Natural law

Natural law

Fr Bernard McGrath

From the beginning, Australia has been a multi-creedal Christian society. Most of our forebears, Christian or not, have observed natural morality, or at least they expected its observance in their own regard.

Civil authorities have rightly demanded that all creeds uphold this common natural law, and have been expected to observe it themselves by protecting human rights. Freedom of life, speech and religion, both in preaching and practice, have been basic to this morality.

St Paul appealed to this natural goodness, found in the pagans of his time, as "the law written in our hearts." And before him, Cicero, the pagan lawyer (106-43 BC), was a witness to this natural law in his famous words:

"There is in fact a true law, namely right reason, which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men, and is unchangeable and eternal. By its commands this law summons men to the performance of their duties by its prohibitions it restrains them from doing wrong. Its commands and prohibitions always influence good men, but are without effect upon the bad.

"To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally right, not is it permissible ever to restrict its operation and to annul it wholly is impossible. Neither the Senate [of ancient republican Rome] nor the people can absolve us from our obligation to obey this law, and it requires no Sextus Aelius [a famous politician] to expound and interpret it. It will not lay down one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will it be one rule today and another tomorrow. But there will be one law, eternal and unchangeable, binding at all times and upon all peoples and there will be, as it were, one common master and ruler of men, namely God, who is the author of this law, its interpreter and its sponsor."

Today, some of the dominant forces in society – in the media and in social, legal and political areas – want to enforce a new order of atheistic and reductionist reliefs and morality on people in the name of freedom from traditional "impositions". They threaten charges of hate speech and reprisals on persons, churches, and institutions which don't conform to their new ideas. This is already happening in parts of the world. So much for true freedom of speech and religion!

The results are already apparent in the rush of many to believe and behave in ways they think are easier, but which really make them slaves to ideologies and addictions seriously harmful to them and society. Traditional creeds and natural law morality have stood the test of time and have become the basis of our rights and freedoms in democratic societies. We must cherish and defend them.

Bendigo, Vic

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