Live tweeting an academic conference is a strange, self-contradictory thing to do. Creating a top 10 list from the tweets is probably worse. But here I go.
Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture presented its celebrated Fall Conference Nov. 7-9. The Fall Conference is a remarkable event, an ecumenical and interdisciplinary investigation of an important question, now led by the great Carter Snead. This year’s conference was titled: “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: The Body and Human Identity,” and featured scholarly talks filled with nuance and depth.
Strip all that away, and you get the following, thanks to the tweets of @TomHoopes (me), @NC_EthicsCenter, @UniversityIdeas (Chris Damian) and @MollSmiles (Molly Judd; one of the 30-member Benedictine College group I attended with). If it’s depth you want, you’ll have to go here.
1. What Marriage Means
The highlight of the conference came at the end, with a panel that included two voices for redefining marriage (Charles Reid of the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and an ill and absent Joseph Bottum, replaced with a fine surrogate) and two voices for defending marriage as it has always been understood.
Sherif Girgis of Princeton defined marriage as a particular kind of unity of persons. “Marriage is comprehensive in the way it unites the partners. This includes bodily union,” he said. “The kind of act that makes marital love complete is also the kind of act that makes new life.”
Ryan T Anderson of the Heritage Foundation gave the consequences of redefining marriage. “There’s no such thing as parenting in the abstract. There’s mothering and fathering,” he said. He quoted Barack Obama’s words on the necessity of fathers, and the importance promoting fatherhood. “Redefining marriage would send the signal that fathers are not necessary,” he argued.
In one enlightening moment, Reid raised the issue that science may definitively show that homosexuality is a biologically predetermined disposition. Anderson answered that men also may be biologically predisposed to want multiple female sexual partners, too, but that doesn’t mean multi-partner marriage should be legal.
2. Disability and Resurrection
In a moving presentation about the resurrected body, Elizabeth Schiltz of the University of St. Thomas and Candida Moss of Notre Dame spoke about handicaps and the resurrection. Another tweet:
“We should aspire to be resurrected as ourselves, impairments and all.” -Candida Moss.
3. Philosophy Nerds
In content that often went over my head, there were a number of delights for Philosophy nerds, who actually felt the exuberance shown in the quote above.
Another delighted tweet said:
“Socrates’ body was one of the reasons that people loved him.”
4. Mighty Waters.
Irish journalist John Waters, looking like an aging rocker, wowed the crowd with a talk that started out with a letter to his 16-year-old self and toward the end recounted how he defended his Catholic conversion to colleagues. “You don’t really believe all that stuff about God becoming man and the resurrection and ascension?” they asked. He answered that he finds the Gospel story far more plausible than his own personal story.
In between came a startling number of profound thoughts, including:
“Man creates new technologies and immediately sees himself in them. Right now we are thinking machines.”
“Failure to prove meaning is not the same as proving meaninglessness.”
Academic conference jokes arise from the subject matter but also from the medium itself:
6. The Glories of Drink
In splendid British fashion, Notre Dame’s Felipe Fernandez Armesto introduced a session on the glories of alcohol by announcing, “Bartender Derek Brown is here to discuss the importance of drinking. Derek, come forward and preach to the choir!”
There followed presentations by a bartender and two wine maker/philosophers that quoted sources from the ancient Greeks to the Code of Canon Law and Imbibe magazine that made you proud to be Catholic.
7. Sex and the Soul.
Ave Maria’s Maria Fedoryka spoke about “The Foundation of the Spirit of the ‘Sexual Urge’.” She started out pointing out that “John Paul insists that the generative act is not an animal act,” and went on to describe sex in simultaneously explicit and Rated-G language.
“Why did god create a bodily being?” she asked, according to one tweet. “So that we could participate in the creative love of God.”
8. What Torture Is.
Gerard Bradley described in clear, precise terms what torture is in a very helpful lecture. It is not merely inflicting pain, he said. That would not in itself be wrong. He quoted philosopher Patrick Lee about how torture entails the intention to disintegrate a person. Referencing the devastation on the faces of people who have been stripped of everything in a natural disaster, he defined torture as a series of “events” inflicted on a victim in such a way that they are similarly disintegrated.
9. Celebrating Desserts.
As is appropriate at a conference celebrating the body, the conference celebrated desserts and drink in the abstract, but also by providing real desserts and real drink.
10.The future of the Church.
Last, an academic conference is a great opportunity to build hope in the future. It is remarkable to see how many smart people there are working out significant problems at a very high level. And it is mind-blowing to further realize: All these people know Carter Snead.