Saturday, September 25, 2010

Doctor Howell's dismissal (III)--tardy denouement

I caught Dr. Howell on Al Kresta's show after the University of Illinois redefined the dismissal of the good professor as...well, they said his dismissal wasn't really a sign of any disciplinary action that was supposed to be formal or permanent.  How much of this is backpedaling and how much is political speak for "certain responsible agents overstepped their bounds in dealing with the situation," I don't know.  I'd like to think it was mostly the latter, since I'd rather have one administrator indulge a knee-jerk reaction to a hearsay accusation from a party that didn't really have standing to complain.

The situation now is basically that Dr. Howell will have a "visiting instructional appointment," which I think means he'll officially be an adjunct professor, paid by the university instead of provided gratis by the diocese or the Newman Center.  Some people following the case feared this would be the result, because now that he is more than before a University employee, the standards for tolerance (the intolerability of tolerance, perhaps) would be--I don't want to say higher, but perhaps stricter--such that it would be easier to fabricate a case with evidence against him in the future.  According to a letter sent to the University of Illinois from the Alliance Defense Fund, however, a close eye will be kept on the situation, so for now I'm hopeful.

Al Kresta asked an interesting question during the interview.  He asked if Dr. Howell had said anything offensive, which Dr. Howell denied.  Of course, sensitivity to scandal is in the eye of the beholder, and there could be different thresholds for different people who come at the situation with all lucid care.  But really, Dr. Howell was speaking the truth:  he didn't say anything to shock students that wouldn't have been reasonable for anyone walking into the classroom to expect to already be aware of.

I think what might have set some people off was the claim that, in utilitarianism, if the highest virtue is pursuing what you judge to be the most useful, and "most useful" usually being "whatever brings me the most pleasure" (at least when the utilitarianist is off duty, and not breaking laws and lying for professional advancement or what have you), then there's nothing to justify stopping short of bestiality, which most people still rightly are repulsed by.

Most people still know in their gut that bestiality is wrong, but they don't like learning that they've disarmed themselves in the fight with zoophiles, that they can only answer "I feel this is right for me" with "I feel dirty just listening to you."  They're probably shocked that a Catholic professor of religion--a man of faith and a professional, an academic; in a word, someone uptight and clean-cut--would talk or even think about such unsavory things, who would be warning them that, once they admit to "do whatever you want but please don't get in my way," there was nothing to stop someone from going as far as the barnyard, despite all protests to the contrary by the people who just want to marry someone of the same sex.

Well, folks, start thinking about the possibility and how we're going to answer it, because the polygamists and pedophiles are not trying all that hard to hide their hope for a libertine precedent in Congress or the courts.  It's high time to be asking what good they think would come to them from laws or court decisions that were only favorable on the surface to gay couples.