ONE of the greatest fallacies that has thrived in our times — because it has been deliberately cultivated — is captured by what is commonly passed on as profound insight: "You can be whatever you like!" And it is just so wrong, so misleading. It is this thinking that leads to the posture that everything is subject to free decision and that there is no longer anything normative in the order of things.

While it is true that transforming the proposition "x is y," a categorical, into "x ought to be y," modal, is illicit, it can be the case that what is in fact so is normative and binding on whoever acts. There are substances that are clearly harmful to us. It follows as a matter of reason that we should not ingest them. Another example has to do with thought: Our minds proceed according to the exigencies of reason embodied in such principles as non-contradiction, identity and sufficient reason. From this it follows that we ought to think "reasonably" — following the rules of correct thinking.

Being human is living the tension between elements that constitute the "givens" of human existence and those that we bring about in an existence that, by its very dynamic, brings the future to pass. Not everyone has the requisite height to be a basketball star, but there certainly are innumerable opportunities open. Only a handful have the artistic inclination that allows them to be concert pianists, but certainly the world is wider than a class of pianists. A person is admirable in the measure that he or she can start with the human capital that is an endowment of nature and invent the person that he or she protects from within the range of facticities — ineluctable facts — that are appropriated.

The argument from what is "natural" is very frequently ridiculed by those who fail to understand it properly. Nature is normative in the measure that acting against it can be detrimental to the human person either physically or to his or her sense of worth or dignity. Nature puts a limit on alcohol intake, as reckless abandon in respect of drink harms the human organism.

Among the fundamental facts of human existence are the parents we are born to, the circumstances of our birth, the particular historical period into which our births introduce us, and gender. Gender is not an "accident" in regard to the human person. One is either male or female — and therefore gender goes into the very identity and personhood of a human being. The attempt to draw a distinction between gender — which is held to be determined by the anatomical and chromosomal features of a person — and sexuality — the mode by which a human person decides to hold himself out to the community — is in fact part of the agenda that would make of gender a matter of free election and, in that sense, "fluid."

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I am all for a society that is more respectful, more considerate, more welcoming of divergence. Those who have issues with sexual orientation and gender identity should not, for that reason, be excluded from the discourse that establishes legal regimes and prescribes rules. And for less reason should they be the object of ridicule, spite and exclusion. But it is quite another thing to fall for the fallacy that everything about being human is malleable — the limits determined by the technology of medical science alone!

How far, it may then be asked, are we willing to go in re-ordering what is "natural"? If we treat the difference in the set of chromosomes as inconsequential and insignificant, are we ready to take the next step and to tinker with the DNA itself, so that the babies of the future can be "made to order," according to their parents' specifications? And the moment we have allowed ourselves this eugenic step, shall we then not have taken it upon ourselves to decide about what it is to be a "worthwhile" human being — a human being that meets our specifications and criteria, as we would an object of manufacture?

When the Catechism teaches us that life is "from God," it is enunciating a deep-seated human conviction about the magnitude of human life, about the fact that we cannot account for it, that we cannot bring it about or return it when it has ceased, that we do not exercise dominion over it. We need to maintain this healthy reticence, this respectful regard. No, it is not true that we can make of ourselves whatever we choose to. That is the Tower of Babel of our times.


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