Almost all of us, at one point or another, have been puzzled by the question raised here: Why would God make us in a way that things feel good for usbut arent good? The clear understanding of mans Fall given here can go a long way toward settling this question for us. Thomas Storcks calm, reasoned presentation of Catholic teaching on the Fall of Man can help us to both understand the various drives that are at work in us, and begin to order them according to the will of God.
We humans are often a puzzle to ourselves. We have such strong desires for things that we know are forbidden by the law of God that sometimes it seems as if morality is a kind of strait jacket by which we are unnaturally and harshly constrained. Sometimes such things seem so right and good, but yet we know that the Church tells us they are a violation of God's law. But in fact, part of the reason why God's law often seems like such an imposition on us is that we really don't understand either morality or ourselves.
Too often we see the moral law, the law of God, as an external rule imposed by an arbitrary God upon our behavior. Whatever we feel like doing is what's natural for us, and any restrictions on that must not only restrict, but constrict man. So, though we might admit that it is good and holy to obey the commandments, at the same time, deep down, we feel a little bit that they unduly constrain us. After all, sometimes what God calls sin feels so right.
Such an attitude, I suspect, is common, even if unspoken. And I can well understand why it is common. But though this attitude is wrong, there is some justification for it, for often morality is presented as simply a set of rules, rather than as something arising from human nature itself. Morality is natural; sin is unnatural. Contraception, for example, is an evil, not because of a Church "ban" on its use, but because the human sexual act itself would be violated by it. Deep down, many couples know that such chemicals and devices strike at the very heart of marital intimacy, because they strike at our natural humanity. And, to take another example at random, drunkenness is wrong not because of some Puritan prohibition against having fun, but because drunkenness clouds our thinking so much that we can no longer act naturallythat is, according to our humanness, our human nature. Except for a few laws made by the Church herself, such as the Sunday Mass obligation or Lenten abstinence, all the moral law imposed on us is simply an expression of our human nature, what is really natural for us.
But if this is so, then why does sin sometimes feel so right? So natural? The reason for this is the state of mankind after the Fall of our first parents. Adam and Eve's act unhinged human nature. The Fall didn't make us humans essentially evil, as most of our Protestant brethren teach, but it did take away the gifts of grace that God had given our first parents, so that now our human nature is trying to go this way and that way, regardless of whether this way and that are really good for us or not. When we see a delicious piece of cake in front of us, most of us want to eat itregardless of whether we have just eaten two other pieces of cake. Our sensual appetites want to be satisfied. They are not evil to want this, but they are blind guides, not able to know what really is best for us. If we ate everything we wanted, we would soon ruin our health. If we said every harsh word we felt like saying to anyone who inconvenienced us, we would soon have no friends. Since the Fall, our spontaneous desires and wishes can no longer be trusted. Just because we want something does not mean it is good for us, and morality simply restrains us to be what we were originally meant to be.
If we think about man we can perhaps see that this is so. All the other animalsyes, man is an animal, but a rational animalsimply do what they need to do. They build nests, find their food, mate, raise their young, and their next generation does the same. Ants build complex anthills. No ant comes along and suggests a new method for building which results in anthills that collapse. But man's history is full of people coming forward and suggesting new methods that cause a collapsewhether of literal buildings or of nations, culture, education, what have you. An atheist ought to be puzzled as to why mana product, he would sayof blind evolution, is different. Why alone of the animals do we have trouble being what we were meant to be?
The answer should be clear to the Christian, especially to the Catholic. For our understanding of the Fall gives us the key to understanding man, and our understanding of morality, of God's law, shows us that it is not some unjust restriction of our natural selves. Rather, it is the only way we can be our natural selves. If we simply let ourselves go, then we let ourselves go in any direction our blind appetites might leadto become proud, vain, misers, or drug addicts, or drunks, or die from overeating. Any sin in the book is possible if we just let ourselves go. In fact, we become less human, less natural, the further we stray from the Church's teaching on right and wrong.
Obviously, then, we need to pray, to frequent the sacraments, not just in order to obey God's law, but in order to be human. And if we see the commandments not as external rules but as laws of our own being, sometimes it becomes a little easier to follow them. Next time, though, I will offer some suggestions about how the Rosary can give us special insight for understanding the puzzle that man is.
Copyright © 2000 Thomas Storck