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Q&A: Dr. Ryan T. Anderson to open new season of Archbishop’s Lecture Series

Having appeared on the likes of CNN, ABC, and MSNBC, Dr. Ryan T. Anderson is not afraid to address the tough questions regarding religious liberty and traditional marriage.

An outspoken advocate for and fierce defender of moral issues important to the Church, Dr. Anderson will be in Denver Aug. 31 as the inaugural speaker for the next season of Archbishop’s Lecture Series. He will speak on these issues and more, and relate them to the greater call Catholics have to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and lead lives of holiness.

Denver Catholic caught up with Dr. Anderson ahead of his visit and spoke briefly about the threats to religious freedom and what true discipleship looks like.

Denver Catholic: What sort of work do you do with the Heritage Foundation?

Dr. Ryan Anderson: I research and write on public policy questions on marriage, life, religious liberty and social justice issues. I’ve written two books, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, co-authored with Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis, and Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. I’m currently co-authoring a point-counterpoint book for Oxford University Press with Sherif Girgis and our counterpoint opponent, Prof. John Corvino, tentatively titled Debating Religious Freedom and Discrimination. My dissertation was titled Neither Liberal Nor Libertarian: A Natural Law Approach to Social Justice and Economic Rights. I’ve also written a lengthy paper titled: “Always Care, Never Kill: How Physician-Assisted Suicide Endangers the Weak, Corrupts Medicine, Compromises the Family, and Violates Human Dignity and Equality.” In all of these projects I try to bring clear thinking to the question at hand to help inform people of the underlying issues and what’s really at stake.

DC: You’re an outspoken advocate for not only traditional marriage, but also religious liberty as a whole. What do you perceive as the biggest threat facing these two concepts in the modern culture?

RA: Long before there was a debate about same-sex anything, heterosexuals bought into a liberal ideology about sexuality that makes a mess of marriage: cohabitation, no-fault divorce, extramarital sex, non-marital childbearing, pornography, and the hook-up culture all contributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture. The push for the legal redefinition of marriage didn’t cause any of these problems. It is, rather, their logical conclusion. The problem is that it’s the logical conclusion of a bad train of logic.

If the sexual habits of the past fifty years have been good for society, good for women, good for children, then by all means it’s reasonable to redefine marriage in law. But if the past fifty years haven’t been so good for society, for women, for children—indeed, if they’ve been, for many people, a disaster—then why would we lock in a view of marriage that will make it more difficult to recover a more humane vision of human sexuality and family life?

With marriage now redefined, we can expect to see the marginalization of those with traditional views and the erosion of religious liberty. The law and culture will seek to eradicate such views through economic, social, and legal pressure. With marriage redefined, believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage will increasingly be deemed a malicious prejudice to be driven to the margins of culture. The consequences for religious believers are becoming apparent.

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Here’s what we can expect. The administrative state may require those who contract with the government, receive governmental money, or work directly for the state to embrace and promote same-sex marriage even if doing so violates their religious beliefs. Nondiscrimination laws may make even private actors with no legal or financial ties to the government—including businesses and religious organizations—liable to civil suits for refusing to treat same-sex relationships as marriages. Finally, private actors in a culture that is now hostile to traditional views of marriage may discipline, fire, or deny professional certification to those who express support for traditional marriage.

DC: How can Catholics stand up for the truth and exemplify true discipleship through Christ in a world that is becoming increasingly secularized?

RA: John Paul II famously said, “We do not offend God unless we act contrary to our own nature.” He went on to say, “The Ten Commandments are a law of freedom, the freedom not to follow our blind passions, but the freedom to love, to choose what is good in every situation.” John Paul continued, “The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical lord. They were written in stone. Before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. To keep the Commandments is to be faithful to God, but it’s also to be faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and our deepest aspirations.”

So this is why we need every field of humanistic study to be pointing out our “true nature and our deepest aspirations.” This is why we need not just the theology of the body, but a philosophy of the body, and a psychology of the body, and a sociology of the body, an economics of the body. We need philosophers and theologians, psychiatrists and psychologists, scientists, social scientists. We need everyone that can tell the truth about the human person to weigh in at this moment in time. What we need to do is recover a sound anthropology.

Consider an insight from Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI is a world-class intellectual, and yet Benedict is famous for saying that it’s not the arguments of the intellectuals that will win converts. It’s the lives of the saints and it’s the beauty of the artists. That our best evangelists aren’t going to be our best apologetics or our best intellectuals. It’s going to be those who actually exude holiness in their day-to-day lives, those who embody beauty in their liturgies, in their movies, in their music, in their homes. And, at the end of the day, this is what ultimately matters. It’s not just that Benedict says it’s our best way of evangelism; it’s that this is the universal vocation. And it’s within all of our power because holiness is not the world’s gift, but it’s God’s gift. And all it requires from us is a faithful response. God doesn’t ask us to be successful, he asks us to be faithful. The only success of ultimate importance is holiness. The only real tragedy is not to have been a saint.

DC: What topics will you be speaking on during your talk at Archbishop’s Lecture Series?

RA: I’ll be talking about many of these challenges—to life, to religious liberty, to marriage—and how we can best respond to them. By making arguments and by leading lives of holiness.

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Aaron Lambert
Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the former Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.

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