Natural Law, postmodernism and modern political debate

Natural Law and it’s importance in understanding modern political thought.

Theologically Natural Law is based on Romans 2:14

“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”

It is integral to almost all Western thought and moral development before around 200 years ago and is in stark contrast to postmodernism.

Natural Law is the idea is that there is something in each of us that knows, as Thomas Aquinas said, “that good is to be done and evil avoided.” The idea being that certain first principles of what is good and evil are ascertainable by everyone through the use of reason even if there might be a second level or category of things that require a more rigorous level of rational thought to determine the principle of good and bad and thus someone might not understand those more subtle issues without moral responsibility.

For Kant, who said “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” Natural Law is integral. This maxim by Kant is a formulation for the understanding of Natural Law principles. First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents, and so as holding that all must, by natural law, act as you yourself propose to act in these circumstances. Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. If it is, then, fourth, ask yourself whether you would, or could, rationally will to act on your maxim in such a world. If you could, then your action is morally permissible.

It is central to the logic of the US founding document. When the US Declaration of Independence refers to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” it is not referring to the laws of physics but to Natural Law. It is an appeal to a universal understanding of the inherent nature of what is “good” and “evil” that all men including Kings are subject to, that universal law that gives the Americans the right to dissolve the political bonds they have with England. Without Natural Law the Declaration makes no sense.

Moral philosophy up until modern times has been Platonist in that we approached moral philosophy the way most mathematicians approach doing proofs, as if they were discovering something already out there rather than creating it. This became the basis of all discourse about morality and ethics. In fact without this assumption there can be no true discourse about morality and ethics. We have to assume we are all talking about something that actually exists on the same plane otherwise there is nothing to talk about. There is a reason that much modern political discourse seems to have people talking past each other. One group believes in Natural Law, that there is this plane of moral reality that we operate within, deny at our peril and are all responsible for while there is another group that believes that the plane does not exist. C. S. Lewis is referring to this in Mere Christianity when he states that such a plane exists otherwise our culture could not judge itself superior to Nazi culture with the right to destroy Nazi culture. Much of the angst of Western thought embodied in the literature of the “Lost Generation” writers is a result of grave doubts about the value of Western Culture in light of the failure of its ideals and the use of its scientific superiority to wage war on a mechanistic scale in WWI.

The Platonist position was held by the ancients as something believed without much argument but in the Christian era it rested upon a solid theological structure. Only if there is a God, an objective outside observer, could there really be said to be truly something “out there” in terms of morality or ethics. Even the Greeks appealed to “God” when discussing metaphysics and ethics. They just meant Zeus. What modern and post-modern (last 200 years) philosophy has realized is that without God all this falls apart.

The spectrum of things covered under this postmodern approach are everything from Grammar to sex. For instance grammar rules, known and used by the educated and unknown and unused by the uneducated, became a social construct that needed to be deconstructed. What is the purpose of Grammar? Well obviously it is to oppress those who don’t know it and to elevate and create privilege for those who do. So serious people in academia taught a kind of moral equivalency in divergent grammars present in different populations and studied those alternate grammars quite seriously. When Moral equivalency is made between what would be morally unequal concepts in Natural Law it is a tell tale sign of postmodern philosophical foundations guiding those expressing these views.

Those who hold to post modernism will do what is necessary to achieve their will to power because they have no moral limitations. Moral limitations they see as artificial constructs created not by the God who created the Universe but created by society as a means of oppressing others and keeping them from acting.

There are several modern issues that focus on this and few could be better to illustrate this than Abortion. It is why in many ways this issue which is surrounded by so much silliness is actually like the canary in the coal mine showing us a fundamental change in the culture and why pro-abortionists are so dangerous in positions of power. Killing an innocent life has been viewed universally as an evil in the Christian understanding of Natural Law.

Christians put an end to part of the Roman law of Pater-familias which allowed a father to decide the life or death of a newborn. But listen closely to the rhetoric of Abortion. The sanctify of the life of the unborn child is challenged by saying that those who oppose abortion are doing what? They are waging a war on women, oppressing women. This is not accidental. This is classic post-modern analysis. Laws against abortion were not civil law consistent with Natural Law saying do good and avoid evil. They were social constructs designed to oppress women. Thus the entire framework of the public debate is in post-modern terms and not in Natural Law terms. The constant march of postmodernism is a march of “liberation” from the social constructs masquerading as this thing called Natural Law.

