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Natural Law in Our Lives, in Our Courts (Part 1)

4/2/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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J. Budziszewski on the 4 Ways of Knowing It

AUSTIN, Texas, APRIL 1, 2004 (Zenit) - Legal scholars and theologians debate over the details of natural law, but an expert in the field believes that the fundamentals are something that we can't not know.

J. Budziszewski is professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas and author of several books, including most recently, "What We Can't Not Know: A Guide" (Spence Publishing).

Budziszewski shared the four God-given witnesses of natural law: deep conscience, the designedness of things in general, the particulars of our own design, and natural consequences.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

Q: Your many books and articles in publications such as First Things have expressed the importance of recovering the moral truths of natural law. Briefly, how have you developed this thought over your academic career?

Budziszewski: At the beginning of my academic career I would have agreed with George Gaylord Simpson that man is the result of a meaningless and purposeless process that did not have us in mind.

When I acknowledged God, I was forced to acknowledge that the process has been neither meaningless nor purposeless; natural law expresses both "nature," the human design, and "law," the Designer's command.

In order to think clearly about these things one must unlearn a variety of errors and intellectual vices, and sometimes it seems this is all I do. On the other hand, the culture as a whole has to do the same thing, so perhaps it is not such a bad thing for some of its intellectuals to carry on their unlearning in public.

Q: What is it about natural law that attracts you to the topic? How have your studies of natural law been affected by your own pilgrimage of faith? What conclusions have you come to?

Budziszewski: In the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans, St. Paul makes an interesting remark about the pagans. Their problem isn't that they ought to know about the Creator but don't; it's that they do know about the Creator but pretend that they don't, worshipping created things instead.

In modern language, they aren't ignorant, but in denial. It seems to me that this is our problem not only with God but also with his basic moral requirements, and that the natural law tradition needs to wrestle with this problem more seriously. That is what most of my work is about.

Do these matters have anything to do with my own pilgrimage of faith? Yes, certainly. In the old days, when I said there was no God, was no good, and was no evil, it was my way of putting my thumb in his eye, because, like all of us, I really knew better.

Having been redeemed despite myself, I think I've gained some insight into these processes of denial, and in gratitude, the least I can do is write about them.

Q: Why do you say that natural law is written on the heart? Isn't the law of grace what is written on the heart? Or are they really the same?

Budziszewski: The phrase comes from St. Paul's remark in the second chapter of the book of Romans that when gentiles who do not have the law of Moses do what the law requires, they show that the "works" of the law -- its requirements -- are written on their hearts.

Traditionally, this has been considered a reference to the natural law, but it refers to grace, too. As the Catechism explains, "the preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace," and as my friend Russell Hittinger has written, the natural law is the first of these preparations -- the "first grace."

The metaphor of writing on the heart is deeply embedded in Scripture.

Jeremiah 17:1 declares that the sin of the people is written on their hearts. Proverbs 3:3 and Proverbs 7:3 exhort the people to write the law on their hearts.

In Jeremiah 31:33, quoted in Hebrews 8:10 and Hebrews 10:16, God promises to write the law on their hearts more perfectly. And Romans 2:14-15 declares that the "works" of the law, meaning the commands without this promise of further grace, are written on the hearts of everyone already.

Q: How is the natural moral law different from the physical laws of nature, like gravity?

Budziszewski: Strictly speaking, law is an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who has care of the community.

It is addressed to a mind that can understand what is demanded and act accordingly. Principles like gravitation are "laws" only in an analogical sense. They certainly result from God's governance, but the falling apple is not freely and rationally aligning its behavior with a rule that it knows to be right.

Q: How is it even possible to know the natural law, considering how ...

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