Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Natural Law ad absurdum

Bathroom Reader demonstrates why I tend to distrust "Natural Law" based arguments.

"Before forks became popular, the difference between common and refined people was the number of fingers they ate with. The upper classes used three; everyone used five. This began to change in the 11th Century, when tiny, two pronged forks became fashionable in Italian High Society. But they didn't catch on; the Catholic Church opposed them as unnatural (it was an insult to imply that the fingers God had given us for food weren't good enough for food)."

Now, if you have read the Bathroom reader series, you know that they are not the... kindest to things Christian, so this is probably not the best construction on the theology in play - however, it does show why I tend not to trust arguments based on "nature" or "natural law". It's the same why I don't like arguments that begin "it's obvious that _________." Sorry - often it isn't obvious - it's just an assumption.

I want specific evidence. I want a citation. Show me the Scriptures. I want the Word of God being expounded upon - give me an argument based upon the Word. I don't care what you think is right or wrong, what goes against what is natural or proper - if you are going to say that something is wrong and shall not be done -- show me.

I have no problem using forks. None. I don't think I've ever worried that I am using unnatural means of eating. Let's just base theological statements on what is revealed in the world.


Mike Baker said...

...and so often you could easily argue the other direction.

In your absurd example, the Catholic Church could have just as easily praised the invention of the fork as an "appropriate instrument for keeping hands clean to perform the Lord's work."

Many times, people present their personal opinions, perspectives, and biases as divine revelation and dress it up in sacred-sounding words or philosophic musings. Natural Law arguements are no different in this respect. Sure it sounds good and reasonable at the time!

...that doesn't make it true.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Hmmm... you know Mike, you could build up something nice with your other direction.

Just think, if we used forks first, we in the Church would seem wise and fancy and wealthy -- and we'd seem to be the good folks. It would be outreach to use forks. Therefore, you really ought to let your forks glisten before men, so that they might see your civility and glorify God.

Mike Baker said...


The world is crying out for forks. How many people live longing to have a fork-filled existence? Think of the draw we could have if we would just meet their felt needs and pass out forks every Sunday. We could even offer "sporks" for those seekers who come from spoon-based cultures but are attracted to a meta-narrative with tines.

Since the wealthy use forks and the poor do not, it only makes sense that it must be a component of economic success. By handing out forks to everyone who enters our doors, we will be giving them tools to help change their lives. After all, isn't that why God put the church here? To change lives?

Thomas Lemke said...


In stitches over here... I think we have the next Rick Warren! Bring on the praise bands and grape juice!

Mike Baker said...


I can't claim too much creative imagination here. I spent most of my life growing up as a young Warrenite in the Southern Baptist Convention. I was even a praise band musician and was on the front lines to "modernize" my congregation (to my unending shame).

So, if I hit it on the nose, it's more my good memory than my wit. :P

But, if you want, we can get together and write a book. I have a few working titles:

"Reimagining the Fork: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Silverware"

"The Hole in our Dinner Set: How does God Want us to Dine?"

"The Table Driven Life"

No one understands a scam like a reformed con artist. ;)

Thomas Lemke said...


Fair enough, and note that you have my sympathies. ;)

Oooo, those sound fantastic! Can I suggest a simpler, though less elegant alternative?

"Forks Win."