A Clash of Orthodoxies

First Things, August 1999.

A few years ago, the eminent Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington published in Foreign Affairs a widely noted article called “The Clash of Civilizations.” Looking at contemporary international relations from a geopolitical vantage point, he predicted a clash of the world’s major civilizations: the West, the Islamic world, and the Confucian East. Huntington’s article provoked a response from one of his own most brilliant former students-Swarthmore’s James Kurth. In an article in the National Interest entitled “The Real Clash,” Kurth argued persuasively that the clash that is coming-and has, indeed, already begun-is not so much among the world’s great civilizations as it is within the civilization of the West, between those who claim the Judeo-Christian worldview and those who have abandoned that worldview in favor of the “isms” of contemporary American life-feminism, multiculturalism, gay liberationism, lifestyle liberalism-what I here lump together as a family called “the secularist orthodoxy.”

This clash of worldviews is sometimes depicted (though not by Professor Kurth) as a battle between the forces of “faith” and those of “reason.” I propose to challenge this depiction in a particular and fundamental way. I shall argue that the Christian moral view is rationally defensible. Indeed, my claim is that Christian moral teaching can be shown to be rationally superior to orthodox secular moral beliefs.

In defending the rational strength of Christian morality, I do not mean either to denigrate faith or to deny the importance-indeed, the centrality-of God’s revealed Word in the Bible, or of sacred Christian tradition. My aim is to offer a philosophical defense of Christian morality, and to put forward a challenge to the secularist worldview that has established itself as an orthodoxy in the academy and other elite sectors of Western culture….

First Things