Oxford University’s lynch mob is at it again. Its target for the Hilary Term 2019 is Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Philosophy John Finnis, a Roman Catholic convert, who challenged Pope Francis to condemn errors that may result from the misuse of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
Finnis, an Australian, hasn’t quite mastered the art of English euphemism. He’s pricked the pansexual bubble by comparing homosexuality with bestiality. Approving of gay sex is like endorsing the killing of innocent people by terrorists, he’s written. Finnis calls homosexual practice evil and destructive and suggests there may be a relationship between being gay and child abuse.
He’s also shoved ramrods into other la-di-dah liberal shibboleths like diversity. Finnis’ litany of lament touches on 21st-century Europe's “demographic and cultural decay” and “pervasive untruthfulness about equality and diversity” resulting in a “kind of reverse colonization” that could lead to “ethnic and religious inter-communal miseries of hatred, bloodshed and political paralysis.”
Is this 78-year-old Jeremiah hell-bent on committing academic hara-kiri?
Abruptly, Finnis has galvanized the galumphing thought police in the city of dreamy spires. Low-wattage light bulb students are suddenly finding their synapses firing and are inspecting each word of his peer-reviewed journal articles with cultural Marxist microscopes to see if they can find politically incorrect microbes spreading the contagion of Catholic moral orthodoxy.
Finnis has galvanized the galumphing thought police in the city of dreamy spires.
Their rage-filled fingertips have hammered away at a petition to finish Finnis once for all. They want the rebel professor to be fired for his alleged homophobia and transphobia and every faux phobia invented by the high Brahmins of left-wing luvviedom. They are also blackmailing Oxford University into clarifying its policy on discriminatory professors (never mind begging the question — anyone who doesn’t approve of sodomy is a hate-monger in the image of Hitler).
Oxford, like other universities, is evolving into a pilgrim site for this neo-Jacobin reign of terror. In 2016, Richard Swinburne, another Oxford philosophy don, had his rational head placed on the guillotine by the purveyors of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and irrationalité! At the annual conference of the Society for Christian Philosophers, he said that homosexuality was a “disability” and that Christianity “prohibited” gay relationships. Swinburne also said he deplored a culture where homosexual behaviour was “presented as an option for young people.”
Before you could say Jacques Derrida, the tumbrels were wheeled in and Michael Rea, professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Notre Dame, led the hysteria of ideological bleating “off with Swinburne's head!” based on the postmodern premise that philosophy shall not hurt thy neighbour’s feelings. “I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion,” Rea assured the thin-skinned squadron of grievance-mongers.
Around the same time last year (surely it must be an annual Oxford orgy), the postcolonial West-is-Worst coven swooped down like violated vampires on Nigel Biggar, Oxford University’s Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology. Biggar had written an article in The Sunday Times titled “Don’t feel guilty about our colonial history.” Over 50 Oxford bods signed a petition condemning Biggar.
Now it is snowflake students who want Finnis excommunicated for his homo-heresies and for promoting “hate” — a word that covers a multitude of intersectional sins.
Eastern Orthodox author Rod Dreher defends Finnis: “If a scholar of the stature of John Finnis is forbidden to teach Oxford students because of his philosophical and theological opposition to homosexuality, then no Christian professor who has ever expressed disapproval, however couched in academic language, of homosexuality will be safe.”
Israeli-Jewish academic Yoram Hazony fires an M-16 burst of tweets at the anti-thought terrorists: “If the mob is going to attack public professions of Christianity one after another, then eventually most Christians will simply stop saying what they believe (if they haven't already).” And another: “Oxford has to choose: Either it defends Finnis, saying a Christian professor is a legitimate and honourable thing to be. Or it remains ‘balanced’ between him and the mob, thus contributing to the public delegitimization of Christianity.” Bravo!
Both Dreher and Hazony have sniffed out the anti-Catholic bigotry, which is the last acceptable prejudice in the West. As historian Peter Viereck elegantly puts it: “Catholic-baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals.”
