What the Heck is Natural Law Anyway?

KennedyAt the website of the Theopolis Institute a piece was recently posted by Mark Horne with the curious title, “If There is ‘Natural Law’ How Can People Believe in Same-Sex Marriage?” I say curious because I’m not sure why five lawyers in black robes declaring gender complimentarity irrelevant to marriage somehow makes natural law an invalid concept. Nor does a certain percentage of people believing such things can be marriage invalidate natural law. Like any law, natural laws can be broken, but the law is no less a law just because someone decides to flout or ignore it. But first what exactly is “natural law”?

There have been tomes written to answer and explore this question, but we can start with Paul in Romans 2:

14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

The conscious and moral sense that all human beings have, and that nobody denies is there, is part of the natural law. It is part of human nature because humans have a nature, and a predictable one at that. C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man calls it the Tao:

The Tao, which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or…ideologies…all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they posses.

And he argues in the book that it is remarkably consistent through all time and places and peoples.

The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle were especially prescient in arguing that nature communicates not just is, but ought as well. Aristotle explicated four categories of causation: the material, formal, efficient, and final. That final cause was the end, or the telos, of that which was created. I had an interesting conversation not long ago with a friend I don’t see much anymore (we live in different states now). He was adamant that gays should be allowed to marry, that it is only fair, that the Ten Commandments don’t condemn homosexuality, etc. I tried to reason with him biblically that gay marriage is an oxymoron, and didn’t get very far. But when I brought up the idea of telos, he stopped, looked quizzical, and said he’d never thought of that. Of course I speak of the complimentarily of the sexes, and that it is apparent to any objective observer that certain organs of the body were designed with certain ends in mind. It’s not unlike looking at the electrical socket in the wall and the plug in your hand, and knowing intuitively that one was created for the other, they fit, they match, and we don’t have to be persuaded why. If someone were to come along and tell us that it only looks like they were created for one another, but there really is no correlation, you would think such a person doltish, if not downright stupid.

Let us take it out of the moral realm for a moment. Why are there such things, for instance, as seeds and trees and things that grow on trees that just happen (holy coincidence, Batman!) to be pleasing to the eye, have tastes that we can enjoy because we have these things called tongues that just happen to have something called taste buds, and that, perfect trifecta, contain nutrients that we need to live? Only someone as obtuse as Richard Dawkins could convince himself that it just appears that this indicates a designer. Yep, sheer chance can account for it all! No, as Aristotle observed, these things we see in all of creation have an end, a purpose, a telos that tells us, that communicates to us the nature of the things. It doesn’t take the Bible for us to know it; all it takes is common sense!

But our Theopolis Institute author is frustrated that when it comes to marriage and the sexual complimentarity assumed by it, some people just can’t see it or choose to ignore it. Thus natural law doesn’t exist.  We can see the problem right away in his understanding of what natural law is:

As far as I can tell natural law is supposed to be an area of knowledge that all people should be able to agree upon by the right use of reason whether or not they believe or have access to special revelation. This idea is often conflated with the concept of “general revelation” except that general revelation reveals the one true God. “Natural law” can be accepted and believed without any such acknowledgement.

This is a unique definition of natural law that fails on the face of it. All people don’t agree on anything! That is a heavy weight to put on the definition of anything, let alone a concept we argue that people intuit. Yet to him because some people cannot be persuaded that same-sex pairings are not the same as male and female pairings, natural law is a failed idea.

He states further:

But why would there be a single body of truth that would be affirmed by all reasonable unbelievers?

Again, nobody that I am aware of has ever defined natural law as something affirmed by “all” reasonable unbelievers. It seems this gentleman has built a precarious straw man easily felled.

His conclusion:

So if this fundamental reality can be denied, what exactly is the territory of “natural law” that believers and non-believers can both agree upon? Where is that common ground?

As far as I’m concerned, there’s not any other “secular” area of agreement that could be as important as this. If people can’t recognize a marriage as a fundamental unit embedded in human nature, then what could they possibly see in nature that isn’t just a matter of chance rather than an ability to recognize reality?

Uh, we call this sin. As Paul aptly puts it in Romans 1, human beings “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” In fact, Paul goes on further to state that “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” Throughout these verses Paul says several times and in several ways that people “know” the truth. In fact, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Yet throughout Paul’s narrative, people flout God’s law, and “not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them.”

Fundamental reality is denied all the time, even by Christians, and yet God’s law, his “natural law” written on our hearts, in our very natures, cannot be abrogated. Yet to our author, “the real reason we ‘see’ the essential nature of the male and female division in humanity, is because God taught us verbally that he made us that way.” Of course he did, but telos is a powerful thing; try sticking your finger in that socket I mentioned above. We break telos, the designed nature of things at our peril.

