In a twist on this year’s story of commencement speakers being disinvited or browbeaten into withdrawal, respected public intellectual Mary Eberstadt, received an honorary degree and delivered a commencement address at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., earlier today, despite opposition to both the honor and the invitation by some faculty. (Eberstadt is a colleague of mine at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.)Share
Known for creative forays into topics like the roots of secularization, the state of our culture, and the fallout of the sexual revolution, Eberstadt’s work is followed with interest by Catholics within the hierarchy and beyond. How curious, then, that a number of Seton Hall faculty members objected to her selection on the grounds that Eberstadt’s beliefs “are not in alignment with the values of Seton Hall as a Catholic University.” In particular, protesting faculty cited a single one of Eberstadt’s articles, “The Child Fat Problem,” for expressing views that single parents might find offensive. Yet in her book, Home Alone America: Why Today’s Kids Are Overmedicated, Overweight, And More Troubled Than Ever Before, Eberstadt explains repeatedly that she is pointing to broad social trends, rather than condemning any individual parent’s choices, all in an attempt to set a more humane social standard for the nurturing of children.
Eberstadt’s readers, who tend to think of her as an intrepid defender of traditional Christian thinking, both Catholic and otherwise, will be surprised, perhaps even shocked, to see an attempt to exclude her from a Catholic university on grounds that her beliefs are out of alignment with the Church’s values. Consider her books How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, and The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism if you doubt the compatibility of her perspective with Catholic values.
According to the school paper, the Setonian, the move to condemn Eberstadt’s honor and invitation began with an e-mail sent out by the College of Arts and Sciences chairman pro tem and signed by six other faculty members. The Setonian indicates that the matter was to be taken up by the faculty senate. The results of any faculty votes have not been made public.
I asked Eberstadt for a copy of her commencement address. To my eyes, it makes a serious effort to articulate a Catholic perspective through the particular lens of the new Pope Francis, while also acknowledging and expressing respect for those with different beliefs. Gently, but firmly and effectively, Eberstadt sets forth a synthetic approach to the culture of life consistent with Church teaching (and for that matter, other ethical teaching). (Read more.)