I have already mentioned the fact that Catholic philosophers and theologians have held that both animals and young children are amoral, that is, they can’t sin. Animals can’t sin because they don’t have the “knowledge of good and evil” and children can’t sin because they haven’t attained the “age of reason.” This doesn’t mean that they can’t commit sin because, as I have already mentioned, both animals and children do things that, objectively speaking, are sins. Rather, it means that they can’t be held morally accountable for their sinful acts. Let me reiterate however that if sin means to “miss the target” of rational behavior by acting irrationally, then whether one has the “knowledge of good and evil” or not, the consequences will be the same. Animals and children are excused from the moral responsibility for their sinful acts but not from the irrational consequences. However, once we reach the “age of reason” we not only suffer the consequences of sin but we also become morally responsible. Therefore, it appears that when the “knowledge of good and evil” entered the world, so did sinfulness.
In Book of Genesis, we are told that Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence. There was no death, nor sin and they were unaware that they were naked. Then Eve, we are told, succumbed to the temptation of the serpent that tempted her to eat from “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” He told her that if she ate from the tree that she would be like God, knowing the difference between “good and evil.” It says that when she ate from the tree, “her eyes were opened.” Now unless you think that she was walking around with her eyes closed, then it appears that this refers to an increase in her understanding.
After she and Adam had both eaten from the tree, they suddenly knew death and that they were naked and they became ashamed. When God saw this, he realized that they had eaten from the tree and, as a consequence, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and told that from that point on they would have to earn their bread by the “sweat of their brows.” In other words, life from that point on was going to be a struggle.
Now what this scripture means has been kicked around by a lot of people throughout history. St. Augustine said that this was when the Original Sin of Pride occurred and that the taint of it was passed on to all of us. The Church says, that everybody is born with it as a basic flaw in their nature and that one of the purposes of Baptism is remove it from the soul.
Pride is an intellectual sin, which, it appear, can be committed only by rational beings, because it permits them to place their own will ahead of the Creator’s will. And it seems that there is a direct connection between the intellect and knowledge and moral responsibility. If a child can’t sin until he reaches the "Age of Reason", then it must mean that our ability to reason is also the source of moral responsibility for our actions. Why is this so? Why is it that the very thing that causes us to be "made in the image and likeness of God", our rational minds, is also the thing that allows us to be morally responsible when we violate His will.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that the rule for deciding the goodness or badness of anything is how well it serves the purpose for which it was created. A good eye sees, a good ear hears and a good heart pumps. The Ancient Greeks said something similar when they defined virtue as “right use” and vice as “wrong use.” It appears that morality has something to do with “purpose or use.” When we say that sin is an offense against the Will of God what we are really saying is that God, being a rational being, creates with a purpose. When we violate His purposes, we “miss the target or rational goal that He created.” In fact, we could even say that without a “goal or purpose” there is no morality. It has been said that if there were no God, then all things would be possible. What this means is that if there were no God, there would be no rational purposes for the universe or anything in it. Without any purpose, then there is no right way or wrong way to do anything and therefore, we could do whatever we wanted. This is exactly the argument that is made by philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre, the atheist and existentialist, who claims that the universe is accidental and, therefore without any meaning or purpose. In fact, he says that the universe, being accidental, is absurd and that the only purpose or reason in it is whatever each one of us cares to invent. And being free to do this, we come up with different versions of the same universe and “Who’s to say that one version is any better than another version?” There it is: the Original Sin of Pride where the creature tries to replace the Creator.
We can see the growing influence of this philosophy as more and more of our children enter college where existentialism is a popular philosophy. Our children come home spouting phrase like, “Mom, it’s different strokes for different folks”, “Who’s to say?” “There are no rights or wrongs. There are just different ways.” And the parents, most of whom are unaware of the philosophies which are affecting their children, and would not be able to respond to them even if they did, do not have any answer to give them except “Well, the Church says” which sounds so old fashion and out of step with the modern world that the children brush it off without a thought. They are filled with intellectual pride and believe that they understand what they really don’t. While the parent put their faith in what the Church says, their children are putting faith in what their professors say. The parents know they are acting on faith, while the student are deluded into thinking that they are thinking for themselves when in reality they have bought into philosophies whose implications they do not fully understand.