But Finnis refuses to be cowed down by Oxford Gaystapo. He told The Oxford Student “I stand by all these writings. There is not a ‘phobic’ sentence in them. The 1994 essay promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts and has been republished many times, most recently by Oxford University Press in the third volume of my Collected Essays.”
It’s much worse than anti-Catholic poison. Finnis’s genius (and the brilliance of the Thomist tradition) lies in appealing to classical philosophy and natural law. The appeal to biblical authority falls flat when discussing Christian morality with non-believers. “The Bible says” is not a good argument, because Mr Secularist and Mrs Humanist do not believe in the authority of the Bible.
“All three of the greatest Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, regarded homosexual conduct as intrinsically shameful, immoral, and indeed depraved or depraving” — Professor John Finnis.
How does one persuade a non-Christian that homosexual practice is immoral? “All three of the greatest Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, regarded homosexual conduct as intrinsically shameful, immoral, and indeed depraved or depraving. That is to say, all three rejected the linchpin of modem ‘gay’ ideology and lifestyle,” argues Finnis. He then shows how this was one line of argument in the Amendment 2 case Evans v. Romer in Colorado.
Plato, despite celebrating romantic and spiritual man-boy erotic relationships, condemns all forms of sexual conduct outside heterosexual marriage as wrong, shameful and harmful. Plato also compares homosexuality with incest. Like the apostle Paul in Romans 1, Plato regards gay sex to be “against nature.”
In his Laws I, Plato writes: “When male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be natural, but unnatural when male mates with male or female with female, and those first guilty of these enormities were impelled by their weakness for pleasure.”
Although homosexual love continued to have philosophical defenders in classical Greek civilisation, there were Greek philosophers “wholly untouched by Judaeo-Christian tradition, who taught that homosexual conduct is not only intrinsically shameful but also inconsistent with a proper recognition of the equality of women with men in intrinsic worth,” Finnis observes.
So are Oxford University’s sub-mental meddlers now going to run a petition calling for a ban on Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and a closure of its Department of Classics?
If a human being copulates with an animal, that person is treating “human bodily life, in one of its most intense activities, as appropriately lived as merely animal. The deliberate genital coupling of persons of the same sex is repudiated for a very similar reason,” writes Finnis, proceeding to offer an explanation that isn’t religious at all, but based on natural law.
Finnis could have quoted Leviticus 20, which brackets homosexuality with incest and bestiality, but he doesn’t. Are the cultural vandals at Oxford going to call for a ban on the Bible?
Last year I was invited a couple of times to give a lecture on research for doctoral students at a University of Stellenbosch programme. I asked them to imagine a room filled with people talking—some have been in the room for centuries (Greek philosophers, biblical authors, Jesus and the Apostles, Church Fathers like Augustine and scholastics like Aquinas). They are followed by Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment, modern and postmodern scholars of today. To do theological research is to enter the room and join in the conversation.
You eavesdrop at first, you spot missing links, you connect the dots, you chip in your bit and you might then emerge from the room and share the gossip with other interested people with your unique take and your original contribution to the chat room. Research is the art of entering the conversation.
The easily offended Oxford boobies who live in the hermetically sealed safe spaces of faddish identity politics are mentally imprisoned in the tyranny of the now. They can never enter the chat room of the centuries. Oxford University is not the place for them.
For once, the oligarchs of Oxford have called off the bullies’ bluff citing “academic freedom of speech” and making it clear “that vigorous academic debate does not amount to harassment when conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others.”
Professor Finnis has been spared martyrdom, at least for now. He has fought the fight and kept the Faith. He deserves the accolade of exceptional bravery — the highest honour that can be bestowed on a Catholic and a scholar in an age where religious and academic freedom is being smothered and strangled to death.
(Originally published in Church Militant. To comment on this column please click here).