- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 14, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521173361
- ISBN-13: 978-0521173360
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,080,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality, and Gender: A Critique of New Natural Law
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'Nicholas Bamforth and David A. J. Richards make a full frontal attack on the philosophical consistency, social relevance, and political desirability of new natural law ... will be welcomed ... this text presents challenging philosophical insights as well as informative commentary on the role of doctrinal religion in the construction of seemingly secular law. ... constructive mode ... meticulously argued, well-written, and thoroughly annotated ... provides a detailed map of the philosophical, personal, and political affiliations between Grisez, Finnis, George and, most importantly, it closely traces their arguments to 'illiberal prescriptions' concerning sexuality and gender. ... This is the gap in the philosophical investigation of new natural law that the text wishes to fill.' Politics and Religion
By looking at Thomas Aquinas' school of thought and comparing it to the new natural lawyers, this book offers a glimpse at the disconnect. Fundamentalist forms of religion claim authority everywhere, even in the secular United States. This book examines the new natural lawyers' flawed way of viewing hierarchy and offer a critique of the forms of fundamentalism and how they arose . The book also shows that alternative forms of Christianity are available that are free from such defects.
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The new natural law theory is a revitalised and revised version of traditional 'natural law' theory that aims to develop a positive theory of ethics and jurisprudence that can be used by any rational agent when considering the sort of legal, political and social frameworks necessary for maximal human flourishing. In this sense, the work of the new natural lawyers is in the same vein as classic works like St Thomas's Summa, Hobbes' Leviathan, John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty', or John Rawls 'A Theory of Justice.'
The new natural law theory purports to be a theory that any rational person can accept, regardless of sex, creed or personal circumstances. It also proposes to offer certain guidelines on the kinds of conduct society should promote and those it should forbid.
The main problem, which Bamforth quickly picks up and excellently critiques, is many of the positions the new natural lawyers hold on various moral issues, as well as their priorities, are highly dependent on an extremely conservative version of Roman Catholic theology. This theology is dependent mainly on the teachings of the Vatican in sexual morality and bioethics, particularly during the conservative papacies of John Paul II and Benedict. It is clearly articulated in Germain Gricez's massive work, 'The Way of the Lord Jesus', a kind of neoscholastic attempt to restore the manualist tradition in moral theology.
Bamforth's main critique is this version of Catholic theology and the natural law theory derived by conservative Catholic scholars is basically not compatible with a democratic, liberal and secular society which does not allow religion to call the shots. Bamforth does this quite readily by showing the kind of nasty mix of religion, politics and law that would essentially turn society into a Catholic theocracy, and a repressive one at that for many people, if the vision of the new natural lawyers was implemented. Life would particularly be miserable for certain classes of people church teaching singles out as 'disordered' or below moral par, such as homosexuals, married couples who use contraception, single parents, non-married couples, and so on.
As a Cambridge scholar, Bamforth brings first-class reasoning and scholarship to his arguments and shows how flimsy some of the views of new natural law are, and also how disturbingly homophobic and sexist are their underlying premises. Bamforth concludes a liberal society can't countenance the kind of repressive regime envisaged by Catholic conservatives and a kinder, more compassionate alternative is required.
While Bamforth does not destroy natural law theory, he does offer a disturbing challenge and expose of the nexus of unquestioned obedience to religious leaders and religious teachings, sectarianism and social repression that seem to lie at the heart of some of the arguments of new natural lawyers. Does a religious institution like the Catholic Church deserve unswerving obedience and respect, especially given the countless scandals up to the highest levels involving child sex abuse, clerical misconduct and corruption? Should a secular and liberal society ultimately simply obey an unelected religious leader as the supreme moral authority, even if they don't believe? What right does Catholicism have to force its moral views on society ahead of those of say Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists or Rastafarians? What place is there for atheists and agnostics who believe there is no God and no religion should have any power of their lives?
If the new natural lawyers truly want to present a credible secular theory of natural law to everyone, it has to be divorced from fundamentalist Catholicism and the toxic sectarian social agenda underlying conservative far right-wing Christianity and Catholicism. Otherwise it is just another kind of illiberal and reactionary religion akin to militant Islamism that wants to place repressive strictures on the lives of all people, believers or not, no matter how it is dressed. Perhaps if based more on rationality and our common humanity, like in the better writings of John Finnis or the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Mill, we might be getting somewhere.