Author Topic: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law  (Read 1731 times)

ptmccain

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There have been a number of discussions on this forum about natural law, homosexuality and orders of creation. I found this essay today by Dr. Carl Braaten and thought it would a helpful article to put up here for discussion. I find it particularly interesting that Dr. Braaten clearly affirms that the order of creation is both a Biblical and faithfully Lutheran doctrine. Note particularly what he has to say about homosexuality.

Here is where the whole article can be found: http://www.elca.org/jle/article.asp?k=755
Here is an excerpt.

[17] Homosexuality has become a critical moral issue facing almost all churches today. In the light of natural law and the Bible the practice of homosexuality can easily be seen as a disordering of God’s creation, contrary to nature and knowable by reason to be mor­ally wrong. I will not attempt to explain why or how the churches have managed to work themselves into a corner where modern cultural trends hold greater sway than two thousand years of Christian consensus on the matter, formed by the Scriptures and natural law. When post-Enlightenment movements in philosophy and theology rejected the natural moral law and post-modern hermeneutics applied its techniques to the Bible, the way was paved for moral relativism. Theology followed along with some kind of agape ethics, giving rise to antinomianism. The dike was broken. Previously con­demned patterns of Christian behavior were now considered licit in some situations, all depending on the quality of relationships. The twin authorities of human reason and re­vealed truth collapsed, creating great uncertainty whether, even among Christians, we can tell the difference between right from wrong, good from evil, and truth from the lie.
 
[18] We know by reason what the natural law tells us -- the sexual organs are designed for certain functions. God made two kinds of humans, “male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1: 27) By the light of reason human beings the world over, since the dawn of hu­man civilization and across all cultures, have known that the male and female organs are made for different functions. Humans know what they are; they are free to act in accordance with them or to act in opposition to them. The organs match. What is so difficult to understand about that? Humans learn these things by reason and nature; no books on anatomy, psychology, or sociology are needed.
 
[19] Nor do people first learn what the sexual organs are for from the Bible. Scholars say there are seven explicit passages in the Bible that condemn homosexual acts as con­trary to the will of God. This is supposed to settle the matter for a church that claims its teachings are derived from Scripture. But for many Christians this does not settle the matter. Why not? The answer is that they don’t believe what the natural law, transpar­ent to reason, tells us about human sexuality. In my view the biblical strictures against homosexual acts are true not because they are in the Bible; they are in the Bible be­cause they are true. They truly recapitulate God’s creative design of human bodies. The law of creation written into the nature of things is the antecedent bedrock of the natural moral law, knowable by human reason and conscience. 
 
[20] The ELCA has spent almost a million dollars to discern what to teach on matters of human sexuality. It’s unbelievable. If the church would have spent a million dollars to educate its membership regarding what is true and false, right and wrong, good and bad on issues of sex, marriage, and family, that would have been money well spent. But to spend a million dollars trying to figure out what should be said in a social statement on sexual ethics is tantamount to moral bankruptcy. Is the ELCA morally bankrupt? We will have to wait and see what comes out in the end.

pearson

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2007, 11:49:36 PM »
I suppose that I agree with the general argument set forth here by Carl Braaten (my teacher at LSTC another lifetime ago).  However, there is one point Dr. Braaten makes that I disagree with -- in fact, I find it astonishing to see him making this claim.  It's embedded in parargraphs 18 and 19 of the article cited, to wit:



[18] We know by reason what the natural law tells us -- the sexual organs are designed for certain functions. God made two kinds of humans, “male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1: 27) By the light of reason human beings the world over, since the dawn of hu­man civilization and across all cultures, have known that the male and female organs are made for different functions. Humans know what they are; they are free to act in accordance with them or to act in opposition to them. The organs match. What is so difficult to understand about that? Humans learn these things by reason and nature; no books on anatomy, psychology, or sociology are needed.
 
[19] Nor do people first learn what the sexual organs are for from the Bible. Scholars say there are seven explicit passages in the Bible that condemn homosexual acts as con­trary to the will of God. This is supposed to settle the matter for a church that claims its teachings are derived from Scripture. But for many Christians this does not settle the matter. Why not? The answer is that they don’t believe what the natural law, transpar­ent to reason, tells us about human sexuality. In my view the biblical strictures against homosexual acts are true not because they are in the Bible; they are in the Bible be­cause they are true. They truly recapitulate God’s creative design of human bodies. The law of creation written into the nature of things is the antecedent bedrock of the natural moral law, knowable by human reason and conscience. 
 

Human beings know that "sexual organs are designed for certain functions" by reason?  Really?  This is certainly not the way Luther typically talks about the manner in which we know what the natural law requires.  I'm aware of only two passages where Luther joins natural law and reason in a positive relationship.  In most of his writings on the subject, Luther indicates that natural law operates in human beings precognitively, through something like an instinct.  In some passages, Luther is even reluctant to state that God Himself has directly instilled natural law in us, rather than just "nature" instilling it in us.  The argument, standard in scholastic cirlces of Luther's time, that human beings are handsomely equipped with the kind of reason that can discern the requirements of natural law, was either ignored or rejected by Luther.  This is the sort of position that would prompt Luther at the end of his life to denounce reason as a "whore."   Further, when I reflect on human experience, it does not seem that our awareness of what sexual organs are for arises from rational inspection.  Rather, it appears to be a "natural instinct" that leads us to this understanding; I think Luther is right that reason plays little role in such things.  Luther does seem to treat natural law as a codification of "whatever comes naturally" to God's creatures.

