Cardinal Francis George, a Chicago-based Catholic bishop, may have had a natural order in mind when writing a letter to his flock of Illinois priests and parishioners stating that same sex marriage violates ‘natural law,’ but his viewpoint actually has little to do with how nature actually works. From the lowliest bacteria up to the supposedly highest life form on earth, the human race, natural law is a far more nuanced and intelligent dynamic than the narrow definition prescribed by Cardinal George.
Tending to the flock
Common Goldeneye ducks in a group of 3 males and one female.
In fact, all Cardinal George has to do on any day of the week to see the real natural order at work is step outside and look for a flock of ducks or geese. They’re everywhere you know; easy to find and even easier to understand. Geese and ducks travel around in flocks. And of course, some geese and ducks pair up and mate for life. We love to romanticize these connections. Yet by looking so closely at the male-female bonds that result in procreation for the species, we essentially neglect the dynamics that lead to the survival of the species as a whole.
No cardinal rules
It is well-known that in nature, pair bonding is hardly sacrosanct. In fact female cardinals have been studied and found to be secretive sluts around nesting time. They better their odds of creating and raising young by getting some action on the side.
Many birds and other species do the same. Breeding is a game of odds and in some cases, a brutal game of dominance and even death. It is important work, getting laid in nature. But it is not the only work that goes on in any population or species.
Flocks and colonies
When you study a flock of ducks or geese, there are always individuals and even groups that do not engage in breeding in a given year. Natural law dictates that not every individual is designed for breeding. Creep on down to the ant colony, the closest thing we have to human society in many respects, and you’ll find that natural law exhibits tremendous creativity in assigning roles to ants that protect the queen and have no sex. Ants that function as hunters, warriors, caregivers and builders of the colony. There are even pet ants, and ants that milk aphids for food.
Prosperity without marriage
There is no legal form of marriage, per se, among ants. Yet they are one of the most prosperous of all creatures on this earth. According to Hyptertextbook.com, they may be the most numerous of all insects, numbering nearly one quadrillion. There are an estimated 3.5 million ants per acre in the tropical rain forest alone. Ants are getting along just fine without legal protections against same-sex marriage. Procreation is not the problem in natural law.
7 billion and counting
There are nearly 7 billion people on earth. Not so many people as ants, perhaps, but that’s plenty of people. Human beings are very good at breeding, both in and out of wedlock. Yet a significant portion of the world seems to be concerned that the human race will go extinct if we break structure with a society that insists breeding is the only reason for marriage.
Not so fast
The Catholic church may have even that part of its theology wrong. The Bible in Genesis 1:28 states, “God blessed the humans by saying to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it! Be masters over the fish in the ocean, the birds that fly, and every living thing that crawls on the earth!”
If Genesis was indeed inspired by God, yet written by humans, then “natural order” naturally favors superiority of the human race. Yet to be “fruitful” also means many other things in the Bible, especially related to good works as documented in Colossians 1:10: That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Fruitfulness in faith
Being fruitful in this world means more than breeding our way into power and dominance over the earth. The well-adjusted believer recognizes that fruitfulness means to prosper and create the Kingdom of God through humble recognition of grace and to embark on extensive good works as an expression of that commitment to faith.
Dimensions of natural law
The Bible understands natural law in more dimensions than those communicated by Cardinal George, who in seeking to limit legal access to same sex marriage stomps on the manner in which nature and the Bible both deliver wisdom about how the natural order actually operates.
We should remember that the Catholic Church has been way, way wrong before on the subject of natural order and natural law. The Pope long ago convicted men of truth like Copernicus and Galileo for simply telling the truth about the structure of the universe. That’s a pretty big swing and a miss. The subject of evolution also vexed the church for a time, but it ultimately relented, recognizing the sheer evidence for biological change over time.
Fearful theology redux
The death grip of the Catholic Church may be its own limitation.
Yet here we stand in 2013 listening to a Chicago-based Catholic bishop lecturing us about “natural law” by building his case on a fearful theology that insists the world will collapse if we don’t stick with so-called traditional interpretations of scripture. The Catholic church seeks to retain a death-grip on its social influence, but may be captive to its own aims.
Tellingly, Cardinal George engages in the same sort of twisted legalistic stances that drove the Pharisees to castigate Jesus for allowing his disciples to break with traditions kept by the Jewish faith. That very sort of fear-based power-mongering was what Jesus came to eliminate. Jesus advocated the freedom to worship God without binding believers to a set of laws designed to qualify those same believers as worthy of grace. The Catholic church has never really been able to free itself from the strictures of the early priesthood. There is either form of direct descent from the Pharisees visible in the power structure of the Catholic church or there is convergent evolution at work. And how ironic, that the natural order of a corrupt church could manifest itself repeatedly over time? That is what the Catholic church needs to address.
Listen to the arguments of Cardinal George and you’ll find the same desperation in purpose, which is to control the lives of believers and the direction of society at any cost. This is what George said about same-sex marriage: “We will all have to pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race,” he wrote. “Those who continue to distinguish between genuine marital union and same-sex arrangements will be regarded in law as discriminatory, the equivalent of bigots.”
This argument is no longer about natural law at all, but how the Catholic Church and its members will be perceived if it again winds up on the wrong side of history. The Catholic Church is never really good at defending that kind of position. Its brand of serpentine logic, obsessed with reaching every corner of society, always twists around to bite itself in the ass. And that is not natural at all.
As noted in a Chicago Tribune article on January 2, 2013, “in the tradition of natural law, every human being must seek a fundamental “good” that corresponds to the natural order to flourish. Natural-law proponents say heterosexual intercourse between a married man and a woman serves two intertwined good purposes: to procreate and to express a deep, abiding love. For that reason, they say, homosexual relationships are not equal to heterosexual ones.”
One can see the reason why Cardinal George cites natural law as the foundation of his argument against same-sex marriage. But truthfully, the reason the church turns to natural law for support has nothing to do with its inherent or intuitive knowledge of natural order––on which it has been grossly and repeatedly mistaken over time–– so much as it fears its own lack of eminence on any biblical or social issue. That is the worst fear of the Catholic church, because it fears it will have failed Jesus Christ in its mission.
Fear: the worst motivator
Yet this fear of admitting wrong in its actions and theology has plagued the Catholic church for years, which protects its authority against all threats, even those that come from within.
The social record of the Catholic church lacks credibility from the inside out, because it has proven itself to be the most insecure of all faiths, failing even in its mission to protect its own parishioners against priests engaging in child sexual abuse.
That “tradition” within the church deserves castigation because those “relationships” between priests and innocent children are not elective in any form, but are the product of an abusive and selfish dynamic where the power is clearly in the hands of one individual only.
The peace and goodwill of same-sex marriage
By contrast, same-sex relationships are consistently consensual and designed, dare we say, to provide support and social order for people who are homosexual, bisexual, transgender and whatever configuration nature deems to invent, and has. That is the real natural order of the universe. The Bible is not even clear on the topic of homosexuality save for a passage or two blown far out of proportion by religious bigots who simultaneously ignore hundreds of warnings against abuse of power, exploitation of the poor, pursuit of riches over good works, failure to forgive and dozens of other values expressly addressed by Jesus Christ, who significantly refuses to mention homosexuality anywhere in his ministry.
The Catholic Church conveniently ignores these nuances to serve its own argument for control over the social fabric of the world. But in so doing, it neglects the real diversity of natural law, which is fruitfulness of spirit and prosperity of kind. That is what God wants for the world. That is what Christianity should advocate, and what our nation and state should support in laws of equality for all, with no exceptions. Because anything else is just quackers.