Lesson 42- Natural Law vs Existentialism
As I ended my last program I was saying that the whole issue of homosexuality in our society is only a part of a bigger and more significant issue: the issue of whether moral values are based on objective facts, which are connected to the logical, scientific left lobe of the brain, or on subjective feelings, which are connected to the alogical, artistic, right lobe. The left lobe position, which is goal oriented, is that something is good or bad according to how well it serves the purpose for which it was created. Good eyes see; good ears hear; good food nourishes. From this we could draw a couple of conclusions. First, if nobody made it then it couldnt have any objective purpose. Second, if it has no objective purpose, then everybody is free to invent his or her own purposes. Thus there is an essential connection between a creators purpose or goal and morality. If there is no creator to give an objective purpose or goals to anything, then there is no objective right way or wrong way to use it. And that is the crux of the problem that is facing our society when it comes to making moral decisions.
Most of the older generation grew up with objective standards for behavior that we took for granted and never imagined that they could be challenged. Why they were right or wrong didnt concern us. Our parents said these standards were right. The Church said they were right. Everybody said they were right. So it was a non-issue that we didnt have to think about.
However, when these standards came under attack, few of us were able to defend them beyond saying that that was what we were taught as children and what everybody else believed. But now we were faced with people who were taught and believed something entirely different. When they challenged us even further, we fell back on the Bible, only to discover that the critics didnt accept it as an infallible source for truth. They wanted reason and all we had to offer was the authority of our parents and the Church or Divine revelation. We knew there had to be a reason why certain acts were prohibited but we didnt know how to express or defend them because no on had ever challenged them. Some of us , because we didnt know the reason, began to believe that there wasnt any reason and we surrendered to the worlds view.
Unfortunately, few Catholics had ever heard of Natural Law, or if they had, they had only a fuzzy understanding of what it meant. Nor did they fully understand how the Church based many of its moral stances on both faith and reason. Thus, contraception, which many of our Protestant friends accepted because they couldnt find any explicit or indisputable reference to it in the Bible, was immediately opposed by the Church on the basis of Natural Law and many Catholics, including some of the clergy, not understanding its reasons, began to follow the Protestants and the world down the path to artificial birth control. thereby throwing the baby out with the bath water. Unlike the Church, they were unable to hold the tension between two opposing extremes. One extreme was that everyone had to reproduce up to their biological ability, which logically speaking would have created an unbearable strain on the earth and its resources, and the other extreme was to divorce sex from its primary biological purpose of reproduction by raising the secondary purpose of pleasure to an equal level. Thus, recreational sex became equal with reproductive sex as a justification for sexual behavior. Whereas recreational sex had a legitimate secondary purpose within the context of marriage because it helped to keep the husband and wife bonded for the care of the children and protected the union by reducing what the Church called concupiscence, which is just a fancy word for the sexual drive, once it became separated from that context, it opened up a Pandoras Box of sexual practices. The Church, in its Wisdom, knew that if you changed the premise, you would also change the conclusions that could be drawn. And now we are reaping what we have sown and no one knows where it will stop. We are up to gay marriages, with Man/boy relationships waiting in the wings as the NAMBLA Society, a national organization of pedophiles, is lobbying state legislatures to remove the legal barriers preventing sex with consenting children. Their motto, as I have mentioned before, is Sex before eight or else it is too late.
Logic says that if recreational sex between two consenting adults is legally and constitutionally protected, and if this union is entitled to the same recognition and benefits as heterosexual marriage, then there is no reason why a brother cant marry a brother, a sister marry a sister, a mother or father marry an adult child, especially when, by claiming the relationship, it entitles them to legal and occupational benefits. Under the present system, two brothers or sisters living together in a nonsexual relationship, even though they love each other, are not eligible for medical coverage or other benefits reserved for spouses. Nor are grown children living with their mothers and fathers entitled. However, if they are willing to make the relationship sexual, then they meet the standard of two consenting adults involved in a sexual relationship, and thus become eligible. Now dont raise the objection of incest because it only makes sense in the context of reproductive sex.
Senator Rick Santorum was widely criticized by the secular press when he tried to make this point when the Supreme Court was about to strike down a state sodomy law on the basis that sexual practices were protected by the questionable right to privacy which the Supreme Court invented as a foundation for eliminating all state laws restricting abortions.
The world does not understand the relationship between premises and conclusions and thus it responds emotionally to a situation and, with good intentions, it creates premises that lead down paths that it never imagined or intended.
