Tag Archives: Natural Law

Catholics don’t use ‘religion’ to discriminate – but natural law

Because the natural law is accessible to everyone through the power of reason, it tells each one of us what ought to be done or what should not be done. It does so in an absolute sense – no matter what, whether we like it or not, whether we feel it or not, whether others enforce it or not. In short, moral rights and moral duties are not just beliefs, but are objective truths rooted in a moral order.

Moral rights and moral duties are by their very nature not only absolute but also universal; if they were not, one could not claim that human rights are applicable to all humanity, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, or political affiliation. Societies and governments that violate the natural law with their legal laws cannot last long because they go against the moral order. Just as we cannot violate the physical order – the physical law of gravity, for instance – without getting hurt, we cannot violate the moral order of the natural law – the moral law of respect for human life, for instance – without hurting ourselves and society

When Catholic doctors use religious reasons of conscience for not providing an abortion, or Catholic pharmacists use religious reasons of conscience for not providing certain pills, their actions are not a matter of “imposing beliefs” on others, but of following the natural law that we all have in common through the power of reason. So we are not dealing here with an exemption of the civil law based on beliefs, but rather with a universal moral right based on the natural law. This is not a matter of their having freedom to do what certain religious individuals or institutions want, based on personal opinions and beliefs, but instead a freedom to do what they must do, in accordance with the natural law. What secularists ask them to give up is not their personal beliefs but their fundamental rights.

…Can religion be an excuse for discrimination? The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, the answer is yes, depending on what discrimination means. If it just means “making a distinction,” then those who say Catholics discriminate are themselves discriminating against Catholics as well. But if discrimination is seen as something morally good or bad, then we need to face the fact that Catholics have valid reasons to discriminate, for their reasons are based on the natural law that we all share – Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

On the other hand the answer can also be no. Once we reduce religion to mere set of beliefs and opinions, untested by reason, anything can go under that banner – even white-supremacist beliefs that qualify as “religion.”

Excerpt by Gerard M, Verschuuren, Ph.D., from his latest book Forty Anti-Catholic Lies: A Myth-Busting Apologist Sets the Record Straight (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2018), from Chapter 39, “Catholics Use Religion to Discriminate,” pp. 315-322.

GERARD M. VERSCHUUREN is a human biologist, specialized in human genetics. He also holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of science, and is a renowned writer, speaker, and consultant on the interface of science and religion, faith, and reason. He has written over 10 books. Learn more at www.where-do-we-come-from.com.

What is natural law and why is it important?

Moral laws are based on human nature. That is, what we ought to do is based on what we are. “Thou shalt not kill,” for instance, is based on the real value of human life and the need to preserve it. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is based on the real value of marriage and family, the value of mutual self-giving love, and children’s need for trust and stability.

Peter Kreeft

The natural law is also naturally known, by natural human reason and experience. We don’t need religious faith or supernatural divine revelation to know that we’re morally obligated to choose good and avoid evil or to know what “good” and “evil” mean. Every culture in history has had some version of the Ten Commandments. No culture in history has thought that love, kindness, justice, honesty, courage, wisdom, or self-control was evil — or that hate, cruelty, injustice, dishonesty, cowardice, folly, or uncontrolled addiction was good. Speaking of pagans, St. Paul says that “they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Rom 2:15).

The term “natural law” is sometimes misunderstood. “This law is called ‘natural,’ not in reference to the nature of irrational beings [that is, animals — it is not a law of biology], “but because reason, which decrees it, properly belongs to human nature” (CCC #1955). For example, the Church teaches that artificial contraception is against the natural law, not because it’s a rational human intervention rather than an irrational biological process, but because it’s contrary to right reason. It violates the integrity of human nature by divorcing the two naturally united aspects of the essence of the sexual act — the unitive and the procreative — that is, personal intimacy and reproduction.

“The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men” (CCC #1956). It’s not universally obeyed, or even universally admitted, but it is universally binding and authoritative. (“Authority” means “right,” not “might.”)

