Question 2a: What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
Natural Law has no marriage and therefore no marriage rules. Natural law is derived from observation of the species. Natural law shows that some species mate for life; others stay with one partner, then swap that one partner for another with whom they stay for another period of time. Within other species it is the norm for every male or female to mate with any other member of the opposite sex and no partnerships to form. There are more natural partnership laws than there are species.
In non–primate mammals copulation is generally dependent on ovarian secretion of œstrogen and progesterone. In the majority of primates copulation will still occur even when the ovaries have been removed, so copulation is not linked solely to reproduction.
Homosexual behaviour is documented amongst Sumatran Orang–utans: fellation and ano–genital contact resulting in ejaculation. The participants observed were generally young adults and many showed hetero–sexual behaviour when they were older. Iso–sexual behaviour has been documented between female Japanese macaques. Dominance was eliminated as a cause and all activity interpreted as mutual sexual attraction and gratification amongst the participants. Females in same sex activity were observed to achieve orgasm.
If we consider a close primate, gorillas reproduce every four years with an infant mortality rate of 38%. The birth spacing is obtained through lactational amenorrhea which lasts three years. Sexual activity is not linked to reproduction and is generally initiated by the female, who selects a male from the group and solicits his attention. Where there are several males in the group, during her œstrus period, a female may be coerced by several males to copulate.
We can clearly see that natural law includes hetero–sexual, homo–sexual and bi–sexual behaviour. The behaviour of the orang–utans shows similarity to pederasty, except that both participants were young.
In contemporary and recent primitive societies, the variety of sexual behaviours seem to be evidence of tradition, as Greek pederasty was, rather than innate preference. However, although homosexuality is rarely found amongst Orthodox Jews, that doesn’t make it wrong when it occurs; it just makes it unusual. What is wrong is to criticise or castigate someone for being kind and caring to whomever and in whatever way they choose.
Civilisation is about acceptance and tolerance of different lifestyles; barbarity is about punishing and condemning those whose lifestyle differs from our own, when individuals are consenting and act with love.
Observation of the human species shows us that in some advanced cultures a male and female had several sexual partners, but choose to stay with one who proved to be fertile. A marriage being affirmed once the man had shown his ability to make the woman pregnant.
In Celtic culture, which formed much of the early ‘Christian’ practice outside of Rome, the woman could later divorce the man, if he was unfaithful to her or did not treat her according to the law. This law was repealed, curiously by the action of the Roman Archbishop of Canterbury in 1284, as it allowed a divorced woman to keep half the property after seven years of marriage and required a landowner’s property to be divided amongst all his sons, including those who were illegitimate.
Once again the church abolished a fair and just law, not on any moral ground, but so that it could claim a share of land or property.
Celibacy was practiced amongst some monastic groups, it was not mandatory but voluntary. Celtic communities were celibate, had married monks and nuns, or had both. The Roman patriarchal priesthood, being politically oriented, rather than spiritually, included wives, mistresses and children.
Sexual mutilation was practiced by the Roman Church, for entertainment, from the 16th century to the late 19th. This was certainly unnatural.
Until recent times, life–expectancy was short, so it was rare for two people to be married for very long: war, illness or disease would disrupt the union. Since marriage was introduced by the church 700 years ago, divorce has been allowed for political reasons — under the label of annulment. In the last hundred years, changes in family circumstances have demanded a change of permitted circumstances from the church.
It seems that the human family is naturally part of a cohesive social group with very sophisticated rules that recognise the fair and just rights of the individual, and balance those with the benefits to the social group itself. As long as everyone lives harmoniously and in agreement with the consensus of what is fair, the rules will reflect that, and will be relevant in application when someone needs to leave a relationship or the group.
If we try to look for examples of a natural family relationship in the scriptures, we are rather constrained.
The Old Testament doesn’t present a good model:
Adam ate some fruit and blamed his wife; Cain needed anger management and killed his brother; Abraham passes his wife off as his sister — twice — gets another woman pregnant and thinks infanticide is okay; Lot is in favour of incest and letting strangers rape his daughters; Isaac and Rebekah have favourites and she plots with her favourite against her other son and her husband, so that her favourite has to leave home to save his life: Jacob has thirteen children by four different wives, and he hasn’t learned from his parents — his favourite son is chucked down a well and his other sons boast to Jacob that they have killed him … families feud amongst themselves and with other people; incest and adultery are common practice and encouraged; recalcitrant children are not taught the error of their ways, but stoned and killed by the elders of the village … and I haven’t even got to Solomon’s concubines.
If you want a dysfunctional family, that’s all you’ll find in The Torah.
The New Testament doesn’t present much about family life at all. If you understand it’s spiritual purpose it does not need to. Of course what is lacking is made up for by the Coptic stories of Jesus’ upbringing in Egypt. If you want to believe Jesus killed teachers and was rude to mother and other adults, even turning their children into pigs, you will find it there, but like anything of Jesus’ life, it is just a story and not to be taken factually. So the family stories are metaphors, and the closest we get to a family role model ends with the nativity.
When it comes to family planning, we have the gorilla model that can be applied for spacing offspring. In general, it would appear that the more frequent and the longer the episodes of breastfeeding, the longer will be the period of anovulation, and the longer the period of infertility. Taking into account certain well defined conditions (frequent feedings, no supplementary feeding before 4-6 months, method only to be used in the absence of menstruation), LAM can be relied on for contraceptive protection for up to 1 year post partum. So for birth spacing that’s natural and fine.
For a practical solution to child–rearing, we need to feed them — natural food we can source, but when we clothe them and house them all our actions become unnatural. It isn’t natural to live in houses or wear clothes, and there is no logical or spiritual precedent why we can’t be creative and inventive with the spacing of our family.
God doesn’t want more children in the world than it can feed, though we do know that if we consider what the Bible tells us that God wants, he wouldn’t mind if they starved — or drowned. But that God is the man–made god of Judeans and not the compassionate God that Christians know.
If we go back to nature for our clue, we see that God is the biggest abortionist: 80% of embryos do not reach fœtus stage, they are spontaneously aborted. Nature also confirms that the soul does not take up residence at conception: 80% of souls would be scrapped too, and monozygotic twins or quadruplets would have to share one.
So nature confirms that there is nothing natural about prohibiting contraception or abortion. No–one has the right to force a child to be born, any more than they have the right to force a woman to conceive, that would be an act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person — the latter would make the Catholic Church one that promotes an act of rape.
- One in 10 women have been forced into sex against their will, Lancet study says (theguardian.com)
- Lesbians Are Not an ‘Endangered’ Species! (shootthescribe.wordpress.com)
- On the Transmission of Life by Natalie Weaver (feminismandreligion.com)