Under post-modern philosophy which dominates the West and in particular academia, and Marxist ideology, the idea that Natural Law has no basis without God has come to it’s logical end. Politics is “the will to power” and all our mutual understandings about the nature of “good” and “bad” are social constructs, artificial human creations without any inherent existence outside of our mutual agreement. So under this philosophy all societal rules are to be understood purely as a means of one group to oppress another group. The key to liberation is to “deconstruct” these ideas of good and bad and expose who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed.

The conservative in the traditional understanding of that word rather intuitively gravitates to the position of Natural Law because he intuitively wishes to preserve the status quo. In postmodern thinking this is the preservation of existing social constructs. Thus the conservative in postmodern thinking is a participant in oppression. The liberal is drawn to postmodern thinking because he views himself as a liberator and “free thinker” who is as an individual free of the limitations of moral constructs.

How does this work in practice? The problem is that people generally are still under the reality of Romans chapter two. Attacks on social constructs are also attacks on Natural Law understandings and so almost always starts with appeals to some other principle of Natural Law or of reason. Thus in Roe the argument is the need for the Court to balance conflicting rights.

The public appeal in the case of Abortion was not initially to conflicting rights but to reason and was utilitarian and was particularly dark. Utilitarianism is a particularly useful structure for developing arguments that overturn Natural Law concepts. It has no moral dimension and yet holds appeal because it appeals to what benefits me. In the 70’s when the Abortion debate began the pro-abortion discussion was largely utilitarian and racist. What is the practical impact of lots of babies being born to inner city black teenagers? This was sold on a blatantly racist utilitarian basis to white middle America, and largely white middle America bought it on that basis.

But as the sexual revolution revved up and became mainstream there was a shift to a pure postmodern argument of Abortion being about the liberation of women and the postmodern approach of Roe really found expression in the political discourse. In crude language it is that I can kill my baby because it liberates me and my choices in life and laws that prevent this are not about good and evil but about oppressing women, as a class.

Gay rights are another such contemporary expression of postmodernism, but here things get really complicated because of the public vs the academic face of gay liberation. The Natural Law would look at the physical characteristics of men and women, the way men’s bodies are simply not designed for the kinds of things that gay men do to each other, the disconnection between sexuality and procreation, the inability of gay couples to procreate and conclude that gay relationships are not consistent with natural law. The Natural Law as understood not just by Christianity but every culture in the world for all time is that marriage is between a man and some number of women, one or several depending on the time and place.

The issue is being sold in terms of equal rights, a Natural Law appeal, but that appeal is not logical. The actual argument is postmodern, that laws that define marriage are not based in Natural Law since Natural Law doesn’t exist but are social constructs. The equal protection argument simply fails when it comes to gay marriage. A gay man has an equal right to enter into a marriage because he is free to marry a woman. But what a gay man wants is not a marriage. He wants to engage in a relationship with another man and for that relationship to be recognized by the state as a marriage. That has nothing to do with equal rights. It is a change in the definition of marriage. If we are going to change the definition of marriage then what is the civil liberties (natural law) argument is there for doing this for gay couples and not for the thruple, or the quadruple or the polygamous marriage or the bestiality marriage. There isn’t one. What is actually happening therefore is a classic postmodern approach. It actually is merely a will to power by a group wishing to redefine marriage. Little that you hear in the public debate discloses what is really happening. The conservative who attempts to prevent this change is typically appealing to the ick factor, to social prejudice about gay relationships, hardly the stuff of the plane of common known understandings of what is good and what is evil in Natural Law debates. Often there are reasons for these ick factor intuitions that are based in Natural Law but with gay liberation in charge of media and thus the terms of the debate it is very difficult to maintain clarity since clarity is not in the interest of those advancing the gay agenda.

But the postmodern gay agenda is much more complicated. First, postmoderns say marriage itself is the mother of all oppressive social constructs. So marriage redefinition is a temporary goal toward greater liberation when marriage itself is seen as a social construct and not as something created in by God in Eden and deconstructed so that everyone of either sex is free to have sex at anytime with anyone they want of either sex. One of the background things that few pay attention to is queer studies in Academia which say that the very invention of heterosexuality and homosexuality as concepts are only about 150 years old (true) and there has never been a word in any language in any culture before the 1860’s for men who preferred sex with other men. There was a word in almost every language for the person who did penetrative sex and a word for the one who received the penetrative sex. Even today in some cultures such a man may engage in penetrative sex of other males and he will not in any way view himself as gay or bisexual. Gay and straight are in fact social constructs in postmodern terms and as such the categories “homosexual” and “heterosexual” in strict post modern terms are a means of putting people in these categories while at the same time oppressing homosexuals and creating the concept of the superiority of heterodoxy. This led to any sexual activity involving opposite sex partners being given high status whereas any same sex sexual activity was given low status. This heterodoxy replaced the Natural Law position of Christianity that held that sex within marriage was given high status and sex outside marriage was given low status. The gay straight bi paradigm actually facilitated oppression of gays at the same time that it created them. This means gay straight and bi lack substance in both postmodern and in Natural Law understandings of moral and ethical structures of society but abandoning them under postmodern thought and abandoning them under Natural Law understandings result in very different outcomes.