“The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history” (CCC #1958) because it is based on God-made essential human nature, which does not change with time or place, rather than man-made cultural developments, which do.

Because man’s essence does not change, but his circumstances and situations do, “application of the natural law varies greatly” (CCC #1957). For instance, capital punishment may be morally necessary in a primitive society but needlessly barbaric in a society with secure laws and prisons; and the moral restrictions on warfare today, with its weapons of mass destruction, must be far stricter than those in the past.

“It provides the necessary basis for the civil law” (CCC #1959), for civil law forbids many acts, such as rape and torture and slavery, because they are morally wrong and harmful to human nature’s health and flourishing. Without a natural law basis for civil law, civil law becomes based on power, whether collective or individual.

PETER KREEFT is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. This column is reprinted with permission from his book Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2001)

Catechism 101

The divine and natural law shows man the way to follow so as to practice the good and attain his end. The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. It hinges upon the desire for God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of all that is good, as well as upon the sense that the other is one’s equal. Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1955

Transgender tyranny and the defense of freedom

The Declaration of Independence begins with an appeal to the authority of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” — laws at once deeper and higher than those of the king, not subject to personal desires, and which no human law could contradict or modify.

John A. Di Camillo

John A. Di Camillo

This natural moral law enabled the Founders to assert their monumental claims “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The right of liberty flowed from the natural moral law, authored by God, and could be asserted over and against human tyranny.

Now, 240 years later, liberty and equality have become twisted so as to undermine the natural law. On May 13, for example, the federal government issued a “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students,” providing guidance on the interpretation and application of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The letter establishes, contrary to well-established science, that one’s “sex” is freeform, entirely up to one’s own “internal sense of gender.”

Schools must affirm whatever gender an individual “intends to assert,” with no need for a medical diagnosis or other evidence, on pain of fines, judicial action, or discontinuation of federal funding. On these grounds, boys simply claiming to be girls could enter girls’ bathrooms and changing facilities or play on girls’ sports teams.

On the same day, the government issued its final rule on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, requiring any recipient of federal funding — such as physicians, hospitals and insurers — to provide or pay for chemical and surgical “gender transition” procedures. It gives people who have “transitioned” the same health care rights as people born in that gender. Violators may face action from the U.S. Department of Justice, civil action or the loss of federal funding.

These government interventions radically undermine two types of freedom: the authentic personal freedom of persons experiencing gender confusion or diagnosable dysphoria, and the freedom of religion and conscience of everyone else.

First, the freedom of a gender-confused person is subverted when society affirms a misconception of his or her identity. It traps the person in the slavery of a fantasy and makes it more difficult to accept reality, which is needed for integral healing. Increasing the availability of “reassignment” further restricts freedom: Knowledge of ready access to hormones and surgery distracts from and reinforces the underlying problem, offering an appealing but superficial “solution.” It makes the person less inclined to work at understanding and resolving the mistaken perception of having the wrong biological sex. It’s like affirming an anorexic woman’s perception that she is overweight, providing her with easy access to liposuction, and calling it “treatment.”

We cannot lose sight of reality. In a statement titled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” the American College of Pediatricians recalls that sex is “an objective biological binary trait,” while gender describes an awareness of oneself as male or female. The former cannot be changed, while the latter is subject to influences that may clarify or confound one’s self-understanding. Believing oneself to be of a different sex than one’s biological sex is “at best, a sign of confused thinking,” and as many as 88% of girls and 98% of boys with such confusion accept their biological sex after puberty. Given this, and considering that suicide rates are 20 times higher in adults who have undergone “reassignment,” the College decries as child abuse “conditioning children into believing … impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful.” A person is not freed by reinforcing self-misunderstanding.

Second, the freedom of conscience of all other persons is trampled by state demands that they become actors in others’ fantasies. The prevailing cultural and media narrative, reinforced by some clinicians who adopt a “gender affirmation” approach, and now by the coercive power of the federal government, would have others treat the confused person in accordance with his or her objectively distorted self-perception. The new guidance and regulations apply to entities that receive federal funding such as schools and hospitals, but this is only a first step toward imposing such standards on our entire society.