Toward the end of his piece we see that he’s set up a false dichotomy.

So general revelation [i.e. natural law] was never meant to function apart from a tradition of human language transmission. If you want to see how general revelation functions “by itself” you need to look at stories of feral children. The evidence is that general revelation without speech communication (even idolatrous and ignorant communication) doesn’t reveal much of any practical use.

How many stories of “feral children” are there? This is a strange argument to make because “speech communication” has existed since there were humans, or as we Christians say, “in the beginning.” In fact, “speech communication” isn’t the only communication according God’s Word. In Psalm 19 we read:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

This applies to all of creation, and why Pagan in good standing Aristotle can say at the beginning of his Nicomachean Ethics that

Every art and every inquiry, and likewise every action and choice, seems to aim at some good, and hence it has been beautifully said that the good is that at which all things aim.

Of course Aristotle didn’t have access to God’s special revelation that God’s people Israel had access to at this same time in history, but that didn’t keep him from a perspicacity that amazes us to this day.

I will end this entirely too long blog post with a long quote from a book review of an old friend of mine, Dr. Stephen Paul Kennedy, did of Stephen J. Graybill’s “Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics.” There are reasons why we are where we are today regarding marriage, and reasons why so many people can be so blind to a fundamental reality that is so glaringly obvious. Dr. Kennedy has some insightful observations:

The fact that natural law has been so resoundingly denounced by moderns, Christian and non-Christian alike, is not the subject of Grabill’s study, except that he offers an astute account of why natural law was rejected by Karl Barth and his followers. Sadly, however, the implausibility of natural law to people today probably has little to do with Barth’s critique or moral voluntarism. The besetting problem is not theological, but is rather psychological and sociological. Psychologically, a universally knowable law of human nature makes no sense in a world where an atomized self has replaced the soul. The plausibility of natural law is grounded in a moral psychology where the soul is understood to be equipped by God’s communicable attributes such as prudence, justice, temperance, faith, hope, love, joy, peace, and so forth—attributes capable of being cultivated into mature dispositions and sentiments known as virtues. The implausibility of natural law is necessarily linked with the demise of this moral psychology.

Sociologically, modernization has contributed mightily to natural law’s loss of plausibility. In a technological society, what is given in nature is generally thought to be the enemy—that is, the source of scarcity, disease, and want. Those who advocate attentive stewardship of the creation and all that dwells in it are still children of the Enlightenment, and therefore cannot resist Hume ‘s so-called naturalistic fallacy. In a technological society, it is difficult for most to imagine that nature really puts limits on human striving, especially in moral matters. The atomized self is infinitely malleable for the creation of what we eagerly call quality of life. The old moral psychology asserts that human nature reveals guidelines for limiting the projects of human making, especially the remaking of human beings.

Unfortunately, we have one of these “atomized” human beings on the Supreme Court of the United States, who wrote the following in 1992:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Sadly he speaks for a large portion of the American population, for which a good dose of natural law would surely help.


  • mikehorn

    There is another choice: the nature of humanity is not revealed by scripture or dogma, but by research and evidence. For anyone not conservative Christian enough that Paul’s letters actually matter to American law, matters of nature must be discussed in non-scriptural ways. The reasons are two-fold:
    1. An unbeliever by definition puts no special authority on biblical quotes. Similarly, the parentage of Achillies as described by Homer is not regarded as truthful or relevant. Gilgamesh is not an authority.
    2. America is forbidden from making laws preferring one religious belief over another. This “establishment” part of religious freedom is very important, forbidding any religion from co opting the powers of the State to enforce religious views on non-adherents. Christian notions of “natural law” have no more weight, and Constitutionally cannot have more weight, than Yin/Yang or Karma or Spirit Guides or Xenu.

    The only “natural law” that can be allowed is evidence gained from scientific research, by definition neutral on religious questions. That doesn’t mean it will not disagree with religion, only that is has no prejudice, evidence leading where it will. That evidence leads to the conclusion that homosexuality is in fact natural and intrinsic to individuals, not a choice or a “sin”. Under the Constitution, it bears no stigma from any religious view, and religions are forbidden from enacting their condemnation into American law.

    • Mike, natural law is evident apart from scripture, which in case you missed it was my whole point!

      Are you arguing that there is actually some neutral vantage point where totally objective observers can come up with totally objective, non-religious knowledge? Of course, no such neutrality exists. All human beings have prejudice, such as yours that knowledge only comes through empirical methodology. In fact, your assertion that all neutral knowledge comes through empirical means is itself a statement of philosophy, or a metaphysical assertion, thus is self-refuting.

