Skip to comments.A Lament at the Secular World’s Rejection of Natural Law
Posted on 07/21/2012 1:08:40 PM PDT by NYer
One of the great losses to Western Culture is the increasing refusal to accept that there is a Natural Law to which we may commonly refer. This is especially problematic in pluralistic and secularist societies like the post-Christian West where reference to the sacred text of Scripture is not considered authoritative by many.
Hence, it has been the long practice of the Church, even before secularizing trends to base her witness to the truth not only on Scripture but also on Natural Law. The recourse to such a basis for discussion is now largely impossible for us, as most secularists have adopted a radical skepticism that our nature, and that the reality all around us, has anything to say to us in terms of the moral life. Thus, little discussion is possible between believers and secularists and the impasse is clearly on display in the comboxes of blogs such as this and others.
What is the Natural Law? According to St. Thomas, the natural law is “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” (I-II.94). There are two reason we call this law “natural.” First, because it is set forth in our very nature itself, and second, because it is manifested to us by the purely natural medium of reason, rather than by supernatural revelation. The law, however, we observe does not rest on some particular element or aspect of our nature (e.g. only the physical). The standard is our whole human nature and also the special ends to which we are directed: e.g. justice, truth, rationality, and openness to the eternal.
For example, in observing our overall nature we rightly conclude, by the use of reason, that it is wrong to indulge the satisfaction of some lower need or tendency in a way that is not properly subordinated to the higher goods. We rightly conclude that reason should maintain a proper order and balance among our conflicting tendencies and desires.
Note that in these examples, we have not referenced Scripture, which is supernatural revelation. Natural Law however is accessed through the unaided operation of reason. Founded in our nature and revealed to us by our reason, the natural law is known to us in the measure that reason brings a knowledge of it home to our understanding. The supreme and primary principles (e.g. not to steal, lie, commit adultery, murder) are known to every one having the actual use of reason and are held in every culture. Another class of conclusions or principles are those which are reached only by a more or less complex course of reasoning. This would be due to the more complex nature of the situation encountered. 
Thus, in effect, Natural Law is the law available to us by the use of natural reason. It presupposes that the existing world is intelligible, that it manifests order, and tends toward a purpose or goal (e.g. sustaining life). It presupposes that the natural world is steeped with meaning, and maintains a vigorous optimism that we, who are rational creatures, can learn from what the natural world and our own human nature testify to us.
But this optimism that creation shouts meaning and truth has suffered many serious blows in Western Culture, in the wake of the radical doubt and skepticism set in motion by the Cartesian revolution of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Increasingly, many influential Western philosophers came to articulate that things are ultimately, meaningless. Many scientists have taken up the notion that all the intricate order we can observe is only the result of random chance mutations and that the existing world ultimately has no real or ultimate meaning; it is just a chance accident. Materialists refuse to accept anything beyond physical matter, and reject metaphysical concepts such as justice, love, beauty, longing, and moral sense as mere emanations of brain synapses ultimately signifying nothing. Nihilism and other reductionists tendencies have plagued the West and robbed us, collectively speaking of the optimism that we, our lives, or the existing world have meaning and something to teach us.
Thus it is we who believe who are left holding the candle and who optimistically assert that the existing world is steeped with meaning, with teachings, with intelligibility. From the Christian point of view, God made all things through his “Word” (who is our Lord Jesus Christ). The Greek word Logos points to a kind of “logic” that permeates all things and is discoverable to our human reason. The universe was “thought into being” and thus we who possess reason are able to observe, to recognize, the Law, the reason, and the wisdom that underlies and permeates all things.
So, along with the supernatural Book of Sacred Scripture we also have the natural Book of Creation. The Church esteems them both as pointing to the one truth. Thus there can be no absolute or ultimate conflict between true science and faith. As Catholics, we are frequently considered together with our Fundamentalist and Evangelical brethren who do not often esteem the Book of Creation and Natural Law as we do. There are important distinctions that Catholics uniquely make that are often lost on atheists and secularists. We do not insist that our moral teachings and most of our doctrinal teachings are only available by Scripture, we also strive to show them and demonstrate them by way of natural law and that they are quite often accessible to reason.
Again we may note with sadness that this avenue is of late shutting down. Note because we have changed or moved, but because the world has become doubtful and cynical that the existing world or our bodies have anything to tell us.
One cannot judge individual hearts to be sure, but it is not without sobriety to suggest that some, if not many, who have rejected Natural Law have done so, not out struggle or doubt, but because the existence of any law above them is inconvenient to the moral life they wish to lead. Such judgements may be beyond us in individual cases, but collectively it seems clear that the wholesale abandonment of Natural Law has coincided with the declining West’s collective decision to take a moral holiday.
Perhaps as a prosaic conclusion to the Church’s optimism that the created world shouts forth meaning and truth we can end with the words of St Athanasius. Certainly he writes from the standpoint of faith and his words would matter little to a secularist or atheist. But to we who still have that “old time religion” it is a good reflection on how creation mystically manifests the immanence and wisdom of God.
