Summary: Much of today's attack on Christian morality and natural marriage results from the conflict between a Biblical understanding of what it means to be human and hedonism.

Nineteenth Sunday in Course 2012

Verbum Domini

Ann Scheidler of the Thomas More Society recently wrote her supporters a letter that told a rather startling, but unsurprising story: “Twenty-five militant homosexual couples–most of whom live outside of Cook County [Illinois]–barged into the Cook County Clerk’s office and demanded marriage licenses on the spot! . . .The radical activists knew full well that they weren’t eligible for marriage licenses. Indeed, the laws of Illinois affirm what Western civilization has always known: that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. . .they carried on about their ‘right’ to ‘marry’ each other. They complained about ‘discrimination.’ They hurled accusations of ‘bigotry’ against those who disagree with them.” The ACLU and a homosexual lobbying group then sued, and, strangest of all, every official served with the lawsuit refused to defend natural marriage against this attack. To defend the law, Christians had to go to southern Illinois to find a cooperative official.

The astonishing tale gets bigger by the day. Last month, it was revealed that one of the founders of Amazon, a notoriously tight-fisted company when it comes to charitable work, is giving $2.5 million to defeat natural marriage in Washington state. Worse yet, a major political party is on the verge of enshrining in their political platform the so-called right for homosexuals to marry–a companion to the so-called right to abortion which has been there for decades.

When we read or hear about things like this, most of us wonder “where do they get the idea that they have a right to do evil?”

Probably all of us were raised with the notion of human rights that we read in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. We have certain rights, inalienable rights, that are endowed by our Creator. There are many more, but the Declaration lists life, liberty and the undefined right to pursuit of happiness. Catholic teaching is clear. Our rights come to us on the basis of our common humanity. If a being is human, she has the right to life. That’s why we must protect human life from conception–fertilization–until natural death.

When activists demand rights that cause us to raise our eyebrows–the right, for instance, to “marry” anybody or anything they want–they are not speaking of natural rights common to all humans. They have redefined the meaning of the word “right,” to fit in with what they desire, or want. They reject the notion, accepted since the dawn of civilization, that I have no right to do what is morally wrong. Let me explain:

Alongside the Catholic view of human nature and human rights being subject to our relationship with God, we find a tradition of hedonism stretching all the way back to Epicurus in ancient Greece. Hedonism is a philosophy that, in its simplest form, says the individual wants and needs to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. After the Protestant Revolution, in England, we find its fullest expression in Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Hobbes taught, simply, that we can decide what we want and need to avoid pain and pursue pleasure, and we have a right to what satisfies those wants and needs. He redefines liberty to mean “the absence of external impediments” to what we want. The U.S. Supreme Court, in affirming the right of a woman to have her preborn child killed, echoed Hobbes: At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Of course, this means that God, God’s law, and our accountability for our life and actions are of no account. What, then, would Hobbes do about the inevitable conflict of rights? You find that some piece of land is necessary for you to avoid pain and pursue pleasure; I have the same notion about that land. Very simple. The government steps in and has the final say. Your farm has been in your family for generations; a developer wants it and argues to the government that, in pursuing his own interest, he’ll increase the property value and pay ten times the taxes you pay. The government then can exercise eminent domain and force you off your land. Needless to say, this is exactly why we are being forced to go along with the mandate from Obamacare to be complicite in immoral sterilization and abortion. And it is why government officials are being bullied or coopted into legalizing and even mandating the hedonist lifestyle.

What Hobbes and Locke and all their modern disciples miss is the simple fact that human nature has been corrupted by original sin. Selfishness acts like part of our genetic makeup. We experience a sinful pleasure–drunkenness or drug highs or illicit sex–and think it is good because it feels good for a time. We throw a tantrum–or stage a sit-in–when someone tries to deny it, or keep us from dragging others into it. We vote for those politicians who let us do it or pay for us to do it, and against those who would deny it. The result is bitterness and malice, anger and uproar and slander and dissension–all the things St. Paul warns us about. The election season we are now in is just a manifestation of those uncontrolled passions.

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