Has Damon Linker Dethroned Natural Law?

I’ll save you the suspense. No.

Linker, known primarily for betraying Richard John Neuhaus by serving as editor of First Things and then publishing a book accusing Neuhaus of scurrilous theocratic aims, now writes primarily at the New Republic. In a recent post there, he brilliantly claims to have demonstrated the idea of natural law is obvious poppycock. Why? Because he disagrees with two officials of the Catholic Church holding that a nine year old who was raped and with her life endangered by the pregnancy should still have the children rather than an abortion. Linker reasons that if the Catholic Church is wrong about that, then their idea of natural law is wrong.

Where to start?

Given that Mr. Linker worked at First Things, I’d figure he had his Aquinas down pat. Thomas Aquinas (AKA, the DOCTOR OF NATURAL LAW) held that we should agree on the first principles of natural law (like that the lives of innocent children should be protected), but that we may well disagree with the application of that natural law on a case by case basis. Well, guess what? Here we have just such a case. Does it mean the idea of natural law is vacuous? No. And Aquinas didn’t think so, either.

Mr. Linker thinks the church (or more specifically two church officials) is wrong about this case. And maybe they are. I’m unfamiliar with it. But does his disagreement with their reasoning about this case mean that the larger principle (the lives of innocent children should be protected) no longer holds? No, that position is obviously incorrect. The broad propositions of the natural law continue to hold.

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3 thoughts on “Has Damon Linker Dethroned Natural Law?

  1. The more I read of Linker, the more foolish he seems. This piece runs along with his “critique” of JPII when the latter died, the substance of which was largely that the Pope believed in things like “objective truth.” Egad! And did you know that he wore pointy hats, too?

    Linker’s critique is effective against the natural law straw-man he’s constructing, but that’s about it. Indeed, the presumption behind the critique is itself rather natural law-ish, given that he’s claiming that they’re *wrong* to insist the girl have the baby. It’s almost as if he’s relying on some sort of moral standard – heck, we could even call it a moral law if we so wished.

    It’s a shame that TNR has, it seems, decided that its go-to guys on questions of religion will be Damon Linker, Alan Wolfe, and Andrew Sullivan.

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