Noted Bioethicist Presents Lecture on Christians in the Public Square

John Mikitish – February-March 2014

“Outside of God, all facts are just interpretations. Without a noetic experience, our culture is the way it is.” This observation formed the basis for Dr. Herman Tristram Engelhardt’s recent lecture at St. Vladimir’s, delivered on 23 February 2014 and sponsored by SVOTS’ student-run St. Ambrose Society, the seminary’s Pro-Life student interest group.

A professor of philosophy at Rice University and professor emeritus of medicine at Baylor, Dr. Engelhardt isDr. Herman Engelhardt Lecture, February 23, 2014 widely considered the “godfather” of Orthodox bioethics. His lecture, entitled “Preaching the Word of the Lord: Being an Orthodox Christian in a Post-Christian Public Square, or, G.W.F. Hegel, Richard Rorty, and the Politically Reasonable Reconsidered,” attempted to trace the causes of the falling away of American culture from Christianity and discussed the implications for Orthodox Christians’ public approach to ethical violations such as abortion.

Arguing that the origins of secular culture lie in an Enlightenment attempt to replace the One God with “one reason,” Dr. Seminarian Ignatius Green of St. Ambrose SocietyEngelhardt asserted that the failure of secular culture lies in the fact that “one reason” cannot be achieved outside of One God. “The assumption was that there would be one rationality,” he said. When the assumption turned out to be false, the consequence is post-modernity and a reduction of moral and ethical matters to “lifestyle choices.”

And what are Orthodox Christians to do? Dr Engelhardt contends that we have recourse only to the Great Commission of our Lord: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In order to prompt people to make right moral and ethical choices, we first have to bring them to the Truth by and according to whom such decisions ought to be made. The criterion for morality must be God.

Therefore, according to Dr. Engelhardt, Christians should not be afraid to make their faith public, preaching not just by moral exhortations but especially by living their faith visibly, and by opposing the “secular exorcism of God-oriented language from the public square,” even if at the cost of social acceptance. Says Dr. Engelhardt, “It will be very hard for us to remain Orthodox Christians if we are not willing to be very strange people.”