12.24.2005

ABC vs. NFP

Sorry to get into this discussion so late - I just accepted a call and moving around Christmas time I've found is not advisable!

In this post I want to do two things. First, present my exegesis of I Cor. 7 and then offer a rationale for a morally significant distinction between ABC and NFP.

I Cor. 7

When Pr. Rufner first wrote me concerning I Cor. 7 and NFP I responded thusly,

I don't think I Cor. 7 has much of anything to say about NFP directly. Your comment '1 Cor. 7:17 [sic - it's actually v. 5] speaks of abstinence as being permissable for that time of prayer and that alone' is, I think, an argument from the negative. Paul does not say that this is the _only_ reason that is permissable for abstinence,
merely _a_ permissable reason. Furthermore, the clause in Greek could be read as result rather than purpose - thus prayer would not be a reason for but a result of abstinence for some other reason. Thus, an NFP couple might always plan on their days of abstinence to include heightened prayer.

If anything, this shows that abstinence in marriage is allowable for serious reasons. This is something that too often gets left out in the NFP discussion. If you grant that there is a morally serious distinction between NFP and ABC that makes the former a lawful means of delaying pregnancy, you still have not proven that it is lawful in your circumstances. That is: you've found that a means is lawful, but
now you must decide if your end is lawful.

So are there serious enough reasons to justify the end of avoiding pregnancy for a time? I think there are (true poverty would be one, but it happens not to exist in North America; serious illness would be another). Determining whether you have sufficient reasons to delay pregnancy is the trick. If you think so, I believe abstinence (i.e., NFP) is the only lawful means to that end."

Thus, I would argue against the exegesis provided by the good Doctor. He has misread the hina clause (it's result, not purpose) and has arged from the negative. Furthermore, his reading of kairon as unrepeatable is quite odd. Kairon is best translated "season;" it means "proper time" and in later Koine can simply be used as an adjective ("proper" "appropriate") and is most commonly used for the cycles of nature.

The biggest problem with the good doctor's exegesis is that it is an argument from the negative. In this, Dr. Gregory Lockwood, author of the I Cor. commentary from CPH agrees (or so I read in the private correspondence between him and Pr. Rufner - who can post that if he likes).

Finally, I think folks have shown rather clearly that Augustine's arguments against the Manicheeans were not directed at NFP as such but at avoiding pregnancy altogether because of their doctrine of the evil of matter and procreation.

A Case for NFP

No amount of arguments on any one given text is going to solve the NFP vs. ABC question. This is the wrong tack. Rather, one must decide if NFP is morally equivalent to ABC (I write as one who holds that artificial contraception as such is clearly prohibited by Scripture - the historic teaching of all Christianity). This is a difficult question and was hotly debated in the Roman Church from about 1930 until the time of Vatican II.

Of Goals

The first step in this process is to recognize a distinction between goals and means. In each moral act there is a goal and means to that goal. When either one or both is evil, the whole act is evil. So, for example, my goal might be to provide for my family. Good goal. But what means do I choose to use for this? If I go to night classes to earn my MBA to get a better job, then my means is goo. If I rob a bank, the means is bad even though the goal (providing for my family) is good.

So the first step in all of this is deciding if it is ever a good goal to consciously avoid pregnancy in marriage. Some (the good doctor evidentally) would argue that no, this is always wrong. Couples should never attempt to avoid pregnancy and ever to do so is sinful. Rome after Vatican II and Humanae Vitae argues that there are reasons serious enough for couples to seek to avoid pregnancy for a time. One example of this is true poverty - however, that does not exist in the US or Canada where most of our readers reside, so I will pass over it [and don't try to tell me it does exist here - it doesn't. You can always get 2000 cal./day, clean water, clothing, and housing here (Anything less than this would be true poverty). Just knock on the welfare office door or my church door.]

One other serious reason would be a woman who has been diagnosed by a competent physician with a condition that would lead to her (or the child's) death should she become pregnant. Some would argue that in all these cases we should simply trust the Lord and not worry about it. That's a fine sentiment, but how many other moral choices do we make this flippantly? Such arguments could be made against locking your doors or wearing seat belts or cooking pork all the way through: just trust the Lord! Rather, in such situations we find it acceptable to use sensible precaution while still trusting in the Lord.

Now, at this point if you are not convinced that there may be morally serious reasons that warrant delaying pregnancy in a marriage, then you can stop reading. The only acceptable choice for you will be to avoid both ABC and NFP. God go with you. I disagree with your opinion, but I respect your effort to uphold your notion of the married life. Furthermore, don't bother arguing with me about the particularities of NFP if you simply do not believe that delaying pregnancy is ever an acceptable goal. Our argument is not that far down the road. We need to continue to argue about whether or not there are such reasons before we get to that. So if that's where you're at, you can stop reading now.

Of Means

Now, if you agree with me that there may be morally significant reasons which warrant delaying pregnancy in a marriage, your work is not yet done. You've decided that goal is lawful, but now you must find lawful means.

The argument of the Church throughout the ages is that ABC subtracts something from a sexual act and that this is ungodly. God gave marriage, sex, and babies together. Barrier methods, spermacide, the Pill, and all ABC methods delete the procreative function from a given sexual act. This is a morally significant action. It is taking something God gave together - a sexual act and the possibility of conception - and willfully separating them. Is that a good act or a bad act? Anytime we separate and rend asunder what God has given it is sinful. Other examples: bulimia (the pleasure of eating without the nutrition), masturbation (the same sin as contraception actually, according to Luther: separating an act of sexual pleasure from procreation), usury or stealing (financial gain without work), etc.