Sartre, however, is right about one thing. If the universe is accidental and absurd and, therefore, without any rational purpose or goal, then there is no morality. For example, if I am going out for a walk and I have no particular goal in mind, then there is no right way or wrong way for me to go. I can turn left, then right, go around in a circle and it makes no difference. Who’s to say that any of those ways was the wrong way? However, once I have an objective goal, such as going to City Hall, now there are objectively provable right ways and wrong ways. I can show that one way takes me towards my goal and another takes me away from it.
Therefore morality could exist only in a rational directed universe which was created by a rational being who made it with a rational purposes or goals in mind. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that without a God, there is no objective morality that is independent of what we think. If no one made sex, then who’s to say what is the right way or the wrong way to practice it. The operating premises would be “What ever turns you on, baby!” However, if a rational being made sex to perform a rational purpose connected to a rational plan, then to misuse it is “to miss the target or mark”, or sin.
If as we believe, the universe was created by a rational God, then objective morality exists independent of what we think or feel. Assuming that this rational being or God is much wiser than any of His creatures, then to violate His purposes is very stupid because it would interfere with the Wisdom of his plan. However, one can’t be held morally responsible for any violation if he doesn’t or can’t know what the real purposes of things are. If they “misses the mark“ or sin, they might get the consequences of unwise behavior but they certainly couldn’t be held morally responsible for what they did.
The Church says that we must follow our consciences, which is our level of moral understanding, even when they are wrong. However, we have an equal responsibility to have an informed conscience, which means that we must try to understand the pros and cons on the issue. If we are really Catholics, then one of the premises upon which our consciences operate is that the Church has been appointed by God as a moral guide for us on earth. Thus, what it says is, so to speak, from the mouth of God. Of course, if you don’t believe this then you aren’t really a Catholic. You are only acting, which, as I said, is what hypocrite means.
Morally responsibility must result when we have the reasoning capacity to know the rational goal for behavior and it is this ability that separates us from animals. Since animals operate on the principles of hedonism that says, "whatever gives me pleasure is good and whatever gives me pain is bad" then they are driven by bodily desires to do whatever they do and are mentally unaware of the real purpose of the drive. We could say that they live in the Kingdom of Mental Darkness. If we could ask an animal what the purpose of food is, it would probably say "taste'" and if we then asked what the purpose of sex is, it would probably say "pleasure" or the satisfaction of an instinctual drive or passion because these are the motives that cause it to eat and reproduce. Only a rational being understands that the real or logical purpose of food is nutrition and the real or logical purpose of sex is reproduction and because of this knowledge we have a moral responsibility when we "miss the mark." Animals can overeat but they can't be gluttons; they can be sexually promiscuous but they can’t fornicate. Rational beings can be gluttons and fornicators because they understand the real purpose of food and sex. Perhaps, I should say that rational being should know this but often bypass their rational minds and act just like animals. For example:
During the sixties, I was teaching at a local high school and during the lunch period a very bright young female teacher sat down across from me. We began to talk and she said, “Did you see the demonstration by the gay activists on TV last night?” I said, “Yes!” “Well, what did you think about it?” “Well, I agree and disagree with them.” “What do you mean by that?” she asked. “I agree with them when they say that they have a right to walk the streets without being bashed by other people and harassed by policeman. They are human beings and are entitled to respect and fair treatment. However, I disagree with them when they try to say that homosexuality and heterosexuality are equally good.” “Why do you say that? she demanded. “Because what they do is dysfunctional. The purpose of sex is the reproduction of the species and they way they practice sex frustrates the purpose.” “Oh”, she said, “that’s theology” meaning that this was only my religious belief. “No”, I said, “that biology.” “What,” I asked, “do you think is the purpose of sex?” “Pleasure”, she answered.