Perhaps the most dangerous shift culturally is in the courts. The shift there preceded the shift in the general population and coincided with the shift in the intelligentsia and in academia but lagged behind the shift in philosophy and the arts. The courts once clearly viewed themselves as instruments of the Natural Law. As an example, The Texas Supreme court when establishing the rules for common law marriage within the text of the decision quoted extensively from the King James Bible. Today courts view themselves in postmodern terms and so deconstruct cultural norms ensconced in law by declaring them unconstitutional restrictions on liberty.

Most of the “culture wars” are not about what they are about. The right appeals to longstanding prejudice rather than Natural Law arguments because the great unwashed are largely ignorant of the importance of Natural Law foundations to the civil discourse. The left appeals essentially to libertarian Natural Law arguments but the left is anything but libertarian and they eventually frame the debate in postmodern terms. Increasingly postmodern arguments are becoming the more immediate frame for these arguments. A good example is the recent Hobby Lobby case where a closely held company, run by five people all members of a deeply religious family agreed to pay for sixteen methods of contraception in their company provided insurance but based on religious grounds refused to pay for birth control methods which work as abortifacients to end a pregnancy drawing a distinction between contraception and birth control. Thus religious freedom was set against a mandate to pay for abortifacient birth control. The debate has been framed from the beginning as a War on Women skipping any kind of Natural Law appeal and relying on the deconstruction of religious liberty as a social construct being used to oppress women. The opposition rather than being able to rely on Natural Law arguments has generally been more effective with public opinion using utilitarian arguments, saying the employer (meaning the consumer of the business and the other employees) shouldn’t have to pay for something that gives them no benefit.

The abandonment of Natural Law has important consequences for the nature of public discourse. It means that increasingly public debates over public policy will be debates past each other’s points of view and therefore more rancorous. It also means that as postmoderns and Natural Law adherents jockey to appeal to a public increasingly ignorant of first principles the debates will become increasingly disingenuous and less and less about what they really are about. Those who have goals of dismantling Western Civilization have become more bold of late but still must hide their ultimate goals as they work a slow dialectical dismantling of what they see as the oppressive moral constructs of Western Culture. Those who understand their goals and sound the alarm appear to be forever being ridiculed in the given debate as fear mongers and yet proven right in each time a few years later by each succeeding wave of change as the moral constraints of Western Civilization built through the common rational foundation of Natural Law are gradually dismantled.

Deconstruction of the Social Constructs of Gay, Bi, and Straight

Forty years ago I was in a sophomore English literature class and was reading a poem that would begin a change in how I see the world. That change wouldn’t come to fruition until this year. It was the epic poem, “In Memoriam” in which Tennyson gives tribute to his fallen friend, Arthur Hallam. I wept with Tennyson for his lost friend and I knew that I and the young men around me were missing something powerful and good. It introduced me to a kind of friendship that I didn’t know existed between men, a kind of friendship that rarely if ever exists today.

A century ago a young adolescent who felt a deep loving connection to other boys, who may even have felt some sexual arousal when considering other boys, would not have contemplated whether or not he was gay because the categories of gay straight and bi simply didn’t exist for anyone except a few academics. These categories are about 150 years old and are social constructs, as anyone in queer studies on any college campus will tell you.

A social construct is any jointly constructed understanding of the world. It is a social mechanism, phenomenon, perception, idea or category created and developed by society held by a subgroup or the whole society that is ‘constructed’ through cultural or social practice. It is not something that is “real” in the usual sense of that word, in that it has no existence outside of our agreement that it describes the world. For instance, real property, the ownership of land by an individual, is a social construct that is foreign to many nomadic tribes. Any good sociologist, historian, anthropologist, or for that matter psychologist who looks at the experience of men in history objectively know that at no time in the past and in no place in the past before about 150 years ago did anyone understand themselves and their relationship to the rest of humanity through categories of homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual and there were no words in any language that described the concepts inherent in these terms.

