Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Without excuse

Via Insight Scoop, an article describing a Catholic commission's paper on natural law — the idea that moral standards are part of Creation and can be discerned by anyone, whether or not they have the advantage of God's revealed Word. From TheBostonPilot.com:
Modern men and women may deny the existence of "natural law," but they actually recognize that certain moral values, such as protecting the environment, are universally valid, said members of the International Theological Commission. ....

For centuries, the Catholic Church has insisted that there is such a thing as "natural law," a code of ethics written by God in the consciences of each human being and one that each person can discover through the use of their reason. ....

Since God created human beings, his will concerning their behavior must make sense from the point of view of what is best for them and it must be something people can figure out when they reflect with intelligence and respect for one another, they said.

"The vision of the world in which the doctrine of natural law was developed and still finds its meaning implies a reasoned conviction that there exists a harmony" in what God wills, what human beings want and need and what nature demands, the document said.

Rejection of natural law in favor of a reliance on legislated laws promoted and approved by the majority can be deceiving because it "opens the way to the arbitrariness of power, the dictatorship of the numerical majority and to ideological manipulation to the detriment of the common good," the document said.

In the document, members of the theological commission briefly reviewed the moral teaching of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, traditional African religions, Islam and the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome to demonstrate that natural law is not a Catholic invention valid only for Catholics. And it asked leaders of those religions and philosophers to join in an international discussion about ethical values that can be recognized as universally valid and necessary.

The review highlighted the fact that "some types of human behavior are recognized by most cultures as expressions of a certain excellence in the way a person lives and realizes his humanity: acts of courage, patience in the trials and difficulties of life, compassion for the weak, moderation in the use of material goods, a responsible attitude toward the environment (and) dedication to the common good," it said.

"On the other hand, some behaviors are universally recognized as objects of censure: killing, theft, lying, rage, covetousness and greed," they said.

The values are not only traits of holiness, they are attitudes most respectful of human dignity; and the faults are not simply sins, but acts that threaten human life, human dignity and peaceful coexistence, they said.

They also said that marriage between a man and a woman united for life and open to having children is an example of a moral value that is not simply religiously motivated, but coincides with the fact that human beings are either male or female and have a natural urge to procreate.

While saying that all sins are "against nature" in the sense that they are obstacles to a right relationship with God and—or with others, the document said, "some behaviors are judged as 'sins against nature' in a special way" because they directly contradict human nature.

As examples, the document referred to suicide, which "goes against the natural inclination to preserve one's life and make it productive," as well as what it described only as "some sexual practices that go directly against the purpose" of being created male or female.
C.S. Lewis addresses this question, the question of natural law, in, among other places, his The Abolition of Man. The text can be found here. For those not inclined to read the entire book online, the appendix, "Illustrations of the Tao" might be particularly relevant.

Theological commission publishes document on natural law

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