Pastoral Considerations on Current Problems:
Sex, Natural Law and Orthodoxy
by Fr. George Morelli
Problem: 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."
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America