BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME
REJECTION of God’s law in favour of a reliance on legislated laws promoted and approved by the majority can be deceiving because it “opens the way to the arbitrariness of power, the dictatorship of the numerical majority and to ideological manipulation to the detriment of the common good”, theologians have said.
Modern men and women may deny the existence of natural law, but they recognise that certain moral values, such as protecting the environment, are universally valid, said members of the International Theological Commission.
The commission members, appointed by the Pope and working in an advisory role with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, looked at the traditional Catholic teaching on natural law and modern efforts to identify ethical values common to all people in their new document, In Search of a Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law.
Questions about what is good and what is bad and whether all people can agree on the conclusions “are more urgent than ever given the degree to which people have become aware that they form one global community”, the document said.
The great challenges facing the world – such as protecting the environment, fighting terrorism, promoting solidarity with the poor and regulating biotechnology – are international concerns with international repercussions, it said.
The Catholic Church has insisted on the existence of the “natural law”, written by God in the consciences of each human being and which each person can discover through the use of their reason.
But an increased emphasis on the importance of the individual and his or her conscience, greater focus on personal freedom and concern that ethics may be culturally or religiously specific have tended to undercut the notion that natural law is, in fact, natural and accessible to all, the theologians said.
In addition, they said the promotion of a common reflection on universal moral values has been hurt by people who have presented natural law as a detailed list of dos and don’ts rather than as a set of guiding principles for protecting the dignity of the human person and promoting the common good.
Another problem caused by people who believe they are promoting natural law is a tendency to insist that it is God’s law, while ignoring considerations about what is good for human beings and most respectful of their freedom, the theologians said.
Since God created human beings, his will concerning their behaviour must make sense from the point of view of what is best for them and it must be something people can figure out when they reflect with intelligence and respect for one another, they said.
“The vision of the world in which the doctrine of natural law was developed and still finds its meaning implies a reasoned conviction that there exists a harmony” in what God wills, what human beings want and need and what nature demands, the document said.