The Church, on the other hand, has survived over two thousand years, because, in its Wisdom, it has always taken the long-term view and has resisted the quick fixes which are so attractive to those who live in the moment. Nor has it made the mistake of tying itself exclusively into an approach based strictly on Biblical revelation because it knew that when Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit of Truth who would teach us all things, that Truth was an unfolding event and that was why a teaching Church was just as necessary, if not more so, than just the unchanging words of Scripture. Scripture provided the basic framework and premises but it required an authorized living interpreter to explain how it was to be applied to the ever-changing historical events. The scriptures may be the written, recorded Word of God but the logical left lobe of the human brain is the Living Word or Logos which John I says is found within all of us. It is that inner voice that interacts with us in our daily life that is calling upon us to apply these principles to our situations. In other words, it is the voice of reason within us. Thus the Church says that Gods Truth could be known through faith and reason.
Therefore the Church reasoned that since the Bible itself said that the whole creation reflected the Will of its Creator, then it was obvious that we could know His will not only through revelation but also through a reasonable understanding of the creation. And reason said that sex was created for the purpose of the reproduction of the species and thus that was the context in which its use was to be understood. Reason further indicated that the pleasure found in sex was, like other instinctual patterns found in animals, a method used by the Creator to lead mentally blind creatures to perform acts that were necessary for their survival and the survival of their species. Thus, while reproduction was the primary goal or purpose of sex, pleasure was a secondary purpose whose job it was to serve the goal of the primary purpose. Thus, intellectual geniuses within the Church, like St. Thomas Aquinas, gave us rational guidelines like Secondary purposes, such as the pleasure in sex, are alright so long as they either help or, at least, dont interfere with primary purposes. It is an amazing rational principle which has numerous applications. Let me just give you a few examples.
What is the primary purpose for the bumper on a car? Obviously, it is to protect the car when it bumps into an object. What is a secondary purpose for the bumper? Answer: To fit in and add to the stylishness of the car. Question: Is it alright to thin the metal in the bumper so that it can be molded to add to the stylishness of the car? The answer: Yes, so long as it isnt thinned to the point that it interferes with its primary purpose of protecting the car. This is a classic example of the relationship between form, which is right lobe, and function, which is left lobe. Obviously, as recent crash tests have shown, this is not a widely known principle among our car manufactures.
Second example: What is the primary purpose for going to school? The obvious answer is to learn. What is a secondary purpose? To get good grades so that one can earn a diploma. Question: Is it alright to focus on getting good grades and a diploma? Answer: Yes, so long as they motivate you to learn. However, if they motivate you to cheat, then your secondary purpose, instead of helping the primary purpose, is now interfering with it. I have known students who were so motivated to be members of the National Honor Society, that, lacking any sense of honor, cheated. Obviously, the were missing the mark which, as I explained in previous programs, is the real meaning of the word sin.
Allow me one more example because I think that it involves one of the most abused and confused areas today when it comes to making a rational decision.
What is the primary purpose of marriage? Answer: Marriage is a social institution created for the reproduction, care, and rearing of children so that the culture and species can survive. What is a secondary purpose? Answer: To find some one to whom you are attracted with whom you would like to spend your life. Question: Is it alright to marry someone because of their physical attractiveness and entertaining personality? Answer: Yes, so long as they also possess those qualities that are necessary for the reproduction, care, and rearing of children.
I always use this example with my students because they dont have any idea of what marriage is about or how they should go about picking a marital partner. Their basic guiding principle is: I like him and he likes me and they totally disregard the functional purpose of marriage. As a result, they form unions with smooth talking, physically appealing members of the opposite sex whom they feel will become the source of their personal happiness only to discover that when the children come along, this person possesses none of the qualities that are necessary for fulfilling the functional aspects of marriage. Is it any wonder that today about fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.
My students are surprise to learn that when I chose my wife the major question that I asked was Is this the woman that I want to be the mother of my children? Certainly, I also found her to be physically attractive and that had some part in my decision but it was secondary because at that stage in my life I had reached a level of maturity in which I understood the difference between form, which is secondary and function, which is primary, and that function, in the long term, was more important than form. In other words, I had grown up and like St. Paul said, When I was a child, I thought like a child and acted like a child but now that I am grown, I have put away the things of a child The problem today, is that many of us grow to physical maturity but still remain children in our understanding. Thus, when we are challenged on an adult level, we dont know how to respond. And that is why many of us are lost and confused by the attacks that are being made on sacred beliefs that we took for granted. When and how these attacks began is my next topic.
