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Popular notions of hard-working families forking out for benefit scroungers are well wide of the mark, argues the author of a new book, which shows that virtually everyone at some point in their lives needs government support
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I am a Catholic and a biologist and I find, seemingly along with most other Catholics, the Church’s interpretation of natural law very confusing and totally impractical. To me, it smacks of fifteenth century pre-Galilean misunderstanding and seems set to bring the Church the same justifiable ridicule that the affair with Galileo has done from that day to this.
The real natural laws are not difficult to understand.
In primates (humans, like it or not, are primates) sex generally has two functions: the first is the obvious one of making children; the second is to bind those responsible for the children together until they are old enough to fend for themselves.
Because young humans do not mature until about their mid-twenties, the amount of time that parents need to stay together is exceptionally long and for that reason, sex for bonding is at least as important as sex for procreation. Until recently, large families were necessary because relatively few people survived to maturity; now, however, with the advances in medical care, few people die before maturity, so large families are not necessary and are an evolutionary disadvantage. With large families and many children, separating the functions of procreation and bonding was not an issue – both happened together. With small families parents need to bond for 20 or 30 years, just to bring up one or two children. Bonding, therefore, is very important.
The gifts of the Spirit which gave us the medical advances, have also given us the means to safely regulate procreation and to use sex to bond safely with our partners. Some contraceptive methods do indeed cause abortions, but many don’t – and instead of a blanket ban – which many, if not most, Catholics do not agree with – the Church needs to accept contraception as she accepts other medical advances, work with them and give clear, practical and acceptable guidance on their use.
Another natural law is relevant here. All organisms, given a low death rate and plentiful resources, will increase at an exponential rate until resources become scarce and disease takes over a weakened population which then crashes disastrously. Humans are no exception. Advances in agriculture and medical care have lowered the death rate and increased resources with the result that our population is in danger of increasing exponentially.
In practical terms this means increasing poverty, new and more virulent diseases and increasing wars over scarce resources. (Sound familiar?) We should take the gifts that the Spirit has given us to build a sustainable and peaceful world with enough for all – which means, as a start, a stable population – and the Church should be leading this as a force for good in the world.
I am certain that I am not saying anything new but, frustratingly, it seems lost on those who need to know!
Peter Lovat, Caterham, Surrey
Back from holidays I went through the accumulated issues of The Tablet. Many articles of the past weeks examined critically the instrumentum laboris on family life. While I agree with much of the critique, it did not see many constructive proposals to help the bishops in their discernment during the synod. Why not invite theologians and laity to propose alternatives to the official texts?
Theologians could devote some energy to clarify the thorny issue of natural law. Most seem to outright reject it, some try to defend it, but nobody says clearly what it really is. Even the Catholic catechism remains extremely vague, simply saying that it “expresses the original moral sense”, “is engraved in the soul of each and every ‘man’ and expressed in the principles of the Decalogue. Here is a vast, empty field for thinkers and theologians who have battled for the 50 years against Humanae Vitae to say in intelligible language what the “original moral sense” has to say about sexuality, marriage and family today.
Even more desirable would be positive contributions of “the younger generation”, who were much less critical about the Church’s ideals, but saw a huge problem how to communicate them. It is not fair to expect from “elderly celibates” to make inspiring statements about the myriads of questions families face every day. It is up to a younger generation of laypeople who are rooted both in today’s culture and in the Gospel can find the language that expresses the beauty of the Christian vision and exposes the banality of our secular culture. Let us hear how the message of Jesus inspires marriage relationships, how parents speak to your teenage children about sexuality, what young people want to live and what support they expect. Those who are unhappy with the present instrumentum laboris let them write their own version. Many bishops who lack “personal experience of sexual intimacy” and “never changed nappies” may be delighted to receive not only critical, but also constructive ideas from those who are concerned but will not be present at the synod. It could make an exciting issue of The Tablet.
Fr Wolfgang Schonecke MAfr, Berlin