Supporting pro-life positions on abortion, chastity, and traditional family values, the Anscombe Society has all the hallmarks of a traditional conservative religious organization, save one: the religion.
“We seem religious because it seems like the majority of the institutions promoting these ideas are religious institutions,” said Thomas Martinson ’21, the group’s vice president. “There are religious arguments for holding these ideals, but we don’t think they’re the only sufficient arguments available.”
According to co-president William Nolan ’19, the Anscombe Society is not religious in and of itself, although it attracts many religious members. Instead, the group backs its arguments through secular means: by focusing on the philosophical and scientific. In this way, Nolan said, the arguments use a “common language” that is “accessible to all.”
“We want to provide a platform for the philosophical discussion of these issues so we can reach anyone, regardless of where they come from, mainly through the use of reason,” Nolan said.
Since 2005, the Anscombe Society has sought to advocate for and promote dialogue on campus around what Nolan calls issues “close to the person,” taking often-controversial stances on sexuality and relationships. The group seeks to balance advocacy and discourse through non-theological means.
According to its mission statement, the group is “dedicated to affirming the importance of the family, marriage, and a proper understanding [of] the role of sex and sexuality.” More specifically, the group advocates for stable families, a concept that encourages motherhood, chastity, and the definition of marriage as an “exclusive, monogamous union of a man and a woman.”
Nolan added that another reason why the group does not claim to be religious is that religion and religious views are, in his experience, immediately discounted.
“The word ‘religion’ is often used in a way to discount certain points of view as irrational,” Nolan said.
The group’s namesake, Elizabeth Anscombe, was a 20th-century British philosopher known for her often-controversial views, such as her strong opposition to gay marriage and abortion. One of her most famous essays was a strong defense of the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraceptives.
Martinson confirmed that, as an institution, the Anscombe Society shares Anscombe’s views on sexual ethics. However, Martinson and other members noted that, despite its controversial nature, the Anscombe Society has no intention of pressing its beliefs onto others.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Anscombe is that we’re trying to force our morals on other people,” said Aidan Hintermaier ’22, another member. “We’re trying to get people to think about the underlying morals.”
Nolan emphasized that, despite the very political nature of issues such as abortion and gay marriage, calling the group “political” would not be accurate. Nolan instead said the group’s focus was less “political” and more “cultural.”
Founded at Princeton, the Anscombe Society has chapters on other college campuses, such as Harvard and MIT. According to Nolan, the University chapter has a few dozen members, although the number of those who attend regularly is slightly smaller.
According to Martinson, the group seeks to balance presenting its ideas to those who have not heard them and providing an insular space for those who already share its ideas. The society holds book discussions and social events, including semi-formals, which occurred earlier this year.
“There’s a way to live this traditional sexual ethic that’s still fun and enjoyable, and you can have a robust social life,” Martinson said.
The group has experienced its share of public controversy. Similar to the controversy surrounding Turning Point USA’s (TPUSA) advertising of an event featuring Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, Anscombe Society advertising has been critiqued on listservs for being vague or, according to some students, misleading.
One specific incident of this was the advertising for the Anscombe Society’s “Why Feminism?” event, hosting speaker Mona Charen, a conservative political columnist and author. The email advertisement for the event, sent out on the residential college listservs, said Charen would speak on “modern day-feminism, the hookup culture, and the campus rape crisis,” but did not explicitly state what her views on those subjects were.
Charen herself is a major critic of the modern feminist movement, having previously claimed that feminism’s “endorsement” of the sexual revolution was “disastrous.”
“The so-called rape culture on college campuses, hookup culture, the hostility between men and women ― feminism has to take some responsibility because they were cheerleaders for all of that,” Charen said in one interview with MSNBC.
Martinson said that the leadership of the society took the criticism of its advertising into account and is working to improve.
“The criticism doesn’t fall [on] deaf ears,” Martinson said. “We’re all human, and we’re all trying to learn how to do our jobs better.”
Another recent speaker hosted by the Anscombe Society was Jill Manning, who spoke at the group’s “Porn Actually: A Research-Based and Clinical Perspective on Internet Pornography” event, in which Manning described the harms of pornography, specifically referring to the addiction to pornography.
“Ten percent of the adult population has an addiction to impulsive sexual behavior,” Manning said. “Of the 11 most studied addictions in this country, this is the fifth most prevalent with the third most negative consequences.”
Manning described pornography as inherently “exploitative.” She used the analogy of bottled water, comparing water to a person’s sexual desire. She said that while it was important to drink water, there are less wasteful and harmful ways of going about it than using a plastic bottle. Likewise, there are better ways to express sexual desire than through watching pornography.
The pornography lecture, which was followed by a Q&A, took place in McCormick 101 at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 6.
Nolan praised Manning for the tone with which she conducted the lecture. He hoped that, as the Anscombe Society continues to advocate on campus, it does so with the same intellectual rigor and calm reason that Manning displayed.
“Manning did an incredible job with her tone. It was not political, it was not ranting, it was not moralistic,” Nolan said. “It was a gentle invitation to see things differently. That is very much the type of tone we want to strike.”