So I'm really surprised that Dr. Braaten would link reason and natural law in so facile a way.  Such a combination may have a place in the depiction of natural law in the Great Tradition, but it seems to have scant justification in the Lutheran tradition.

Tom Pearson 

Charles_Austin

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2007, 04:57:21 AM »
I'm surprised that people in this forum, who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent, hold up his views on "natural law" as a final answer to anything.

peter_speckhard

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2007, 08:58:40 AM »
I'm surprised that people in this forum, who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent, hold up his views on "natural law" as a final answer to anything.
The article was introduced was potentially "helpful" and "interesting", a million miles from being the "final answer" to anything. Is there a new standard by which quoting people approvingly means hearty endorsement of all their positions and everything they have ever written? If somebody refused to reference Braaten on morality because of Braaten's views on scriptural inerrancy, the charges would be sectarianism, hyper-suspicion, and lack of appreciation of the broader church catholic. But if they do reference him, they do not get a substantive answer on the topic, but merely the observation that a lot of people disagree with Braaten on some other topic.

gcnuss

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2007, 12:30:57 PM »
Charles,

Quote
I'm surprised that people in this forum, who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent, hold up his views on "natural law" as a final answer to anything.

Is this similar to saying that anyone who finds Luther's views on the Jews abhorrent should therefore refrain from holding up his views on other subjects as valid?
« Last Edit: October 15, 2007, 09:51:07 PM by Gary Nuss, STS »

navyman

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2007, 01:21:25 PM »
I'm surprised that people in this forum, who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent, hold up his views on "natural law" as a final answer to anything.
The article was introduced was potentially "helpful" and "interesting", a million miles from being the "final answer" to anything. Is there a new standard by which quoting people approvingly means hearty endorsement of all their positions and everything they have ever written? If somebody refused to reference Braaten on morality because of Braaten's views on scriptural inerrancy, the charges would be sectarianism, hyper-suspicion, and lack of appreciation of the broader church catholic. But if they do reference him, they do not get a substantive answer on the topic, but merely the observation that a lot of people disagree with Braaten on some other topic.

One would wonder what Luther's view on scriptural inerrancy was, including those of the church fathers?  Doesn't the Bible support inerrancy, or is it
HCM, that doesn't?  Is this another enlightment theory?

Bratten's views seem to fall into the line of God wrote the Law unto their hearts, so man knows he does something wrong.  Luther, also condemn it, right when he stated it was a perverson!

Don Whitbeck


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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #6 on: October 15, 2007, 01:48:53 PM »
there is one point Dr. Braaten makes that I disagree with -- in fact, I find it astonishing to see him making this claim. 
Quote

[18] We know by reason what the natural law tells us

So I'm really surprised that Dr. Braaten would link reason and natural law in so facile a way.  Such a combination may have a place in the depiction of natural law in the Great Tradition, but it seems to have scant justification in the Lutheran tradition.

I'm delighted to see the publication of this brief article in JLE, which seems to me to be a sign of a certain openness still alive in the conversation about a sexuality statement.

I'm not surprised that Dr. Pearson was surprised. I've enjoyed reading his discussion of this topic. But it seems to me Braaten makes point similar to his earlier in this essay:

[4] The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers some statements about the natural moral law that I hold as universal Christian teaching, something that I wish Lutheran Churches worldwide, including the ELCA, would have the wisdom to affirm. “The natural law ex­presses the original sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie.” “The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life.” “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.”

He also posits a connection between the natural law concept and Lutheran theological constructs, albeit in the abbreviated way this journal format requires:

[6] Luther and subsequent Lutheranism continued to affirm the substance of the natural law in terms of the doctrine of the orders of creation, linking it to a more biblical and theo­logical conceptuality. This doctrine maintains that Christians along with all other human beings exist in a framework of universal structures that are there prior to and apart from biblical revelation and the church.
and
[8] The doctrine of the orders of creation goes hand in hand with the doctrine of the two kingdoms as well as the important distinction between law and gospel. ...There is no such thing as a secular world in which God is dead or absent. Christians do not need to introduce the law of God into the world for the first time. God works through the law engraved in the nature of the things he creates. God is universally present as the pressure that drives people to do what they must do to sustain life, to administer justice, and to care for their communities. Luther spoke of the orders of creation -- family, state, or work -- as the masks of God (larvae dei), masks of the hidden living God.


Quote
Mike Rothaar
Retired from roster of active ELCA pastors 01 Jul 2012.
Mind and Spirit still working.

EENGELBRECHT

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2007, 07:44:25 AM »
"Luther and subsequent Lutheranism continued to affirm the substance of the natural law in terms of the doctrine of the orders of creation, linking it to a more biblical and theo­logical conceptuality. This doctrine maintains that Christians along with all other human beings exist in a framework of universal structures that are there prior to and apart from biblical revelation and the church."

