Natural Law and Homosexuality made simple

Many educated Catholics know that the Church bases her moral teaching on Natural Law, but few educated after the 60’s know what that means. It all begins with Romans 1:18-21:

“The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse…”

In a Nutshell

  1. Despite our fallen nature, man can by his intelligence can determine right from wrong (though many fail to do so). This is very important in that while moral principles are revealed in scripture, they have a natural basis which allows for a common language for dialogue between believers and non believers. In other words, morality is reasonable and not only a matter of faith. Thus, unlike the Protestants, Catholics can discuss morality without pointing the non-believe to scripture which would be unconvincing.
  2. Moral teaching is discernable from the way we are physically made. That is, it is grounded in biology and common sense (which is less and less common these days, to be sure). Again, this is common ground with non-believers.
  3. A sense of moral good and evil, that is conscience, is written in the hearts of men and therefore imposes moral obligations.

Example of Natural Law Reasoning: The Eyeball

If we looked at an eyeball and did not know what it was for but could learn everything about its biology, we could pretty well figure it out. It is nearly spherical and moves around in its socket. It has a clear opening which seems to grow and shrink in response to light. It has a light sensitive inner lining connected to nerves which go to the brain, etc. etc. This thing clearly has something to do with receiving light and it seems aimable–it has something to do with gathering light, and converting it into signals, perhaps it is for vision or something closely related.

The structure of the eye tells us what it is for. The eye is not the proper tool for catching a baseball, which I have learned personally. That is the hand whose structure is apparently designed for grasping things.

The obvious point here is that physical structure indicates purpose or “telos.”

Application to Human Sexuality

Simply put, the male body is sexually made for the female body. Sperm are by their design oriented toward the egg the way that the eye is oriented toward light. Same-sex sex and any sex other than vaginal intercourse cannot fulfill the purpose “written” into our physical form.

Natural Law language v. Scriptural language

Ever notice how the evangelicals will throw around the word “abomination” when discussing homosexuality? This comes from Leviticus. The retort is always about the New Testament rendering moot dietary laws and therefore all of Leviticus. Fine, whatever. For Catholics, this is not the point at all. The Catholic opposition to homosexuality is not based on Old Testament ritual laws, but on Natural Law and Christ’s statements about marriage in the Gospels: one man and one woman–Only!

In place of “abomination” one finds in Catholic teaching the term “disorder.” This is meant literally. That is, there is a proper ordering of human sexuality which is oriented toward procreation and the unitive dimension of marriage. Same-sex sex and other kinds of sexual activity are outside that proper order, thus “disordered.” While such acts are sinful, this sinfulness does not carry with it the same weightiness as the connotations of “abomination.” That is, in Catholic thought, same-sex sexual activity is similar in its disorderedness to oral sex or masturbation. However, while homosexuality in itself is not sinful, homosexual acts and even homosexual attractions are always themselves disordered in their orientation toward the same sex.

Conclusions

1. Catholics employ a system based on reason for her moral teaching which is in line with the revelation in the scripture but which does not rely on scriptural proof-texting.

2. Catholics do not use the term abomination in regard to homosexuals.

3. Homosexual acts and homosexual orientation are both disordered, but only the acts are sinful.

4. Natural Law reasoning is a basis for discussing moral principals which does not require Christian faith and therefore is accessible to the non-believer in a way a purely scriptural reasoning is not.

5. The Natural Law corresponds by reason to the inner conscience of man and “rings true” regardless of age, sex, language, culture. It is timeless and universal as it is written in the minds, hearts and even the bodies of men and women.

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20 Responses to Natural Law and Homosexuality made simple

  1. Cody says:

    This is a good resource. Unfortunately, we Catholics let ourselves get mixed in with “evangelicals” too much. Evangelicals have a weak argument against homosexuality. We have the better argument, and we need to put it out there!

  2. jzholloway says:

    An excellent post! However, I question why does the Roman Catholic Church not use the term abomination? Leviticus 18:22 clearly says it is an abomination to God – this is evident in most translations, even the NRSV… so why shy away from Scripture? I agree… God is more concerned with the sin, not the sinner… for we all have sinned, etc etc, so why not call the sin and the act of this sin an abomination? As you mentioned the retort concerning dietary laws… obviously many of the O.T. Laws still hold relevance today. I understand Natural Law, however, if God says something is an abomination… isn’t it an abomination? I also understand we must show love to the sinner, for as said before, we are all sinners, and I do agree, Evangelicals seem to focus on Homosexuality and Abortion, but I believe we can all agree that Abortion is an abomination – it is murder, and yet we can still show love to those who have had abortions, and in the end, allow the healing power of Christ and his Grace to shower their lives… why can’t we apply the same logic to the homosexual?

  3. Robert says:

    jzholloway,

    Thank you for coming and posting here.

    On your site, you responded to me saying this, “they defended Christianity against the Roman Culture which knew philosophy, and did not know the Hebrew Scriptures.”

