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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

9/16/2012 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

There are moral truths grounded in moral realities that, in the poet Milton's words,

The American film director Nick Cassavetes discussed his new movie, "Yellow," which explores an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister.  "Who gives a damn," Cassavetes said, "love who you want." 


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

9/16/2012 (4 years ago)

Published in Movies

Keywords: incest, Cassavetes, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq., morality, perversion, Hollywood

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - There is an underlying grammar to human sexuality, and the Catholic Church might be said to be the repository of the King's English--the standard--when it comes to it.  In the modern world--indeed in all ages and all cultures--she is the only one who speaks about sex well.  Her sexual grammar is true, it protects authentic conjugal love, and it ultimately is the recipe for authentic happiness, both here on earth and in eternity.

The sexual grammar of the Church's teaching on human sexuality is based upon what Pope Benedict XVI calls the "gift" of nature and its "inbuilt order," an order which displays a "design of love and truth," and which is witness to a God of order, truth, and love.

This "inbuilt order" is a gift that is given to us by a loving God: it just is.

It is this "inbuilt order" in nature--again, a gift which just is--that allows our reason, if used rightly, to distill out a "grammar" in creation of which the "grammar" of sexuality is part.  Caritatis in veritate, No. 48.

The "grammar" of sexuality has rules based upon the reason underlying the nature of things, of what is.  But it also relies upon just plain right usage or syntax, a usage or syntax based not so much upon conceptual reason, but upon a sort of reasonable-but-not-fully-articulable intellectual "feel" which informs us what is seeming or fitting.

Moral theologians call this reality connaturality.  There are moral truths grounded in moral realities that, in the poet Milton's words, "mix with our connatural dust." 

A connatural end or good is an end or good toward which we tend or incline as part of our nature.  This is called an inclination to the extent that this connatural end is, relative to our nature, an objective good.  An example would be the natural desire for progeny, or learning, or knowing the truth, or having friends.

As Jacques Maritain put it in his book The Range of Reason: "It is through connaturality that moral consciousness attains a kind of knowing--inexpressible in words and notions--of the deepest dispositions--longings, fears, hopes or despairs, primeval loves and options--involved in the night of the subjectivity."

But connaturality has its opposite.  There are such ends we perceive as evils to avoid.  There are some things that are simply unnatural.  We might call such reasonable-but-not-fully-articulable intellectual "feelings" that seek to avoid these unnatural actions or things disinclinations

As a result of these disinclinations, there are some actions which, by common consent, are simply seen as moral enormities, actions to which any physically and morally healthy human being are disinclined.  We have a reasonable-but-not-fully-articulable intellectual aversion to these things and recognize them at once as evils.

Incest is such a thing.  We connaturally perceive incest to be a great evil, something altogether more vicious than other sexual sins.  It is an offense of huge proportions against familial relations
Any healthy human is naturally disinclined to commit incest, and it is reasonable to be disinclined, though it is difficult to articulate fully the reasons why.  We find incest morally "sick," "creepy," or enormously "perverse" even if we cannot fully say why.  This is true for virtually all cultures.

In his Summa Theologiae (IIaIIae, q. 154, art. 9), St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the sin of incest.  He finds incest to be a species of lust that is particularly "unbecoming" or "unseemly" because it infringes upon the respect that a person should give his or her parents, and this respect "trickles down" as it were to include his or her "other blood relations, who are descended in near degree from the same parents."  It is for this reason, St. Thomas says, that we should experience a certain shame with respect to this act.

The second reason that St. Thomas gives against incest is that blood relations are in close proximity with each other, and if sexual union were not prohibited the "opportunities of venereal intercourse would be very frequent, and thus men's minds would be enervated by lust." 

The third reason that St. Thomas gives is that incest hinders friendship in that, by taking a wife that is not related by consanguinity or affinity, a man expands his circle of relationships.  Incest is closed to this value because friendship is not expanded in an incestuous marriage, but closes in on itself. 

Finally, St. Thomas mentions a fourth reason, one given by Aristotle, and that is that the friendship that naturally occurs among the family ought not to be burdened by venereal love, since the result would be a sort of unbalanced attraction, a "too ardent" love that "would become a very great incentive to lust."

While these are articulated reasons, they are not what we probably even think about, and they do not seem fully to explain, that reasonable-but-not-fully-articulable disclination, even horror, toward incest normal people have. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church certainly forbids incest as gravely immoral  The Catechism defines as the "intimate relations between relatives or in-laws within a degree that prohibits marriage between them."  It cites to St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:1, 4-5), and observes that the apostle "stigmatizes this especially grave offense."  The reason behind the prohibition to incest given in the Catechism that it "corrupts family relationships and marks a regression toward animality."  [CCC §2388]

Any normal, healthy society will structure itself on the "inbuilt order" in nature, will connaturally accept the "grammar" of creation of which the "grammar" of sexuality is part. 

It follows that, in a normal, healthy political society, the positive law would promote as good those things to which we are rightly inclined, and would forbid and punish those things to which we are naturally disinclined, even if reasons are not fully articulable. 

Similarly, the cultural norms or mores of a healthy and normal civil society would support and encourage those things to which we are rightly inclined, and frown upon, and even find abhorrent and outrageous, those things to which we are rightly disinclined, again, even if reasons are not fully articulable.

Unfortunately, society can get sick, corrupt, and develop morally unhealthy frames of reference.  In some situations we can deform ourselves to the point where what is unnatural begins to feel connatural, and what should be connatural begins to feel unnatural.  The moral philosopher J. Budziszewski calls this the "problem of unnatural connaturality."

All this is a prelude to understanding a recent comment by the American film director Nick Cassavetes's comment regarding his new movie, "Yellow."  "Yellow" is a movie that revolves around a character named Mary who visits her brother in prison, and they become involved in an incestuous love affair.

In some comments to "The Wrap," Cassavetes stated the following:

"I have no experience with incest.  We started thinking about that.  We had heard a few stories where brothers and sisters were completely, absolutely in love with one another.  You know what? This whole movie is about judgment, and lack of it, and doing what you want."

"Who gives a shit if people judge you?" Cassavetes continued.  "I'm not saying this is an absolute but in a way, if you're not having kids--who gives a damn?  Love who you want. Isn't that what we say?  Gay marriage--love who you want?  If it's your brother or sister it's super-weird, but if you look at it, you're not hurting anybody except every single person who freaks out because you're in love with one another."

Someone who thinks like Cassavetes or who supports or tolerates him--and we may assume that there are plenty since in a normal society he would be considered a moral pariah to be shunned--has pretty much reached the nadir of moral perversion.  For one such as he, it is highly unlikely that the reasons given by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, or the Catholic Catechism would persuade him of anything.  He has desensitized himself to right inclinations and disinclinations. 

The perversion in Cassavetes is complete: he has reached the point of unnatural connaturality.  He has lost his sense of shame.  He has reached the point where the only thing left that may be said against him--since he has effectively killed his conscience and blinded himself to the "inbuilt order" and "grammar" of sexuality and "grammar" of creation--are woes.  He is subject to woes because we can no longer reason with him.

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!"  (Isaiah 5:20)


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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