For the sake of the authentic freedom of persons experiencing gender confusion or diagnosable dysphoria, and for the freedom of all people in our great nation to live in truth, follow their consciences, and exercise religious liberty, we must pray and work to defend our freedoms against the tyrannical falsehood of gender ideology. In celebrating our independence this July, let us recall the laws of nature and of nature’s God as the source of all claims of liberty.

JOHN A. DI CAMILLO, BE.L., is a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.


Gun rights: Human rights guaranteed by natural law

In arguing for the wisest public policy proposals to bind our fellow citizens, we must look to the broad vision of human flourishing and the common good that we draw from our Christian heritage.

Jason Scott Jones

Jason Scott Jones

Doing so prevents us from lapsing into the most common deadly errors that pervade a culture enfeebled by a cheap utilitarianism, which sees the goal of government as maximizing the number of happy moments for the greatest number of voters. We must look to natural law, the law of human flourishing that God wrote on our hearts, which is equally available to pagans and to Christians

Citing Church documents — none of them with infallible authority, by the way — is a feeble means to persuade our fellow citizens and is anyway unnecessary. We have all the tools we need in our God-given reason and the wholesome civic traditions we inherited from British Common Law, whose medieval origins ensured that it served the dignity of the human person, a dignity reinforced by Christ’s incarnation.

On the issue of gun rights and gun control, we are speaking of perhaps the most basic human right imaginable: the right to defend yourself and your family against an immediate threat of violence — either against your person or your hard-earned property. The primary function of the state is more effectively to guard our lives, liberties and property from aggression, coercion and theft.

But the state cannot be everywhere, nor would we want it to be. Given that, there will always be situations where citizens must defend themselves and their families against immediate threats from criminals. That is their inalienable right, and for the state to deprive them of that right would be intrinsically evil. No situation justifies doing what is intrinsically evil. Therefore, no argument of public policy, no appeal to some “seamless garment” or sentimentalized version of Christian non-violence, could ever justify preventing citizens from protecting themselves from violence.

In seeking the common good, of course, we see that rights hang in tension. We must preserve public order and make sure that one person’s attempt to exercise his rights and protect his human dignity does not infringe on someone else’s rights and dignity. Someone who wishes to protect his property from trespassing children, for instance, may surround it with it fence, but not a lethal electric fence. Our efforts to defend our rights must be proportional to the threat and must not directly or through negligence harm the innocent.

Therefore, the state has good reason to regulate the level of lethal force available to private citizens, to make sure that it is proportional to the threats they may face. This means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” firearms regulation appropriate to all people everywhere. Christians living in the lawless parts of Syria, for instance, may well have to own and operate military-grade weapons to protect their families from the depredations of ISIS. For U.S. citizens, such weapons would be totally disproportionate.

In many American cities, violent crime is a constant threat to citizens’ well being — not only to their safety and that of their children, but to the fruits of their hard work. The home, the car, the possessions that a member of the working poor has managed to accumulate might have taken them many years to acquire and could prove impossible to replace. But short of full-on surveillance, there is no way for the state to provide such citizens adequate protection. So these citizens must be allowed to arm themselves in a proportionate manner.

The laws governing self-defense should rightly center first and foremost on the absolute right of each human being, the image of God, to protect himself and his family — not on the calculations of distant bureaucrats or the wistful imaginings of high-minded idealists.

On top of our right to defend ourselves against the daily threat of lawless people, we also have a right to resist the lawless actions of government. In virtually every case, this will take the form of going to court or voting in elections. However, we have seen that governments are just as tainted by original sin as any human institution. They can turn to evil with devastating force. According to scholar R.J. Rummel, governments in the 20th century killed some 262 million people — not including casualties of war. In most cases, those civilians were totally unarmed and hence unable to defend their most basic rights.

