Based on my comment to a recent Paul VanderKlay video.
I have been making this point for quite some time now. I am thinking that I really have to develop the why and how of it. It seems so clear to me, but I don’t know that I have figured out how to explain it succinctly…if it can be. I will settle for figuring out how to explain it over a series of posts. Consider this one the start of that endeavor. I take that back. I have been “starting” for several years now. Now it is time to get down to spelling it out.
In many ways, Jordan Peterson got this conversation rolling – certainly on the popular level. How many people have said “I like the ‘clean up your room’ Jordan Peterson and the ‘take on responsibility’ Jordan Peterson and the ‘what kind of man would a woman want to marry’ Jordan Peterson. But I don’t like the ‘Bill C-16 [compelled preferred pronoun speech]’ Jordan Peterson or the ‘political’ Jordan Peterson.”
As if any of this can be separated. First of all, since everything is now political…well, how can you separate gender pronouns from anything else Peterson says? Next, and far more important: Peterson has been pointing to the meaning crisis, especially evident in Western men, but evident throughout Western society.
Peterson didn’t introduce the phrase “meaning crisis” (I think John Vervaeke might have), but he certainly captured and described it. If gender confusion can’t be understood in the context of the meaning crisis, then there is no such thing as a meaning crisis.
I have, in the past, compelled Paul VanderKlay to address natural law, dedicating a complete video to an email I sent to him. Since then (and even before then), on and off, I have made comments regarding the necessity of this ethic if any sanity is to return to the West and to the individuals residing in it.
Recently he has started commenting more along these lines – albeit (at least to me), somewhat confusingly. For example, in his adult Sunday school class, he has begun teaching on Romans 1. Now, go and read Romans 1, beginning with verse 18. Tell me, can you read this passage without a) coming face to face with the idea of natural law, and b) finding a direct application to a topic that is tearing the Western Church (of most denominations) apart?
So I wrote the following comment:
Really tough to avoid natural law - both at a high level (it is known by all men) and for specific applications (like that thing you are not allowed to preach on in Canada) - when one is reading Romans 1....
Read the passage in Romans if it isn’t clear to you what I am talking about. And read this if you aren’t familiar with the Canadian law. In any case, PVK replied:
Is same sex attraction "natural"?" I think "natural law" without a very careful definition falls apart.
Which confused me to no end. My reply:
Your reply confuses me, as the Apostle Paul says precisely the opposite.
Natural law can only make sense in the context of understand the purpose of the thing:
As to this specific application of natural law, beside the words of Paul (and other places in Scripture), once one accepts that man is made for a purpose and that each part of man (and woman) is also made for a purpose, the careful definition is clear. What is the purpose of the thing? In this case, anatomy and physiology make clear the purpose.
Either I didn’t understand PVK’s reply, or he really doesn’t understand anything about natural law or the source for the ethic. I just hope I never have to get more graphic or detailed….
Or, we can be like Sam Harris - there is no purpose in anything. There either is purpose in the world and all that is in it, or there isn't. I don't think we are free to pick and choose - some things have purpose and others don't. Talk about a random and chaotic world. But, then again, this is what modernity is trying to do.
And post-modernity has completed the task – stripping purpose from everything.
Hence, the meaning crisis. Hence, why this discussion must, if it is to bear any fruit, sooner or later find its way to a natural law ethic.
Which is still all background to my most recent comment at his site, and background for this post. In my most recent comment, I am responding to and building on something PVK said, where he described the ancient view of “natural.” He said something like: “from the Greek, it means nature as in plant growth.” Which should make things abundantly clear…but I worked to spell it out:
An acorn grows into an oak – this is natural, according to its purpose. The meaning of “natural” means this if it to mean anything.
“Natural” means to act according to the purpose for which something is designed or created. It does not mean “it felt natural for me to kiss her without asking” or “I am a man trapped in a woman’s body” or any some such. What is the purpose of the thing? This is the important question.
To identify “our true nature” is not difficult. For humans, the highest purpose is love – of God, and of neighbor. This is our purpose based on our nature. This is where an atheist advocate of natural law will always fall short – one cannot fully come to natural law without love as man’s highest purpose.
It is clear that atheists can accept and live by (to the extent it is possible for humans) a natural law ethic to a point. But I think without love as the highest purpose of man, we will always fall short.
Many classical liberals believe trade and commerce will solve this problem – the “thing” that can serve as the highest purpose, hence bringing about a relatively peaceful and thriving world. Haven’t we proven it can’t? Haven’t the wars and the cultural degradations and the upside-down and hypocritical ethical and legal standards of the last hundred years proven this?
I have addressed specifically the reasons why something approaching free-market capitalism as the highest purpose can never suffice to hold a society together in some form of conviviality (and will always result in cronyism), via a series of posts here:
So…put love at the top – man’s highest purpose. This speaks to everything Peterson, Vervaeke, VanderKlay, and Pageau (among others) are after: fulfilled relationships, taking on responsibility, caring for one another, addressing the meaning crisis.
