Not surprisingly, a distinguished member of the what I have dubbed the Regulars Club has now decided to blog on Patch, presumably so that she can reach an audience wider than the one she was able to reach by posting on the low readership Patch comment threads. And, among other things, to enlighten us by discrediting natural law arguments, especially when they are used by people who oppose same sex marriage (SSM).
But, first, a response to several specific points in her inaugural blog post. Does the writer ever get tired of repeating the same arguments over and over again? Yes, we have been told many times over that she thinks that (SSM) is harmless, even socially beneficial. Yes she has repeatedly told us that everyone has a "right" to marry (the Courts have said so: though I doubt that they had SSM in mind when then handed down the decisions in question). But does "everyone's right" include polygamous and poly-amorous marriages? Or does the state have some "compelling" interest to outlaw marriages between more than two people? I think that it's reasonable to expect a straightforward and timely answer to that question. And yes, we are more than familiar with the litany of specious analogies (e.g. interracial marriage, women's rights, etc.) that are now used to intimidate SSM opponents. But bad analogies, no matter how often repeated, are still bad analogies.
And we do not need to be told for the umpteenth time that so-called "elite" opinion has lined up in support of SSM. (As it did for abortion and as it may soon do for The Next Big Thing,physician assisted suicide and euthanasia perhaps. (N.B. Many of the arguments used by proponents of SSM, abortion and the like could, with a little tweaking, be adapted for use by Compassion and Choices (aka The Hemlock Society). And don't forget that elite opinion once enthusiastically rallied to the eugenicist cause. Interesting, too, that someone claiming to be a freethinker makes so many uncritical appeals to authority, to majority opinion.)
Then there is the view, again often repeated, regarding the alleged dangers of religion in the public square. It seems that religious folks should be allowed (allowed by whom or what?) to participate in public debate ONLY if they speak from a non-religious standpoint. Freedom of speech anyone?
However, at last, a new wrinkle, specifically the silly assertion that we "risk making Catholicism and conservative Christianity the official religion of Minnesota". Guess, then, that we have had an established church since at least 1858. O tempora, O mores!
But now to natural law. I know that it is futile to carry on any meaningful dialog with folks whose worldview has little in common with one's own. I hope, nonetheless, that at least some Patch readers will be open to a discussion of natural law, natural law as it should be understood, not in the distorted, caricatured way in which it is usually portrayed by leftist ideologues.
The SSM debate, obviously, provides an excellent example of such distortions, distortions that demean, disparage the very concept of natural law itself. Natural law, it is asserted, is, by definition, Scriptural, a matter of blind faith, not reason. Natural law, they gleefully point out, has been invoked to support slavery, segregation and a host of other evils. Of course, natural law principles, like any other principles (e.g. personal autonomy) can be twisted to justify injustice, evils of all sorts. Yes, even iconic natural law thinkers like Plato and Aristotle supported slavery and eugenics.
That is unfortunate but it doesn't go to the heart of the matter. Remember that Martin Luther King invoked natural law thinkers (Aquinas specifically) in support of the 1960s civil rights movement. Which is to say that the then regnant racist segregationist policies were a mockery of any authentic understanding of the natural moral law, constituting as they did a regime of raw violence, an egregious state sponsored injustice.
So then, what is natural law, properly understood? Simply put, it is the time hallowed view that there are objective principles of justice/behavior, reasoned principles that bind (or should bind) the will and intellect of all men at all times and in all places. Principles that arise from our very nature as rational creatures.
And shockingly for secularists, principles that are also found in the often maligned Ten Commandments (with all that stuff about lying, adultery, stealing, envy, pride, etc.). This, of course, is not to say that natural law, as is often claimed, is nothing but religious dogma in disguise. Natural law (the "law written in our hearts") does, however, parallel Scriptural morality and vice versa. In that regard, I wonder if people who bash the natural law -- whether out of ignorance or malice -- have forgotten that natural law arguments and Scriptural arguments both played a critical role in the struggle to end slavery in America. En passant: I don't think that Cicero, Aristotle, etc. ever read Scripture.
All of which points to one critical, overarching question. What ultimate,fixed principles does one invoke when one claims that some course of action, some law, or some social or political innovation -- a revolutionary, substantive innovation especially -- is the "right" law, the "right" thing to do? By what standard are we to judge whether or not a proposed reform, a proposed law, or a proposed practice is good or bad, progressive or regressive? Or to judge the difference between a legitimate rights claim and an illegitimate rights claim (remember that slave holders claimed a "right" to their property)? Or, more simply, what ends do we seek and what criteria do we use to determine whether the ends are desirable or not?
So, then, how are we to answer such questions?Hopefully by appealing -- whether explicitly or implicitly -- to the aforementioned notion of some objective, normative standard. There are, of course, many people who claim that their "feelings" guide their view of right and wrong, good and bad. However, even such people seem to have some notion, however hazy, of an objective guiding principle, some fuzzy, perhaps warped vision of the ends which they seek. But, in any case, they ultimately appeal to rational objective, something beyond mere "gut" feelings.
And there are folks who resist the tug of the natural law by citing pragmatic reasons for their support of SSM, abortion, etc. Perhaps they support abortion because they think that less babies mean lower welfare costs. Or, like the blog that prompted this post, they think that SSM would reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs (and not incidentally, boost the wedding catering industry). Although such claims may be true, they are pragmatic claims which, obviously, do not justify the practices in question. Even if slavery made good economic sense, would we then be willing to condone slavery?
Pragmatic arguments, perforce, are transitive: which is to say that pragmatists, like "ethical sentimentalists", must ultimately justify their arguments by looking beyond their arguments. It seems, then, that some notion of a universal good, a universal standard of behavior, sticks to us like an old fashioned piece of fly paper.
Finally, contrary to the tiresome, often maudlin rhetoric that now dominates the marriage debate, I contend that SSM touches on some profoundly fundamental concerns. There is much more at stake than reduced Medicare costs or some libertarian/post-modern concept of individual autonomy.
There is, rather, a question as to what is "natural," whether for the individual or for society at large. Just as it not natural, whether in the moral or biological sense, to kill one's offspring, it is not natural for two persons of the same sex to claim to be married.
Like it or not, the SSM controversy has deep philosophical and societal implications (a reality which I think is perceived -- however vaguely -- by folks on both sides of the issue; hence the acrimonious tenor of the debate). It is an issue that forces us to choose one or the other of two diametrically opposed public policies, one of which, I think, is consistent our human nature and the other of which is a risky sociological and moral experiment that casts long shadows.
With that I close by acknowledging a sobering fact, namely that, for our blogger and her leftist sycophants, what I have written is gibberish, perhaps even "hate speech". SSM advocates, most of whom have a radically individualistic, nominalistic mind-set, seemingly cannot understand that there is more at stake than someones right to marry whomever one pleases to marry.And that there is more, much more, at stake than the frequently repeated argument that SSM is "harmless", a simple matter of delayed justice.
Nonetheless, I hope that a few of you out there in PatchCountry may get my point. Just maybe.