At the heart of all Catholic teaching is the natural law–not to be confused with the laws of nature. The natural law is a moral, not a physical law. In the recent kerfuffle about AIDS and condoms, we saw Pope Benedict emphasize a return to natural law as the key to improving the situation when he spoke of “First, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another. Second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering.”
Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation provides a very straightforward definition of the natural law:
… the natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves. The plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other men as if they were men. Not to act as if I alone were a man, and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.
At the heart of the world’s problems is a break from natural law. Abortion is such a scourge because an entire class of human beings–those in the womb–are treated as something other than human by people who seem to have forgotten their own origins in the womb. And how often do people in our society treat others as objects from which to derive sexual pleasures. Every kind of abuse, crime, exploitation, persecution, and enslavement derive from disregard for the natural law.
In the same book, Merton gives an essay on “The Moral Theology of the Devil” which I found fascinating and rather chilling in how recognizable this “theology” is in our world:
The moral theology of the devil starts out with the principle: “Pleasure is sin.” The he goes on to work it the other way: “All sin is pleasure.”
After that he points out that pleasure is practically unavoidable and that we have a natural tendency to do things that please us, from which he reasons that all our natural tendencies are evil and that our nature is evil in itself. And he leads us to the conclusion that no one can possibly avoid sin, since pleasure is inescapable.
After that, to make sure that no one will try to escape or avoid sin, he adds that what is unavoidable connot be a sin. Then the whole concept of sin is thrown out the window as irrelevant, and people decide that there is nothing left except to live for pleasure, and in that way pleasures that are naturally good become evil by de-ordination and lives are thrown away in unhappiness and sin.
Looking back on my life, I can see how I was “converted” to this diabolical moral theology. I recall going through a rather puritanical phase that left me disgusted with mankind. That disgust and hatred swung the gates of my mind and soul open to the devil. I essentially did a 180 turn to where sin became my delight. And since it was my delight, and a seemingly irresistible and “natural” delight, I concluded that it couldn’t possibly be wrong, or at least that I could not be held culpable. I absolved myself of all moral responsibility.
I know it all sounds crazy and irrational. But the devil is a master manipulator. The Father of Lies, he is rightly called. He knows how to get to humans. He knows we naturally seek out the true, good, and beautiful, so he makes himself and all evils appear true, good, and beautiful. He makes God and the natural law appear ugly and undesirable. He substitutes license for true freedom. He separates freedom from responsibility. He makes insanity look like sanity, darkness look like enlightenment, and de-evolution look like progress.
He has been extremely successful in our world. I see his handiwork everywhere. Especially in our sexual mores–or lack thereof. The prevailing mind-set of our society is that chastity–abstinence for the unmarried, monogamy and fidelity for the married–is impossible to attain. We are too weak and too disposed toward evil. It’s a horribly pessimistic view of mankind, disguised as liberation from archaic and oppressive laws. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, continues to teach that human beings are perfectly capable of chastity. It may be difficult, and we may mess up along the way–but that is what God’s mercy is for!