July 16th, 2006

Natural Law and the Church’s Stance on Polygyny

For some time I have heard critics of the Church talking about how it is a double standard for us to be opposed to same-sex marriage, while we fought the government many years ago when polygamy was banned. An excellent article I came across today elaborates quite well on this accusation, and explains how it is not a double standard whatsoever. I highly recommend reading it.

The article discusses the appeal to Natural Law. In the Oxford Dictionary, Natural Law is defined as “a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct”. The Founding Fathers appealed to Natural Law to justify the revolution. Abraham Lincoln appealed to it to fight against slavery. And the Church appealed to it to explain and defend polygny.

In the comments section of the article, the author quotes a passage from Mere Christianity where C.S. Lewis perspicuously explains Natural Law:

EVERY ONE HAS HEARD people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kinds of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?”–‘That’s my seat, I was there first”–”Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”—”Why should you shove in first?”—”Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine”—”Come on, you promised.” People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.

Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: “To hell with your standard.” Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that some thing has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature. Nowadays, when we talk of the “laws of nature” we usually mean things like gravitation, or heredity, or the laws of chemistry. But when the older thinkers called the Law of Right and Wrong “the Law of Nature,” they really meant the Law of Human Nature. The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law—with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.

One Response to “Natural Law and the Church’s Stance on Polygyny”

  1. the narrator
    July 16, 2006 at 10:04 pm #

    Of course, those who advocate same-sex marriage do not believe in natural law and therefore do not feel that it can be a factor in determining what should or should not be legal.

    that is where the straw-man stands. the author plays a semantic game of ‘natural law’. though many advocates have not appealed to natural law by name and it’s specific definition, it is largely based on the same idea – that homosexual marriages are not inherently wrong and that those wishing ot ban it are only trying to make it an aritificial crime.

    and while the specific appeals may be different, the argument from christian prudence is still the same.

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