Then I said that I would give her $5 for every biology book in the school that talked about “pleasure organs” if she would give me $1 for everyone I found that talked about “reproductive organs.” I can’t understand it. She wouldn’t accept my offer.
Now I want to emphasize that this was a very bright lady who later left teaching and started her own magazine. Yet, as bright as she was, she couldn’t see what was logically obvious. Now, if she had trouble seeing, what do you think is the state of the rest of the human race? Her answer was the same answer that an arational animal would have given. So it raises the question as to how well we live up to our rational nature. It reminds me of what St. John said. He asked, “Why does God condemn man?” and his answer was, “because the light of understanding came into the world and men loved darkness.” In other words, having the capacity to know and live as rational beings, we choose to live and act like animals. But the problem doesn’t stop there.
Because we have the ability to understand purposes, we also possess the ability to invent purposes and often these purposes are in conflict with God’s purposes. Sex, who purpose is reproduction, can also be used to make money as any prostitute can tell you. If can also be used to sell products as any advertiser can tell you. Now what are we to do when our purposes differ from the purpose of the rational being who created sex?
St. Thomas Aquinas comes to our assistance again. He says that, if a thing is good or bad according to how well it serves its purpose, what are we to do when something has more than one purpose, which happens to be the case with nearly everything. For example, I am looking at a scout’s knife and it is part screwdriver, bottle opener, can opener, scissors, and awl. Now how am I to evaluate it according to its purpose when it has so many purposes? St. Thomas says that to properly evaluate it, we must separate the primary purpose, which is a knife, from all the other purposes, which are secondary purposes.
Now the primary purposes came from the creator of the object, because the man who made it determined that its primary purpose would be to be a knife. The secondary purposes also came from him. However, while making them, he had to keep in mind that its primary purpose was to be a knife and to be careful that none of the secondary purposes would undermine or interfere with the primary purpose. If he got carried away and started to design the handle so as to improve its function as a screwdriver, it might make it unwieldy as knife. Therefore, a good creator must always keep his primary purpose in mind. We could state this rational principle as “Secondary purposes are alright so long as they either help or at least do not interfere with the primary purpose. Another complication occurs when we see that not only can the creator of the object create secondary purposes but the user can too. Using the knife as our example, the user of the knife might decide that by holding on to the blade, he could use it as a hammer. Once again we can evaluate this decision by asking whether this secondary purpose is going to interfere with the primary purpose. If, in doing this, the blade snapped or the handle broke, then it would be wrong to use it this way.
Now, before going further, let’s review what we already know from this logical analysis of purposes.
First, primary purposes come from the creator of the object.
Second, secondary purposes can come from either the creator or the user of the object.
Third, the creator and user must always keep in mind that all secondary purposes must be evaluated according to whether they either help, or at least, don’t interfere with the primary purpose.
Now let’s apply it to the issue of sexuality. The creator of sex must have been God and his primary purpose must have been the reproduction of species. That’s logical and objective. The secondary purpose was pleasure and that must also have been created by God and it appears that it was connected to sex in order to lead and encourage non-rational beings, such as animals, to perform the rational act of reproduction. Since they couldn’t rationally understand the goal of reproduction, a sensual reward was added to get them to serve the purpose of the continuation of life. The same is true of eating. Taste became a secondary purpose designed to lead mentally blind animals to preserve their lives by nourishing their bodies. Remember, if you want an animal to do something, you must give it a reward or create in it a blind instinct or passion.
To the question as to whether it is alright to have sex for pleasure and to eat for taste the answer, based on St. Thomas observations, is "Yes, so long as the sex takes place in a context designed to enhance the reproduction and survival of the species", and “Yes, so long as the tasty food is also nourishing.” The counter observation is that whenever sex is used in a context that undermines the reproduction and survival of the species, it is wrong. And, whenever food is used to enhance taste and undermine nutrition, then it is wrong.
