'Most influential Christian conservative thinker' Robert P. George joins News board

Published: Sunday, Sept. 12 2010 12:58 a.m. MDT

Robert George with former President George W. Bush.

Chris Greenberg

PROVO — In his dialogue "Gorgias," the philosopher Plato questions the motives for debate, asking if individuals argue in order to find and advance the truth or simply to boost their own social standing by winning the argument.

For 19-year-old Robert P. George, contemplating those questions for the first time in college was like "having a bucket of ice water thrown in my face, and I woke up," he said.

"I realized I should be asking a much more important question than about how to win debates, but I should be asking the question, 'What side am I on?' " said George, the man the New York Times Magazine would later christen as the "most influential Christian conservative thinker."

"For the first time in my life ... I had to think my way to where I would stand, rather than just standing where I stood because it was what the ambient culture told me." That introductory political philosophy class at Swarthmore College changed the entire trajectory of young George's life.

George, one of the members of the new Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, is a devout Catholic and a tenured Princeton professor. He supports the sanctity of life and traditional marriage as well as thoroughness of scholarship and public discourse, especially on the issue of natural law.

His beliefs have earned him friends and supporters across the spectrum, from members of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, whom he calls spiritual brothers, to his liberal colleagues at Princeton, who respect him despite their differences. George is also no stranger to criticism and death threats from those who decry his views as bigoted and discriminatory.

Yet those who know him acknowledge his fairness and fundamental decency, regardless of the issue.

"He always tries to show both sides," said Paul Kerry, a former visiting fellow at Princeton and now a history professor at BYU. "But he's not afraid to say, 'There is a truth, and we need to go where the truth is.' "

Beliefs

As a Brigham Young University forum speaker in October 2008, George began by addressing his audience as "fellow disciples of our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ." He then launched into his trademark messages on the sanctity of life and the importance of traditional marriage.

He began with the Founding Fathers, which, for a man who is an expert in Constitutional Law, seemed a natural place to start. Their moral convictions were rooted in truths they called self-evident, that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

To George, that declaration means protection of everyone, regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, or age, size or stage of development. "To exclude anyone from the law's protection is to treat him unjustly," he said.

The eldest of five boys growing up in a partisan Democrat family in West Virginia, George had planned to study law and perhaps later enter politics. He was governor twice in the West Virginia Democratic Youth Conference and even attended the 1976 Democratic National Convention as an alternate delegate.

But when the abortion issue gained momentum in the late '70s and early '80s, George began distancing himself from the Democrat Party, and instead turned toward conservatism, academia and a "career dedicated to understanding truth."

As George explained at BYU, abortion is more than just morally or religiously wrong; it is philosophically wrong considering the country's foundational beliefs in the unalienable rights of man, no matter the age or size.

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