Pastoral Considerations on Current Problems: Sex, Natural Law and Orthodoxy

While on Christmas vacation from college, my daughter told me that one of her professors said that sex outside marriage was not against the "natural law." In fact, there was no "natural law" - but "anything goes." I have tried to bring up my children to be good Orthodox Christians. What am I to do?
Archpriest George Morelli | 26 August 2008


While on Christmas vacation from college, my daughter told me that one of
her professors said that sex outside marriage was not against the “natural
law.” In fact, there was no “natural law” – but “anything
goes.” I have tried to bring up my children to be good Orthodox Christians.
What am I to do?

Solution: By all means continue to proclaim the Gospel teachings, but be
sure not to base your moral system on some so-called “natural law.”
You see, your daughter’s college professor is correct. Extra-marital sex
is not against the natural law. In science, when we speak of natural we
mean what is in nature. In nature, many types of behaviors exist. There
are many varieties that we see in our own culture and even more varieties
that we can see in cross cultural comparisons. Sociological and anthropological
studies lead the way here. Thus monogamy, polygamy, war, murder, chastity,
and homosexuality, etc., are all equally lawful in nature because they all
exist. For example, we may observe that in a certain culture, homosexual
behavior occurs and thereby deviates from what the average individual does.
But that neither makes it unnatural nor immoral. The fact that it exists
means it is natural, as natural as a sunrise or an earthquake, a flower
or a flood.

Unfortunately, the recent Roman Catholic Vatican pronouncement on sex may
confuse the issue especially for Orthodox Christians. In part, the declaration
states: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he
does not impose on himself but which holds him to obedience . . . all evolution
of morals and every type of life must be kept within the limits imposed
by the immutable principal based on every person’s constitutive elements
and essential relations.” In the course of history whenever the Roman
Church (or any other Church) has based its faith, dogma or morals on science,
she has been terribly embarrassed. Copernicus, a 16th century churchman
and scientist, was considered a heretic for stating the sun was the center
of the universe, instead of the earth as the theologians taught. This earth-centered
universe fit well with the theological view of man as the greatest of God’s
material creations, who thereby must reside at the center or focal point
of the universe. Galileo too, ran into difficulty defending the Copernican
position. But, as we know, the earth is not the center of the universe,
and whether it is or not has nothing to do with faith or morality.

Science has spoken! All varieties of sexual behavior are natural. But this
has nothing to do with faith or morality.

Well, for you as a parent or for a counselor or pastor, there would be two
important issues left. One would be concern for the societies norm, such
as extra marital sexual behavior and homosexuality, may seriously endanger
the happiness and societal adjustment of the individual. They even may be
a sign of emotional disturbance so that referral to a competent psychotherapist
would be called for.

Most important however, is the second issue. It is really not an issue at
all because it is at the apex of our lives – this is our Orthodox Faith.
We do not obey a proscription, sexual or otherwise, because it adheres to
some so-called “pseudo” natural law. We obey according to the
measure of our faith. The measure of our faith will be based on the depth
of heart and sincerity of our prayer. It would be well to keep in mind what
our holy fathers have taught us – obedience leads to faith and prayer, and
in turn, faith and prayer lead to obedience. Being excellent psychologists,
the fathers tell us that the main pitfalls to prayer and obedience to God’s
will are forgetfulness, ignorance and laziness. Possibly we could sum up
these three categories into two: knowledge and perseverance (or persistence).
Real knowledge of the Christian spiritual-moral life can only come from
the light of faith in accordance with the Gospels and the guidance of the
Church. Persistence in seeking the will of God and obedience to His commandments
also comes through faith. Obedience itself makes for even greater love,
faith and obedience.

So you see, your daughter may be getting a very valuable college education,
if she at least learns that the Orthodox Christian life, sexual or otherwise,
cannot be proved by the “natural law.” You as her parent along
with her pastor, and the entire Church, can add to her knowledge by teaching
and witnessing the message of the Gospels, the commandments, the beatitudes,
what Our Lord called the “narrow path” leading to our sharing
of the Light of God. It is by faith that we will become as “little
children”; that we will find the Kingdom of God.

This kingdom, as the evangelists tell us, is found in our hearts. I might
add that it is not found in a science textbook, except that through the
light of faith “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament
proclaims His handiwork.”


From Word

Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox
Christian Archdiocese of North America

April 1976

p. 16

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