(Photo: © eelnosiva - Fotolia.com)
Last week I attended a talk by Robert Reilly on his new book,Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Gay Behavior is Changing Everything (Ignatius Press, 2014).
The talk, at the offices of First Things in New York, started with Aristotle’s Politics
and the idea of natural functioning. If you follow human nature, the
idea seemed to be, politics begins with the family, the family with the
bond between man and woman. Such a view evidently disfavors homosexual
behavior, and denying that verdict in the interests of sexual freedom
means denying human nature as the basis of politics. That’s a problem,
since (among other things) it does away with limits. Politics becomes a
technology like any other, to be used by whoever controls it for
whatever purposes he happens to have.
So Reilly is among those who
point out the totalitarian implications of today’s progressivism. As he
puts it, making gay okay changes everythingand not in a way any sane
person would want.
But what will this kind of argument get us in the world as it is today? As Maureen Mullarkey notes on the First Things website,
we’re in a real mess now. Reilly mentioned in his talk that thinkers
like Dewey and Sartre explicitly reject human nature, but it’s not just a
few eggheads any more. Today everyone respectable rejects the idea of
natural order, especially with regard to sexual conduct. People have
been taught to view the concept as a high-toned rationalization for
bigoted actions growing out of atavistic feelings of disgust.
But if that’s what people think, how helpful can it be to keep bringing up such arguments?
question points to a basic problem for Christian proclamation in public
life today: we’re stuck preaching the word out of season, because the basic assumptions on which discussion is carried on
are radically anti-Christian. Reilly presents secular philosophical
arguments for his views, but the basis of those argumentsthe principle
that the natural world and human body have meaningis also basic to the
doctrines of Creation and Incarnation. Do away with natural meanings,
and so with a nature fitted to completion by grace, and you may get
Buddhism or some other religion but not Christianity. If you try to
present a teaching like charity in such a setting, in which things mean
what people want them to mean, it’ll come out sounding more like the
celebration of diversity: we should love not what people are, since there are no settled identities, nor what they should be, since the very concept is oppressive, but instead whatever they choose to make of themselves.
So it seems that presenting natural law arguments on sexual matters is necessary, but not because they are going to persuade Justice Kennedy any time soon.
We need them because natural law is essential to the picture of the
world we want to present. Not everyone is fully persuaded by the
abolition of natureit’s not the sort of thing it’s easy to believe
through and throughand we’ll pick up some stragglers if we give them
reasons to drop off altogether. That’s how converts are made. And in any
event the arguments help us maintain our own sense of what’s real and
reasonable in a world that tries endlessly to disrupt it.
all gloom and doom. As Reilly also noted in his talk, abolishing the
concept of the natural falsifies reality, and that doesn’t work forever.
Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret: “you can drive
nature out with a pitchfork, but she’ll still hurry back.” The more the
effort is pursued, the more it will eventually come crashing down, and
we prepare for that day by keeping better understandings alive.