Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why do Christians eat bacon?
A look at natural law.

In recent times, there have been multiple accusations by opponents of Christianity that Christians are hypocrites for doing such things as eating bacon when it is declared forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev. 11:7-8). Particularly, the accusation includes the notion that Christians inconsistently choose which OT precepts to follow. One flow chart circulating social media claims to "destroy" Christians for appealing to the Bible regarding homosexuality (Lev. 20:13) since they suspend other teachings of the Old Testament like the prohibition on eating pork. A blogger who professes to think "critically," writes about several forbidden OT precepts Christians practice today by tagging the post with "hypocrisy."

However, these accusations are faulty. Here's why. Old Testament precepts often varied with regard to the permanence of their character. As commonly classed, there are three different varieties of OT precepts. St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the latter 13th century, expounded on these:
We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. "moral" precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; "ceremonial" precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and "judicial" precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men. (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.a.99.4, ca 1270)
In short, the permanent precepts are the "moral," often compared to the "natural law." And, apart from containing overlap with moral precepts, the ceremonial and judicial precepts are not necessarily permanent.

Those familiar with Scripture can see these distinctions in some familiar stories. In fact, the accusations of "hypocrisy" made by today's skeptics are virtually identical to those made against Christ:
He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, `Go to Silo'am and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. (John 9:11-16)
You see how the Pharisees make the same argument as today's skeptics, not understanding why Jesus could morally "make clay" and perform a miracle on Sabbath, a day held for rest in the Ten Commandments, no less! (Ex. 20:8-11) The teaching of resting specifically on Saturday is not a teaching of the "natural law," it is, rather, a teaching of the ceremonial law, i.e. the day especially reserved in the OT for divine worship. Such a precept does not have the inherent permanent quality as would a moral teaching discernible from the natural law.

So, for instance, Jesus affirms other of the Ten Commandments explicitly:  
And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 19:8-9)
These teachings are part of the natural law. They are discernible by the light of human reason. The late theologian Fr. John Hardon described this discernment thusly:
It is therefore called natural law because everyone is subject to it from birth (natio), because it contains only those duties which are derivable from human nature itself, and because, absolutely speaking, its essentials can be grasped by the unaided light of human reason. (Fr. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, "Natural Law")
And, finally, the Catechism has a section on the natural law from CCC#1954-1960. Here is an excerpt:
The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties. ... The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history. (CCC#1956, 1958)
Reason tells us a person is rightly due life. Through the human experience, we can therefore recognize that murder is an immoral violation. Man did not suddenly become accountable to the teaching of murder only when the Ten Commandments were issued. In the OT, even Cain was held accountable for murder long before the Ten Commandments (Gen. 4:8-14). Stealing likewise violates a person's right to due belongings. Adultery is also recognizable as an offense to the idea of the marriage bond. Jesus upheld such natural laws while not insisting upon the Sabbath ceremonial laws, even though all are included in the Ten Commandments. Shall today's skeptic encounter Jesus and accuse him of hypocrisy for upholding certain OT precepts while suspending others?

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul specifically distinguishes the reality of the natural law regardless of whether it appears in the OT:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:14-16)
This phrase "written on their hearts" is often cited as a description of the natural law Paul references here. With reason, we can recognize certain laws "by nature." (v.14)

Let's look at a modern analogy to help clarify.

Let's say there are parents who teach their children the following "precepts."
  • Don't steal
  • Be in bed by 8 pm
Both are precepts for the children, but only one of them is a life-long moral obligation. Not to steal is a principle of the natural law. It is a violation against human dignity recognizable in the very lining of human experience. Even the most skeptical, atheistic person will cry foul if you steal his wallet. In saying this, the skeptic is appealing to the natural law. He recognizes that a person is capable of claiming ownership to belongings, and that it is to violate a person to steal his belongings. The concept is reasonably derivable without a higher authority explicitly articulating it.

