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About the Natural Law and LGBT topics

Introduction to Natural Law. How it can
lead to conflicting conclusions on racism, etc.

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The acronym "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons.

The acronym "SSM" refers to same-sex marriage, often called "gay marriage"
We prefer the former term because some same-sex marriages include one or
two
bisexuals. Also, "gay" sometimes refers to male gays and sometimes
to both gays and lesbians.

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Overview:

The Roman Catholic Church has historically opposed all attempts by state and federal governments to recognize the legitimacy of loving, committed same-sex relationships, either by through civil unions or same-sex marriage. As of late 2012 they have been increasingly emphasizing Natural Law as the rationale for their position.

George Weigel, columnist for the Denver Catholic Register, very eloquently described natural law as consisting of universal and fixed:

"... moral truths built into the world and into us -- truths that we can grasp by reason." 1

As of late 2012, the church still opposes same-gender sexual activity by gays and lesbians. It still fights against civil unions and marriage equality for all. However, they now base their opposition increasingly on natural law, either in addition to its earlier arguments, or in place of them:

  • On 2012-DEC-21, Pope Benedict XVI discussed same-sex marriage during his annual Christmas address. He condemned it as a "manipulation of nature." He denounced people who "deny their nature" and "make it for themselves." He asserted that same-gender behavior was destroying the very "essence of the human creature." 5

  • Later that month, in Illinois, when faced with proposed state legislation that would replace civil unions with access to full marriage for same-sex couples, Francis Cardinal George, the Bishop of Chicago, also used a natural law argument to condemn SSM.

  • On 2013-JAN-02, Thomas John Paprocki, the Catholic bishop of Springfield, IL, issued a pastoral letter. He agreed with Cardinal Francis George and other local Catholic leaders, by condemned same-sex marriage as being a violation of natural law.

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About natural law:

Natural law (lex naturalis in Latin) is a concept. At its core is the belief that there is "a code, law, or set of rights inherent to existence" 6 which can be determined by observing nature using human reason, perhaps supplemented by divine revelation.

The Pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, (384 to 322 BCE) is generally regarded as the originator of the concept of natural law. His teachings were greatly adapted, modified and interpreted by St. Augustine (354 to 430 CE), and particularly by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274 CE). Natural Law continues to be used extensively by the Roman Catholic Church, within Islam, and occasionally by a few Protestant denominations.

The famous British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 to 1679 CE) also write about natural law in his work Leviathan (1651 CE). In it, he said that natural law was:

"A precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or takes away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that by which he thinks it may best be preserved." 5

Omar Swartz writes in the web site "Bad Subjects:"

"Other types of laws, such as human laws, are lesser laws. These laws can also be moral, but their moral grounding depends upon the higher order of divine or natural law." 8

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Problems in the practical application of Natural Law:

One of the advantages claimed for Natural Law as a source of ethical criteria and a guide for proper behavior is that it is considered to be fixed, unchangeable, absolute, and universally applicable to everyone throughout history. Thus, although the Roman Catholic Church is the main group still using Natural Law, the Church believes that its conclusions based on its interpretation of Natural Law apply to Roman Catholics, other Christians, followers of other organized religions and those not affiliated with any religious group. Their conclusions are to cover all humans.

In the case of same-sex marriage, this means that the Church expects:

  • To be able to refuse to marry loving, committed same-sex couples on Catholic property with impunity, forever.

  • That the governments will permanently maintain legislation to prevent same-sex couples of all religions, and none, from being able to marry.

Thus it is fully committed to try to prevent everyone -- not just Catholics -- from having access to SSM.

Unfortunately, the historical record has shown that interpretations of Natural Law are not fixed but have often changed radically over time. This is because they are relative to the interpreter's world view. Practices found acceptable in one era and one location under Natural Law may be considered profoundly immoral or even evil in another era or location -- and vice versa.

Perhaps the most obvious American example is human slavery.

On 1861-MAR-21, in Savannah, GA, about three weeks before hostilities began in the civil war, Alexander H. Stephens -- the Vice President of the Confederacy -- delivered his Cornerstone Speech. He contrasted the "new constitution" of the Confederacy, that had been adopted ten days previously, with the "old constitution" of the Union that had been adopted in 1787. He discussed the belief by Thomas Jefferson and other founders of America that human slavery violated natural law. Stephens also discussed his personal belief that human slavery was ethical, "natural and normal" under his interpretation of natural law.

Stephens and Jefferson were both intelligent, sincere thinkers, and inspiring leaders. However their worldviews on the topic of race were very different. This led led them inevitably to very different interpretations of natural law on slavery. Yet they were both absolutely certain that their worldview and understanding of Natural Law was correct.

His speech is profoundly racist. Please do not read it if you are easily distressed by racism.

Stephens said:

"The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. ..."

"Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. ..."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. ..."

"All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal." [Emphasis by us.]

Other examples where both sides in major ethical conflicts called upon natural law to support their opposing beliefs can probably be found in the historical record regarding:

  • infant vaccination,
  • allowing the profoundly deaf to marry,
  • universal suffrage,
  • legalizing contraceptives
  • ending racial segregation and Jim Crow laws,
  • legalizing access to early term abortions.
  • allowing interracial marriages, etc.
  • feminism and equal treatment of women.
  • What is probably the most active current religious conflict: allowing loving, committed same-sex couples access to marriage.
  • What might become among the most active religious conficts in the future: equality based on gender identity.

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References used:

The following information source were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. George Weigel, "The natural law = bigotry? Please." National Catholic Register, 2009-NOV-25, at: http://www.archden.org/
  2. Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia: Revised and updated edition," Nelson, (1987), Page 272.  Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  3. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," The Vatican, at: http://www.vatican.va/
  4. The American Psychological Association's Statement on Homosexuality, 1994-JUL. The APA and other professional associations have published numerous reports and statements since, that follow the same theme.
  5. Anjali Sareen, "Merry Christmas? Pope Benedict XVI denounces gay marriage as a 'Manipulation Of Nature'," Mediaite, 2012-DEC-24, at: http://www.mediaite.com/
  6. "What is Natural Law?," WiseGEEK, undated, at: http://www.wisegeek.com/
  7. "Q: What was the point of the Bible texts if not to condemn homosexuality?," Dignity US, 1998-2011, at: http://www.dignityusa.org/
  8. Omar Swartz, "Natural Law, Positive Law, Slavery, and Nuremberg: Toward a Pragmatic Legal Criticism," 2004-JUN, at: http://bad.eserver.org/
  9. " 'Universal' Personality Traits Don't Necessarily Apply to Isolated Indigenous People," American Psychological Association, 2013-JAN-03, at: http://www.apa.org

Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2013-JAN-08
Latest update: 2013-JAN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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