Generally speaking, the notion of “human rights” is also seen as highly subjective and a call for a person to self-determination, a process which is no longer grounded in the idea of the natural law. In this regard, many respondents relate that the legal systems in many countries are having to make laws on situations which are contrary to the traditional dictates of the natural law (for example, in vitro fertilization, homosexual unions, the manipulation of human embryos, abortion, etc.).
Situated in this context is the increased diffusion of the ideology called gender theory, according to which the gender of each individual turns out to be simply the product of social conditioning and needs and, thereby, ceasing, in this way, to have any correspondence to a person’s biological sexuality.
Furthermore, much attention is given in the responses to the fact that what becomes established in civil law — based on an increasingly dominant legal positivism — might mistakenly become in people’s mind accepted as morally right. What is “natural” tends to be determined by the individual and society only, who have become the sole judges in ethical choices.
The relativization of the concept of “nature” is also reflected in the concept of stability and the “duration” of the relationship of marriage unions. Today, love is considered “forever” only to the point that a relationship lasts.
Instrumentum Laboris for Synod on the Family, 23-24
Reflection – This section of the Instrumentum gets into some very difficult territory indeed. As was discussed a few days ago, the word ‘natural’ has come to mean ‘that which comes easily or spontaneously’. Natural law, in this understanding, would simply mean that the iron law of humanity is to do whatever you most want to do, whatever comes easiest and reflects your deepest drives and urges.
It is one thing—a difficult, thorny thing—that this is indeed the prevailing ethos in secular society. And we who are Christians have to be very creative and engaging and compassionate and thoughtful in our dialogue with secularity. Not to get (too) repetitive, but I think one person who has modeled this creative and compassionate dialogue like no one else is Pope Benedict XVI, as I outlined in my book on his writings.
The fact is, the modern ethos of self-determination and freedom as license is persuasive to many perfectly decent and well-meaning people. The process of dialogue has to be done with great care and respect, in these secular circles.
However, it is quite another thing when this same ethos of nature finds its way into the Church and into Christian minds and hearts. It is not that we cease to be kind and compassionate in our communications, but we can be a bit stronger and more insistent.
Because it is sheer and unfettered nonsense, from a position of Christian faith, to advance this same idea of freedom and nature, happiness and human flourishing, as the carrying out of whatever desires we have and feel most strongly. Leaving aside the specific moral issues touched on above, the whole of our Catholic Christian moral sense comes from three principles.
First, that God is the author of creation, and that the meaning and order of creation is from Him. We do not make up our own meaning and order, but receive it from Him. Second, that sin has darkened the human world and put our desires into a state of considerable disorder. We cannot just listen to our hearts and follow our bliss; our hearts are, alas, deceptive. Third, that God has restored and perfected His divine order of creation and humanity in Jesus Christ, and is carrying out that work of restoration in every human being who believes in Jesus and comes to Him for healing. The path of discipleship, of obedience, of surrendering our wills and our lives to Jesus Christ is the fundamental moral path, the Law of the Christian.
In practical terms, this means that we don’t get our way in life. We don’t get to do our own thing. We don’t get what we ‘want’, at least not the immediate thing, generally, not usually. We don’t get to cut loose (footloose!), at least not as a general principle. Life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is life lived as a serious choice, made daily that “Not my will, but your will be done, Father.”
“I was always afraid that if I really surrendered to God, He would do me in. And it turns out I was right!” Someone said this to me recently in a casual conversation. I responded, “Yeah, and it turns out that having God do us in is actually the best thing that can happen to us.” It’s what we really need and, although it can take a while to get there, it’s what we really want, anyhow, deep down.
How this all applies to marriage, divorce, sex, gender, not to mention all the other moral conundrums of life, is for another day. But we have to start at the level of these fundamental principles and patterns, or our conversation goes wrong from the outset.
I also want to add, in conclusion, that the path of discipleship I describe may sound a bit ‘heavy’ and even grim. It is heavy, but it is far from grim. It is a joyful, free, peaceful, and beautiful path of life, and we need to proclaim that, too, or nobody will believe us or be interested in what we have to say.