      All human beings have basic presuppositions that are not in any way scientifically provable, and thus all human beings are religious. Thus to target specifically Christian views as somehow not valid in the public square in the name of “separation of church and state” is rank bigotry founded in the ignorance of the nature of knowledge, or what is called epistemology.

      Thus your reading of the Constitution is blatantly wrong. The Founders had enough common sense and wisdom to know you couldn’t keep “religious” ideas separate from the state; they simply didn’t want a religion established by the federal government. In fact, at the time several of the individual states had state endorsed religion, which was obviously Constitutional.

      So if we can get our facts straight and our assumptions on the table, we can actually have an intelligent conversation!

      • mikehorn

        You missed two points I made, perhaps not clearly enough:

        Science is the neutral zone between religions. It can ask and answer all sorts of questions about human pair bonding and other aspects of sexuality. It does so by asking questions and investigating as if the starting point is the humble one: we don’t know. While individual scientists have prejudice, a single study is not the only thing said. Any subject will have several studies by many people with different backgrounds. They check each other through review and reproduce ability. Individual prejudices are cancelled out. I guarantee that every prejudice has an opponent very eager to point out problems with the study. Any Christian is welcome to start with the hypothesis that homosexuality is wrong and gay marriage is worse, but they will need data and statistics and genetics to make a valid objective point in a secular way that can apply to American law.

        America has many freedoms guaranteed. The freedom FROM rrligious theocracy is inherent in the prohibition of government favoring any religion. This guarantees that an atheist or Buddhist is free from Catholic dogma, for instance. Since Christian “natural law” is theologically based (see your references to Paul, scripture, and religion), then it has no favored status. It is still possible that “natural law” is correct in part or as a whole, but from an objective sense consistent with religious freedom and free conscience and individual liberty, it must compete in the “marketplace of ideas” as long with everyone else. It must be argued and demonstrated. By means separate from religious authority. Biblical quotes are simply not good enough.

        What I read s an assertion of Truth from divine revelation and built up dogma. That has no weight on American law, because other people have competing Truths and dogmas that are just as valid as yours if religious freedom as any meaning at all. Enshrining religion into law is simply, inherently wrong as a Constitutional question. The two might overlap, but for rationale you need more than faith.

        • Actually, Mike, I completely understand your point, but you seem to still insist on either missing mine or distorting them. I think it’s the a bit of both, actually, because you are so immersed in your secularist philosophy that you think it somehow neutral and superior and to any religious view of things. In the public square it doesn’t matter WHERE any argument or idea comes from. In America we simply have to convince our fellow citizens of the reasonableness of our ideas. If you don’t like where my basic ideas and assumptions and beliefs come from, you have absolutely no right to tell me that views are not welcomed in the public square.

          It’s amazing that a guy obviously as sharp as you can get something so completely wrong. Religious ideas in the public square and applied to American law is NOT, I repeat, NOT a theocracy. If a Buddhist or Muslim or Jew or Christian or atheist want their religious values represented in the law, they must argue with their fellow citizens and convince them of the goodness or rightness of their views. This is not “enshrining religion in law,” as you ridiculously claim. What you are actually doing, or trying to do, is in the name of “OBJECTIVE SCIENCE” to keep anyone with religious convictions out of the public square. It ain’t gonna work! Mainly because you just don’t seem to know what the heck you are talking about.

          Thus the natural law. I don’t care where you think I get my ideas of natural law from, it simply doesn’t matter. I will argue until the cows come home that men and women are different, and it is obvious to any objective observer that they are complimentary. If I can convince them, which I can, then in a representative republic we can possibly build these ideas into the laws of the land. ALL laws are morals in action, and moral ideas have to come from somewhere; but not from science.

          So, in addition to your understanding of the Constitution being wrong, your epistemology as I stated in my previous reply is fundamentally flawed as well because you think scientific knowledge can tell us what is right and wrong. It is simply cannot. Your methodological naturalism is a ruse to look open, fair and non-judgmental, but to enforce the dicta of naturalism at every epistemic point is simply a not very clever way to rule out the supernatural or metaphysical from any discussion. Unfortunately, many of our fellow citizens believe such nonsense because they’ve been brainwashed by our public schools, media and Hollywood. But I am convinced that the absolute fatuousness of such a perspective will slowly die of its own obvious flaws.


          • mikehorn

            I think we are still talking past each other a bit. You say you are free to enter the debate with solely religious ideas and try to convince people. I agree with you fully here. People are free to get converts or debate any point they would like. This translates to votes often enough.

