Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The "Natural Law" Justification for Discrimination.

At the Catholic-right site Ignatius Insight, there's an interview today with J. Budziszewski, author of a new book titled The Line Through The Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction and a professor of government and philosophy at University of Texas at Austin.

I post this because I'm often sloppy in my accusations of Catholic discrimination in health care, employment, and human rights. This interview - and perhaps this excerpt from it - shed light on the doctrine behind that discrimination, a doctrine that denies social change, scientific knowledge, and evolving ideas of human equality by preferencing learned prejudice and privilege.

Ignatius Insight: What are some basic ways in which understanding natural law can help Christians in addressing "hot button" moral issues such as "same-sex marriage" and abortion?

Budziszewski: Very few people know anything about natural law theory. Yet "in our bones" we all experience the reality of natural law, because it is rooted in our creational design, woven into the fabric of the human person. We can't help but notice certain obvious things about ourselves.

This gives Christians a certain advantage in conversation, if only we can learn to rely on it. Who doesn't see that life and innocence are good? Who doesn't know deep down that innocent life should never be deliberately destroyed? Who hasn't noticed that men and women need each other, that there is something missing in each sex which needs to be balanced by the other? Who isn't at least half-aware that marriage is the family-forming institution, the motor that turns the wheel of the generations, the only form of association that can give a child a fighting chance of being raised by a mom and a dad?

Don't start with what people don't know. Start with what they do know. Weave together reminders of the obvious.

Ignatius Insight: You write, in a chapter titled, "Constitution vs. Constitutionalism," that although we Americans aren't sufficiently on our guard about the Constitution's flaws, we don't sufficiently cherish what is good about it either. What are some of those good qualities, and how unique are they to the Constitution?

Budziszewski: In fifth grade, my teacher told the class that the Founders of our republic invented checks and balances. Thank God, that wasn't true. As I learned in later years, they were actually the beneficiaries of more than twenty-three centuries of experience and reflection on the matter.

For revolutionaries, they were unusually conservative, and tried to squeeze lessons from every bit of learning at their disposal. They knew that no Constitutional republic can endure without a certain level of moral character, or without a certain respect for natural law, on the part of both statesmen and ordinary citizens.

On the other hand, they knew that there is never enough virtue or wisdom to go around, so they took additional precautions as well. Besides providing for checks and balances, they established courts; they refused to concentrate all powers in the same set of hands; they allowed the population to select their own representatives; and they tried to make sure that no single faction would ever be able to dominate the government.

Ignatius Insight: Modern liberalism claims to be all about toleration, equality, and freedom. Yet it seems to be increasingly intolerant, unfair, and controlling. What are some of the essential flaws with modern liberalism that lead to such a paradox?

Budziszewski: Virtue requires the exercise of judgment. The virtue of courage, for example, isn't just about suppressing fear, but about suppressing it at the right times and for the right reasons. If a fireman dashed into a burning house to save the pencil sharpener, we wouldn't call him courageous, but rash and witless.

In the same way, the virtue of toleration isn't just about putting up with bad things, but putting up with certain bad things in certain ways for the right reasons. We ought to tolerate disbelief in God, because faith, by its nature, cannot be coerced. But if someone thought we should tolerate rape and murder, we wouldn't call him tolerant, but foolish and wicked. Do you see the paradox?

In order to know which bad things to tolerate, we must judge well about goods and evils. Liberalism, unfortunately, denies this. It redefines tolerance as
suspension of judgment about goods and evils. Here enters a second paradox, because it is literally impossible to suspend all judgment about goods and evils. For example, there is no morally neutral way to define marriage. Laws that conceive it as monogamous put polygamy at a disadvantage; laws that conceive it as polygamous put monogamy at a disadvantage; and laws that attempt to be open to both monogamy and polygamy conceive it, in effect, as polygamous.

The way so-called liberal tolerance actually works is that it condemns the moral judgments of non-liberals, but enforces its own moral judgments by pretending that they are not judgments. This is really a disguised dictatorship.

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