Continuing with my comment (I know, I am bouncing around a lot):
What is created either has a purpose or it doesn’t have a purpose. You either therefore deduce natural law – that which is created has a purpose, a telos – or you become Sam Harris.
It is, of course, somewhat more complicated than this. I think it is helpful to include some other conditions (as explained here). And, to be clear, I am not making stuff up about Harris. He has been quite clear that this life has no meaning – we only live in the illusion of life, of free will. We are truly the result of random atoms smashing together randomly.
But, once again, I digress:
To act according to one’s purpose affords meaning in life. To act against one’s purpose affords a meaningless life – the life promised by Sam Harris.
My go-to example to demonstrate this:
A lion in a zoo is not living according to its nature. It also cannot be said to be “liberated.”
Consider: the lion in the zoo has all the food it wants, without effort to hunt; free medical care; plenty of shelter in case of stormy weather; no risk of predators. Totally provided for, completely safe. Can you call it a lion? I can’t.
Yet this is exactly what our betters promise us. In such a case, can we be called human? And if not, does that not seem to lead to a meaning crisis?
PVK also said something about liberty – in the libertine context (I don’t remember precisely what, but I continued):
Liberty is to be found in a life aimed at its telos, its purpose – in accord with its nature. I am liberated if I act in accord with my nature – natural law.
From Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: A World Split Apart, delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University:
A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I will tell you. Can you think of a better definition of liberty than being free to aim for the highest level of human possibilities? And what do we have as the highest level of human possibilities? I already answered that: love. Love God, love your neighbor.
Continuing with Solzhenitsyn:
The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.
Those who believe that all we need for peace is the non-aggression principle, please read that passage again…and again...and again, until you get it. OK, I will explain: without something higher to aim at – as a society and accepted by a society as the highest good – well, I will let Solzhenitsyn explain:
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space.
“Oh, but it’s anything peaceful,” you will scream…
Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror.
How is that working out for liberty – a true liberty? How can such a society stand against a tyranny? Really, does this need to be explained today, in this world and at this time?
And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.
Exactly. But, returning once again to my comment to PVK (and, remember – despite my very winding road, that this is in reference to Romans 1 (again, go back and read staring with verse 18):
In this specific application [regarding what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans], humans have a purpose, men have a purpose, women have a purpose, their respective reproductive systems are designed with a purpose. To act according to one’s purpose is natural, and for each part of one’s being to act according to its purpose is also natural. What could the relative reproductive systems of male and female possibly be designed for? What could possibly be their respective natural purposes? These are not complicated questions.
No, they are not. But when all objective truth is tossed out the window – even the most obviously objective truths of anatomy, physiology, and biology – well, how can anything mean anything meaningful? Hence, the meaning crisis. Hence Peterson speaking out against Bill C-16 (compelled use of preferred gender pronouns (sic)). Hence 4,000 pastors speaking out against a law that makes illegal conversion therapy.
Hence VanderKlay’s entire search – including something that troubles him deeply: that this controversy over gender confusion will tear apart the denomination in which he, his father, and his grandfather all pastor(ed). Continuing with my comment:
The Apostle Paul is so clearly writing of this. It is troubling that his words and his natural law teachings are avoided. Avoiding this natural law ethic contributes to, and in my opinion is the ultimate source for, the meaning crisis.
Understanding and teaching natural law affords many benefits to society – not the least of which is health…and liberty.
We should not forget that it took many Church councils to clarify many of the unclear and / or seemingly (and I stress the word “seemingly”) contradictory passages of Scripture. I find nothing un-Scriptural about this. After all, the Apostle John concluded his Gospel:
John 21: 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Yes. Had these been written, some of our (seeming) confusion would have been avoided. This is why tradition is important; this is why the Church councils were important.
From Southern Catholic Mom:
It is time for us to uncleave from those who worship the Covid religion, the “mandate” religions, the face masking and face covering religions, the jab-or-job religions. the BLM religion, the blood-libel-against-White-people religions, the snuffing in assisted living and hospitals religions, the kinky and degenerate religions (LGBTQ?, drag-queen story hour librarians, child-sex propagandists everywhere), the gardening and self-sufficient hating religions, the government schools loving religions, the war-loving religions, the cop and soldier worshipping religions, the government and government employees worshipping religions, and all other human-hating religions. Please feel free to add to this list.
Now, many of these (or tangential aspects of these) are defended by a not-unsubstantial portion (even a majority) of Christians. All of these will point to verses in support of their cause, just as will Christians who stand on the other side of these divides.
How to resolve? Perhaps a Church council specifically regarding the natural law ethic, as this ethic provides the lens through which one can address these issues.
And…look again at the list. Every single one of these – as advanced in modern society – rips away some bit of objective truth, and objective truths are what the ethic of natural law is built on. And without a foundation of objective truth, there is no truth.
C.S. Lewis writes, regarding the Tao (which he also calls Natural Law):
… [it] is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected.
Tell me: how does one find meaning in such a world, a world with no objective values? We cannot, and we are living through the end days of the proof.
Men who are left with lives they deem meaningless will never be defenders of liberty, or defenders of much of anything else of value. And this is why, as I opened this post: This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.