Category Archives: Natural Law

Natural law? Being Human


-“The School of Athens”, Raphael, 1509–1511, Fresco, 500 cm × 770 cm (200 in × 300 in), Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, please click on the image for greater detail

-Jacob Kohlhaas
This article also appears in the July 2018 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 83, No. 7, page 49).

“Broadly understood, natural law refers to a range of moral theories that rely on rational discernment of the natural order as a means of telling good from evil. Within Catholic moral teaching, natural law arguments are commonly invoked to denounce “unnatural” and therefore immoral acts: contraception, same-sex sexual relations, euthanasia, genetic experimentation not in keeping with the God-given dignity of human beings, and many assisted reproductive technologies, for example. But where does natural law reasoning come from and just how does it connect nature to morality?

Despite its robust history within Christianity, natural law morality was initially developed by the Greek Stoic philosophers. Their commitment to living reasonably within nature’s designs produced a universally accessible moral theory based upon the ordinary human powers of observation and rational reflection. Christians appropriated natural law reasoning through the premise that observations of creation ought to reveal aspects of God the Creator’s will. In other words, what is natural is what God intends.

Yet some Christian beliefs challenged this union, particularly the Christian teachings that humans are limited and prone to sin. As such our understanding is always partial and likely to be distorted. While human finitude is natural, Christianity claims that sin is “unnatural” in the sense that it is a distortion of our nature and therefore does not point back to the will of God the Creator. Therefore, to understand nature as it was intended to be, some interpretation is necessary.

Classically the Bible served in this interpretive role as a sort of handbook to understanding reality. However, modern biblical scholarship and modern science have seriously displaced the Bible’s credibility on the factual details of human and cosmic history, if read as history book, which it is not, primarily. While scripture still provides an essential reference point for discerning the will of God, its reliability as a resource for understanding the natural world has diminished while the moral questions we pose to natural law have become increasingly complex. This is the context for the present diversity of natural law theories both within Catholicism and beyond.

All forms of natural law basically agree that the question “What ought I do?” is best answered in reference to the question “What is natural?” But theories diverge in how they discern that second question. Catholic natural law thinkers today tend to fall into two broad camps with significant diversity in each.

The first approach draws more from authority and deductive reasoning and is characteristic of Vatican documents that tend to conserve traditional teachings through appeals to God’s will as rationally discerned.

The second approach leans on contemporary experience and inductive reasoning and has been utilized by a number of Catholic scholars in order to argue for revisions to official Catholic teaching in light of contemporary knowledge.

Numerous current debates within Catholic morality rest at least partially on these differences. While God’s will for us as persons remains the fundamental concern of Christian morality, thoughtful moral discernment within a complex world remains a challenging process.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Language of the Body

In a recent debate on my Facebook page, a woman stated her view on sex: “There is no universal purpose, beauty, or reason to sex—that is up to the individuals to decide for themselves.” Trent has also seen this attitude in a recent documentary he filmed that asked college students, “What is sex for?” The most popular answer was: “That’s up to each person to decide for themselves.”

This is a common belief of millions who claim that sex isn’t “for anything” in particular. Sex can be for pleasure, or recreation, or stress relief, or even a cure for boredom. It can be no more significant or meaningful than eating ice cream!

The best way to get past this “feelings-based” approach to sex is by applying the natural law principles we learned in chapter two.

Remind your teens that they should ask what sex “is for” and use the answer to that question to guide their moral decisions.

Designed for Marital Love

If sex is “just for pleasure,” then why do so many people become distraught when their “significant other” has sex with someone else? This pain—universally understood and documented in literature, songs, and poems throughout millennia—is a huge hint that sex isn’t as casual or meaningless as some people claim it is.

Others say that sex is the way we express a deep emotional connection with another person. But we can have a deep emotional connection to many different people (friends, siblings, parents, children) with whom it would be wrong to have a sexual connection.

So, what distinguishes sexual relationships from all other kinds of human intimacy?

The answer is found in the design of the body.

When we look at the body, including the sexual faculty itself, we see that sex is ordered toward a life-long consequence, i.e., the conception of a child. This truth is like a signpost that men and women should not engage in sex before they’ve made the life-long commitment (marriage) that provides the foundation for the fruit of that act (a baby!).

Of course, many people will say that these consequences can be avoided by contraceptive use (which we will address later), rendering sex outside of marriage “no big deal.” But even if contraception didn’t fail often (and boy, it does), pre-marital sex would still be morally wrong with grave consequences. Why? Because it turns people into liars of the highest order.

Let me explain.

Deceptive Body Language

Your teen will probably agree that, in general, the words we speak should be honest and truthful. But we can also “speak” with our bodies to express ideas. For example, a handshake can mean “pleased to meet you” and a hug can mean “I am here for you.” When people use their bodies to communicate what is not true, they often experience discomfort.

Think about the uneasiness you feel when you’re forced to stand too close to a stranger on a bus or subway. Your bodies are expressing the language of social intimacy because they are so close together, but that intimacy is a lie—you don’t even know each other!

Similarly, sex outside of marriage expresses the intimacy of a permanent one-flesh union, but in a relationship (no matter how long it’s been going on) that has no such commitment.