The good news is that although social constructs are powerful and have powerful impacts on us, they are not fundamental unchangeable things or parts of our human nature and thus can be “deconstructed” by the individual not just the culture. The first premise of post modernism is that social constructs are for the purpose of the oppression of one group by another and thus the duty of the enlightened is to deconstruct all social constructs for themselves and others as an agent of change. Thus the claim that a man cannot impact his “gayness” is strangely at odds with the very Catechism of postmodern liberation that it is derived from. Virtually all of the functionality of postmodern social theory is dependent upon the ability to deconstruct social constructs and liberate myself from them. In fact, some in queer theory admit that gayness is a temporary phenomenon because it is merely one social construct replacing a previous one and thus will be deconstructed in its turn.

Now here is the REALLY good news. Social constructs in this setting are attempts at developing categories for understanding human, and thus our own, behavior. Some post modernists believe all we can ever have is social constructs and there is never anything “real” underlying them. I am not a post modernist. Personally I am a Christian and like many people of faith I believe in Natural Law. In addition, in questions of Ethics and philosophy and truth seeking I am a Platonist. I believe there is truth and moral law actually out there to be discovered and understood. Our attempts to categorize our world through constructs (jointly constructed understandings of the world) are inevitable but these attempts will, to varying degrees, come close to reality or differ from it. Since the categories gay, straight and bi are quite new creations of a few German psychologists of the 19th century and only came into common usage in the West almost 60 years later sometime in the period between the Great Wars, I think it quite reasonable to assume that these constructs are faulty. Even the “gay” community itself struggles with them almost comically adding letters and categories to the rainbow through the years. It is time for a real Gay liberation movement, one in which we all, gay straight and bi, liberate ourselves from the confines of these social constructs, a liberation from the categories of gay, straight and bi themselves. The implications of such liberation are multifaceted for both individuals and the culture.

Social constructs are often created by the culture we grow up in and we mainly accept them without much objection or thought, but I invite you to consider that in fact these constructs do not describe reality well, that you need not be bound by them, and that you can deconstruct these categories and release yourself from their grip. This process is something that can do wonders for several issues faced by those with unwanted same sex attractions (SSA) and help men with opposite sex attraction (osa) to let go of a false sense of privilege.

First, the issue of identity. If a man with ssa can abandon this construct it means he is not gay. Other people may identify this way, they may like fitting into this kind of construct. In fact most men, particularly those who identify as heterosexual like the construct because it has conferred status to them. I would however encourage men in the straight category to also consider that this status has been unwittingly a burden. There were two categories that appear in languages all over the world in modern and ancient times. One was the one who penetrated and one was the one who was penetrated. In some cultures men who penetrate but who have been exposed to the heterosexual gay bi categories still view themselves as heterosexual. But under Natural Law the two categories most used were sex within a marriage and sex outside of marriage. These two categories also existed in some form or another in almost all cultures. One was “good” and one was “bad”. With the loss of this Natural law social construct “straight” men could view almost any sexual activity as “good” as long as it is heterosexual. That has been a trap for many men who have traded the long term intimacy of marriage for a predatory kind of sexuality that is not particularly distinguishable from what gay men engage in. By abandoning these categories there is no need for me to see myself as gay or straight or bi anymore. I am a man. I am a man with complex urges and needs but those complex urges and needs do not place me in some faulty category.

Second, the closely related issue of belonging. I am a man. I belong with other men. My biology is not a social construct. It is an undeniable permanent aspect of my personhood. Those who like the social construct “transgendered” may think they can change their sex, but they can’t. Neither can I. I belong to the tribe of men. I cannot take myself out of that tribe, that club. In common parlance, I got my man card at conception and nobody can take it from me, not even me. That means men share a common bond and a commonality that is vital and essential to our nature. I belong with other men and so do you. For any man who has struggled with a sense of, “do I have what it takes?” or “am I enough?” this is deeply reassuring.

Third, masculinity. I am masculine. I can’t help myself. My masculinity may be different from yours. It may be creative or artistic or musical or graceful or intuitive or intellectual or awkward or shy or boisterous or athletic but all I can be is masculine, because I am a man. Other ideas of masculinity are just social constructs.

Fourth, friendships. I may have a deep longing for close intimate friendship. I may enjoy affection with my male friends and feel a deep emotional closeness like David and Jonathan. I may like to lean against a friend’s shoulder or against his chest as we talk or let him do the same in the same way John leaned against the breast of Jesus. I may like to have lots of friends and my only desire is to have fun and laugh with them and all I want is a firm handshake. If either is my impulse it is a masculine impulse because it is my impulse. You see each of those are perfectly acceptable masculine behavior according to social constructs in different parts of the world, so ignore which one may be the social construct in your part of the world and do what your heart leads you to do. Fear of masculine intimacy as historians will tell you is also a new social construct and not coincidentally coincides with the development of the gay straight bi categories. The fear of masculine connection however is a sad and destructive social construct in the West and any man who can, should consider setting overcoming it as a goal for personal growth.

