Reclaiming Natural Law (Excerpt)

Virtually all of my Evangelical life, I have operated upon the belief in the existence of Natural Law. Or so I thought. Of late, I discover a subtle but substantive difference from how the larger part of Christendom, including Reformed Protestants, has understood the concept.

The form of Natural Law, upon which I have always operated, is ontological. The purpose behind natural laws is to provide experiential benefit and prevent experiential harm to the cosmological and psychosocial order in natural cause and effect fashion. This ontological understanding of Natural Law allows for the theoretical possibility of epistemologically ascertaining those ethical principles and their ontological effects through natural human faculties (e.g. reason and empirical evidence), although this can be quite difficult even with highest commitment to intellectual integrity. This enables genuine social discourse between all members of society regarding the nature of the Good, while being realistic as to the success of that project.

Nevertheless, just like the law of gravity, natural moral laws operate at the objective level of being, existence, and actuality; quite independent of the (subjective) knowing.

The function of Scriptures in relation to Natural Law is to furnish an epistemological shortcut through revelation. But in saying this, it must be recognized there exist two covenants, each which have different purposes and are ethically resonant with different Kingdoms. Natural law relates more to the first covenant.

This framework has served as an excellent intellectual key to understanding the rise and fall of civilizations, societies, sub-societies, denominations and churches, families, and individuals. It proves productive in tracing psychological, social, economic, and political consequences to their ethical and noetic roots. Natural Law was a central motif undergirding Shakespearean tragedy as well as other artistic expressions.

But the version of Natural Law, which the larger part of Christendom upholds, is epistemological. Moral knowledge is assumed to be intuitively situated in the hearts and minds of all humanity, engraved by God in whole or in part (i.e. first principles). But due to the noetic effects of sin, we repress that which we already know. Or alternatively, our consciousness cannot ascertain those deep truths within.

In presuming that everybody innately knows the truth but are repressing it, adherents are inclined to judge others for violating those laws which they already and secretly know; this, in the face of genuine visceral contempt and moral judgment by many against aspects of biblical ethics.

The epistemological form of Natural Law, I contend, is unwarranted, indeed flatly contradicted by Scriptures. It originates from ideas found in Plato’s Dialogues, whose derivation may be from the Orphic cult through Pythagoras. It proves rationally and psychologically incoherent and absurd, and is historically and sociologically untenable. And it requires Olympic feats of rational somersaults and semantic sophistries to maintain.

Because Epistemological Natural Law lacks resonance with internal psychological realities, many repudiate the whole paradigm of Natural Law, and it has fallen into general disfavor. Even within Christendom, despite its plain warrant in Scriptures (Rom 2:14–5, 1:19–20), some theists instead assert that moral laws can only be genuinely known through scriptural revelation alone, in the context of God in Christ’s arbitrary preferences or nature without relationship to ontological and experiential realities.

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Ecclesiastical Traditions, which are currently attempting to resuscitate “Epistemological Natural Law,” either contend against past theological giants within their own Tradition who have repudiated the doctrine (Reformed); while others streams (Roman Catholic) find necessary to adopt a more tenable version.

The impetus for reinvigorated interest in Natural Law is largely sociopolitical. The religious, and social/cultural conservatives are getting creamed, to use the technical term, in the liberal judicial courts but also in public opinion. Under a disingenuous policy of laïcité, locally known as separation of church and state, ethical notions; which derive from religious sources and personnel, are precluded from consideration in the public sphere. This becomes tantamount to an effectual marginalization of a significant faction of society; a taxation without representation. Having largely succeeded in this, the current dynamic is for secularism to impose its ethics, which have been largely legislated through the courts, upon the opposing factions.

Seeking to stake ethics and law upon a Natural Law basis is means to circumvent this prejudicial preclusion by the secularist faction. This valiant effort is, in my cynically realistic opinion, naïve. We dwell in a cultural age whereby most people, especially those who dominate the Commanding Heights of society, do not genuinely care about the True and the Good. “We want what we want and in the immediate. Whether it is true or good is moot.”

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. (Isa 59:14–5)

One blatant contemporary example is transgenderism. While the case for gay and lesbian rights was ostensibly rooted in physiological determinism (i.e. genetics); once having secured that victory, this same LGBTQIA . . . lobby is now, so soon after that last victory, clamoring for legal recognition of transgenderism on the basis of subjective, even Existentialist sensibilities, regardless of natural morphology, genetics, and actual conscious experience.

These public arguments have proven to be a will-to-power sophistic game, by those who do not believe in and/or care about the Truth and the Good; in order to give intellectual cover to dupe the simple and naïve, whose ability to think critically lay dormant or has atrophied.

Such an example in blatant inconsistency should, in itself, rip open the veil and expose the noetic and rational obfuscation and deceit. What poses as public discourse merely disguises a pure power struggle. And to render Newton’s Third Law of Motion into the sociopolitical realm (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”); the hour is coming, and is now here when the opposing factions will act in like fashion.

But free civil society cannot survive lack of common commitment to a level of shared and valid ideas and values, including intellectual integrity. The will-to-power struggles, currently conducted through political and judicial conduits, which are themselves predicated upon commonly agreed ideas and virtues, will invariably give way to violence and force of arms.

This conclusion and its corollaries leads to a very black place, even if deemed to be of social and civilizational necessity. And I fear that the United States, which currently spearheads this leap into the noetic, ethical, and sociopolitical abyss, will soon practicably reach that black place, for this and other reasons, yet know not and/or choose not to pull back from civic conflagration and desecration.

But to revise an ancient aphorism, “For what will it profit a man if he [saves] the whole world and loses his soul” (Matt 16:26); this to be understood, not merely in terms of spiritual status, but in an experiential Will Dormer sense (Insomnia, 2002).

© Copyright John Hutchinson


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