Just days after Fordham University’s president Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J. determined that conservative author Ann Coulter was too “hateful and needlessly provocative” to speak on campus, the University will tomorrow host the pro-infanticide ethicist Peter Singer to speak at a conference entitled “Conference with Peter Singer: Christians and Other Animals: Moving the Conversation Forward.”
For those unfamiliar with Singer, Joe Carter at First Things summed up Singer’s ethics this way:
Singer has spent a lifetime justifyi
ng the unjustifiable. He is the founding father of the animal liberation movement and advocates ending “the present speciesist bias against taking seriously the interests of nonhuman animals.” He is also a defender of killing the aged (if they have dementia), newborns (for almost any reason until they are two years old), necrophilia (assuming it’s consensual), and bestiality (also assuming it’s consensual).
Nevertheless, not only is the Jesuit university hosting the infanticide-supporting philosopher, but the description of the conference at Fordham Notes even goes so far as to call Singer “the most influential philosopher alive today”:
This panel, conducted with non-specialists in mind, will provoke Christians to think about other animals in new ways. Currently a very hot topic in academic theology and philosophy, concern for non-human animals is gaining traction in the broader culture, and our panel will try to connect academic and popular themes, in language that is accessible to a broad audience.
Peter Singer—in addition to being the most influential philosopher alive today—was the intellectual heft behind the beginning of the animal rights movement in the 1970s. David Clough is one of the leading voices in defense of animals in the contemporary Christian conversation, and Eric Meyer’s research has mined the Christian tradition in ways that turn the current debate about animals on its head.
Be assured, this is not a Peter Singer scandal. This is a Fordham scandal. The moderator of the event is Charles Camosy, a Fordham theologian. It’s interesting that Camosy would moderate as he’s defended Singer’s work in the past, even going so far as comparing Singer with Pope John Paul II. In a piece called Peter Singer Is Not the Antichrist, Camosy showed that he understood Singer’s position on issues but still found a comparison with the beloved Pope accurate.
Many Christians consider him (Singer) to be a leader of a “culture of death”, especially given his very public support of infanticide and euthanasia of the mentally disabled. Many disability rights groups have come out strongly against his view. Singer has been essentially silenced in German-speaking areas, where (given their checkered past) they are especially unforgiving of those who advocate for euthanasia. The last few times he has spoken in these areas Singer has been shouted down so loudly that he could not deliver his presentation. One time a protester leapt onto the stage, forcibly removed Singer’s glasses, and stamped on them.
Much of the academy doesn’t like him either. Three years ago I explained to one of my favorite senior ethicists that I was writing a book on Singer and was even going to meet him for an (obviously) vegan lunch in Manhattan. His reaction? “Be careful, Charlie, you’re going to like him.” And yes, despite being a pro-life Christian ethicist, I have come to like Peter Singer. Since that lunch-meeting I have debated him twice in his courses at Princeton and he has presented in my graduate bioethics seminar at Fordham; he and I gave the opening papers at a conference at Oxford last year called Christian Ethics Engages Peter Singer; we organized and planned an international conference at Princeton designed to find new ways to think and speak about abortion; and we are currently working on planning an event that would challenge Christians to take non-human animals far more seriously than we currently do. Through all of these experiences I have found Singer to be friendly and compassionate. He is willing to listen to an argument from almost anyone, and is unburdened by any sort of academic pretension is so doing. He is motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals, and an equally admirable willingness to logically follow his arguments wherever they lead.
But this is all consistent with Christians still considering Singer our enemy. After all, he attacks many of the vulnerable populations Christians are called to defend. He has criticized a Christian ethic as incoherent and dependent on pretense. He claims that the West needs another “Copernican Revolution” to fully extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of Christianity.
But in my new book Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, I show that the disagreements between us are remarkably narrow. Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one (it turns out to be complex argument about the moral value of “active” potential vs. “passive” potential), Peter Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.
So, according to Camosy, this isn’t the first time Singer has spoken to Fordham students. To make matters worse, Camosy even quoted Pope Benedict XVI to support his collaborations with Singer.
In his recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict said that Christians should engage in “fraternal collaboration” with non-believers in the service of justice and peace in our world. Let me make the counter-intuitive suggestion that Peter Singer is precisely the kind of collaborator with whom we should engage.
But what Pope Benedict proposed does not seem to suggest hosting an advocate of heinous acts on a Catholic campus for a conference seeming to celebrate his work. There is also something quite disturbing about Camosy inviting a dangerous provocateur into the classroom to prey on students who may be unprepared for such dialogue. Better to engage Singer’s ideas with careful and moderated analysis in the light of Truth, and never a hint of respect for what Singer espouses.
Also on the panel with Singer tomorrow will be R.R. Reno, editor of First Things and a theology professor at Creighton University.
Last week, Fr. McShane made national news with his public scolding of the college Republicans, saying he was “disappointed” by their “judgment and maturity” because of their invitation to conservative author Ann Coulter. He also said Coulter’s rhetoric was often “hateful and needlessly provocative,” leading to the students cancelling the event.
Camosy confirmed to The Cardinal Newman Society that the event was going on. We also contacted Fordham University’s administration this morning but have received only silence thus far.
This article was originally published for Campus Notes, the blog of The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). Founded in 1993, the mission of The Cardinal Newman Society is to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. They can be contacted at: alert at cardinalnewmansociety dot org.