who was recognized for excellence in both 2008 and 2009.
Regrettably, any reason for UI’s action also shows an unwillingness to engage diverse viewpoints because of a distrust of reality or uncertainty that its positions will stand successfully when weighed against it. When one has certainty about a belief (or, for UI’s sake, a theory) there is little reason to fear engaging those who uphold a different perspective. Especially when, as in this case, one’s opponent has carefully avoided personalizing discussion about an action’s merit. What would UI and its students have to lose through honest engagement of reality as proposed by Howell?
UI is currently reviewing Howell’s termination, according to a recently released statement from UI’s president. I hope that UI will honestly and objectively examine Howell’s circumstances. Doing so should force the conclusion that the decision to fire Howell was overly hasty and ill-conceived. If UI determines otherwise, we can expect Howell to stay in the news. He is currently working with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian organization that litigates on behalf of religious freedom.— Joseph Orrino
"The story of groups of Catholic gays being denied communion when they approach the priest wearing rainbow clothing has jumped from Australia, where the Rainbow Sash Movement began, to Chicago.
"Color me baffled again. Catholic teaching is clear. If you are living in “mortal sin,” you are not allowed to take communion. To do so is to commit yet another mortal sin. Mortal sins include all gay sex, masturbation, adultery, birth control, lying, skipping mass on Sunday, and a host of other fun things.
"The only way to get communion once you commit a mortal sin is to go to confession and be absolved of your mortal sin by being truly sorry and promising not to do it again. In the Catholic world, all non-celibate homosexuals are barred from communion unless they’ve just confessed, been absolved, and not yet sullied themselves again.
"This is all silly, of course. Catholicism is delirious of course. But, come on, people: If you don’t believe in the teachings and moral requirements of a particular church, go find another church!"— Rex Wockner, gay journalist.
Why is it socially reprehensible for a man to leave a baby fatherless,but courageous, even admirable, for a woman to have a baby whom she knows will be so?
If we believe that if Britain had only been fortunate enough to have produced 30% instead of 2% of conscientious objectors to military service, Hitler's heart would have been softened and he would not have dared attack Poland, we hold a faith which no historic reality justifies
Yet most modern forms of Christian pacifism are heretical. Presumably inspired by the Christian Gospel, they have really absorbed the Renaissance faith in the goodness of man, rejected the Christian doctrine of Original Sin as an outmoded bit of pessimism, have reïnterpreted the Cross so that it is made to stand for the absurd idea that perfect love is guaranteed a simple victory over the world, and have rejected all other profound elements of the Christian Gospel …
This form of pacifism is not only heretical when judged by the standards of the total Gospel. It is equally heretical when judged by the facts of human existence. There are no historical realities which remotely conform to it. It is important to recognize this lack of conformity to the facts of experience as a criterion of heresy.— Reinhold Niebuhr
Those who believe in collective moral progress define this progress by their own narrow historical, cultural, linguistic and social experience. They see "the other" as equal only when the other is identical to themselves. They project their own values on the rest of the human race. These secular and religious fundamentalists are egocentrics unable to accept human difference. Those who are different do not need to be investigated, understood or tolerated, for they are intellectually and morally inferior. Those who are different are imperfect versions of themselves.
These secular utopians, like Christian fundamentalists, are stunted products of a self-satisfied, materialistic middle class. They seek in their philosophical systems a moral justification for their own comfort, self-absorption and power. They do not question the imperial projects of the nation, globalization or the vast disparities in wealth and security between themselves, as members of the world's industrialized elite, and the rest of the human race. Philosophy, like theology, is often in the service of power. This creed is no exception.
"The fundamentalist mind … looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variation of Communism, which everyone knows is atheism."— Richard Hofstadter
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life