            My point is that we have judicial protection from laws based solely on religion, that the Establishment clause of Amendment I rules here, mainly to protect the Expression clause from being diminished: when one religion puts its theology into public law, then a disagreeing religion is by definition being repressed. There are balancing considerations like public interest, but these points are not won or lost for religious reasons, but for secular ones.

            A famous example is dover v Kitzmiller, where Creationists had tried to implement religious instruction in public schools. They were completely shut down by the Courts because they were trying to implement theology for purely religious reasons.

            At the start of our nation, this was used to allow fee worship for Catholics and others who were not Anglican. It’s precursor, the Virginia statute on religious freedoms, pointedly disestablished Anglicanism in Virginia. The Federalist papers agreed that preventing laws based on theology made America more free.

            There is more history and precedent, but my point is that convincing people is fine, but to make a law that won’t fail in the courts, religious reasoning is simply not good enough. In fact, like in Dover, a demonstrated theocratic bias actively hurts the Constitutionality of the law.

          • Mike, can you explain what, “My point is that we have judicial protection from laws based solely on religion,” means? How exactly would a law “based solely on religion” be passed? We may be talking past one another a bit, which is understandable, but I think we have an issue with definition. We obviously have epistemological differences. You seem to think that “religious” reasons are somehow different than “secular” ones, and that because “religious” reasons come from a book or an interpretation of a book, that somehow they have no standing in the public square.

            Can you tell me exactly why laws against murder are “secular” and not “religious”? If they were the latter, according to your definition, which arguably they are (Ten Commandments), they could not be valid laws. Your example about the Creationists (i.e. Intelligent Design) case doesn’t even make your point that secular and religious are somehow mutually exclusive categories. It was against the law to even teach evolution in all or most states until Scopes. If the majority of Americans and our cultural elites were “creationists” that is what would be taught in the schools.

            But it might shock you that I agree with your basic position. I would never want, for instance, the fact of the resurrection taught in public schools, or the doctrine of the Trinity, anymore than I would want it taught that Mohammed or Joseph Smith were actually prophets. I don’t want my children indoctrinated in someone else’s religious beliefs anymore than you do. We live in a pluralistic society, and the state should not promote any one religion. In Christianity we call this the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, or in Augustine’s famous phrases, the City of God and the City of Man. The civil kingdom (of Man) should never be confused with the Church (of God). Unfortunately some Christians do and have confused them.

            The other equally, and I would argue more pernicious error, are those who try to keep the public square completely wiped clean of any religious influence. These secular totalitarians argue that Christians should basically keep their thoughts to themselves because their thoughts are influenced by Scripture. This is absurd and un-American. Secularism for these people has gone from being a compromise in a pluralistic society of competing interests, to a religion of its own. I would be just as offended if Buddhism or Hinduism was taught as truth, as I am when secularism of this type is taught. Unfortunately, there is a religion taught in America’s public schools, and that is philosophical and methodological naturalism, but that’s an argument for another blog post/comment.

            I would suggest a fantastic book that argues for a more balanced or accurate approach to secularism called, “The End of Secularism,” by Hunter Baker. You would learn that there is a better approach to the public square than absolute dichotomy between what is called religion and what is not (every worldview rests on faith to one degree or another, so in that sense, everyone is religious.)

          • mikehorn

            I’ve tried to make this point, but it might have gotten lost. Each post has several points:

            A law is certainly capable of being passed by a religious sect that gained a majority of legislature votes. The reasoning could be entirely scriptural or theological. But if this law in functionality served to supress the freedom of others for the purpose of putting one religion above the others, this is a violation of the Establishment clause, and the Judicial branch functions as a check against simple majority rule. In this case, the judicial branch would only fail if it upheld the law. 5 lawyers are all the Constitution requires to negate a sectarian law.

            Creationism is a case in point. Elected school board members worked hard to insert material and language into the Biology classes that was entirely religious in nature, excluding other religions and ignoring the science. The court record is clear: elected officials acted entirely on religious reasoning in an attempt to place one form of fundamentalist Protestantism into public school science classes.

          • I agree, Mike. But it isn’t always so clear cut, and like I’ve said ad nauseum, secularism can be a religion too. Right now religious liberty in American is under serious threat from it. Fundamentalist secularist leftist progressives are the ones we ought to fear.

          • mikehorn

            Murder, other laws.

            Again, a point I made got lost: religions are free to engage in public debate till they are blue in the face. The IRS rules about tax exemption for churches specifically allow issue advocacy.

