The Intent of Natural Law is a Just People

As you should have guessed, this being my fifth essay on Natural Law, I was inspired by David Novak’s essay on Natural Law. This will be my last response to it.

“We need to show how our religious commitments reinforce and deepen our commitment to the principles any reasonable person would agree are necessary for a just society. Meanwhile, our religious convictions should constantly and explicitly enrich our moral reasoning within our own faith communities, and in dialogue among faith communities. In the public square, we are philosophers; at home, we are theologians; and the two disciplines are quite compatible. We religious natural law thinkers and advocates should practice them both with political savoir faire, philosophical perspicacity, and theological fidelity.”

Nature teaches us that when entities live in harmony everything grows and beauty is the norm. Ecosystems are an example of this. We don’t need God telling us this, it’s there to see in nature. Truth on the Divine side of the arc of Natural Law, at least for those who listen, learn why this is true while those on the philosophical side are left with wondering. On one side we are inspired by the practicality of it working, on the other side we are inspired by the why it works.

We all, every person, are created in God’s image and as Novak writes: “Being the image of God, each human has the right to be loved by all other humans, and acting in the image of God, each human has the duty to love all other humans.” The outcome should be the same whether you use reason to understand nature or revelation. I don’t have to impress on you my revelation for you to love others, but when you don’t it might just help. And when the faith community also doesn’t follow their own revelation God has to shake them up to get back their attention.

The intent of Natural Law, whether on the philosophical (or secular) side or Divine side is the same, a “just” society. I put in quotes “just” because in the latter half of the Twentieth Century and the beginning of the Twenty-first Century we’ve become obsessed with “social” justice confusing this with “justice” believing they are the same, it’s just semantical. No, they aren’t the same. For those of you who hate Catholics, or any religion, the term and idea of social justice came out of the Catholic Church around 1840. If you have read me for any time you know I divide the Catholic Church into the “political” church and the “faith” church; the political church wanted to rule nations and people, the faith church wanted to save souls. Social justice came out of the faith church in their attempt to help people whose lives had drastically changed after the Industrial Revolution whose living condition deteriorated.

If you go to Wikipedia—which is where most will go for a definition of social justice—this is what you will read: “Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges.” Social justice began with helping individuals gain what is just for them to rearranging society to make things just for the community. It almost sounds the same but it isn’t and I suggest you read an article by another Novak, this time Michael Novak writing in The Heritage Foundation, “Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is.” (Look up the title in your search engine to find it.)

In this last essay I’m interested in Novak’s words: “We need to show how our religious commitments reinforce and deepen our commitment to the principles any reasonable person would agree are necessary for a just society.” Don’t misconstrue this to be a call to political action, it’s a call for Jews and Christians to live life according to the revelation they’ve received. If there is one charge I’ve heard more than I should have it’s that it’s hard to tell the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. This isn’t a positive thought in that non-Christians are behaving according to Christian revelation, it’s that Christians have shed their revelatory faith for secular political correctness.

If you are a Jew read your Jewish Bible, if you are a Christian read the Old Testament, especially the Prophets, God’s intent in creating “a people” was not in creating a special people as opposed to others who weren’t special—kind of like a child claiming “mom likes me best.” They were to be a blessing to other nations because they internally followed the revelation of God and showed the world how that same revelation would change their lives from chaos to harmony. We are to live our faith in such a way that non-Christians looking at how Christians live want that same life. For a time the United States was that kind of inspiration for others. We begin by taking care of our family, our faith community, our neighbors. These next words of Novak should challenge us in that “our religious convictions should constantly and explicitly enrich our moral reasoning within our own faith communities, and in dialogue among faith communities.”

To our shame we too often get lost in what I call our “back room” theologies that serve to divide faith communities and stop us from living our faith. When a very good friend and I stepped outside the church we were active in and began our own Christian organization. Our goal was to get the different churches in our community to work together on projects to enrich our collective faith and help the larger community. It was a colossal failure. If that back room theologies didn’t prevent them from working together what stopped them was the fear of “sheep” stealing. Neither Paul nor the Apostles ever intended to create denominations, nor one dominating church. I suppose it was naïve on their part not thinking this would happen.

Novak’s next words are interesting: “In the public square, we are philosophers; at home, we are theologians; and the two disciplines are quite compatible.” Some of you will read this sentence and change “the two disciplines are quite compatible” to “are not compatible.” It’s not what he said. Neither is he saying that our religion should stay at home, that our Christianity is our private matter, not for public discourse. We are certainly today treating it this way as the secular society is frantically pushing our Christian faith out of the public square even making it harmful for public consumption.

The church was never the State (though at times we’ve confused this) and the State was never the church (though at times we’ve confused this). If you are aware of history, as far as Judeo/Christians are concerned, there was only one theocracy, the nation of Israel from the time the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River until human kings replaced God as rulers; beginning with Saul.

Many Americans find it offensive when they hear that we are a Christian nation. They go so far as to deny any historical connection to Christianity. They erroneously protest too much, but let me be clear, we were never a Christian theocracy. We were a nation from its very beginning filled with inspiring Christians who shaped our political outlook and national character and morals. The Puritans and their brothers and sisters the Separatists were rebels escaping the Church of England looking to make a new home where they could be both religiously and politically free. And yes, the hotbed for this was found in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where for a short time they acted like a mini-Theocracy, but only for a short time. Long story short, the number of Americans who said they were Christians and who attended church is the cause for calling this a Christian nation and it is certainly Christian principles that inspired the Declaration of Independence and the Republic, inspired, not dominated. This was a fundamental principle the Puritans and Separatists brought over, a religious inspired but not dominated politics. In that Arc of Natural Law illustration from a couple of essays back, the end result was that both the Natural Law philosophical side and the Divine Revelatory side merged into a common behavior. This is the ideal, it doesn’t always work that way.

Today’s radicals have taken a Bagger 293 bucket-wheel excavator, arguably the largest man-made piece of machinery ever made, and have dug a hole in the earth so deep you can’t see the bottom and dumped into it Natural Law, both philosophical and Divine. We have become Nietzscheans at war with Christianity while leaving Islam alone though it checks all the boxes of modern anti-religion because it is not Christianity. Into this abyss we’ve also thrown in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. These three aren’t Christian theological documents, but they were inspired by Christian principles.

Too many churches and church goers have switched loyalties from God to the State, the secular State and thus make these words of Novak so crucial: “We need to show how our religious commitments reinforce and deepen our commitment to the principles any reasonable person would agree are necessary for a just society.” This isn’t us digging in with hardline theologies. Our postmodern Socialist-Marxist-Progressive ideology is both chaotic and unworkable because those who promote this can’t even clearly define what it is they espouse, they don’t know what it is, they just want to run away from Christianity. And too many Christians have joined in this claptrap nonsense now worshiping the Golden Calf of secularism. We Christians are not called to hardline insensitive rules of love, but neither is it a capitulation to whatever behavior you believe is right for you is right for you. This was not the attitude of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, it was “I love you, will always love you, but go and sin no more.”

We, who are not God, get confused thinking we are God. It’s never an easy line to walk, but being a codependent never helps anyone and keeps everyone confused. We of the faith and in the faith community must always challenge ourselves, never be comfortable with ourselves. We must encourage each other to hang true even if we come under the ire of the “secular” society for our faith commitments. It’s God’s and our Standard we plant in the ground but we don’t stand there with a flaming sword cutting down all who disagree but we love without exception even though some times its without acceptance.