This is the last bit I will leave you with. Fear of physical affection and emotional intimacy combined with the social construct of gay, straight and bi in this culture is, I believe, the reason many many men see themselves as gay and see heterosexual marriage as beyond them and see friendships that would truly meet their deep needs as impossible or even un – Godly. It is tragic and it is an evil in our day.

One of the reasons so few men accept the invitation to step away from the gay life is the perception that the alternative is a life of deep isolation and constant sacrifice. But if you can shed that social construct and begin again to ask the meaning of the very desires that carried you a gay or bi identity, you may find that your life is not cursed and that instead what is opening up to you is a life of true liberation and blessing through healthy, deep, nonsexual connection with men.

What follows is not mine. It is however a tremendous essay about friendship that first appeared as a social media post by a Capuchin Friar from Australia in 2009 so the perspective is Christian. He mentions St Aelred who wrote extensively on the beauty of deeply connected friendship and has been labeled by many as gay. The notion is idiotic because it makes about as much sense as labeling him a Republican. It is a concept that would have had no meaning to him. The Friar who wrote this essay remains anonymous but he asks some deep important questions. This essay is a lament in its own way but also an invitation for men with ssa to leave your old social constructs and begin to experience a freedom in how you live your life. I encourage osa men to take the same invitation toward a deeper walk into masculine integrity and masculine connection both of which require an abandonment of similar constructs

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“Once upon a time, there was friendship. Once upon a time, society accepted that the love of friends could be the single most important thing in a person’s life, and they did more than just accept, they celebrated the fact. Throughout history, discourses and sermons have been written in praise of friendship. When Alfred Tennyson’s friend Arthur Hugh Hallam died tragically young in 1833, he spent the next seventeen years writing the great poem “In Memoriam” as a memorial to his friend; and Hallam is a first name used among the Tennyson family to this day. Looking further back, we can see Damon and Pythias, Pylades and Orestes, David and Jonathan…

Perhaps the change was the fault of Freud and Oscar Wilde; and then again, perhaps not. But today no love is accepted as valid that is not in some way sexual, and even if we set out to reject the sex-obsessed outlook of today’s society, we think in those terms despite ourselves. When St Aelred writes of “this most loving youth”, we all say to ourselves “oh yes” in a knowing way, sure that we have guessed the smutty truth.

What a waste! What a wicked denial and perversion of love! God has made friendship – did not Christ have his own beloved disciple? – and how dare we corrupt it and deny it! Of course, we must not despise sex: sex is holy, divinely ordained as a way of love and procreation – but it is not the only love. Friendship is not “mere” friendship, not a second-best; still less is it a repressed substitute for erotic love. It is a love in its own right, powerful, holy, overwhelming. A world with Eros but without friendship is a world full of isolated, self-obsessed couples, of love unshared – a sad thing indeed. And we are heading that way.

The denial of friendship is an evil thing and evil in its effects. When my pulse beats faster at the sight of my friend, when his presence feels like a bolt of electricity – is this really sex in disguise? Am I to run away – which would be a tragedy – in order to preserve my chastity, or am I to try to overcome my revulsion and make a pass – which would be worse? Modern society seems to give us nothing but this harsh choice between a cold heart and a hot body. Who knows how many of the impressionable young are led into ultimately unendurable vices precisely because they cannot face what seems the only available alternative? And when, as is inevitable, they have destroyed friendship by turning it into something it is not, what choice do we give them but to repeat the error, each time more desperately? As if one could see the stars by diving ever deeper into the mud!

Let us accept friendship. Let us accept it as a true and passionate gift of God. Let us accept it in others without reading anything else into it – “repressed” or not. Let us rejoice if it is given to us, be glad if it is given to others. Jonathan loved David not because of what he could get out of him, but because he was David: let us celebrate this motiveless love of the Other, an echo of the pure love of Heaven. We ought to love everyone like that: but one should at least start somewhere.

And if, like Aelred, we have made the mistake of seeking a physical consummation of a love that does not require it, then let us, like St Aelred, not recoil from that love but go forward, transcend that error, until the love becomes a redeemed and radiant thing that others will see and rejoice, giving thanks to God.”