            But for a law to be Constitutional it needs more than religion. You mentioned murder. For one thing, the Ten Commandments are not the only source of laws against murder. Every society in history, before and after Israel existed, banned murder in different ways. This has an entirely worldly component: the victim has the same rights as the perpetrator. At its basic level, murder is a civil rights issue. the ban on murder has no identifiably sectarian source, unless you count every sect. The ban can have a religious aspect, but must have more to be Constitutional, or it runs afoul of Establishment and Equal Protection clauses. Note I included Amendment 14. Pre civil War allowed all manner of horror, including murder, against slaves. And the perpetrators had theology backing them up.

          • mikehorn

            A separate topic is what Natural Law actually is. There is the historic angle where church and secular philosophers were trying to figure out what the nature of man actually was. This was pre-modern science, and a precursor to modern science, but it had an inherent theological basis, like assuming Original Sin and a soul were real things we could talk about, where modern science requires those things to be demonstrably real before we can even talk coherently about them, much less reach conclusions about them. But historically philosophers considered natural laws impossible to create, but able to be discovered. This allowed that future inquiry could either reveal new laws or alter our perception of old laws.

            Recently Catholicism and some Protestants use older ideas of natural law as a tool to defy modern discoveries. This goes against the historic practice, but is also an expression of the precursor to peer review and reproducible results. The problem is that as soon as theology enters a debate about natural phenomena (the human animal, for instance), then it ceases to be an objective, scientific discussion. Theology has to many preconceived conclusions to allow honest debate and makes it profoundly not science, and not objective. This is why “Natural Law” as used in modern morality debates is religious by nature, by definition.

      • ron_goodman

        You say natural law is evident apart from scripture, but your first two quotes are from Paul and C.S. Lewis, followed by references to design, telos, sin, and “God’s special revelation”. Without the religious underpinning, there’s not much left, except for some quotes from the Greek philosophers. While I don’t find it surprising that most human cultures hold some values in common, elevating them to the level of Natural Law seems a stretch.

        • Maybe so, Ron, but it’s just a blog post. As I said in the piece, tomes have been written about this, and you’ll see more than a few quotes in those. In fact, I put “Natural Law” in Amazon Books, and there are 100 pages!!!

      • mikehorn

        I suggest this debate is actually about what natural law actually says. A Thomistic view says reason and free will are the tools for discovering natural law. The winning side in gay marriage made the point that LGBT sexuality and it’s free expression without legal repression is consistent with natural law through recent discoveries about sexuality in humans.

    • archimedes

      You raise valid points concerning religion. However, I would posit that the idea of natural law is not dependent on any particular religion but is rather a matter of philosophy.

      Your statement that homosexuality is natural and intrinsic makes two separate claims. Homosexuality is by definition dysfunctional from a biological standpoint, but it could be considered natural in the same way that an infection is natural. However, such a definition does not lead anywhere useful.

      The statement that homosexuality is intrinsic would appear to be true if you only mean that it appears to be fixed in adult males. However, it does not appear to be fixed in adult females. The question of how or why it arises in adult males is far from being understood. Data on homosexuality in men indicates that it may be influenced by genes but that any genetic component is far less than determinative. In time science will slowly tease out the factors involved in homosexuality.

      You mention American laws several times so I can only assume you are referring to marriage. Homosexuality as a private matter is not society’s business. Homosexuality only becomes a societal problem when marriage is deconstructed as the Supreme Court recently ruled. The problem for society isn’t the adults, it’s the children.

      • mikehorn

        Read more about human sexuality. Genetics is complicated, but several genetic causes have been demonstrated. Most genes do several things, and the first discovery was that a well known gene for eye color can also affect sexual preference in animal studies.

        Your comparison to infection makes several leaps. Homosexuality is well towards being demonstrated as intrinsic, natural, and harmless. Indeed, repression of homosexuality has been demonstrated as harmful.

        If Christians want to demonstrate otherwise, they need objective facts that are not tied to any one religion.

        • archimedes

          My statements are not based on nor made any allusions to religion.

          The function and expression of all genes is very complicated and still only partially understood. Studies of identical twins raised in the same family show less than 50% correlation for homosexuality. Therefore, the environmental factors appear to represent more than 50%. This is all that science can tell us at the moment. A sweeping statement that genes cause or are determinative for homosexuality is not based on the available science.

          I have no problem with your statement about repression of sexual desire.

          Your statement that homosexuality is well towards being demonstrated as intrinsic, natural and harmless is quite a sweeping statement; it’s a belief (quite in vogue in many circles) but hardly a fact.