    I think this is very appropriate to point out– non-Christians do not know the Scriptures, nor do they reverence them as inerrant and inspired. And so when we defend the tenets of the faith, it is best that we do not throw pearls before swine, so to speak, and let the Scriptures simply come to derision or let them be ignored. Since non-Christians do not accept the authority of the Scriptures, it would be useless to try and convince them from the Scriptures.

    Instead, we defend the Scriptures and biblical morality from the use of natural law. In this way, like your quote says, we defend Christianity against our post-Christian culture which knows and reverences the usage of reason (at least with their lips), but who do not know the Lord in the Scriptures.

    We do not disagree that the Lord calls such sins an abomination. The question is how we approach people who do not share our fundamental belief in Scripture. If they do not accept the Scriptures with humility, as Augustine would point out (I think), they would only be repulsed by them. Unless we open the Scriptures to them, they will remain closed to them, and even repulse them, just as the lowliness and humility of the Scriptures repulsed even St. Augustine before he learned how to think with the Church. But once the Scriptures are opened to them– as eventually St. Ambrose opened them to Augustine– then they will need to learn exactly how the Lord has revealed this to us.

    -Rob

  4. josephudo says:

    I just know that homosexuality is not natural and no matter who commits it, it is very wrong and a sin.

  5. ultraguy says:

    I’m with you on the natural law stuff and its implications — totally. What I’m not getting is how the basis of your argument (which you ground in scripture) is any different from that which we protestants make.

  6. Fr. J. says:

    ultraguy, the Protestant position on homosexuality is based solely on scripture. Ask a protestant about the issue and he will give you scripture quotes. Catholics do not disagree with this, but will reply to the secular person with an reasoned argument based on natural law. Both scripture and natural law point to the same truth. The Catholic position is that revealed truth and the truth we can arrive at by reason cannot ultimately be opposed, so we do not fear to make arguments which do not rely on scripture as long as we do not contradict scripture.

  7. Syrus says:

    This is directed at Robert’s earlier post;

    I agree with what you are saying but I’m thrown by the statement that “non-christians do not know scripture.” I’m a ‘Born again Christian’ shall we say, but I have always known scripture, likewise now being Christian I know Hebru and Islamic scripture as well (even some Zoastrianist). It is a very bold claim to make for how can atheists and agnostics justify their dis-belief, or explore there possible beliefs if they do not know scripture? Likewise how can Christians justify their belief if they do not know the scripture of other religions?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great explanation of Natural Law!

  9. John says:

    In Leviticus, Lot is asked by the men of Sodom to hand over his guests so that they might have sex with them, so Lot offers his virgin daughters to them … That’s your great Biblical morality? Another example is when David sinned by raping Bathsheba, getting Uriah killed etc., God punished David by killing his son?? The innocent baby had nothing to to with it. This is the great moral, loving God of which you say doesn’t approve of homosexuality? It’s all a fable and you waste your tiny little lives concerning yourselves over how to tell others how to love. You guys are screwed up. I am an an atheist and I read up on the bible quite a lot. I have morality and know the difference between right and wrong and I don’t think I’m the center of the universe either. I don’t know scripture in and out but I do know that the bible is full of major contradictions. And Syrus, Hebru? really?

  10. Matt says:

    Homosexuality was not culturally prevalent or acceptable at the time that Jesus (supposedly) lived and made the proclamation that marriage ought to be one man and one woman. Thus it’s a bit unnatural to expect him to have covered every possible future contingency. Never mind the bits that have been covered up, edited, and mistranslated countless times over the ages. Never mind that these accounts of what he said were written by people who never met him. Never mind that he was just expressing the world-wide prejudice against homosexuals that existed everywhere at that time. Never mind that the guy didn’t exist! Stop taking moral directives from backwards people living in the middle of the desert thousands of years ago. If you think homosexuality is wrong, just own it – don’t blame it on the bible.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Natural law seems to be underpinned primarily by agreement. We all agree that the eyes have those properties listed above, that the eye seems well suited as an organ of vision. Therefore the eye shouldn’t be used for anything other than seeing; we can all agree on that — what other use do we have for an eye anyway.

    The penis has many properties, as a unitary organ, that seem to allow for its being along with an organ of excretion, a delivery system for sperm, as well as pleasure. I think we can all agree on these attributes of the unitary penis. As one member of a duality, the penis can be seen also as a delivery system for sperm, as well as pleasure — we should leave a discussion of excretion aside as a matter of discretion. As one member of a duality, it accomplishes these functions, though not exclusively or necessarily, in its function as a penetrator. Again, I say we might be all agreed on this as well.

    Everything else that’s been said about the penis (and vagina, by extension) as regards natural law is packed on out of religious belief. It least it seems that way to me; there may be more and more who begin to agree with this. Natural law may be a starting point, but it can evolve too.

  12. Ugo says:

    John says: In Leviticus, Lot is…

    the Lot episode happened in Genesis. So much for reading the Bible, John.

    Matt, the arguements made here are based on Natural Law, not the Bible. But instead of answering them, you instead took what you consider the easy way out: using the Bible as a distraction.

    Anonymous: using the penis for other than what it’s intended for seems to me like signs of abnormality, not choice or freedom.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I translate the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). very differently. In it, God hears that there are more than a few indiscretions transpiring, so he sends a couple of angels to see what is happening. The person who meets them is Lot and he invites them to stay in his house and have dinner.