We know well that totalitarian governments such as the Bolsheviks and the Nazis made it among their first priorities to confiscate all private weapons from their citizens — where previous, well-meaning progressive governments had not already done so. The resistance movements that pushed back against the government brutalities relied on private weapons that still survived among the populace.

This grim history tells us that the American Founders were wise indeed to put a Constitutional protection of the right to private firearms in our country’s central document. They did so out of respect for natural law and our human dignity as images of God.

JASON SCOTT JONES is filmmaker, pro-life activist and co-author of The Race to Save Our Century. He is an At-Large member of Legatus.

Guns and the Second Amendment

Dean Eugene Milhizer contents that the right to bear arms is a natural right . . .

Eugene Milhizer

Eugene Milhizer

In the last six months the U.S. has been rocked by two intentional, violent body blows: the Newtown shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Both events are complicated and in many ways unrelated and distinct from each other. But considering them together is useful to understand and define the range and limits of Second Amendment protections.

In the 2008 landmark decision Heller v. District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court determined unambiguously for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. The Court traced the right to the English common law.

Of course, both firearms and bombs were well known to the British and the American colonists before and during the Revolutionary War. As recent events too well demonstrate, both are potentially dangerous and can serve as an effective means of causing serious and widespread violence. And both conceivably could be subject to restrictive government regulation approaching prohibition. Why then do the Constitution and its precursor common law protect gun ownership but not bomb ownership? The answer involves the imperative of protecting natural rights that were recognized under common law and later enshrined in the Second Amendment.

The Heller Court, quoting Sir William Blackstone’s authoritative 18th-century treatise on England’s common law, referred to a “natural right of resistance and self-preservation” that predates the Constitution. These rights were well established under common law and were a proximate source of Second Amendment protections.

But while the common law is the proximate source of the defensive rights protected by the Second Amendment, the natural law is the ultimate source of right as recognized by both the common law and the Constitution. The natural law includes a natural right of self-preservation and defense. This is basic. As a natural right, a right to self-defense is inalienable. It can neither be bestowed by the government nor can it be ceded to it. This is because these rights are integral to a person’s dignity. It’s hardwired into our psyche.

While one can imagine scenarios in which a bomb is used in self-defense, common sense and tradition instruct that such instruments are inherently offensive. In contrast, firearms have been regularly and traditionally been used in self-defense ever since the invention of the flintlock. The Second Amendment’s protection of a natural right to self-defense thus helps define the range of instrumentalities that are afforded its protection.

The constitutional distinction between offensive and defensive instrumentalities is critical for contemporary purposes. Many dangerous things can be intensely regulated without violating the Second Amendment, such as explosives, poisons and modes of conveyance. So can mountain climbing and bungee jumping. The regulation of such products and activities presents pragmatic and prudential questions, not constitutional issues.

Firearms, the quintessential means of effective self-defense from colonial times to the present day, are different in kind. The government may of course regulate them, but not in a manner that unduly burdens the Second Amendment’s recognition and protection of the underlying natural right of self-defense.

In a civil society the exercise of natural rights and constitutional protections are not absolute. This is especially true in modern times with all of its complexities and interdependence. The government may regulate the unbridled exercise of one right when it would unduly infringe upon the natural and constitutional rights of others. For example, freedom of religion cannot shield human sacrifice, nor can freedom of speech excuse shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.

The respectful interplay of protected liberties is among the objectives the Framers addressed when crafting the Constitution, and this objective should inform contemporary legislators when they engage in law-making. Consistent with these values, it would be imprudent and even immoral to seek a pragmatically beneficial end, no matter how well intended, if the means of achieving it requires unduly burdening a natural right that enjoys express constitutional protection.

Any new gun legislation must conform to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, which is ultimately derived from the natural rights of self-preservation and self-defense. Consistent with these first principles, legislation can surely be crafted to keep guns away from dangerous criminals and the mentally ill without disregarding the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens. All responsible lawmakers and citizens should join together to seek this proper goal.

EUGENE MILHIZER is dean of Ave Maria School of Law and a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter.