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Defender of Biblical and Natural Law

Phil Robertson didn’t say anything new.

By 12.24.13

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As the American left puzzles and prattles over the “homophobic” remarks of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, what’s remarkable is how unremarkable the remarks actually are; that is, once you remove the vivid vernacular by which they were expressed. At their essence, the thrust of Robertson’s remarks are merely a defense of Biblical and Natural Law—albeit inelegantly expressed. Even carefully trained secular progressives will sense a flicker of familiarity in Phil’s observations.

There are two core elements to Phil Robertson’s unpolished exposition.

“Don’t be deceived,” he admonished GQ. “Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Phil didn’t cite his source, but it’s the New Testament. Biblical scholars and exegetes can debate the nuances of Phil’s interpretation, but modern secular minds ought to at least know where Phil is coming from. It’s hardly new. Prior Biblically literate generations wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow.

But it’s the second aspect of Phil’s explication that has elicited screams of blasphemy in the liberal-progressive church. Admittedly, it wasn’t expressed with the most artful sophistication. In fact, it makes me blush as I selectively edit it here.

“It seems to me, a [woman’s sex organ]—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s [rectum],” Phil pontificated. “That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? [...] It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Again, this is inelegantly stated, but what Phil is basically invoking, whether he knows it or not, is Natural Law. Phil wouldn’t be the only one who probably couldn’t identify his sentiment as just that. His liberal antagonists probably couldn’t either. They’re not learning about Natural Law in their schools and elite universities. (One of my former students was told by her law school professor that Natural Law simply doesn’t exist.) At best, they may have come across Thomas Jefferson’s line in the Declaration about the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” but went no further.

Of course, there’s much more to it.

Dr. Robert Barker, professor emeritus of law at Duquesne University, gives a concise definition of Natural Law: “God, in creating the universe, implanted in the nature of man a body of law to which all human beings are subject, which is superior to manmade law, and which is knowable by human reason.”

Great minds from Aristotle to Augustine to Aquinas to the American Founders ruminated on the subject.

As Aristotle put it, the Natural Law is a universal law that transcends earthly thinking and contemporary culture. It stands common to all human beings, “even when there is no community to bind them to one another.”

As Sophocles stated, the laws of Natural Law are eternal, not strictly for the moment. No mortal can annul them.

Cicero saw Natural Law as true law: “True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting…. It is a sin to try to alter this law… and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.” He added that “whoever is disobedient” to the Natural Law “is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature.”

Phil Robertson will never be confused with Cicero, but that’s generally what he was getting at. Homosexual activity and gay marriage are violations of the Natural Law, regardless of what the prevailing zeitgeist insists.

Phil probably doesn’t sit around reading Catholic Church encyclicals and apostolic exhortations. But if he did, he’d find agreement with this assessment from Pope John Paul II in June 2003: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.” Citing Sacred Scripture (Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10), John Paul II’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that homosexual acts are “a serious depravity” and “intrinsically disordered.”

Yet, John Paul II hastened to add—as does Phil—that “men and women with homosexual tendencies” must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

In other words, hate the sin but not the sinner.

But to reaffirm: homosexual acts violate Natural Law. I say that not to be mean or difficult, nor because I enjoy being called hateful names by tolerant, diversity-preaching liberals. It’s merely a statement of fact. You might boldly argue that it doesn’t matter, but you can’t dispute the fact. To put it in language Phil might use, the parts don’t fit.

Notably, one need not be religious to believe this. An atheist whose only law is biology can look at the male and female anatomy and figure out how nature has determined where the parts do and don’t go.

Phil Robertson has a Natural Law understanding of sexuality that comes to him naturally—as it should for all of us. It is an immutable, innate understanding that we can know from human reason and observation. This is surely what Phil essentially means when he says that homosexuality is “not logical.” It doesn’t compute to the natural order.

The religious person would take it higher, adding that God has implanted that understanding in our nature and our soul, whether we like it or not.

Phil Robertson’s lively comments have elicited the predictable howls of outrage, but, in their essence, they’re really nothing new.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.