Looks like Braaten has been reading the Lutheran Orthodox Fathers. This is really how they saw things.

In Christ,
EE

Mike Bennett

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2007, 02:03:59 PM »
I'm surprised that people in this forum, who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent, hold up his views on "natural law" as a final answer to anything.

Charles, as a retired journalist you are surely aware of the difference between a restrictive clause and a non-restrictive clause.  By setting off the clause "who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent" with commas, you say that all the people in this forum would find his views on scripture abhorrent.  That's baloney and you know it.

Mike Bennett
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John Dornheim

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2007, 02:15:41 PM »
I'm surprised that people in this forum, who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent, hold up his views on "natural law" as a final answer to anything.

Charles, as a retired journalist you are surely aware of the difference between a restrictive clause and a non-restrictive clause.  By setting off the clause "who would find Dr. Braaten's views on scripture abhorrent" with commas, you say that all the people in this forum would find his views on scripture abhorrent.  That's baloney and you know it.

Mike Bennett

Mike, I think where you put an "all," Charles and some others might put a "some." At least that is how I understand it.
John Dornheim

Dave_Poedel

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2007, 10:58:23 PM »
Braaten's article was lucid and cogent in the area of Natural Law and its uses.  How can we reappropriate Natural Law into our Lutheran discourse?  It seems to me to be a very valid way of communicating with the culture, who seem allergic to anything religious, Biblical, or ecclesial. Perhaps Natural Law can be related to what used to be called "common sense"?

As a retired teacher of anatomy and physiology, the "parts fitting" argument seems like a no-brainer in describing God's design for sex.  Practice contrary to this are, in the words of the Roman Catechism, "morally disordered" in addition to being physiologically dangerous.

pearson

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Re: Carl Braaten on Homosexuality as Rejected According to Natural Law
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2007, 11:36:17 AM »
Braaten's article was lucid and cogent in the area of Natural Law and its uses.  How can we reappropriate Natural Law into our Lutheran discourse?  It seems to me to be a very valid way of communicating with the culture, who seem allergic to anything religious, Biblical, or ecclesial. Perhaps Natural Law can be related to what used to be called "common sense"?

As a retired teacher of anatomy and physiology, the "parts fitting" argument seems like a no-brainer in describing God's design for sex.  Practice contrary to this are, in the words of the Roman Catechism, "morally disordered" in addition to being physiologically dangerous.

I think there are four problems here, Dave.

First, as I mentioned before, traditional natural law theory (the tradition inherited by the sixteenth century Lutheran reformers) stipulated that the precepts of the natural law were accessible to reason apart from revelation.  But the Lutheran reformers rejected this portrayal of the power of human reason.  If natural law is in some way congruent with "common sense," then whatever authority the natural law carries, it will carry that authority independent of any scriptural authority (since what is "common" to common sense is that it is commonly available to reason).  I don't think the Lutheran reformers would endorse this notion.

Second, talking about "God's design" seems a dubious basis for making a theological claim within Lutheranism.  Lutherans are famous for insisting that God (God's nature, God's will, God's design, or anything else related to the Triune God) can only be discerned in Christ, and specifically through Christ's death and resurrection.  To suggest that we might be able to determine God's will (or God's design) by inspecting the structures of creation appears to be an alternative source for doing Christian theology that the Lutheran reformers never embraced.

Third, Luther himself did not approve the traditional natural law theory he inherited.  As I said in an earlier post, Luther focuses most of his extended discussions of natural law in the period 1523-1526.  In those passages, he treats natural law as a kiind of pre-rational instinct in human beings for social conditions that promote peace, order and justice.  Natural law for Luther represents "what everybody wants."  In this way, it is sort of like "common sense," except that it is not expressed by reason, and it has no particular moral content.  It's just an empirical description of the way people are.  In these 1523-1526 texts, Luther sounds positively Hobbesian (now there's a doctoral dissertation waiting to be written).  The idea that the "parts fitting" argument can lead us to conclusions about God's design is a position that emerges in the early years of the Enlightenment among Deists and religious rationalists, not among sixteenth century Lutherans.

Finally, as might be embedded in what I've said, there are a variety of natural law traditions in the history of western thought, and they're not all commensurate.  Which one should Lutherans endorse?  The one that celebrates reason, or the one that applauds pre-rational human instincts?  The one that says conscience can clearly and infallibly intuit the moral precepts of the natural law, or the one that claims human conscience is thoroughly distorted since the Fall so that we must fashion a "natural" law out of scripture?  The natural law that ends in a hierarchical "orders of creation" or the natural law that winds up with natural human rights? 

It seems highly unlikely to me that these various accounts can be combined into one mega-theory of natural law; there are too many contradictions among them.  So where should Lutherans start, if we want to appropriate natural law?  If you were suggesting, Dave, that Lutherans could recommend natural law without involving natural law in any theological categories at all (i. e., because the culture is allergic to anything religious), that might solve some of these problems.

Tom Pearson