This is such a valuable principle that it ought to be taught to every student because, once learned, it can be applied to innumerable situations. For example, what is the primary purpose of the bumper on a car? Obviously, it is to protect the car in a crash. What is a secondary purpose? To add to the stylishness of the car. Is it all right to create a stylish bumper? Yes, so long as in shaping the bumper you don’t have to thin the metal to the point that it no longer is strong enough to protect the car. Or, what is the primary purpose of going to school. The obvious answer is to learn. It is all right to be motivated by the desire to attain a diploma and to get good grades in order to impress potential employers? However, if this secondary motive causes you to cheat on tests so that you get good grades and diploma but did not acquire any knowledge, then the secondary purpose is now interfering with the primary purpose. If however, it motivates you to study hard to learn, then now it is helping the primary purpose.
Let me give one more example. What is the primary purpose of marriage? Marriage is a social institution created to bring human sexuality under control so that sex will take place between two people who are legally committed to the reproduction, care, and rearing of their children so that the human race will continue to survive. A secondary purpose is to form a union with someone who is sexually attractive to you. Therefore, when one is looking for a marriage partner, the primary question should be “is this the person with whom I wish to reproduce who will be able to help me in the care and rearing of our children? Is it all right to marry someone to whom you are sexually attracted? The answer is “Yes”, so long as they also have the qualifications to fulfill the parental obligations of the primary purpose. If, however, one goes chasing physical attractiveness and forgets or ignores the primary purpose, they will live to regret it. When I decided to marry my wife, I already knew that I was physically attracted to her, but the major issue in my decision was “Is this the woman that I want to be the mother of my children?” When we consider that one out of every two marriages fail today, do you think that our young people understand what marriage is and what are the important things to consider when picking a mate? They’re looking for sex partners not helpmates in the care and rearing of children.
All that I am explaining here is part of the Wisdom of the Church. It is because of this clear view of reality that the Church considers any marriage to be sacramentally, although not legally, invalid if the couple refuse to have children. It understands what the primary purpose of marriage is and that is why it includes in the marriage vows the promise to accept any children that God may send them. If in their minds, they have consciously decided not to, it invalidates their vows and may become the basis for an annulment later on. The Church isn’t saying that they weren’t legally married. It is only saying that it wasn’t a valid sacrament because the vows were taken with hidden reservations. That is why it can be annulled.
It is also why the Bible and the Church say that fornication; adultery, homosexuality, child molestation and a host of other sexual practices are sins. Any time sex is practices in a way that undermines its primary purpose, it "misses the mark" and becomes a sin. Fornication undermines the primary purpose because the couple is involved in a reproductive activity without any legal commitment for the care and rearing of the child they may produce. Because of this, it can lead to abortion or a single parent family. Adultery is wrong because someone is involved in a reproductive act in which they are not free to make a commitment for the care and rearing of any child produced and, in addition, they are undermining the commitment that they have already made with their spouse. Homosexuality is a sin because it “misses the mark” by practicing sex in a way that totally frustrates the primary purpose of the reproduction, care, and rearing of the child and if it became a norm it would threaten the survival of the human race. Child molestation is a sin, not simply because it might harm the child because, if that were the reason, if I could prove, as some people are trying to prove right now, that the child enjoys it and is not harmed, then it would not be wrong. No. The Church says it is wrong because the proper context for sex is between two people who have become legally committed to the reproduction, care, and rearing of children for the survival of the human race. Therefore, a child is an inappropriate object for sex or marriage. So are an animal and a corpse, both of which are practices that can be found in psychological records. In all cases, the logic and premise remains the same: “Secondary purposes are alright so long as they either help or, at least, don’t interfere with primary purposes.”