Being awake past 8pm is not in and of itself immoral. The rule is given to achieve other advantageous results for the children, such as obedience, self-discipline, good rest for taking on the next day, etc. There's nothing about being awake at 8:30 p.m. that inherently violates one's humanity.

Hence, we can better understand why all the precepts in the Old Testament are not mandatory to today's Christian. Something like the marital law is naturally evident in the complementarity of the genders. It's not revocable because it is written in the very fiber of humanity. Something like murder is a violation of the life proper to other persons. The Church could not declare void the immorality of murder by arguing that all OT precepts are void. Natural laws would still apply because they transcend OT law.

Perhaps another analogy can help with the term "natural law." Sometimes, when we hear the term "nature" in this context, we think "occurring in nature." That is not the case. By natural law is meant proper to the nature of the subject in question. A person is naturally due his belongings. Hence, stealing is a moral violation of that proper nature.

I like to compare the idea of moral "health" to physical "health." Scripture does this repeatedly. For example, when the Pharisees asked Jesus why he associated with sinners, Jesus replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31) Spiritual health is comparable to physical health.

To recognize the sense in which the term "natural" is meant in the natural law, we can ask how do we determine that someone is sick or wounded? In order to do that, we necessarily must have an idea of what a properly healthy body is. We know that a healthy human arm is covered by intact skin. If that arm gets scraped by a sharp rock, that skin might incur a cut. We recognize that the bleeding should be stopped. A healthy arm does not bleed. Even after that, we recognize that it is healthy to treat the wound to prevent infection, which is also not ordered toward a healthy body. We might even apply ointment to prevent scarring. Such response is to restore the body to its proper order. If we do not know what the body's proper order is, we could not even identify what qualifies as a wound.

In the same way, we cannot call something immoral unless we have an idea of what a properly ordered person is. A properly ordered person is able to pursue life, is due his/her belongings, is defiled if sold against his/her will into slavery, etc. This is likewise where the Church would appeal to the proper use of the sexual faculties only within the context of a marriage because of the spousal, giving, fertile meaning of the body. Deviations from using the sexual faculties in this context are naturally identifiable as immoral. Like slavery, murder, or thievery, they violate human dignity.

Even a person who rejects the Church's view on any such issues must at least confront the discussion at this level of natural law. To make a case for spiritual health, one must successfully reason what is proper to a human being, just as one measures physical health by knowing what is proper to a human being. The dialogue must take place in this arena. Arguments otherwise often degenerate into basic fallacies of argument, such as appeals to emotion, appeals to modernism, or the like.

We have established here the varied types of "laws" in the Old Testament, which include permanent laws reflecting the "natural law," as well as ceremonial or judicial laws, which are not necessarily permanent to the human condition. The skeptic's next question undoubtedly asks what purpose a "ceremonial law," such as the prohibition on eating pork, would therefore serve in the OT, if it is not a law always applying to human beings. One could likely generate several good answers to this question, since Biblical truth is not always exhausted once one sound interpretation is attained. Nevertheless, here is one explanation.

