Last week my English classes read The Scarlet Ibis, a short story by James Hurst. One of the story's main characters is a young boy with a disability. (Is it alright to say "disability" these days? I've seen the term "different-abilitied," so perhaps I need to adapt.) I took the occasion to have a discussion with the students about disabilities, and I even shared with them the fact that I've been blind in my left eye since birth. (I mention this condition in a previous article, One Eye Blind, August 20, 2022.) At one point, I asked the students if they thought my condition was natural. Many of them answered, yes, reasoning that it was a condition that existed from birth and, therefore, is "natural," at least for me. It was also generally held that my blindness would not be "natural" had it been the result of some accident. The students were divided as to whether blindness caused by disease would be natural, since disease is something found in nature. (I did point out that accidents, too, are "found in nature.")
The problem with my students' general assessment is that it is based on the cause of my blindness, and not on the purpose of the eyes themselves. I put forth the question, "What is the purpose of the eyes?" The class unanimously agreed that the primary purpose of the eyes is to see. (Some pointed out that certain eyes may help to attract a mate, but still conceded that sight is the principle purpose.) And so I proposed, "If the natural purpose of the eyes is to see, then would it be right to say that blindness is an unnatural state?" Most students agreed this seemed to be the case.
And so the students had their first lesson in teleology, a word I'm confident they had never before heard in science class nor elsewhere. Being it is a public school where I currently teach, I had to more or less let the discussion rest at that point. It is my hope that, on some level, there was some food for thought regarding the idea that what makes something "natural" has more to do with intended purpose than with cause.
Of course, as Catholics, we apply this same principle to the realm of human sexuality. Whether a preference or tendency is something acquired, or whether someone is "born this way," is rather beside the point. The naturalness of what we do with our bodies is determined by the intended purpose of our various parts, and not by the causes that might influence our particular desires.