It is this same logic that is the basis for the Church’s position on artificial birth control and sets it apart from all the other churches on this issue. Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church is not opposed to birth control. It does not require anyone to have as many children as is biologically possible. As with most moral issues, the guiding principle is “reasonableness.” However, the Church is very wise when it come to human nature and it knows that most beings can’t be trusted to perform primary purposes, which are part of the macro purpose of the universe, when they conflict with the secondary purposes, which are related to our own personal desires. For example, I often ask my high school students that if they had to choose between a new car and a new baby, what would they choose? Without hesitation, they say a new car. That is because they can see the car and the baby is an abstraction. However, as any parent will testify, once the child becomes a concrete reality, there is no comparison between the value of the child as compared to a car.
Therefore, the Church, in its Wisdom, knows that unless we are constantly reminded of our responsibility to reproduce, that our secondary purposes will take priority over primary purposes. The fact that Italy is now facing the extinction of Italian because of its low birth rate, and that Europe, in general, now has a population in which 50% are over 50 years of age, illustrates the point. To keep our reproductive responsibility foremost in our minds, the Church, while supporting natural family planning, opposes artificial birth control. Many Catholics do not really understand the distinction and therefore choose to ignore the Church on this issue. And modern society is reaping the logical consequences because once you replace the premise of "reproductive sex" with one of "recreational sex", you have opened a Pandora's Box in which everything goes.
The Church’s position is based not only on the scriptural mandate to “reproduce and multiply” but also on St. Thomas' logical principles involving primary and secondary purposes. Since a woman’s body follows a 30 day cycle in which one egg is released, and, if not fertilized is washed away in her menstrual period, then any attempt to prevent pregnancy should take place within the natural functioning of her body. The egg only lives about 24 hours and the male sperm lives about 36 hours so that means that the potential fertility period for a human couple is about three to five days in any give months. Since sex in marriage also serves the secondary purpose of reducing sexual drive and bonding the couple together, both of which help the primary purpose of sex and marriage, the Church says that the couple may practice sex as often as they want for secondary purposes outside of the five day fertility period. However, once fertility takes place, the primary purpose is in effect and, according to St. Thomas’ principle, you shouldn’t use a secondary purpose in a way that it interferes with the primary purpose. Therefore, the Church requires abstinence during the fertility period and opposes the use of artificial means that block the primary purpose while taking the secondary purpose. In essence it says that for 25 days out of the month, when only the secondary purpose is in effect, you may enjoy just the pleasure of sex but, as a Catholic, you must abstain during the 5 days when fertility is possible.
You may not like it but you can’t deny that it is logically consistent with their position. However, come to think of it, I don’t know any of my married friends who don’t miss 5 or more days every month for no other reason then that they are tired or not interested. And, of course, it does sound a little hypocritical for parents, who have a sexual outlet, to demand that their teenage children, who are at the height of their sexual drive, remain abstinent, when they can’t even deny themselves five days out of every month.
Although the Church opposes any artificial device that either interferes with the sperm reaching the egg or aborts a fertilized egg, it support any research that helps a woman to pinpoint the moment of her fertility so that she and her husband may decide whether they want to conceive or to space their children by abstaining during the fertility period.
Of course this would challenge us to be rational beings and, by now, we know how poor our record is in this area. As St. John said, “Why does God condemn man? Because the Light (of Understanding) came into the world and men loved darkness.” In other words, we would rather be impulsive animals rather than rational beings. However, even rationality has its problem.
The problem with rational creatures is that they are capable of setting their own agenda since they have minds that are capable of setting personal goals. When this happens, we are faced with another moral problem called Pragmatism. Pragmatism is a philosophy that says that a thing is good or bad according to how well it serves its purpose or end. Sounds like the same principle that St. Thomas advised us to use and, it is except for one major difference. The purpose here does not come from the Creator of the universe but from the creature and, when it interferes with the Creator’s purpose, it suddenly becomes problematic. The problem with the philosophy of Pragmatism, according to the Church, is that, when it forgets that there is a higher law than one’s own goals, it falls into the moral error of saying that “the end justifies the means.”
We will see that the arguments that the Church has with the modern world and the Secular Humanist if often over means rather than ends.
Well, I see that my time is up and I will take up this issue of pragmatism next week. Here’s Dom.