It is critical to understand the principle of "divine accommodation" that permeates the condition of the ancient Jewish people. The theologian Dr. Scott Hahn expounds on this principle in this way:
[If] you’re inclined more towards earthly things than heavenly, God will use earthly things and invest them with heavenly symbolism, so that people will love these earthly things and discover in the objects they love a deeper heavenly meaning... (Dr. Scott Hahn, lecture for Theological Foundations course, 1999)
A PDF study guide from similarly says:
Divine accommodation refers to God’s fatherly condescension and how He first gives us what we want in order to then give us what we need. As loving Father, He stoops down to our level and speaks to us using natural earthly means (chiefly in the Old Testament), but then calls us to Himself and gives us through the sacraments the supernatural means to share in His divine nature through self-denial and sacrificial love.
In his famous work City of God, St. Augustine writes:
The education of the human race, represented by the people of God, has advanced, like that of an individual, through certain epochs, or, as it were, ages, so that it might gradually rise from earthly to heavenly things, and from the visible to the invisible. This object was kept so clearly in view, that, even in the period when temporal rewards were promised, the one God was presented as the object of worship, that men might not acknowledge any other than the true Creator and Lord of the spirit, even in connection with the earthly blessings of this transitory life. ...  It was best, therefore, that the soul of man, which was still weakly desiring earthly things, should be accustomed to seek from God alone even these petty temporal boons, and the earthly necessaries of this transitory life, which are contemptible in comparison with eternal blessings, in order that the desire even of these things might not draw it aside from the worship of Him, to whom we come by despising and forsaking such things. (St. Augustine, City of God, 10.14, ca 420)
You see the basic principle of divine accommodation at work here: God uses earthly things, graspable to humans, to lead them to Himself. So, for example, gold, recognized by the Jews as precious, came to help them recognize that which was holy. God instructed Moses to forge the Ark of the Covenant, the place of His presence, with a structure of gold (cf. Ex. 25). Getting back to our concept of natural law, there is nothing inherent to gold that makes it a "holy" metal. But through the command to use gold, that audience more fully understood something holy must go within the Ark. They understood gold as that which was precious and pure. Purified precious metals were even used often to denote holiness (cf. Job 23:10, Ps. 12:6, etc.)

Now, let's return to the concept of pork. Why does Leviticus declare a pig "unclean"? What about killing and eating a pig would have significance to an ancient Jew? For one, they recognized the pig as a worshiping instrument to false gods.
Sometimes the uncleanliness of an animal has to do with how neighbouring peoples regarded that animal (they may have made it an object of worship or reserved it as something untouchable in honour of a god: the pig, for example, was used for sacrifices to the Babylonian god Tammuz. (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, 1999, p. 454)
From the ancient Jewish perspective, the swine had significance as something contrary to the one and true God.

Perhaps another example could help the modern ear. Consider the swastika symbol, known to modern Westerners as the symbol for Nazism. For this reason, it is considered offensive and banned in many places, including Germany. However, prior to World War II, especially in the East, this symbol often represented well-being or good fortune, even used in advertising. Is there anything inherent to the symbol that makes it evil? No. There is no "natural law" appeal against such an arrangement of right angles. Nonetheless, to certain cultures, its banishment has more significance than others.

In the same way, the prohibition on swine to the Jews would turn their focus toward God, since, in that culture, they understood the animal as unclean, something pagans used for sacrifices to false idols. Likewise, the concept of "uncleanliness," leads toward the New Testament where uncleanliness is associated with sin. Jesus expounds on this concept with the Pharisees, who, again, clung to ceremonial law when they were prompted to recognize the natural law to which it pointed:
While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Luke 11:37-41)
You see, again, the Pharisees concern themselves with the OT ritual. Jesus explains to them the typological truth behind those precepts. For instance, ritual "cleanliness" corresponds to spiritual cleanliness. Note that he refers to almsgiving as something that truly makes one "clean." If we read the OT precepts in light of the principle of divine accommodation, we can recognize that OT  precepts about "cleanliness" were ordered to guide a certain "epoch" of mankind, as Augustine says. These precepts directed their focus to be clean as God would have them be clean. At that stage in history, they were able to digest a visible, ceremonial cleanliness, which prepared them to the invisible, spiritual cleanliness of which Christ spoke.

And so, today, in this different epoch of human history, standing on the shoulders of those ancient precepts, we can see that one of the reasons for the prohibition on pork was to order man toward God, and to strive for holy "cleanliness." In light of Christ's fulfillment of Old Testament law, we convert the principle behind the prohibition on pork to one that teaches us to avoid sin. There is nothing specific about eating a pig versus, say, a fish, that would violate the natural law.

Hence, there is no inconsistency in the modern Christian who both upholds the moral laws of the Old Testament while not necessarily upholding some of the ceremonial or juridical laws.