A recent Facebook group discussion of marriage, sex, and children has prompted the following reflections:
There is a severe failure to comprehend the natural law across the political spectrum in Western society today in the area of what it means to consider something to be "the norm." For example, suppose that I say that it should be considered the normal way to develop families and make babies that first you get married and then the husband and wife have biological children together. Suppose that one says that this should be held up as the ideal and as what we should be aiming for.
A surprising number of people will be confused about this and will think that, by so saying, one is saying that adoption is morally wrong or even that adopted children are somehow inferior or tainted. Or you may be said to be "insensitive" to couples who experience infertility.
Similarly, suppose that one says that in vitro fertilization is wrong and abnormal. Many people think that this means that one is calling the children thus conceived abnormal or being mean to them by saying that the circumstances of their conception were sinful and should not be held up as a model.
An extreme example of this failure to understand what a concept of a norm amounts to is the use of phrases like "differently abled" for children with various disabilities. The idea seems to be that if you regard deafness, blindness, or Down Syndrome as a tragedy and a privation, you must despise the children and adults who have these privations.
A certain amount of conceptual nuance is needed to say something like this: "Adoption is a response to a tragedy of some sort or another, and possibly to sin. The original intention was not for parent-child relationships to be formed like this, though it is laudable and generous for people to be willing to adopt. But we should not hold up adopted families as the societal norm. On the contrary, we should whenever possible model adopted families as closely as possible after the real societal norm, which is nuclear biological families. This is not blaming or scorning adoption. It is merely recognizing what the model of the family should be."
But apparently that idea of a model or an ideal that doesn't involve blame or "looking down on" is just too hard for some to grasp.
What is passing strange is that at the same time, in others in Western society, we have what might seem to be the opposite error. For example, many babies with birth defects are aborted all over the world because they are despised, unloved, seen as disposable garbage. And many infertile people go to extreme and even unethical lengths to conceive a child artificially. And it had better be a perfect child, exactly the child they want, when they do so.
Should this be seen as just an "extreme" example of the natural desire to have a biological child? Should the abortion of disabled babies be seen as an "extreme" understanding of the privation of disability?
That isn't quite right, either. Those, also, seem to arise from a failure rightly to understand the concept of a norm. A right understanding of the concept of a norm leads to compassion for those suffering privation. If you hate the disabled child and want to kill him, you definitely don't have a right concept of a norm. A real concept of the privation of disability is not equivalent to "quality control" in human reproduction. It is a sad privation for a child to be severely mentally disabled, and it is a recognition of the abilities "proper to" mankind to realize this. But it is deeply unnatural for humans to murder their offspring, any of their offspring, including the disabled.
Moreover, a right understanding of the normal way of generating children shows that having a baby using highly unnatural fertility treatments isn't what the couple wanted in the first place anyway! Even when the treatments are not intrinsically immoral (e.g., perhaps the woman merely takes some very mild fertility drug that has no tendency to produce quintuplets), they usually have unwanted side effects. And the more outlandish the treatments become (IVF, artificial insemination, etc.), the farther they are from the original, natural desire to have biological children in the old-fashioned way. Compassion for infertile couples and a recognition of the normativity of having one's own biological children hardly requires an approval of any and every means of producing children who are biologically related to the couple.
It is odd but perhaps instructive to notice that a common theme in what might seem to be opposite confusions is the misuse of compassion and love. It is, supposedly, not compassionate and loving to say that adoption is a response to brokenness in the world and hence is not the norm for family-forming. It is, supposedly, not compassionate and loving to say that disabled children (the ones who are allowed to live at all) are suffering disability rather than just being "different" and perfect in their difference. It is, supposedly, not compassionate and loving to refuse to accept an infertile couple's willingness to do anything, anything at all, to have biological children of their own. It is, supposedly, not compassionate and loving to judge those who abort disabled children, because you haven't walked in their shoes.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the very same people say all of these things. Very often that is not the case, particularly with regard to the views of the disabled. But I am saying that all of these stem from a use of compassion as an excuse for the emphatic rejection of the natural light and the natural law or even of any concept of naturalness whatsoever.
Ultimately, even the manifestations of this confusion that result in good actions (affirming adoptive families, loving disabled children) have negative ripple effects in society and in the Christian community. When I originally started this post, I didn't intend to mention homosexuality, but it arises here naturally as an example. How many of us found, when debating Obergefell and homosexual "marriage," that we were dealing with Christians and even conservatives who had no notion whatsoever of the natural law, the natural telos of marriage, the natural connection between complementarity of male and female, reproduction, and family formation? How many of us ran into a stare (electronic or literal) of blank incomprehension at the notion of normalcy? Too many of us, I suspect. I certainly did.
I don't know if the impoverishment and even outright rejection of the concept of a norm is more a Protestant or a Catholic problem. It certainly is a secular problem, but it clearly has come into the church itself, at multiple points. I can only suggest raising kids with the notion of a norm and with concrete ideas of how it applies to specific situations, and even discussing these matters with them as they get older. That may be the only way to reinstate it, at least in our little platoons.