One of my favorite former professors, Noel Reynolds, dropped by and left some very interesting comments on natural law. He begins by faulting the Thomistic natural law tradition for beginning its analysis with Aristotelianism rather than the scriptures, noting that in the scriptures it is either God’s command or our covenant with him that provides moral direction, not nature. Noel goes on to ask:
- And yet, the plan of salvation does presume the necessity of some disposition within us to seek after good or evil. And our salvation depends on the choice we will make. Or is that already a hellenized way of putting it? For other scriptures pose this alternative as choosing to obey the Father or the devil.
So is God pursuing the Good, or is he laboring to build a universe committed to doing what he believes is good? Whatever might lie behind it, the latter seems to be the view provided by him to mortals.
I tend to be suspicious about abstractions like the Good, particularity when we posit them as what “really” lies behind God’s actions. The basic solution of the Christian tradition to this problem has been to identify God with the Good, but this has had a tendency to lead to the sorts of metaphysical definitions of God that Mormons (and others) have historically found problematic. (Note Noel’s hesitancy about hellenization). However, I wonder if it might still be possible to solve the problem by identifying God with the Good but at the same time holding the personhood of God constant. In other words, can we redefine the Good in personal terms. I take it that this is what the Restoration does. The notion of covenant refered to by Noel is not really a contract. (For starters, the concept of contract didn’t exist in the ancient context in which much of our scripture was given.) Rather, a covenant is a kind of adoption. In other words, it is not an instantiation of some abstract goal or purpose. Instead, it marks off a particular kind of personal relationship, a relationship that defines certain duties and entitlements. Similarly, our doctrine of sealing suggests that salvation (ie the realization of the Good) consists of the welding together in love and friendship of the entire human family. I think that it was this personalized notion of the Good that motivate Joseph Smith to say that friendship was the key to Mormonism. I also think that this is what the scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon) are getting at when they talk about being “enticed” by both God and the Devil. It is not merely a matter of choosing the correct abstraction — good or evil. It is about our affections and who it is that we ultimately want to be friends with.
If I am right about this, then it suggests that Russell is right and that we cannot look to nature or naturalness as a way of deciding the question of gay marriage but must look instead to it impact of the particular kind of friendship to which God invites us.