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It’s easy to dismiss theology as harmless nonsense. And it indeed is nonsense: intentionally obfuscatory, utterly meaningless, and filled with circular pseudo-logic. However, it’s often far from harmless.
Take Catholic natural law, for example. The concept of natural law is derived primarily from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. The Catholic Church frequently uses natural law to justify their position on moral issues such as abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. This is dangerous both because many Catholics unquestioningly obey the Church’s moral precepts and because the Church and its missionaries wield a great deal of influence in some of the poorest and most disease-stricken areas of the world. Catholic natural law is used to justify the prohibition of condoms and other forms of birth control, the criminalization of abortion, and discrimination against homosexuals, all of which, to varying degrees, put the safety, health, and well-being of countless individuals at risk.
But what is this “natural law”? Well, there’s no clear answer to that. And that’s precisely the point: natural law is not meant to be understood. Its ambiguity is no accident. It is a tool that the Church uses to justify the condemnation of any actions that it believes to be wrong, unnatural, and/or immoral. The Church believes that God imbues all humans with the faculty of reason and with an awareness of what is good/natural and what is evil/unnatural, both of which must be utilized when making a moral choice. Accordingly, in order to be a moral individual, one must perform good/natural actions which result from good/natural motives (motives are good if they reflect cardinal and/or theological virtues such as prudence, justice, faith, and charity). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “[t]hose actions which conform with [nature’s] tendencies, lead to our destined end, and are thereby constituted right and morally good; those at variance with our nature are wrong and immoral” and “[a]ctions are wrong if, though subserving the satisfaction of some particular need or tendency, they are at the same time incompatible with that rational harmonious subordination of the lower to the higher which reason should maintain among our conflicting tendencies and desires”.
It’s confusing, to say the least. And, if the Catholic Church wasn’t the powerful and influential entity that it is, the concept of natural law would be just another silly but harmless theological claim. However, natural law isn’t harmless. It provides justification for many of the Church’s dangerous policies and it affects the real world in tangible and often devastating ways.
Yes, theology is laughably ridiculous, but its consequences can be deadly serious.
- 18 August 2011 at 6:08am
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