          The push for the creation of homosexual marriage has brought homosexuality out of the private sphere and no longer allows a live and let live attitude towards the subject. This is unfortunate development. Some believe that this will have a positive impact on children and society. I hope they are right but I have no reason to think that this will be so.

  • “True law,” as Cicero called it, is the “one eternal and unchangeable law [that] will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law…”

    “[The] Law of Nature” wrote English philosopher John Locke (who also profoundly influenced our Founders), “stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men’s actions must…be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e. to the will of God…”

    Blackstone declared in his presuppositional basis for law that, “These laws laid down by God are the eternal immutable laws of good and evil…This law of nature dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this…”

    See: Same-Sex Marriage: Paganism, the Founders, and Natural Law

    • Thanks, Trevor. Will check it out.

      • BTW, I enjoyed the piece. Thanks especially for the reminder of the Kennedy quote. It fit well with a piece I’m working on.

        • Just read the piece, and you nail it in your conclusion: “Americans simply need to decide by whose morality they want to be governed.” It will be the day when many Americans even admit there is no such thing as nuetral secular standard. Bookmarked your blog and will visit often. Thanks.

          • Thanks Mike. I plan on linking to this tomorrow on my site.

  • John Hutchinson

    “the Ten Commandments don’t condemn homosexuality”

    Technically, your friend is exactly correct. There is a sanction against adultery, which is to be unfaithful to the one you are committed to. But this does not, in of itself, speak to the sexes (or even the numbers or ages) of the ones to which one is committed to. For this reason, one cannot reduce the Mosaic law code (the est. 613 stipulations) to a mere 10 commandments.

    This leads to another problem, I find with this article. It is a bit confused. Christians are not under the 10 commandments or any part or whole of the Mosaic Law.

    No contract, covenant, or constitution, ratified by consent, can be changed unless there is a due process amending formula. This is a principle of divine and universal justice; one which the Bible itself often enough speaks to. There is no amending formula in the Mosaic code. One, including God, cannot change any particular, whether “moral, civil or ceremonial” without voiding the covenant (James 2:10), without becoming unjust and unrighteous. God is not above his own principles or the agreements to which He has voluntarily set Himself under. God does not have a Napoleonic complex. God is righteous and just (there is a difference) in reality and not in mere paeans.

    All contracts, covenants and constitutions are holistic units. If one was to think of a labor contract which required the laborer to improve his productivity (whatever the particulars) in exchange for a raise. A change on one side of the ledger impacts the ability for the other side to keep their side without undue detriment.

    Secondly, the consent for that Mosaic covenant was made by those contemporary with Moses, on behalf of the nation of ancient Israel, for themselves and their descendants. They did not speak on behalf of the Gentiles.

    The verse (Romans 2:14-15) starting “For when Gentiles…” does not infer that all humans have an instinctive knowledge of the natural law. What it actually speaks to is a particular principle of justice; namely to the extent that a person has internalized a subset of the natural law, operates upon it and judges others on the basis of it, yet invariably is inconsistent and violates it, he will be judged (cf Matthew 7:2). He arrives at agreeing with the natural law, (which Mosaic code reflects) by natural means (physis – through the natural human faculties and not by instinct – cf Romans 1:19-20). This is the moral/legal basis of divine judgment for those apart from Law.

    The historical Reformed (WCF) and Catholic position is that humanity has an instinctual knowledge of the law from the beginning. Instinctual knowledge comes from pagan sources, from Plato (see Phaedo) and through Cicero to Calvin and thereafter. It is contrary to Scriptures, reason and the witness of human history. There has been no law code before or apart from those influenced, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, by Judeo-Christian thought, which advocated a radical egalitarian judicial principle. (That is, no matter to what station in life the perpetrator or victim is, the rules and the punishments are the same without partiality.) Even Hammurabi’s code makes class distinctions. So much for C.S. Lewis’ TAO, since this is not an insignificant judicial principle.

    The covenant, which Christians sign onto, on an individual basis, is the New Covenant, which is an entirely separate covenant from the Old one, Christ having fully satisfied the terms of the old (because since we all agree naturally with some subset of the old law by natural means yet violate it and therefore must be covered by Christ’s Lifeblood), we are under the Law of the New Covenant. The particulars exist in NT Scriptures – but they are only the starting point to that which the Spirit applies above and beyond consistent with NT Scriptures. The fingers and toes of any law code cannot encompass the full nature of true righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount spoke to this reality.

    The TELOS of the New Covenant and its law code differs radically from the TELOS of the Old Covenant. Therefore, its stipulations must change likewise in order to satisfy that TELOS. In conflating the old with the new, you defeat the purposes of both (new wine, old wineskins).

