Pressing Down the Wildcat: Budziszewski on Natural Law’s Inevitable Reemergence


J. Budziszewski’s The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man has only gotten more relevant since its publication decades ago. In the increasingly timely warning below he reminds – and warns – a decadent society like ours that God’s natural law can only be suppressed for so long until it reasserts itself, like a wildcat.

God makes some of his intentions plain just through the way he made us — he stamps them on the “blueprint,” the plan of our physical and emotional design.  Why else would Paul call homosexual intercourse “against nature”?  (Romans 1:26-27.)  In the same way, no one celebrates a D&C, but everyone celebrates a birth.  I observed to a homosexual activist with whom I was debating that our bodies have a language of their own, that we say things to each other by what we do with them.  What does it mean then, I asked him, when a man puts the part of himself which represents the generation of life into the cavity of decay and expulsion?  Seeing the answer all too well, he refused to reply.  Permit me to spell it out.  It means “Life, be swallowed up by death.”

So it is that unconverted gentiles, who have neither waited at the foot of Sinai nor sat at the feet of Jesus, are still accountable to God.  Do we grasp the implication?  Most defenses of moral evil reflect self-deception rather than real intellectual difficulties.  Our main task is to remove the mask from such self-deceptions and bring to the surface what people really know.

They will, of course, resist.  They would rather remain in denial.  That is why Naomi Wolf has recently been so roundly criticized by her fellow feminists.  Like them, Miss Wolf is pro-abortion.  The difference is that she has let the cat out of the bag.  For years, she says, feminists have been pretending not to know that the fetus is a baby, but really they do know.  For years they have been pretending not to know that abortion is murder, but really they know that too.  She forthrightly declares that abortion is real sin that incurs real guilt and requires real atonement, and that we have known it all along.  The only problem is that Miss Wolf does not carry her reasoning to its conclusion.  She wants women to go on aborting, but proposes that they hold candlelight vigils at abortion facilities afterward to show their sorrow.  For Miss Wolf is pretending too; she too is in denial.  She pretends not to know that God is not mocked.

The paradox is that the natural law is both really known, and really suppressed.  Among my Catholic friends, who see the knowledge, I stress the suppression; among my Reformed friends, who see the suppression, I stress the knowledge.  Sometimes people think that suppressed moral knowledge is the same as weakened moral knowledge with weakened power over behavior.  On the contrary, as we have seen in chapter two, pressing down one’s conscience does not make it weak any more than pressing down a wildcat makes it docile.  It only makes it violent.  Its claws are even sharper in a culture with a Christian past, like ours, for then people have more to suppress.  Our most secular institution still wraps itself in reminiscence of its past; the very tribunal which prohibits “endorsement” of God still opens its sessions with the words “God save the United States and this honorable Court.”  Hence the people of our generation must press down not only the present knowledge of general revelation, but also the troubling memory of special revelation.  That is why they act so badly.

You can read an essay by Budziszewski on the same topic at First Things and/or watch his lecture on the topic for the Acton Institute here:

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