Two Kinds of Rules by Mark Gonnella

As a result of the recent birth control controversy, much ado has been made about the Church’s teachings on morality, particularly sexual morality.  Often the charge that is leveled against the Church concerns her ‘rules,’ which are seen as archaic and oppressive.  It has been my experience, however, that those who kvetch about the rules only do so because they do not agree with them. The reason why rules are satirized and scoffed at is that they are either misunderstood or understood clearly.  Either the purpose of the rules are unknown and thus are confused for something we do not need, or they are clearly understood and believed to be needless and thus discarded accordingly.  Thus, in responding to the charge that the Church enforces needless rules, which become most troublesome when they are made by Christians, one is required to reveal the foundation of such ‘rules.’  Revealing the foundations of the Church’s teachings on morality may illuminate the rules as not being superfluous additions to the faith, but necessary conclusions from the preordained doctrines of the faith.  However, in order to determine the usefulness or the uselessness of the Church’s teaching on morality, it may be important to establish two kinds of rules: 1) rules that are external to the object and thus artificial, or 2) rules that are intrinsically found within the object itself.

The artificiality of rules can readily be seen when one examines whether the rules that he is asked to abide by have any consequences to the state of his being. In other words, if it makes any internal difference whether one follows the rules or disobeys them.  Rules of etiquette are such rules in that they are manmade and artificial.  The fork going on the left instead of the right of the plate makes no difference to your being; you will only offend the arid sensibilities of aristocrats if you choose to rebel against the ‘proper’ placement of eating utensils.  Thus, practically most rules of politeness are of the external variety, namely, that they do not make any difference to your being; they do not internally affect you if you do not abide by them.  The rules of baseball are arbitrary and do not reflect the nature of baseball players or the baseballs that they hit.  The rules are their because someone thought it convenient to construct a game based on those particular rules—changing them will not damage the nature of the balls, bats, or batgirls; they may infuriate the fans and the players, but such an infuriation is simply due to inconvenience, not because of some violation of their nature.  These rules are asked to be followed because it would be either kind to do so or convenient; they can be altered, disobeyed or even discarded without any consequence to your nature, to what it means to be human

The second kind of rules is rules that matter and make a difference to your being; they are the rules that are intrinsically bound to the very nature of the object.  In other words, they are the rules that are necessitated by the very nature of the object.  “Cows do not eat meat” is necessitated by the very nature of a cow—the cow’s nature necessitates that it eats plants, not meat. These rules are fixed and cannot be altered or changed; they can be ignored, but doing so has consequences.  The rule that man cannot live underwater without an external apparatus is necessitated by the fact that his nature does not allow him to breathe underwater.  You cannot change this rule but only ignore it. Now, the question is whether the Church’s ‘rules’ on morality are an example of category number one or two.

Whether the Church constructs artificial rules of morality or serves as a repository for all the necessary rules can be seen if one considers our beginning and our end.  God is our source of life; He is our Creator (Gen. 1:27) and we move and find our being in him.  Thus, as the painting has an imprint of the artist on it, we are imprinted with the desire to know and love God.  The Church’s ‘rules’ are founded upon the principle that man is made in the image of God, and thus man is made with a definitive nature—a nature constituted with inherent truths, truths that cannot be avoided inasmuch a man stranded in the desert can avoid the heat by wishing that he was in the shade. Our nature is ineradicable and fixed. We were made one way and not another way, and thus we must respect the Author’s decision to create us in the way that we were created.  We can rebel against it, but alas, we would be rebelling against our own nature. We are made by God and for God, which means we find our destiny and fulfillment in God.  Therefore, if God was our beginning, then He most certainly is our end.  Experience continuously tells us that we desire happiness, and the Christian must ask himself if happiness exists apart from God.  If an animal was made for the ocean, will it ever be satisfied until it finds it?  Similarly, if we are made by God, then we are made for God.  And if we were made this way and not that way, then we have to live according to the way that we were made.

Simply put, we ought to live a certain way.  That way is not random, but is preordained from necessity; it is the only way to reach our end and to achieve our fulfillment in God.  The Church, if we believe the Church to be what she claims to be, has been given the guide to life everlasting.  It is important to note that in regards to faith and morals, the Church never creates but only receives.  In this case, she has received the map to eternal life and this manifests itself in her teachings.  In this regard, her ‘rules’ no longer appear as rules, but rather they appear as reminders.  We are dignified sons and daughters of God, and we were made for a certain purpose, a purpose that cannot be paralleled by anything else, for it is the purpose, under which all purposes are subsumed.  We are to live and act a certain way, for we were created for something that requires us to do so: eternal joy.  Thus, the Church lays out the path on which we are to follow in order to reach that end, the end for which we were made.  This trail is not arbitrary but preordained, and it was not designed to restrict us but rather to set us free.  Freedom is always freedom from something, and in this case since God is the source of life, living as God designed us to live, and not living contrary to our nature and thus against God, is freedom from death.   These rules that the Church is criticized for “creating” are what ultimately set us free; they are what ultimately prevent us from death since they are instructing us on how to live in accord with our nature.  Adherence to these rules grants us life everlasting.  To complain about and challenge the teachings of the Church is similar to the child complaining to his mother that the medicine she requires him to take does not please him.  He would rather try something sweeter.  Little does he know, however, is that the sweetness of the alternative is temporary and only makes his illness worse.  How foolish are we who regard the Church’s teaching on morality equally distasteful because we want something sweeter, and how absurd of us to ignore the fact that it only makes our illness worse.