    The Ten Commandments, in themselves, have no relevance to a Christian. Nine of the Ten Commandments are as new law particulars of a new covenant.

    Natural law works in this fashion. If we violate it, there will invariably and inexorably be natural consequences, even if we don’t recognize the law or even the consequences. However, this does not speak to any pre-existing instinctual and epistemological knowledge of the natural law. And Christians are crippled in their witness because they assume this instinctual / epistemological knowledge of natural law by those without. They become judgmental because they assume knowledge in their interlocutors. Furthermore, such assumptions make Christians lazy. They cannot and do not give a reasoned defense (apologia) for the verities and commandments that Scriptures asserts. When Ryan Anderson (a Catholic) beckons for a valid and persuasive vision of marriage, he is entirely correct. The tripe that virtually Christians, including Evangelicals, falls so far short of the pristine ideal. Here, I am not talking about acting upon the vision. I am talking about having a good vision.

    • Thanks for the long reply, John. I wish I didn’t have a day job so I could give just as substantive a response. There is a lot here, and I just don’t have time, and you are obviously way more educated than I am, but I’m pretty sure we would have substantive theological disagreements about the nature of the law and the covenant. For instance, I don’t believe the OC and NC are at all separate, but in fact the NC flows out of and is a fulfillment of the OC. God’s promises to Adam and Eve, Abram and Noah all look forward to Christ through Israel, and in fact Christ is the fulfillment of Israel. The Ten Commandments and the law (not ceremonial but moral) absolutely, in my opinion, have relevance to Christians because they drive us to Christ! And when obeyed we are blessed by them. The law is a reflection of God’s being and character, so how could it not have relevance to the Christian.

      And I’ll say one more thing before I get back to work. While the Ten Commandments don’t speak directly to homosexuality, it affirms what we might today call traditional morality. The fifth says honor your father and mother (the latter a quite radical a notion in the ancient near east), thus does not allow for any other arrangement. The seventh against adultery again affirms in it’s assumptions that sexual relations are exclusively for married husband and wife. And the tenth against coveting my neighbor’s wife also affirms the Biblical standard established by God himself in the Garden of Eden, and by God himself in the person of Jesus Christ in his earthly ministry.

      • John Hutchinson

        Mike D’Virgilio

        Be it true that we have substantive theological disagreements about the nature of the law and the covenant. And I do not think, for one minute, that this is an issue of heresy, upon which one’s justification / salvation is contingent.

        Certainly I believe that the Law drives the unconverted to Christ, because we/they cannot fulfill them. And I do not think the Law has irrelevance in general nowadays. Unlike other New Covenant Theology proponents, I reject that the Law lost all relevance, since Christ Himself stated that “until heaven and earth disappear” (Matt 5:18), they will have legal force, (albeit in the way above I described). However, for the Christian, “Christ is the end (telos) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4). I would suggest that righteousness be replaced with justice, to which the Hebrew OT makes distinction (Ps. 97:2) and the Greeks meant by dikaiosuné, justice and not holiness which has another Greek term. This is less important, except to point out the fulfillment of the (objective principles) of divine and universal justice as a primary concern in the Justification by Atonement, and not the satisfaction of a (subjective) divine wrath. No matter.

        One of the major problems with Covenant Theology is that it violates the very definition of a covenant, which the Scriptures very much speaks to. The Law itself says that one cannot add or subtract to the terms of the Law (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6 and a few other OT places). The Pharisees declaim Christ on this point as does Christ declaim the Pharisees (Mark 7, Matthew 15). As a principle of law and justice, an agreement without an amending formula is null and void if one party changes the terms. This is true in human law and in divine law. And God is not above His own principles or unfaithful to His agreements.

        Covenant Theology claims that the Sermon on the Mount only expounds the Law. However, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” (Matt 5:38) comes verbatim from the Law. And Saul and others were punished by God for failing to live up to that principle. But Christ is proclaiming something the exact opposite. One truly stretches credulity to suggest that this is just an expounding of Mosaic Law. This in itself is above and beyond the Sabbath law change, which is after all in the 10 commandments. By the principle of falsification, these two being among multiple examples, should repudiate the verity of Covenant Theology.

        The other major problem with Covenantal Theology is that attempting to discern what is moral, civic and ceremonial is a fool’s errand. Anyone, who actually attempts to drill down the supposed 613 different laws, finds such classifications opaque, inscrutable, arbitrary and capricious. There is no Biblical criteria; nor is there any sound rationally coherent one. Furthermore, there are explicit punishments applied to what you would call “moral law”. And therefore, I begin imagining the Covenant Theologian redacting the Mosaic Law like a CIA censor with a black marker on the basis of arbitrary opinion.

