Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Natural Law arguments in defence of Marriage: Part 1

I've just read an interesting article by the lawyer Julian Rivers, published in 'Cambridge Papers' (read it here), which I don't wholly agree with but is well worth reading. Cambridge Papers is written by 'Christians' (the favoured self-description of Evangelical Protestants), but Rivers makes the obvious point that Protestant responses have been overwhelmingly biblically-based:

However, plural democracy will only survive if we also offer each other reasons we can expect each other to share. This is all the more important in an area which shows signs of collapsing into a 'culture war' in which mutual hostility takes the place of collective rational deliberation. If the only reasons against (or for) same-sex marriage are 'ideological' or a matter of gut reaction then all we are left with is mutual incomprehension.

This is or should be second-nature to Catholics, who are or should be used to appealing to Reason in dealing with non-Christians, just as to the Bible in dealing with Protestants, or the Magisterium in talking to each other. Grace does not destroy nature, it perfects nature. The idea that something like gay marriage could be perfectly ok according to nature and reason, but wrong according to revelation and divine law, is utterly repugnant. It just doesn't make sense.

(Failing to circumcise your sons is fine according to Natural Law, but wrong according to the Mosaic law, the divine law, for the people of the Covenant. Even here, however, Divine Law is building upon an obligation of Natural Law, to recognise the sovereignty of God, to worship and obey him. It specifies that obligation for a particular group of people, giving it a concrete expression.)

So if we want to defend marriage - real marriage, traditional marriage - we should be able to come up with arguments based on reason and nature - Natural Law, for those not allergic to that terminology. And in engaging with people who don't accept the teaching of the Church or divine Revelation, it is absolutely necessary. But Catholics have largely failed to do it.

There are two reasons this has happened, which are linked. One is the atrophy of Catholic apologetics. There are some vigorous and appealing apologists out there, but apologetics was once the natural extension of catechesis, it was something every Catholic should know about. It has atrophied in large part because of the rejection of St Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law tradition, and indeed of traditional catechetical methods in general.

The second reason explains why so few minded about this atrophy, from the 1970s to the 2000s: since the Second Vatican Council Catholics have, in general, given up trying to convince people of the truth of the Faith. The attitude has been: if someone feels moved to become a Catholic, that's nice, but we don't need to go out looking for them, getting into arguments, and telling contented Anglicans or agnostics that they are mistaken. The openness to the value of non-Catholic belief-systems, part of the 'spirit of Vatican II', led not to more genuine dialogue with outsiders, but a huge amount of introspection, and an almost complete loss of the set of skills needed to engage with people who don't share very many of your assumptions.

What we need now are people like Chesterton, but let's not fixate on him: over the early to mid 20th century there was Ronald Knox, Arnold Lunn, Fr Martindale, Hugh Ross Williamson, Mgr Benson, and a host of others. (All very neglected, all very worth reading today.) The celebrities among Catholic intellectuals in the half-century from 1960 to 2010 were mostly people who told their fellow Catholics to tune in and drop out. (All now falling into a well-deserved oblivion. Some of them even lost the Faith themselves.) The apologetic tradition came to an abrupt stop.

The result is that today there is a strong tendency to argue, not from the truth of the Catholic position, which Catholics have forgotten how to do, but from the right of religious minorities to believe what they like unmolested, and therefore to educate their children, carry on careers in the medical profession, or whatever, with special provision made for them to avoid confrontation with the state ideology. I've explained before why that is a non-starter as an approach. Over the next few days I'll review some better arguments.

1 comment:

  1. A good article.

    Natural Law and Catholic Law, (or Teaching), come from the same source, God, and therefore are compatible.

    Marriage between a man and a woman for the procreation of Children is natural and designed to continue the human race. An active homosexual union is unnatural and is therefore wrong.

    The Church will recover from the devastation of the past fifty years’ but only after we once again restore the liturgy (under way) and again teach Catholicism and Apologetics to our children so that they know, and can defend and bear witness to their Faith.

    Mark you, how we get round to doing this, well, that is another matter!

    I look forward to part II