The attacks came for most of us during the 60s and 70s when our cultural values and premises were being attacked on all sides: sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. It was the first time when going to college became an option for center class kids whose own parents had lived through the Great Depression and World War II and thus, it was also the first time that any members of these families were exposed to philosophies and ideas that challenged their traditional beliefs. In the Catholic colleges and universities they were still teaching the philosophy of Natural Law but in most of the secular ones, the philosophies of Nihilism and Existentialism were the philosophies of choice. Therefore, as I had promised in my last program, I will attempt to explain how Existentialism, in particular, as taught by college professors to our children, changed our moral perspective.
In a previous program I made some passing remarks about Jean Paul Sartre and his philosophy of Existentialism but now I want to go deeper into his theory and show how it has caused a major shift in the Western philosophical worldview by moving from one based on objective facts to one based on subjective feelings. In other words, by shifting it from the scientific objective left lobe to the artistic, subjective right lobe.
Existentialism is a philosophy, which is mostly connected to the writings of Jean Paul Sartre, a French poet, writer, and philosopher who also was an atheistic Communist. Sartre was in France during World War II when Hitlers Nazis invaded and conquered France. He was part of the French Resistance which continued to fight against the Nazis. When the war was over, he declared himself an atheist because he could not believe that there could be an all-powerful God who would allow Hitler to kill six million Jews in the Holocaust. Therefore, he said that he was an atheist. However, unlike past French atheist during the French Revolution of 1789, who, although they didnt believe in God, did believed in a universe ruled by Natural Laws, Sartre said that he was going to be an honest atheist because you cant have it both ways. If there was no Super Rational Mind, called God, who created the universe, then there couldnt be any Natural Laws. Therefore, the only honest conclusion is that the universe and everything in it had to be accidental and absurd.
This was the message that during the 60s and 70s ,when the Cultural Revolution was picking up steam, which many of our young people were being told by liberal, secular humanistic professors. There were books like Growing Up Absurd which told the young people that the universe was accidental and meaningless. and plays containing the same theme. For example, I once read of one play, written by an existentialist author, in which people who knew of his previous works came in droves to see his latest production. The playhouse was full, the lights dimmed, the curtains opened and an actor stepped out at center stage, paused, looked at the audience, and uttered one vulgar word that began with Shand the played ended. The audience was shocked and furious. The play was over? What do you mean? We paid good money for our tickets and took time out of our busy lives just to hear a man exclaim one vulgar word? Thats absurd! To which the playwright responded, Then you got the meaning of my play. The universe is just as absurd and has no more meaning or purpose than an actor shouting a vulgar word that begins with Sh
Now once you agree with the basic premise of Existentialism, which is that the universe is accidental and absurd, there are many other implications that one could draw. First of all, if there is no Creator, there are no primary purposes. If there are no primary purposes, then there is no such thing as sin since there is no objective target or purpose emanating from a Creator for anything. Remember what I said before: without a goal there is no morality. In other words, without a goal there is no right way or wrong way because all ways would be equal. If there are no primary objective purposes then all purposes are subjective and secondary and come from the creature rather than the creator. Thus, one of Sartres famous statements was existence precedes or goes before essence. Let me explain.
Existence refers to the fact that something exists. Essence refers to what a thing is. Thus, both a dog and I exist but my essence is that of a human being and his is that of a dog. Thus, existence preceded (or goes before) essence means that in an accidental universe, things first exist as an accidental conglomeration of atoms and then later we decide on what they will be. For example, suppose we were walking along a beach in the accidental, absurd universe of the Existentialist and we came upon something that looked like a chair. We both see that it exists but the questions remains, what is it? You say Its a chair! and I say, No! I think that it is a helmet that one places on his head in battle. Since, in an accidental universe, nobody made anything, then nothing has any essence because everything is an accidental conglomeration of atoms. Therefore, Whos to says? For you its a chair; for me its a helmet. Because the world is without a Creator, it is absurd and without any objective meaning and therefore, we can give anything whatever meaning we want. In other words, we are free to create our own different essences. If this is true, then all essences are subjective rather than objective and differ from person to person. In this world, existence comes first and then we each decide for ourselves what their essences will be and, since we all have different feelings about what things are, its different strokes for different folks! or Whos to say?
Do you recognize these popular slogans: Whos to say?Different strokes for different folks! I did it my way Have you ever used them? Did you know that they come from the premises of an atheistic philosophy called Existentialism? Such is the price we pay for philosophical ignorance.
The Church, on the other hand, believes that essence precedes or goes before existence. For example, in my example involving the chair, its essence existed in the mind of its maker before it existed in reality. This being the case, if one wanted to know its purpose or proper use, he would have to ask its maker since he had a primary purpose in mind before he made it. Of course, we might climb up on it and use it as a ladder or even as a weapon to smash over someones head. But these would be secondary purposes that we invented and, from the perspective of its maker, these purposes would be alright so long and they didnt destroy its function as a chair. Thus if God created the universe, the essence of everything in it existed in His mind before He created them and His primary purposes would take precedence over any purpose which we could create. Whenever we ignored this, we would be violating His Will, which is the definition for sin. And the reason that it is a sin is because it is missing the rational end for which it was created.
