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Published: Wednesday, 2/24/2010

Morality comes naturally, scholar says


Making moral decisions that protect human rights and dignity is something that comes naturally, whether or not one believes in God, according to Robert P. “Robby” George.

Every day, people make major and minor decisions based on natural law theory, a concept that has been around since at least Aristotle and which is flourishing in academia today.

Mr. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence, prolific author, and influential voice in political and Catholic circles, explained natural law theory and its applications in an hour-long lecture Thursday at the University of Toledo law college Thursday.

The college's annual Stranahan Lecture, titled “Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity,” was predictably scholarly yet generally accessible to the public. In addition to gaining scholarly insights, the 200 people in attendance were treated to free pizza and pop.

Mr. George, 54, is a frequent adviser to Catholic bishops, cardinals, and Washington politicians and is the author of the Manhattan Declaration, a 4,700-word affirmation of Christian values that, since its release in November, has gathered more than 423,000 signatures.

Glenn Beck once called Mr. George “Superman of the Earth” and the New York Times in December dubbed Mr. George “the reigning brain of the Christian right.”

One of the reasons bishops and other conservative Christian leaders seek out Mr. George's wisdom is his ability to use reason and morality to promote conservative Christian values within the framework of a secular culture.

He applies natural law theory, for example, in defending religious freedom and opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

In his Toledo lecture, Mr. George cited a verse in the biblical book of Genesis that says man is made in the likeness of God, and interpreted it to mean that humans share “in a limited way” God's divine power of reason and freedom.

But it is natural law, independent of scripture or religious teachings, that requires human beings to use their reason and freedom to protect individual rights.

“Even if you don't believe in God, human beings possess power and freedom to act upon more than instrumental reasons,” he said.

In Mr. George's view, the protection of human rights applies to the unborn as well as to people who are aged or infirm.

Natural law's defense of individual human needs and rights “can be identified without appeal to any authority other than reason itself,” he said.

Citing the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II, he said people “don't have to agree on theological questions in order to agree on moral good.”

Mr. George, a native of Morgantown, W. Va., is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School. He received a master's in theology from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford University.

He is the founder and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, and among his books are Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, and Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.comor 419-724-6154.

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