By his own wisdom and Word, who is our Lord and Savior Christ, the all-holy Father (whose excellence far exceeds that of any creature), like a skillful steersman guides to safety all creation, regulating and keeping it in being, as he judges right. It is right that creation should exist as he has made it and as we see it happening, because this is his will, which no one would deny. For if the movement of the universe were irrational, and the world rolled on in random fashion, one would be justified in disbelieving what we say. But if the world is founded on reason, wisdom and science, and is filled with orderly beauty, then it must owe its origin and order to none other than the Word of God.
He is God, the living and creative God of the universe, the Word of the good God, who is God in his own right…. the Word that created this whole world and enlightens it by his loving wisdom….produced the order in all creation….and gives order, direction and unity to creation.
By his eternal Word the Father created all things and implanted a nature in his creatures. He…in his goodness he governs and sustains the whole of nature by his Word (who is himself also God), so that under the guidance, providence and ordering of that Word, the whole of nature might remain stable and coherent in his light. From a Discourse Against the Pagans by Saint Athanasius, bishop (Nn. 40-42: PG 25, 79-83)
VIDEO: Facts of Faith
Missed this one ... Enjoy!
I miss the days when logical thought was valued in the public sphere.
The concept of right and wrong is quickly being replaced by what feels good and what doesn’t. The idea of a higher morality, one determined apart from our personal feelings, is considered outdated by the “enlightened” secularists, who believe we are nothing more than animals with no spiritual aspect. Ironic that they consider themselves so sophisticated and yet consider the highest purpose in life to eat, sleep, have sex, and then die.
Would it be terribly immodest of me to agree?
So do I.
This is what the Obama voters call "culture."
"Those rights, then, which God and nature have established, and are therefore called natural rights, such as are life and liberty, need not the aid of human laws to be more effectually invested in every man than they are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable. On the contrary, no human legislation has power to abridge or destroy them, unless the owner himself commit some act that amounts to forfeiture."
-- William Blackstone
"Science has sometimes been said to be opposed to faith, and inconsistent with it. But all science, in fact, rests on a basis of faith, for it assumes the permanence and uniformity of natural laws - a thing which can never be demonstrated."
-- Tryon Edwards
Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (November 20, 1772)
Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.
it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defense of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.
Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (November 20, 1772)
No, I am not being 'tongue in cheek.'
For an introduction into the dependence on Natural Law theories as to our political origins, see Declaration Of Independence With Study Guide.
Of course, if one truly rejects Natural Law, they not only disqualify themselves from intelligent participation in our political institutions; they render themselves unable to deal with the disciplines of chemistry, physics, biology, botany, etc., etc..
Come to think of it, didn't some humanists, who believed that man could reinvent reality, once try to build a tower to heaven?
Considering the roots of the word, the better interpretation of "sophisticated," is to be heavily influenced by sophistry. Those whom you describe, correctly consider themselves to be heavily influenced by sophistry.
Further to the effect of my previous post, just above: America, as every nation with a history, was conceived (and dedicated) to multi-generational purpose. The reality of human existence inherently involves multi-generational purpose. One of the many absurdities of the Leftwing humanist effort to force the acceptance of mock marriage, today, is that the whole function of marriage is to sanctify the multi-genrational procreational family formation. Arguably, those advocating "same sex marriage," are either clinically insane, or close to it. But I do not want to spend band-with 'preaching to the choir.'
My apologies for the over-use of cliches. It has been a long week.
This was a good article!
You need to read the comments at the site, it will explain why so many modernists are moral pygmies.
Well my week has just started. You know the real reason they try to break down traditional institutions such as marriage, religion, and America’s founding principals themselves? They think they can recreate the world in their own image. And for that, they must destroy whatever is currently taking its place. Like tearing down an old building to erect a new one. This is more in the back of their minds, however, not discussed in open meetings or in dark smoke-filled rooms. Everyone marches to a particular drum, whether they know it or not; and they don’t, for the most part. Lenin said to make an omelet, you must break a few eggs. The problem is, the egg-breaking never stops.
Oh, I sincerely doubt that.
"Would it be terribly immodest of me to agree?"
Well, not as long as you blush profusely and sincerely while you are doing the agreeing, Natural Law.
I'm also thinking that, even though you did not personally post this excellent lamentative article, it might be appropriate for you (and incumbent upon you) to post some kind of "Vanity Post" notice or disclaimer somewhere in this thread ... :-)
Bump for later.
Romans ch 1
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
Many people of faith agree with them as they will preach that we can deny our natural desires, people who can deny their natural desires could also do things that are not natural, just depends on what their teacher tells them.
Our nature will protect us if we let it and it can also get us in to trouble if we let it, but God made man what he did and he made woman what he did for good reason.
And any one who claims there are no difference is completely insane.
I agree with everything in the article about natural law and reason. What I don’t understand is why we need a book of supernatural revelations. If man’s mind is capable of reasoning the laws of nature on what basis can he believe in supernatural revelations or revelations from a realm outside of reality?
Actually, the very dedication in the Preamble, recognizing "Liberty" as a "Blessing," and their purpose as multi-generational, reflects Natural Law as providing the foundation for the sort of political societies that they sought.