Reflectons on Veritatis Spleandor by Alfred McBride, O.Praem.
Just what do fathers do? I dont have a dad," says Megan, age 8, a tiny blond child who gazes up at a visitor and talks of her hunger. "Well, I do have a dad, but I dont know his name. I only know his first name, Bill. I had my moms boyfriend for a while, but they broke up." Now Megan lives with her mother and older brother in Culver City, California.
"What would you like to do with your dad?" "Id want him to talk to me." Shes hurting now. "I wish I had somebody to talk to. Its not fair. If two people made you, then you should still be there with those two people." And shes sad. "Im not so special," she says looking down at the floor, "I dont have two people." She imagines what it would be like for him to come home at night. "It would be just like the commercials where kids say, Daddy, are you all right?" (Excerpted from Time, June 28, 1993.)
Little Megan has a better grasp of morality than many adults: "If two people made you, then you should still be there with those two people." We have already seen that some argue that natural law changes. Here we look at a variation of that opinion: Natural law has creative exceptions. Yes, our culture has developed numerous exceptions to natural law. The proponents call them creative. But in fact they are destructive. Megans sad story illustrates the familial chaos that is all too common.
These are the "cultural tendencies ... [that] lead to a creative understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Churchs tradition and her magisterium" (No. 54).
These "creative" moralists make five claims: (1) The natural moral law cannot foresee all situations. (2) Moral law interferes with personal decisions. (3) Moral law is not a law but a "perspective." (4) Psychology and sociology show us how complex decisions are. (5) Dont apply moral law to life. Instead, act "creatively."
By way of brief response: Natural laws principles are present in all situations. It requires hard thinking and judgment to find ways to apply it in new cases. It does not interfere with personal decisions because personal freedom and natural law are part of ones makeup, not opposed to each other. It is a permanent law of our conscience and more than a perspective that changes as we look at things from different angles.
Psychology and sociology are valuable in examining our motives and social pressures. Moralists in pre-psychology/sociology cultures were perfectly aware of the complexity of moral judgments and decisions. Yes, let us act creatively but not to find exceptions to natural law. Why not be creative in staying with the law and its meaning?
Beyond this, the creative-exception moralists say that the task of conscience is to make decisions. "In their desire to emphasize the creative character of conscience, certain authors no longer call its actions judgments but decisions" (No. 55).
We see clear evidence of this in our culture where the most popular moral word is "choice." The pro-abortionists justify their position as "pro-choice." This means that choice itself is self-legitimating. If I choose it, its right. It really doesnt much matter how I arrived at the decision, whether by intelligent judgment, feelings, social pressures, or simply a whim. I choose it. The choice makes it right. This is morality as politics. The vote counts. The choice matters. Years ago, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called this the "will to power." Will is the choice. Power is the politics. It is no accident that the advocates of immorality in our culture have chosen politics to advance their agenda, even while condemning the Church for trying "to impose its morality on them."
The Church, however, remains firm in its teaching that conscience is first of all an actan intelligent, faith-formed judgment that leads to a decision. The Church refuses to divorce conscience and decision-making from the hard work of thinking, evaluating, and judging. Conscience is more than the child of politics thrown this way and that way by the whims and passions and compromises of a fickle electorate and their representatives. Conscience is a thinkers moral tool.
Fr. McBride writes for Our Sunday Visitor. All quoted matter is from the encyclical, unless otherwise indicated ©1998 Our Sunday Visitor. Used bysubcription. This article appeared in the July 1998 edition of the San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046). Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.