Thursday, October 9, 2008

Battle for normality

By Fr. Roy Cimagala
Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE)
Talamban, Cebu City
THIS is an unavoidable aspect or front in the fast-spreading culture war taking place in many countries today, including ours. The clash of values, beliefs and lifestyles has led to conflicting ideas about what is normal and natural in us.
Just recently, for example, someone asked me what exactly is being obscene, since there’s apparently a bill in the Senate on anti-obscenity, and he thought he did not quite agree with the definition placed in the bill.
Of course, right now we are familiar with questions like whether homosexuality is normal or nor, whether one has the right to contraception and abortion or not, whether masturbation is natural or not, etc. All these are expressions of what’s known now as the battle for normality.
This is our world today! If you are not aware of it yet, then welcome to it, and be prepared, equipped and armed to take part in it, since you can’t avoid it anymore.
This battle for normality is, of course, a distinctively human phenomenon. The plants and the animals do not have to worry about this problem, because they don’t think and shape their own lives. Theirs are already pretty much defined.
Other than what the slow process of natural evolution can alter, the plants and animals are pretty much the same from the beginning of time till the end. They don’t have to worry about lifestyle and fashion. Culture is unknown to them, simply because they’re incapable of developing it. It’s just not for them.
Not so with man. To define what’s normal and natural for us is a very dynamic affair. It does not come to us in an automatic and static way. It has to be studied and learned, lived and developed, promoted and defended by us.
It’s true that there’s some immutable law governing our nature. But it’s a law that not only allows but also requires our consciously and freely living it. What is normal and natural in us is also a matter of what we make out of it.
Besides, this effort is not simply a personal and individual one. It necessarily involves a social and cultural exertion, a kind of communal and even global task. 
More importantly, it involves not just earthly elements and values. It entails things spiritual and even supernatural, since we, if we go by an objective assessment of our nature validated by Christian faith, are not merely material. We are also spiritual with a supernatural destination.
Of course, before and even up to now, this battle for normality has not bothered us. We are not even quite aware of it, and much less, of our responsibility towards it. It largely has been taken for granted. That’s because our culture then has been for the most part simple and homogeneous.
Not so now. With the advent in our society of multiple cultures bought about among other things by the Tower-of-Babel effect, we cannot escape this battle for normality. Our intelligence and freedom can spout not only numerous but also conflicting views about what is normal and natural in us.
Of course, in an attempt to appease this phenomenon, some people have resorted to a kind of détente, where everyone, no matter how diametrically opposed to each other their views are, is respected. This, of course, is a very Christian attitude. 
But that attitude should not be allowed to deteriorate into a tyranny of relativism, where everything is relative, nothing is absolute.
What it lacks is the effort to really find out what is normal and natural. For unless we believe that there is no universal human nature, common to all, then we cannot rest in identifying those necessary, as opposed to contingent, elements that go into our nature.
The battle for normality now has to be keyed properly to a clear point of reference. Is it just our personal opinions and beliefs that should be the ultimate arbiter, is it something just cultural, popular, convenient, practical?
I think we have to tackle first a most basic question. And that is if whether we believe or not in a God who is eternal and who has eternal law that governs all the universe. Do we realize that everything has to be conformed to him and his laws? Is he someone who can be known by us? Can his will be known by us?
In the end, this battle for normality is a matter of faith—in God or in oneself.