In a recent blog we were discussing the case of Professor Finnis and homosexuality. It brought us up to the question of Natural Law. So let’s try to remind ourselves of what we know about this.
The concept of Natural Lsw is straightforward. Have you got a washing machine? If so I hope that you use it in accordance with its washing machine nature, so that it performs properly and does not break down. You can find out its nature partly by observation and common sense, but more thoroughly through studying the manufacturer’s handbook.
Human beings are subject similarly to their own nature. As an example we can recognise this because we are social animals. So we need to have rules about, say, telling lies or stealing. And of course we have the manufacturer’s handbook – which we call the Bible. In addition we have a service team appointed and guaranteed by the manufacturer to guide us when we need additional help. We call this the Church. And, like the properly used washing machine, we flourish. But there is a difference of degree here: if we break the rules of the washing machine we may have to buy another one; if we break the rules of human nature the sanction can be the weeping and gnashing of teeth into eternity. Best get it right!
Natural Law has been with us for a long time. We need to go back to the Greeks and to the philosophy of Stoicism – which the Romans borrowed from the Greeks, and was readily taken up by the Church, and further developed by moral philosophers. Think Aquinas. There was however an important change in the evidence. For nineteen hundred years after its foundation the Church was able to use biology as a certain source of some elements of the Natural Law. The argument was simple: God had created our biology directly so we could, so to speak, read off his requirements from that. For example, we may never tell an actual lie because the faculty of speech was created for sharing the truth.
Many of the issues here are of course about sexuality, which is necessarily related to biology. The obvious example is artificial contraception. It is easy to see how a condom interferes directly with the nature of sexual intercourse., and so it follows that there can never be a permissible reason to justify it. But here I use the example of homosexuality since this was the major factor in Finnis’s teaching.
No one would try to deny that the male and female sexual organs are the basis of heterosexual activities. So if we use the measurement of biology we must conclude that the homosexual act is evil in itself, and can never be justified. But let’s rephrase that and speak of homosexuality as a mismatch.
A mismatch is ordinarily avoided because it throws up problems as a result. Broadly it is undesirable. But if we suppose that an individual, through no fault of her’s or his, is emotionally ordered towards homosexual desires and away from heterosexual desires, can we find room to excuse a committed homosexual relationship?
Since homosexual promiscuity is a much greater and more damaging mismatch, we might even go further pace Finnis,and formalise committed relationships. I, however, do not think that such relationships should be called ‘marriage’. Marriage is a unique concept and and its identity should not be misused. However I would have no difficulty with a church service which noted, celebrated and prayed for such a relationship. Pope Francis, speaking of homosexuality famously said:”Who am I to judge?” In that context he quoted St John of the Cross “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”