Title: The Christian right and un-natural law Credit: Craig Young Comment Tuesday 20th April 2004 - 12:00pm1082419200 Article: 218 Rights
Lesbian and gay sex doesn't result in reproduction so it's "against nature," acording to conservative religious views. Craig Young looks at the consequences of that interpretation. Why doesn't the New Zealand Christian Right have a convincing case against civil unions? The Maxim Institute doesn't cite credible evidence that would substantiate its allegations that lesbian and gay relationships are unstable, and that recognition of our relationships is linked to the alleged 'decline' of heterosexual marriage. Instead, it has tried to shift attention to the alleged shortcomings of same-sex parenting, but there are some serious rebuttals available to counter those allegations, which have been canvassed at Gaynz.Com over the last several months. Other "cases" are far more skeletal. United Future's Gordon Copeland appears to believe that his personal religious beliefs should compel the rest of us, while the New Zealand Conference of Catholic Bishops ruminated about "consequences of our choices." These conservative Catholics are entitled to their subjective religious beliefs, but should they drive public policy about lesbian and gay spousal and parenting recognition issues? What is the basis of these beliefs? Stephen Macedo has written a recent paper that argues that conservative Catholics (and some fundamentalist Protestants) often appeal to "natural law theory." What is this? In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle's Ancient Greek philosophy to argue that hierarchical social order could be compared to organic appearances, which has had implications related to evolution of Catholic and allied fundamentalist stances about women's reproductive freedom and human sexualities. How does this work? Well, heterosexual women can't control their fertility without access to condoms or pharmaceutical contraceptives, or surgical or pharmaceutical termination of pregnancy. However, this is "unnatural," and pregnancy is "natural." By the same "reasoning," heterosexual masturbation is also to be discouraged, because all heterosexual sex should be open to the possibility of reproduction. Because lesbian and gay sex doesn't result in linkages between sexual expression and consequent reproduction, it is judged to be "inferior" or "imitative" of heterosexual reproductive sex, and "against nature." There's a profound problem with "natural law," which is that it isn't. It is based on unexamined surface appearances and resemblances based on those unexamined surface characteristics. Aquinas and his successors formulated "natural law" before the advent of modern, coherent experimental science. In science, there are provable provisional theories that need to be substantiated through detailed and methodical observation of significant and specified relevant attributes. Microscopes and other visual technologies of depth are able to verify or refute the original theory, or elements of particular theories, or lead to the adjustment of theories from in-depth methodical observation. "Natural law" is based primarily on surface appearances and resemblances without benefit of direct observation of human reproduction or sexualities, therefore, it is no substitute for scientific or social scientific analysis of human sexualities. In a pluralist world, conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants are entitled to believe in "natural law," but should this pre-scientific world view be allowed to influence public policy? I am not saying that Aquinas' philosophy should be banished from public discourse, but is it relevant outside academic theology or philosophy departments? How is this relevant to civil unions? Conservative Catholics and allied fundamentalist Protestants believe that marriage must be open to "natural" procreation. Without IVF, inclusive guardianship, adoption and custody laws, lesbian and gay couples cannot link sexuality and reproduction, so they are "inferior" to marital heterosexual relationships. This can lead to some ghastly injustices if it is considered that heterosexual rape can lead to consequent traumatic pregnancy. And again, no amount of contrary, rigorous social scientific or medical evidence can substitute for "natural law's" pre- scientific nostrums. Because natural law is pre-scientific, it conflicts with contemporary lesbian and gay zoological research as well. As it bases its categories on surface appearances and resemblance, "natural kinds" rule out any major anatomical change that cannot be reduced to "natural" function, so there is discontinuity between animal and human behaviour. Therefore, it is useless arguing that lesbian and gay zoological research demonstrates many examples of lesbian and gay animals, insects and birds in healthy relationships and parental contexts. From naive surface observation, heterosexuality is numerically dominant and male homosexuality and lesbianism are not. Therefore, male homosexuality and lesbianism must be either biological "pathologies" or psychological "aberrations." While this world view allows the decriminalisation of homosexuality, it is opposed to anti-discrimination laws, relationship recognition and parenting equality. "Natural law" is anti-science. While it has some place in university philosophy, history or theology classes, it should be exposed to critical scrutiny, especially when framing policies about reproductive health or lesbian and gay spousal and parenting rights and responsibilities. It is no substitute for independent scientific scrutiny and verification or rebuttal of medical or social scientific findings about lesbian and gay relationships or parenting. Recommended Reading: Bruce Bagemihl: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity: St Martins Press: New York: 1999. Norman Geisler, Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal: Baker Books: Grand Rapids: 1991. Anthony Kenny: Aquinas: Oxford University Press: Oxford: 1980. Stephen Macedo: "Homosexuality and the Conservative Mind" in Lynn Wardle et al (ed) Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: A Debate: Praeger: Connecticut: 2003: 97-114. Craig Young - 20th April 2004    
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