“That which was not assumed is not healed;” is St Gregory of Nazianzus’ summary of orthodox Christian soteriology. The saint continues “but that which is united to God is saved.” Without prejudice to its other facets, salvation is most basically union with God. While this union is always personal (or if you will, a communion of persons) its personal character does not negate union on the level of nature (ousia or substantia). Salvation is both personal and substantial, that is, it is something that belongs both to the human person and our shared human nature.
St Gregory’s words came to mind as I read a recent essay by Joseph Bottom in which he identifies a central, if not THE central, pastoral problem facing not only Orthodox Christians but Roman Catholics and “Protestants of many denominations.” The challenge we face is that more and more it seems that even “the ordinary things of life seem increasing to require not just acquiescence [to moral evil] but participation” in these evils. And so we live in “a world increasingly bent on compelling not merely our silence but ultimately our participation in its sins, crimes, and follies—its pornographies, infanticides, and redefinitions of human nature.” And Bottom’s concern is also, I would argue, the central concern of the Manhattan Declaration: more and more we live in a social situation in which people are being compelled to participate in evil.
For example, in our cultural debate about the nature of marriage, it is not uncommon to hear even Orthodox Christians—clergy as well as laity—discuss marriage laws as if these laws merely reflected social convention and not, as they do, the truth of human nature. Whether with enthusiasm or regret many Christians, many Orthodox Christians together with many Catholics and many Protestants, have embraced the increasing sexualization of our culture and the identification of personal identity with genital activity.
Make no mistake whether I in describing myself as a homosexual or heterosexual, I have embraced a grossly impoverished anthropology and I have wounded by ability to relate to self and others. Not only that, if human identity is sexualized (in the sense of being a function of genital activity), then all relationships are necessarily in this sense sexual and (eventually) predatory.
For classical Christian anthropology, human beings are created by God as male and female. Until other distinctions mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his often misquoted and misunderstood comment in Galatians, the distinction “male and female” is not an ethnic or social difference, it is a created. Yes, to be sure, what it means to be male or female, or rather how we understand what this means, is often shaped by our culture or social status. And so yes, we can even say, though we speak imprecisely when we do so, we that what it means to be a man or woman today is not what it meant during Paul’s. But this is a cultural difference and does not reflect an ontological difference such that a man or woman of one era is different from a man or woman of our own the way, say, a dog is different from a cat.
Real though they may be, cultural and historical difference are secondary. They are contingent not only on cultural and historical factors but also on the more primary reality of male and female as they were created to be by God.
Christians understand that human nature as we experience it since the Fall of Adam has been in some way damaged. The damage though is not substantial; it is not as if we have are now a dog when once we were human. No matter how depraved I may become, my depravity does not touch my nature as it comes to me from the hand of God. In other words, human sinfulness does not undo, and cannot undo, human nature as a created reality.
This is why human viciousness, to take but one example, is tragic in the way that the viciousness of a dog can never be. A vicious human being remains human, even if by his actions he rejects both his own and his neighbor’s humanity. I may reject my own radical dependence on God and my relative dependence upon my neighbor but I cannot undo my dependence. It is this human nature, that the sinner and saint, the rich man and the pauper, the Emperor and the slave all share. And it is this nature that Christ takes on Himself in the Incarnation.
Any conversation about human sexuality, or indeed about ethics or human personal or social life, must be grounded in a sound understanding of human nature and of natural law. This is necessary as a hedge–an affront even–to our own egoic desires for power and control. Having forsaken a commitment to human nature as something real, we are no longer able to understand the human person as through whom human nature is revealed. Person is no longer a unique expression of what is shared. Instead, person has become identified with intellect and will; that it to say with what I want.
I would argue that whatever its flaws might be, the great value of the Manhattan Declaration is its call to return not to “Christian” principles, but to a sound philosophical anthropology as the basis of our personal and social lives. It is to this, and not empirical science, that they authors appeal when they write
No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow. First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral. Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends. Sadly, we are today far from having a thriving marriage culture. But if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is.
While I agree with the authors here, I do think that they have made their case well. Yes, I agree with them, but it is not clear to me that–even among Christians–there is an appreciation of the natural law argument being made here and throughout the document. Sadly, tragically, we have more and more come to take our view of human life from the findings of the social and natural sciences. These are blunt tools, however, incapable of the fine work needed to help people come to live their humanity in full. As much as I am in agreement with the social and ethical analysis offered in the document, it seems to me that it suffers from a lack of a compelling, positive, vision of human nature and so of the life of the human person. What they have not offered, in other words, is a Christian vision of human nature assumed, healed and deified in Jesus Christ. However much I agree with everything else that is written, I think this is a serious flaw in an otherwise good and necessary document.