Sartre himself said that the nature of his philosophy was subjectivism because it allowed all decisions to be based on the feelings of each individual. However, this created a problem even for him because if the universe really was absurd and without meaning, then why would anyone want to live in it. There seems to be a need for meaning and purpose in all of us and, if this is lacking then life is tolerable only so long as one is experiencing pleasure. But what are we to do when problems, crises, disappointments and frustrations arise and life is full of sorrow and pain? Why hang around in a meaningless, purposeless universe when the implication is that we came from nothing and were are returning to nothing? The obvious answer is to kill oneself and that is exactly the conclusion to which Sartre came. However, when faced with this decision, Sartre discovered that something in him wanted to live even though life was absurd and meaningless. But how could he escape the dilemma of believing that life was absurd and meaningless while, at the same time, knowing that he had to have meaning and purpose to live. Then, to his great satisfaction, he solved the problem by observing that since there was no God to give the universe meaning and purpose, he was free to invent his own. In fact, it meant something even more outrageous than that. Since everything was subjective and based on personal feelings, it meant that every human beings was free to make his own rules and that there was no grounds for a moral consensus on what was right or wrong. It was as atheistic philosophers before him had said, If there is no God, everything is possible because humans would be totally free to make their own rules. Thus, there are no right or wrong ways to live, there are just different lifestyles and whos to say that one lifestyle is better than any other lifestyle. Its different strokes for different folks!
Of course, this philosophy has a glaring fault that even a child could see. If there is no right or wrong and everyone is totally free to make his own rules, then what are we to do with people like Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, and the criminal element among us. Sartres answer is that although we are totally free to invent our own rules, no one is allowed to choose anything that he wouldnt want done to himself. In other words, even Sartre cant accept a world in which people are totally free to choose their own rules. Ironically, he came to the same conclusion that the Bible did: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This is the philosophy that has had a great impact on those students who have been educated in our colleges and universities since the 1960s. And I know for a fact that some of those students who have become high school teachers have indoctrinated their students with it.
For example, years ago one of the teachers at my school decided to hold a class on Existentialism after school. Her husband, who taught at the same school, came into the teachers lounge and informed me that she was teaching it in a nearby classroom and suggested that I should go over and zing her a couple of times by asking questions. I really didnt feel like doing it but to appease him I went. I took a seat at the back of the class and as I sat down I heard one of the students say, Whos to say whats good or bad? Its different strokes for different folks! Well, after hearing that, I couldnt sit there and allow that to go unchallenged. So I raised my hand and asked her Well, what about food? . Exactly she said, You might like strawberry shortcake and I might like apple pieWhos to say that one is better than the other? Yes, I said. But youre talking about taste which is subjective. What about nutrition that is objective? Suppose you have a deficiency in vitamin E and I tell you to take Wheat Germ which is known to be high in that vitamin and someone else tells you to eat jellybeans which may not have any at all. Wouldnt I be right and the other person wrong? The student looked at me with a bewildered look on her face because her teacher had failed to distinguish between things that depend upon feelings and those that depended upon facts.
However it is not just nave high school students who fall into this trap. The whole theory of Cultural and Moral Relativism can be traced to the same premises. For example, I was watching a documentary in which an anthropologist, who taught at a famous university, was showing his students a videotape he had taken while living with the Yanamamas, a primitive tribe that lives in the Amazon jungles of Brazil. He concluded his lecture by saying that it was the job of every anthropologist to teach his students Cultural Relativism because all cultures are just different answers to the same question of survival and no culture has the right to criticize another. Of course, he failed to mention that any Yanamama woman who lacked a male protector was subjected to gang rape and that they were constantly involved in raid with neighboring tribes in which men, women, and children were killed without any distinction between combatants or non-combatants.
Eric Fromm, a famous psychologist, who opposed the theory of Cultural Relativism pointed out that some answers are better than others. For example, it is better to improve your crop yield by adding fertilizers to the ground than by throwing a virgin into a volcano. This is so obvious that you would think that there is no reason to discuss it. Common sense tells us that all choices have consequences and that some consequences are better than other. Yet, there are people in our society who hold prominent positions in our government, courts, and universities who argue that all lifestyles, all cultures, all choices are equal. In fact, we have created a cult of equality in which anyone who has the audacity to challenge or evaluate the behavior of anyone else is immediately charged with being an intolerant bigot.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom!