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Saturday 11 April 2015

Natural Law: Homophobia's Iron Curtain

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 22nd February 2015

I used to review anti-gay literature regularly in this column and its predecessors, but as with Christian Right antigay initiatives itself, the despicable genre seems to be dying. Why is this?

One of the reasons is who is writing antigay arguments these days, and the 'theoretical framework' that they are using. The case for the persecutors seems to wholly consist of conservative Catholic authors and academics, rather than fundamentalist Protestants. I haven't come across any new antigay literature from formerly high profile fundamentalist and conservative evangelical publishing houses like Baker, Inter-Varsity Press or Moody for quite some time now. Instead, it all seems to be emanating from would-be defenders of archaic, premodern and prescientific "natural law" theory. As I've explained in the past, "natural law" theory is a misnomer, for it is actually based on the logically rigorous but evidence-devoid work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, refracted through eighth century Catholic philosopher Saint Augustine and twelfth-century Catholic academic Saint Thomas Aquinas. These frameworks tended to use surface observation and when stronger visual technologies like telescopes and microscopes, and the scientific revolution and its methodical pursuit of testing theories and outcomes dawned from the seventeenth century onward, most of the western world left them behind. The Catholic Church was mired in the Counter-Reformation and rejected the development of science, a state of affairs which lasted until the mid-sixties. In other words, "natural law' theory is not based on direct observation of nature through use of methodical scientific and medical frameworks, theories and procedures, but on abstractions which often turn out to be erroneous on closer scientific analysis and examination. Thus it has proven with abortion and homosexuality- mainstream science doesn't back up conservative Catholic dogma or arguments from natural law theory. Therefore, given that 'natural law' is scientifically flawed and erroneous, it is nothing more than a sectarian and sectional religious philosophy. Therefore, it should not be used as a basis for public policy and legislative reform in a pluralist, multicultural and secular society like contemporary New Zealand.

Because 'natural law' theory is a theoretical deadend, any non-Catholic reader encounters repeated restatements of the non-scientific and pre-scientific misrepresentation of homosexuality and transgenderism within such volumes. Broadly speaking, the framework is this. Homosexuality is a variation from the "natural" act of reproductive heterosexuality, and heterosexuality "must" be reproductive and open to childbirth, so contraception and abortion are "forbidden". Therefore, homosexuality is "unnatural" because it "defies" the heterosexual "essence" at the core of human sexuality, and is an "objective" moral "disorder." Therefore, male homosexuality should continue to be criminalised, lesbians and gay men should not be included within anti-discrimination laws, nor should our monogamous relationships or parental responsibilities be protected under legislative safeguards. This is endlessly repeated, over and over again, within conservative Catholic natural law dogmatic literature. This is largely the fault of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and unhappily, Pope Francis is little different when it comes to 'natural law.' John Paul II was the product of Poland's conservative Catholic subculture and he reacted against the scientific and medical corroboration of abortion rights and LGBT legislative reform across the western world when he became pontiff in 1978. Thereafter began a long and tiresome record of harassment, censorship and marginalisation of opposition to "Thomism" within the Catholic Church, its clergy organisations, affiliated universities and hospitals, resisted by liberal Catholic clergy, laity and organised dissident groups like the pro-choice dissident Catholic group Catholics for Free Choice and Catholic LGBT organisation Dignity in the United States.

Let's take a practical example to demonstrate what I mean. At the Catholic University of America, there has been yet another attempt to misrepresent same-sex parenting as "flawed and inferior" to the real thing. For a change however, the culprit is not University of Texas conservative Catholic sociologist of religion Mark Regnerus, although predictably, he gives a glowing testimonial to its 'advantages.' This time, though, the culprit is one Father Donald Sullins, a married (!) Catholic priest and sociologist who just happens to be affiliated to the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, which further happens to be a subsidiary of the antigay US Family Research Council. Predictably, though, if anything's an inferior replica, it is this "research project." Why? Well, there's no background data about family composition and the definition of same-sex couples is ridiculously broad and poorly defined in operational terms. So it "proves" absolutely nothing, as one might guess. It merely conflates same-sex families with "unstable" ones merely because a priori natural law dogma tells it to

Fortunately, at least when it came to LGBT legislative reform, the Catholic Church doesn't have a strong academic infrastructure compared to North America, Australia or Western Europe. While "natural law" antigay polemic is available in university libraries and Catholic bookshops, it is virtually ignored, both by non-Catholic New Zealanders and liberal Catholics alike. However, as one could note in Family First's arguments against marriage equality and transgender rights, 'natural law' found a second home as conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants have collaborated against abortion rights and LGBT legislative reforms, especially within the United States. However, such repetitive polemic is pointless. It is actively prescientific and no match for the work of mainstream medical and scientific evidence-based research that we have at our disposal. Essentially, then, "natural law" is nothing more than an intellectual ghetto, or an 'iron curtain' of dogma that prevents conservative Catholics and allied fundamentalist Protestants from critical analysis and evaluation of their non-scientific/anti-scientific subcultural views about human sexuality and reproductive health.

I've listed the predominant work from these ideologues before, but I don't recommend that anyone actually read all of such repetitious fare. Once you've encountered a single 'natural law' condemnation of homosexuality, you have virtually read it all, such are the endless dogmatic, subjective and unfounded assertions.


Mark Jordan: The Invention of Sodomy in Medieval Catholic Theology: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1997.

John Cornwall: The Pope in Winter: The Dark Face of John Paul II's Papacy: London: Viking: 2004

David Yallop: The Power and the Glory: Inside the Dark Heart of John Paul II's Vatican: New York: Carroll and Graf: 2007.

Nicholas Bamforth and David Richards: Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality and Gender: A Critique of the New Natural Law: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2008.

Tracy Rowland: Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Benedict XVI: Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2008.

David Gibson: The Rule of Benedict: Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World: San Francisco: Harper: 2006.

Zack Ford: "Conservatives seize on hugely flawed 'study' about same-sex parents" Think Progress: 10.02.2015: parenting/

Not Recommended:

Robert George: Conscience and Its Enemies: Wilmington: ISI Books: 2013.

Robert George: In Defence of Natural Law: New York: Oxford University Press: 2001

Robert George: Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis: Wilmington: ISI Books: 2014

David Forte: Natural Law and Contemporary Public Policy: Washington DC: Georgetown University Press: 2012.

Alexander Pruss: One Body: An Essay on Christian Sexual Ethics: Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press: 2013.

Robert Reilly: Making Gay Okay: How Rationalising Homosexual Behaviour is Changing Everything: San Francisco: Ignatius Press: 2014.

Gerald Bradley: Essays in Law, Religion and Morality: South Bend: Saint Augustine's Press: 2013.

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 22nd February 2015

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