‘Religious Reasons’

If religion is relegated to personal feeling, then opposition to immoral acts can’t be serious, right?

We’re told that it’s for “religious reasons” that someone opposes abortion. And it’s for “religious reasons” that someone opposes euthanasia. So we read in, for example, newspapers of record like the L.A. Times. What we don’t read, of course, is that someone opposes the policy of nuclear deterrence for religious reasons.

It’s easy for flip pundits to dismiss opposition to abortion and euthanasia based on religious reasons. Why? For a start, it’s not easy to define religion. The word has become elastic enough to range from ultra-orthodox Jews (properly the haredi) to peyote-smoking cultists. Plus, in the West religion is often relegated to personal feeling. So, if opposition is only for religious reasons, it can’t be serious, right?

But on occasion the pundits take umbrage. Sometimes, they tell us, “people of faith” go rogue. Then they become theocrats, intent on subverting the Constitution. They want to shove their religion down our throats! Why don’t they stay in their houses of worship and keep clear of the Public Square? What to say to our “woke” despisers? Let them read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. It’s an American classic. King’s justification of civil disobedience appeals to a Christianity that stems from Judaism and carries forward the voice of Old Testament prophets to confront America’s original sin. King spoke with the same voice in opposing American militarism in Vietnam.

MLK joined the voice of the prophet to the voices of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, whom he cited approvingly. A grievously unjust law, King insisted, is no law at all. It is an act of violence. Rather than promoting human flourishing, an unjust law undermines the common good. In standing tall in the Public Square, King spoke in the language of natural law.

Catholics surely have religious reasons for opposing abortion and euthanasia. They also are ready to give the reasons why Catholicism opposes abortion and euthanasia. Both practices deliberately attack human life. Both invite unjust discrimination against the weak and the defenseless. Both put killing above compassion.

In analyzing the relation between the Decalogue and natural law, Thomas cites St. Paul’s remark that “the Gentiles, who have not the Law, do by nature those things that are of the Law” (Rom. 2:14). Thomas goes on to teach that “since human morals depend on their relation to reason, which is the proper principle of human acts, those morals are called good which accord with reason, and those are called bad which are discordant with reason,” adding that “all the moral precepts belong to the law of nature.” Indeed, he continues, there are acts “which the natural reason of every man, of its own accord and at once, judges to be done or not to be done, for example, ‘Honor thy father and thy mother,’ and ‘Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal’” (ST I-II, q. 100, a. 1).

Nonetheless, Thomas readily acknowledges, in the same place, that there are other acts which only “after a more careful consideration, wise men deem obligatory. Such belong to the law of nature, yet so that they need to be inculcated, the wiser teaching the less wise.”

Now comes a case, gentle reader, for us to consider wisely. A headline of a new op-ed piece in the LA Times (June 12) trumpets “A pious L.A. lifeguard took the culture wars to the beach.” What’s going on? Turns out the lifeguard objects to working under, much less putting in place, a Pride flag. Robin Abcarian, the piece’s author, sees special danger in the lifeguard’s lawsuit coming as it does “at a moment when religious bigotry is being enshrined in law by our Supreme Court.”

Opposition to the deliberate killing of pre-born human beings is not religious bigotry. Period. Nor, for that matter, is opposition to homosexual acts. Rather it is the severing of the natural relation between sexual intercourse and the procreation of human life that is morally suspect. It opens the way to the trivialization, and increasing commodification, of sex that scars much of contemporary life.

Abcarian no doubt has secular reasons for dismissing such principled opposition. I wonder, though, if she has any other reasons? I’ll ask her.

 

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“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” – John Paul II

 

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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