The Catholic Church helped the West to value reason, as it elevated reason as well as faith as supporting dogma. Natural Law was seen as the reason for much of its social teaching. But the present state of Catholic Natural Law is still medieval.
This has had immense influence on teaching about sex and population, among other things.
The question is, what is natural?
In the past fifty years, science has made many discoveries which affect what must be perceived as natural law. One of these areas is the repercussions on sexual teaching. Two of these are on marriage and on homosexuality.
Married love cannot be seen as primarily for reproduction, when even without contraception a couple in their marriage may have a thousand sexual encounters for each child conceived. The proportion of sperm that actually goes to helping create a child is infinitesimal out of millions.
This is unlike most animal sex, which results in pregnancy in every case. The creatures most like humans in sexual behaviour, the bonobo, have 15 encounters per conception. The major function of human sex appears to be to cement the loving relationship of a couple, which also ensures adequate parenting of their children. Humans have a mate to share the ups and downs of life. ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ was the God of Genesis’ rationale for creating woman in the first place. The children came later.
‘Natural contraception’ promoted by the Catholic Church, such as the Billings method, where the woman inspects and keeps a record of her bodily fluids, is not known in nature. It is no more ‘natural’ than using human devices or hormone adjustment – nor is it ‘natural’ to keep intercourse for the periods least affected by natural sex drive.
A homosexual orientation and even bisexuality is found in a proportion of animals as well as in every human society. The value of individuals with this admixture of male and female has been beyond estimation. A history is worth making. Hundreds of thousands of people with this orientation in almost every culture have made marvellous contributions to society, in civilisation, in the arts, science, literature and social reform. Do we thank God for them? Many have lived terrible lives because they were condemned by their society. People like mathematician Alan Turing committed suicide and still young people die.
Homosexual love-making may seem to straight people disgusting, but as Montaigne saw, heterosexual love-making is down there too next to the organs of excretion, as if to remind us that God does not make the same estimation of our body parts that we do.
In hospitals babies are born with every combination of male and female – genitalia, hormones, genes, and preference may be so mixed up that doctors have felt it their duty to assign a baby with one gender or the other despite the co-existing alternative tendencies in that baby. In my work as a clinical child psychologist I saw many children with syndromes due to these mix-ups. Nowadays there is a trend to let the child decide, as it grows older, which sex it belongs to. Adults today have sex-change operations to be the sex they feel they belong to. Who can judge?
Diversity seems to be a principle of Natural Law, with the delight in creation of a diversity of creatures that we are extinguishing. With people too, we could look at unity in diversity, rather than the ideal of everyone thinking alike. All over the world, people differ in what they like and dislike, and in what they think, and what they believe. Perhaps this is natural and good or, as we usually think, in admiring our own thinking and belief, it is natural and bad, and the rest must bow down to how we dictate to them. Within the churches, we seek to have uniformity of doctrine and liturgy – but the people within all of the churches obstinately insist on being diverse and having diverse ways of reaching the divine.
Is ‘natural’ good or bad?
Natural Law has cruel methods of species’ survival, with nature red in tooth and claw, in the food chain, as one species eats another, which is basic to all survival.
How do we kill animals, how do we save people from death by injury or disease, how do we preserve our food – in fact, almost anything humans may do may be considered ‘unnatural’.
Natural Law has cruel methods of keeping species’ populations within bounds, with the four horsemen keeping her rules. We have found how to keep infant mortality down, by means surely ‘unnatural’, but at the cost of rising populations – without the Church approving humane methods to restrain populations. It still admires as ‘generous’ and ‘unselfish’ those who have large families, but population growth is to be feared. The commandment to replenish and fill the earth is the only commandment humans have obeyed. The ‘generous’ couples today may be those who have no more than two children, and extend their unselfish love to other children too.
Examining carefully what is natural and what is unnatural could have practical results in Catholic thinking about the real world. Miracles, which are much admired and sought after by the Catholic Church, are by definition not natural.
Copyright © 2015 Valerie Yule