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Sunday, Jan 16, 2022

In Defense of Inviting Dr. Peter Kreeft

I think that it is a sad reality that inviting a Catholic intellectual who believes all the teachings of the Church to Middlebury is scandalous, but such a state of affairs is not nearly as surprising to me as it once was. In my nearly three years on campus, I have seen multiple instances of intolerance toward traditionally religious viewpoints.

As President of the Newman Catholic Club, I wanted to organize an event that would engage everyone in the Middlebury community. Dr. Peter Kreeft, a practicing Catholic, was an obvious choice. He has written over 80 books on Christian philosophy, theology and apologetics — many of them geared toward college students. He has been a professor in the philosophy department at Boston College for decades and has spoken at countless campuses.

In a meeting via Zoom, the Newman Catholic Club board was pressured by a religious life administrator to “reconsider” our invitation of Dr. Kreeft. The administrator asked us to “reconsider”— to cancel — our invitation to Dr. Kreeft because of his views on gender theory — which had no bearing on the content of his talk. The Newman Catholic Club decided not to “reconsider” our invitation of Dr. Kreeft. While I cannot speak for all Newman Club officers, the first reason why I refused to “reconsider” Dr. Kreeft’s invitation is because of my view of the purpose of a liberal arts college.

College provides us all with the time and leisure to pursue truth and to think seriously for ourselves. To “reconsider” Dr. Peter Kreeft’s invitation on the basis of his difference of opinion with the campus’s orthodoxy on gender theory seemed antithetical to the whole reason we study at Middlebury. Further, I am the first member of my family to attend college, and I did not accomplish this just so that I could be told by other people what ideas and views I can and cannot consider.

There is some disagreement over the purpose of a liberal arts education. I once heard the analogy that Middlebury is a seminary, wherein only an orthodox perspective can be promoted. I think this view is derogatory toward seminaries: seminarians are very well-read people and they are exposed to plenty of “heretical” perspectives. Even the Vatican has its “devil’s advocate.” The analogy of Middlebury to a fundamentalist religious group is more appropriate: certain students desire for Middlebury to be rid of any speaker that is not in agreement with their doctrine. If anything were worthy of an anathema at a liberal arts college, it would be this view.

The second reason why I refused to “reconsider” Dr. Peter Kreeft’s invitation is that I believe that Catholicism is one of the most charitable religions, as we believe that God is infinite in love and mercy. Dr. Kreeft’s closing words at the lecture expresses this principle: “all human beings must be accepted as creatures of God, children of God, lovable and beloved. That’s one absolute nonnegotiable.” Whereas the administrator thought that the interview wherein Dr. Kreeft shares his views on gender theory were hurtful, I read the interview to be that of a person that is genuinely sensitive, charitable and faithfully representing the Catholic Church’s teaching.

It is love that informs Church teachings. Bishop Barron has said that “[s]ince God is love, the Church is endeavoring to place every aspect of human life--personal, social, political, cultural--under the aegis of love. And love is willing the good of the other as other.” The Church also believes that “speaking the truth is love.” In Matthew 19:4, Jesus refers to Genesis 5:2 when he says, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female.” The Church interprets this and other Scripture verses in such a way that it has a view of the relationship of body to soul that is incompatible with modern gender theory. The Church’s unitive vision of the person can be seen in St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and the Congregation For Catholic Education’s document, “Male and Female He Created Them.”

A third reason why I refused to “reconsider” Dr. Peter Kreeft’s invitation to Middlebury is the precedent that it would set. If we were to “reconsider” Dr. Peter Kreeft’s invitation for his Catholic views on gender theory, then Pope Francis would also be ineligible to speak at Middlebury, as he has been quite vocal against gender theory. The Newman Catholic Club would be unable to invite many Catholic intellectuals to speak at Middlebury College. The Committee on Speech and Inclusion correctly stated that “[a]ttempts to curtail speech that is considered offensive or controversial by some can lead to a chilling effect,” namely the soft ban on traditional religious believers from stepping foot on our campus.

I want to express my gratitude to Middlebury for respecting free inquiry and dialogue. Furthermore, in spite of the preponderance of unproductive behavior from some protestors such as tearing down our posters, we ensured (as planned) that everyone who had a question could ask their question. In overtime, the final question came when a trans-identifying student challenged Dr. Kreeft on his view on gender theory. I commend this highly. This student’s exchange with Kreeft gave us all a sense of what honest dialogue looks like when we treat one another with respect.

When I informed Dr. Kreeft about the controversy surrounding his invitation, he responded brilliantly: “Everyone has an absolute, a God: either the real one or an idol.” I think that too often, people have let their political beliefs serve as their absolute and thus political disagreements become the basis on which they seek to cancel others. I object to that view, and instead share the one promoted by St. Mary’s Fr. Luke: “As we are created in the image of the triune God, we are called to dialogue, not to cancel.”

Pedro Guizar is a member of the class of 2022.