I sent an email to Paul VanderKlay regarding the topic of natural law, a concept that until recently and rarely, neither he nor others in this meaning crisis conversation have incorporated. To my pleasant surprise, he not only replied to the email, he incorporated it fully into a video, with my email beginning here.
Following are my thoughts, with no further clarification. I included several of these in the comments of the video, but not all – too many.
I will want to watch this a couple of times before deciding if I have anything more substantial to add than the following, but here goes….
What I have gathered thus far (I am a little over an hour into it) is that Peterson, Pageau, Vervaeke, and PVK are, in fact, in search of a natural law ethic, but they just don’t want to or don’t choose to use the words natural law. Fair enough, I’m not the one doing the talking.
Second, from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “As an empirical matter, many natural law moral theorists are also natural law legal theorists, but the two theories, strictly speaking, are logically independent. One can deny natural law theory of law but hold a natural law theory of morality.”
I do not advocate, nor have I ever advocated, that the natural law ethic should also be civil law. It won’t work, and the state is the wrong institution through which this ethic should be both taught and enforced. At the risk of further upsetting Karl, and the bigger risk of using Scripture to make a point to a very well-educated pastor…Jesus gave advice and counsel to the woman caught in adultery; He did not turn this violation of natural law into a civil punishment matter.
OK, I finally had time to finish the video one-time through. I thank you, Paul, for taking time to address and incorporate my email – I have survived! I will go through the video again at least once more before deciding what, if any, further comments I have. But here is one more for now – from the very end:
PVK: I’m interested in the frontier of where we are now and finding new language and new formulations and continuing the very long project of what we’ve been at all along. I don’t think it’s a mystery that the Orthodox come and say, “you know, we had a bunch of stuff buried in the basement and I think this stuff might help.”
Wait a minute, Paul. New language and new formulation to be found in the two-thousand-year-old Orthodox tradition, but not in Aquinas’s seven-hundred-year-old development? A development that the West did a pretty good job of incorporating and integrating (nowhere near perfectly) until about 125 years ago?
Language…had Luther understood Aquinas better instead of taking down a strawman, imagine what the story of Christendom might have been (not to say that there weren’t many other issues with the Catholic Church).
Old words…it is interesting that it is the oldest tradition, Orthodoxy, that seems to be making the most traction today; within Catholicism, the Latin Mass has the strongest adherents; in Protestantism, as one example, the PCA is growing while the PCUSA is shrinking. Maybe people are looking for old words.
“Say that to an atheist; you need to figure out another way to say it”: I was writing an email to a Christian pastor, a Christian pastor who has, at least up to now and to my understanding, pushed back on any mention of natural law. How else would I write to a Christian?
Frankly, I had much more concern about citing and interpreting Scripture in an email to a Christian pastor than I did about being taken to task for citing Scripture to a Christian pastor. As I noted in a reply to Karl elsewhere in these comments, I have written dozens, maybe hundreds, of posts on natural law without citing Scripture – it is discoverable by believer and non-believer alike.
“Do good things and good things happen, do bad things and bad things happen.” For any society that violates natural law long enough, this will be the case – certainly the “do bad things” part. Living according to a natural law ethic doesn’t guarantee good things; living in violation of it might have a short-term gain (one lifetime, a few lifetimes). Meaning crisis – it has taken over a hundred years in the West for these violations to result in bad things.
“’Human rights are objective’ is the modern frame.” This is baffling. There is nothing about human rights in the modern frame that is objective. A man can be a woman – this is a human right in the modern frame. What is objective about that?
The Israelites in Psalm 1 & 2 weren’t living by natural law. That was the point. But, again, living by natural law doesn’t guarantee good things on earth. Nothing does. Violating it guarantees bad things – maybe not immediately, but always eventually.
Rohlin points to the idea of natural law as starting with the Enlightenment. That is so wrong that either I am not understanding him or he doesn’t know anything of what he is talking about.
“’If you violate those laws, things start to go sideways for you in one way or another’ which is basically what bionic mosquito wrote.” Yes, and no. Individuals can violate natural law for a lifetime, and “win” significantly in terms of wealth, sex, power, etc. Stalin violated natural law, but never faced any consequences on this earth for it.
“We need a new model individually, and we need a new model collectively, and language is, in many ways, the connection between that.” Not if we allow language to be whatever we want whenever we want. New words never capture the meaning of the old words. I don’t know a word in Greek that doesn’t take ten words in English to somewhat understand.
I don’t know about the phone stand becoming a citizen. That is too much of a strawman too address at all.
“I don’t know that natural law works for people who haven’t spent all kinds of time in classrooms.” I guess I didn’t write clearly enough in my email. Teach love, as Jesus meant it. Isn’t this kind of the main mission of the church?
“If you want to get ahead of it, work in the area of religion, not law.” I did that in my email, and you say it doesn’t translate today. As I noted in an earlier comment – natural law as an ethic need not translate into natural law as law – and I would never advocate such a thing, except to the extent that one’s natural rights are violated (oh, another outdated term; violations of life and property are the only legitimate places for civil law, and one recognized by many Thomists and, of course, libertarians). I am not yelling this. I AM YELLING THIS: NATURAL LAW SHOULD NOT BE THE BASIS OF CIVIL LAW. RELIGION MUST DEAL WITH THE ETHICS OF NATURAL LAW. The proper intermediating institution is the church, not the state.
Laws against cheating: you raised the point of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. This is exactly my point, but somehow you turn it against me: Jesus advocated advice and counsel, not punishment. That is my point.
Rohlin speaks of natural law, referring to four authors from the fifth century. This is OK, but referring to the language of Aquinas eight centuries later is a problem?
“If we can only get back to [the Middle Ages, Geneva, etc.).” This isn’t the desire nor the point. It was either Lewis or Chesterton, I really don’t recall: the point is to return to the center. This isn’t a case of regressing to some earlier time; it is a case of returning to a proper norm.
“I think ‘law’ is the more problematic of the two.” I agree.
“Natural Law vs. ordered. Which is a better word?” Natural: according to one’s nature. Law: something which, if violated, will be detrimental to both individual and society. I agree, law is the problematic word. Call it natural ethics. It is still Aquinas – a name I have rarely if ever heard from any of Peterson, Vervaeke, Pageau, or PVK – while hearing of dozens or hundreds of others.
Natural law is not an intramural Christian thing. It is the thing that has been lost in the West, that is being searched for by all in this discussion. Now, you can say that all of those discussing are Christian, whether they know it or not. Fair enough. But so is everyone watching these YouTube videos. “I count the atheists in the West as Protestants.” Exactly. Call it intramural; we are all on the same playing field.
Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.