It is a lie, told through the body, that speaks louder than words.

So, when it comes to sex, a teen girl may feel this discomfort when she doesn’t want the guy to see her naked. She may want to “get it over with” in hopes that sex will lead to a fulfilling relationship. Or, she may be sexually willing, but feel crushed when the boy does not contact her again. Boys, on the other hand, may resist being affectionate after sex or even refuse to talk to the girl they’ve slept with, because they don’t want to express with their hearts the deep, marital love they expressed with their bodies.

This discomfort is not some culturally induced guilt from a bygone era; it’s a strong signal that this type of vulnerable intimacy is only appropriate in the safety of a life-long, exclusive commitment. Sex outside of marriage is wrong because the body turns a beautiful truth (“I reveal and give my whole self to you in an irrevocable gift”) into a selfish and harmful lie. When your teens ask, you can give them a simple, reasonable answer:

Sex exists for the expression of marital love. Sex outside of marriage uses the body to express a permanent, fruitful union of love that doesn’t exist between unmarried couples. Sex outside of marriage is a lie, and we must never lie to the people we claim to love.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Why does the Catholic Church teach homosexual acts are intrinsically evil?

keep-faith-in-jesus-christ

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” -CCC 2357

2012-09_LT-CatholicsLoveGays1

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WANTS YOU TO HAVE AWESOME SEX!!!!  It’s true.  It does.  But, let’s define some terms.  You could say the Catholic Church holds sexual union as sacred.  So sacred it places it within and confines it to a sacrament.  In Catholic theology, sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.”

This is easier if you have had some philosophy, literally the “love of wisdom”.  Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. In more casual speech, by extension, “philosophy” can refer to “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”.

The Church, from the beginning, has understood the world has an implied rational order due to the nature of creation itself.  The Church “holds these truths to be self-evident”, so to speak, when reflected upon.  Truth cannot contradict truth.

But, humans being sinful beings, can and do and have always and will always pervert the rational truth distilled from philosophy and revelation to fit their own agendas, to fit their own definitions of their “truths”.

The Church does not believe there are many “truths”.  Rather, it holds there is only One Truth, Jesus Christ, and it strives, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit, to come to an ever more full understanding of that Truth.

In Catholicism, a “mystery” is not something unknowable, it is something infinitely knowable.  We are only limited by our own humanity as to why God had pre-ordained such things, and things as such.

We may NOT make ourselves gods, and make our own “truths”.  We do, therefore, have free will, as God’s gift, and, frankly, also the inherent challenge and responsibility to use or to abuse the created world as we do, even contrary to the Creator’s will.  We have the freedom to cure terrible diseases, to feed the starving, to free slaves, but also to commit genocide, to enslave, to exploit, to oppress, to make war, to annihilate.  We also have the freedom to use our sexual gifts, our ability to participate in the creation of beautiful life, and the freedom to abuse them towards selfish and unproductive ends.

There is no genuine love of the Creator nor anything else without free will.  The realization of the gift of free will means, as with any freedom or authority we may possess, that there is also the intrinsic freedom to abuse our free will, to choose wrongly, to act against the intentions and the will of the Creator.  This is a heavy responsibility.  We must choose wisely.  Our choices have consequences here, in this life, and in eternity.

The Natural Law

Very simply put, the natural law is that moral behavior which can be determined through reason by its architecture, form, function, and effects.  The end NEVER justifies the means.  The Catholic Church understands human beings to consist of body and mind, the physical and the non-physical (soul), and that the two are inextricably linked. Humans are capable, but only proper moral formation inclines them to judge rightly, of discerning the difference between good and evil because they have a conscience, and the divinely mandated obligation to do so.

The Divine Law

Gen. 19:8-9,13, Jude 7, Ezek. 16:49-50, Lev. 18:22, 20:13, 1 Cor 6:9-10, Romans 1:27, provoking the wrath of the Almighty.  Prov 1:7.

Love must be fruitful

The Catholic definition of “love” is very specific.  It MUST, NO exceptions, comport to the the natural moral law.  It MUST, same deal, comport to the Divine law.  It MUST be open to life.  It MUST be open to fecundity, and fruitfulness.  It MUST occur within the Sacrament of Marital Union.

  1. Because homosexual acts violate the natural law as implied by the sexual “complementarity”, or sexual differences, between male and female, both in biology, and in the total complementarity of a person’s personal identity in  their masculinity or femininity,
  2. Because they violate the Divine law,
  3. Because, by definition, they cannot be naturally fecund, ever, and are inherently closed to natural procreation,
  4. Because of the above, homosexual acts cannot, ever, be blessed in the Sacrament of Marriage,
  5. Because of all these, homosexual acts can never be approved.

This position is objectively determined as a consequence of faith in Jesus Christ.  It has nothing to do with “liking” or “disliking” anyone.   It has nothing to do with subjective preferences, conditions, opinions, or agendas.  Nothing.  It has been the Church’s consistent teaching.  Those who object are just waking up to the Church’s teaching in greater clarity, which cannot be a bad thing.  “Truth is not determined by a majority.” – BXVI

All are called to chastity in their particular state of life.  Homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, dignity, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives.

Love,
Matthew