    Then, a bunch of men from Sodom come and knock on Lot’s door. They say, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.”

    Now, Hebrew is a funny language. The word for “know” (yada) can mean literally “to know someone”, or it can mean “to have sex with someone”. So at best, these Sodomites are saying they want to meet and literally get to know who Lot’s guests are; and at worst, they’re saying they want to have sex with Lot’s guests. Since we can assume that God’s angels aren’t interested in a casual hook-up with these guys, what the Sodomites are really saying is that they want to rape Lot’s guests.

    Lot verifies this with his response: “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.”

    The wicked act in this story is not same-sex intercourse. It is rape. Rape is a horrific act that should definitely be condemned. But same-sex intercourse between consenting adults should not for a very simple reason: it hurts no one.

    • Bob says:

      a) If it was just rape, why didn’t they want to rape Lot’s female daughters?

      b) What gender is normally assigned to angels? More specifically, Genesis 19:4-5 says

      4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

      See that key word? MEN? All the MEN from the city say “where are the MEN who came to you tonight”?

      I’d say you had your mind made up before you ever dug into Genesis 19 as to what your conclusion should be.

      Here’s hoping that you will look a little more closely, without torturing your Bible until it confesses what you want it to say.

  14. Jim says:

    WRONG! Same-sex acts hurt all of us. A secret act of masturbation is not a private sin.

  15. [...] In reflecting on the personalities and aims set out by Popes John XXIII and Francis I it is encouraging to see their willingness to reach out to Christians outside the Roman Catholic fold and to lay to rest past prejudices held toward the Jewish people. It goes to show that the Church can examine its core doctrines and rethink its position. Where it lags in this respect is in its teachings on sexual morality. In spite of the reforms instituted by Vatican II, Roman Catholic teachings on matters of artificial contraception, fertility treatments, surrogacy and same sex relationships have not changed. The basis of these teachings rests in the Thomistic philosophy of natural law. This can be summed up in the following statement “Since each thing has a nature given it by God, and each thing has a natural end, so there is a fulfillment to human activity of living. When a person discovers by reason what the purpose of living is, he or she discover his or her natural end is. Accepting the medieval dictum “happiness is what all desire” a person is happy when he or she achieves this natural end.” (Thomistic Philosophy Page) The prevailing view in Roman Catholic teachings follows in that “Simply put, the male body is sexually made for the female body. Sperm are by their design oriented toward the egg the way that the eye is oriented toward light. Same-sex sex and any sex other than vaginal intercourse cannot fulfill the purpose “written” into our physical form.” (The Black Cordelias) [...]

  16. oarubio says:

    Well written! We shouldn’t be surprised thar many can rationalize themselves into accepting same-sex so-called marriage since moral relativism started gaining momentum in the 1960s..

  17. Anonymous says:

    Jim,
    How do same sex acts hurt anyone? Im not at all hurt by it. Its none of my business.

    Im a Catholic that believes in EQUALITY. And proud of it. My gay and Catholic brother is loved by God. That doesn’t change because he loves a man. We are all His children and we are all sinners! My tattoo on my body is just as sinful as same sex acts. And they don’t HURT anyone!

  18. Robert says:

    Jim,

    EQUALITY has nothing to do with it. True Catholics are well aware that we are all his children and equal in HIs dignity. But that is not the issue.

    The issue is why is homosexuality a sin. The absence of harm to another is not the definition of sin. The definition of sin is that which separates us from God, that which takes us off track from our relationship with Him. The rejection of the gift of sexuality that is for the purpose of family formation and physical bonding is the sin of homosexuality, among others, including contraception.

    It harms the homosexual because he reduces sexuality to a self gratifying exercise that lacks the very essence of the gift that God intended – the possibility to create life! Sex is powerful but without the ability to create life it is reduced to nothing more than shared masturbation. It is that act of denying the full gift of sexuality and reducing it to a self centered self pleasuring act that disrespects Gods great gift of life.

    Its as though a Renoir painted a masterpiece and gave it to you, and in his presence you ripped out the canvas, threw it away and kept the frame for you own paint-by-number piece of two kittens and ball of yarn. Sex without the possibility of life is rejecting a masterpiece and replacing it with a paint by number!

    Its damaging to our soul! Thats how it hurts! The same is true of the heterosexual who uses contraception. Its NOT injustice toward the homosexual. Its about rejecting the gift of our full humanity as given to us by our God, whether hetero, or homosexual.

    Jim, if you were truly Catholic you would know this. You have simply regurgitated the mantra of the anti-life advocates who want to reject human life in every way it can , whether its through contraception , abortion, euthanasia or homosexuality, and reduce sex to a mere commodity that can be used to sell cars and the NFL. You have taken the bait , hook , line and sinker! You have been manipulated and are being used by forces you arent even aware of. If you are truly Catholic, SHAME on you! You should know better.

  19. Garry says:

    This is a topic that is close to my heart… Cheers! Exactly where are
    your contact details though?

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