        New Covenant Theology gives me/us clarity. I don’t have to defend the regulation of polygamy laws in the OT, which do make sense in their cultural milieu. Imagine yourself having to go up against the late Christopher Hitchens. He knew the Bible better than most Christians, even if he was somewhat disingenuous and incompetent about it. And I read the Proposition 9 transcripts (Calif. same sex constitutional amendment). And although the (gay) judge was deceitful in his judgment rendering, they took the pro-Amendment side to pieces on their rationalization of opposite sex marriage – namely marriage as a procreative imperative.

        And they were right. Scriptures does not make the claim that marriage is primarily for the procreation and nurturing of children. That comes from Stocicism and Cicero and prior to them Plato and the Roman Republican functionalist notions of marriage.

        Likewise, when you defend a theology that cannot be rationally defended, it hurts your evangelical witness.

        This is not a simple and easy subject. It took me many years of wrestling. So it is not really worth a carry-on. I know your position. I have read the confessions and catechisms of Reformed theology. But even Reformed theologians are mixed on this subject nowadays.

        Sorry for the length. This stuff comes easily out of me nowadays (30 minutes).

  • John Peccavi

    To derive natural law from nature, all of nature must be considered. To make a rather awkward analogy, someone who only considered nature in the Northern Hemisphere would believe penguins to be an abomination. What could be more unnatural than a bird that doesn’t fly but swims?

    Those who oppose same sex marriage sometimes speak of male/female complentarity, but their narrow conception of complementarity cheapens the concept to “insert Tab A in Slot B.” More important than such crude and irrelevant physical complementarity is mental and spiritual complementarity, particularly spiritual complementarity.

    When we read the Apostle Paul’s words, “all things are lawful for me but not all things are expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12) let’s not forget those two words “for me.” What is expedient (or useful) for one person may not be for another. Christian freedom gives each of us the responsibility to decide what is useful, what brings him or her closer to God and makes him or her more suited for God’s Kingdom.

    If it is better for a heterosexual person to marry rather than to burn with desire, surely the same must be true for someone whose desire is for a member of the same sex. In that case, it is certainly expedient for the person to marry the one to whom he is attracted so that the physical attraction may help rather than distract from physical growth.

    – Jack Peccavi

    • Wow, another thoughtful reply. Who says we can’t disagree about complicated issues and have a civil conversation.

      John, you assume something not asserted in my piece. That is, that I am arguing for a “narrow conception” of complimentarity, as you say, tab A, slot B. In a short blog post that was already too long I could only deal with so much. For me, the tab/slot argument, if you will, while not definitive, is powerful. It isn’t that these two things fit perfectly together, it is that when they do they have a certain end, a telos, that makes sense of the union; it produces life! That is not insignificant.

      But in fact the argument for complimentarity is far more broad and deep than slots. Are you familiar with the book by John Gray, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”? Men and women are different in almost every way, and these differences are almost all, if not all, complimentary! That is huge for this discussion. From a natural law perspective, i.e. no Bible needed, I can observer this in a myriad of ways. My wife and I have raised three children, almost all to adulthood at this point, and I am more than absolutely convinced that for children to grow up to be well adjusted human beings, they need the complimentary natures a mom and dad, preferably married, bring to the table. And it isn’t simply my anecdotal experience that confirms this, but all the sociological evidence proves it! Look what has happened in the inner cities of America where the black family has been decimated. Not pretty.

      The biblical picture tells us why there is a physical, psychological, and emotional complimentarity between a man and a woman that there can never, ever be between a man and a man and a woman and a woman. We read in Gen. 1:27, “So God create man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Simply, man is one of each, put together they make a unit, a whole; in marriage both Moses and Jesus, i.e. God, says they become “one flesh.” This is not just a “slot” union, but a profoundly deep one, so much so that it used by Jesus as analogous to him and his Church.

      And your move from 1 Cor. 6:12 to homosexuals marrying is a non sequitur. Because I “burn with desire” for women other than my wife, does it follow that I should have sex with them? What mortal married man hasn’t burned with such desire. That’s why both Jesus and the Ten Commandments warn us against giving into our lust. No, I should learn to control my desire, deny myself, and do what is right. There is absolutely no way you can get the acceptance of homosexual sex from the Bible, and it isn’t just from the six or however many passages that explicitly mention it that the apologists for such fornication love to focus on. From Genesis to Revelation, from the natural law, from our own observation, experience, and common sense, we know that male and female, and from the Bible within marriage alone, is the only right and natural sexual union.

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