05/05/2011

The Natural Law of Eros


Constantly debates concerning the natural and the perverse are surfacing. Homosexuality and ‘unusual’ sexual practices of any variety is often brought to the attention because here in the world of sex all men and women meet their most pure inclinations and their most raw darkness. The scale in these debates are between the personal sensual inclinations as they are mediated upon a universalist moral insisting that we all have the same sensual inclinations – and those who escape the lawful are perverts – or worse. These moral discourses are almost always dictated upon religious motives propagating a most curious scale between freedom from sin and shame of one’s inclinations. In this climate on ‘one moral fits all’ resistance naturally surges to the surface. 

The debates we see today can be anchored in the 11th Century and the ecclesiastical debates concerning the Natural Law – here we find St. Thomas Aquinas who actually told us to look at nature in order to see what was natural as he didn’t considered sex to be particularly holy – but rather something humans shared with all other animals.  

In Book 2 of his Summa Thomas discusses the issues of Law. Given the Platonic orientation and the Muslim influence Thomas was subject for we might assume that he in speaking of Divine Law were not speaking of shari’ah but of the essence of Islam itself – to submit to the Divine Law, as Abdullah, a slave of God. This idea certainly entails the doctrine of Fate and how we all are born with a unique conditioning that enables a unique path (law) for obtaining goodness in our lives. To be a slave of God entails that we discover the unique law that leads us to abundance as an extension of the Divine Law. As God’s mirrors we as humans also reflect all his possibilities reflected in his 99 beautiful names. There is therefore a distinction between the written Law and the natural Law.

The distinction between the written Law and the natural Law is also embodied in Christianity in the gospels speaking of the mission of Jesus Christ. What is clear is that Jesus saw himself as a prophet for the eternal law written in the heart of each and everyone. It is here we find the divide between Law as a set of rules of conduct void of reason. Follow the written law and you cannot err seem to be the message, the Law transformed into a set of rules do not need reason to bring salvation. The eternal law written on our hearts follow a dynamic that needs us to be conscientious about our actions and motivations. Sadly conscience is gradually being substituted for temporality and moral interpretations ruling the socio-spatial moment.

It is the law written in the hearts of men Thomas Aquinas discussed in his Summa. It is this Law that over time has been reinterpreted in moral light and given rise to ecclesiastical doctrine concerning sin and sexuality as we know it in the modern west today. Thomas on the other hand was accused of being naive in these issues by later theologians. Well, his naivety is the same naive position we find in tasawwuf (Sufism), Advaita Vedanta and several mystical strains of thought. 

In article 3 of the second Book Thomas discusses law as a form of rational measure and sees the eternal Law as something we have a unique participation in. Rightly he suggests here that the capacity for temptation is a consequence of the nature of the Law itself, hence natural, – but more important he says: 

“First, in so far as he directly inclines his subjects to something; sometimes indeed different subjects to different acts; in this way we may say that there is a military law and a mercantile law. Secondly, indirectly; thus by the very fact that a lawgiver deprives a subject of some dignity, the latter passes into another order, so as to be under another law, as it were: thus if a soldier be turned out of the army, he becomes a subject of rural or of mercantile legislation.

These comments are similar to what we find in the Bhagavad Gita when the text discusses law, i.e. dharma and karma. Law is subject to what one is meant to do – if ones work for instance changes, so does the rules of conduct. The Law gives a different passage of what is lawful and good. Simply speaking, a soldier has the duty to kill – it the law he lives by while a merchant lives according to other rules that values other acts than killing as good. It is all fluctuating – and we are here speaking of social roles. It must logically become even richer in nuances when we measure Law as the measure of the nature of a substance as we find in a person. What Thomas tried to tell is that there are some rules of conduct that are universally good as they mirror our Godliness. These are all qualities that mark a person as being of a good character, stemming from Love itself.
In article 6 Thomas is even more specific when he tells:  
    
“various creatures have various natural inclinations, so that what is, as it were, a law for one, is against the law of a dog, but against the law of a sheep or another meek animal.”

What makes a divergence between the human animal and other animals is the presence of conscience. But this is something that is developed and not automatically attained, as Psalm 48:21 tell us: “Man, when he was in  honour, did not understand: he hath been compared to senseless beasts, and made like to them." 

What he simply says is that with the advent of reason comes a greater ability of discernment. Until reason is developed man is a beast led by impulses of sensuality as a human animal he is dictated by the natural law of any other animal that acts upon its inclinations and urges. With reason the inclinations can take shape and become profound expressions of our dharma as it were. Those who exercise the natural inclinations of pleasure are true to themselves – while does who condemn with the torch of condemnation reveals they are victims for the propaganda of guilt. Through this they deny themselves to themselves....

This distinction Thomas makes between the sensual impulses and the extension of divine Law as it takes shape in reason is interesting. It might be interpreted that the sensual inclinations are not something subject for divine Law – but rather for the natural enfoldment of one’s naturalness, when we act upon our nature, in the manner of a beast, void of reason – can we say that the divine Law has precedence in any way except as giving a shade to the sensual inclinations mediated by the unique heart?

Reason can aid us in understanding our sensual inclinations; it can be a serene king that makes sense of our natural inclinations and through this open the roads of the eternal. This possibility is opened, not by denying inclinations – but allows them to be mediated by reason and a sensibility for the natural harmonies.  

“And so the law of man, which, by the Divine ordinance, is allotted to him, according to his proper natural condition, is that he should act in accordance with reason”, concludes Thomas. And with this we can summarize that our sensual inclinations, in all their rich variety, as far as they bring goodness – is simply - a natural thing that conjoined with reason can bring goodness and abundance. The issue seems to be not to confuse the planes like so many moralist haters tends to do when they say that all of God's creation is uniform and singular - a creature of masses...

....In this the wise Eros can sprout and reveal the creative greatness of the Creator!

Art: Felicien Rops