Enter NFP. Does NFP separate the procreative possibilities from a given sexual act? No. Rather, it simply abstains from the act altogether. Each sexual act is received in its fullness as God gives it.

To many folks this seems to be splitting hairs because, after all, don't both ABC and NFP couples want to not have kids? Yes - that is there goal. But we are not discussing here their goal, but rather the means they are using to get to that goal. If (and you must decide this 'if' first, as I stated above) you think that the goal of delaying pregnancy is lawful in a given circumstance, then you must move on to finding out if any means are lawful. I would contend that ABC is always unlawful because it separates out the procreative function of a sexual act where God wishes to give it. NFP does not do this and is thus a lawful means.

To negate NFP on the grounds of it being an unlawful means you would have to say something to the effect that it is unlawful to ever have sex with your wife when there is no possibility of procreating. Or at least, that it would be unlawful to do this on purpose. Thus, you would have to argue that having sex when you knew your wife was pregnant was a sin - because just like NFP it enjoys the gift of sex in an infertal time. There have been those in the Church who have argued this, namely the 3rd c. Father Lactantius. That is certainly an argument worth having, but I will assume that most who read this post will not be tempted by it.

Further (and better) reading

That is a very brief introduction to a defence of NFP. What follows are two papers by friends of mine (both Romanists) which deal with the issue as well.
The latter of these is some correspondence between me and my friend Tim Pawl, a Roman Catholic philosophy PhD student at SLU. This is correspondence he sent to me in response to questions I had raised that were very similar to those raised by the good doctor: what's the big difference between ABC and NFP? In that correspondence he mentions a paper by Br. James, a monk friend of his, that paper is also included directly below my signature, as I think it works best to read Br. James' paper first.
Thinking through the points raised by TP and the good monk James
eventually convinced me. The main point is this: ABC subtracts
something from a given sexual act. NFP does not subtract
anything from a given sexual act. It merely abstains from a
given act. Thus there is a real difference between them as means
- even if the goal they have is identical.

Happy reading!
In Christ,
+Pr. HRC

Brother James on ABC vs. NFP

As soon as one pays attention to the Church’s teaching on artificial
contraception, several puzzles arise. First, why is it okay to use NFP,
but not artificial contraception, when the results of both are the
same, namely, pregnancy is avoided? Second, why is it okay for an NFP
couple to have sexual intercourse during the infertile period, but not
okay for a couple to use artificial contraception the effect of which
is the same as having sexual intercourse during the infertile period?
Third, what morally significant difference is there between avoiding
conception by abstaining during the fertile period and avoiding
conception by using artificial contraception? My aim is to answer these
questions.

Some preliminaries are in order. The Church has a specific understanding of what it is to perform an action with one’s own free-will. Actions proceeding from our free will have three components, typically called the object, end, and circumstances. The object of an action is, simply, what it is that one chooses. The end is that for the sake of which it (the object) is being chosen. The circumstances are the plethora of conditions in which the object of the action is done. These three components can also be called the means, ends, and circumstances. At any rate, in order for an action to be morally good, all three components must be good. If even one of them is bad, then the action is morally bad. Finally, it must be noted that the goodness or badness of the object is not determined by the goodness or badness of the end alone. It is possible, and often happens, that a good end is pursued through an object or means that is bad. Objects must be evaluated for goodness or badness by looking to something other than the end alone.

One may wonder why the term object is used instead of simply saying means. The reason is because the object of the action is the object of the acting person’s consent. It is the object to which the acting person says “yes” within the depths of his heart, gives his heart to carrying out.

A simple example illustrates the three components. Jones wants to go to Chicago. Chicago is the end (or goal). From where he is, there are two roads to take in order to get to Chicago. The various roads are the potential means or object of his choice. When he says in his heart “yes” to taking this road, as opposed to the other road, the road to which he says yes within his heart becomes the actual object of his choice. The circumstances are the conditions in which his departure and traveling takes place, e.g. the weather.

The Church’s teaching on sexual morality within marriage is best understood along the lines of the simple travel story. Consider two couples. They both want to go to Chicago. There are two roads to Chicago. One couple takes one road, the other couple takes the other road. The two couples have the same end, but different means, different objects, of their respective action.

For both NFP couples and contracepting couples, the end is the same: to avoid pregnancy. There are two roads a married couple might take if they want to avoid pregnancy: NFP or artificial contraception. The Church does not condemn the end of avoiding pregnancy as evil in itself. Avoiding pregnancy can be, in some circumstances, a good thing. The Church’s teaching pertains to one of the roads that a couple might take. The couple that uses NFP to avoid pregnancy, and the couple that uses artificial contraception to avoid pregnancy, are making two very different choices precisely because the object of the action, the means, are so different. The NFP couple is saying “yes” in their heart to one thing; the contracepting couple is saying “yes” in their heart to something quite different. Let us consider the difference in the two roads.

The couple that uses artificial contraception tries to make an act of sexual intercourse to be fruitless. They do something either in anticipation of the act they know they are going to have (such as take pills, put on a condom, put on a diaphragm, or get a surgical operation), or they do something during the act (coitus interruptus, or “pulling out”), or they do something after the act (douching) to prevent conception. With their own intellect and will they deliberately make, or deliberately try to make, one or all of their own present, future, or past acts of sexual intercourse to be fruitless, barren, sterile, devoid of engendering new life.

The NFP couple, on the other hand, does not try in any way to make their own act of sexual intercourse to be fruitless. What they do instead is to abstain from sexual intercourse when they know it is going to be fruitful (and there are available good, reliable ways for them to know exactly when the act is going to be fruitful). Anticipating that an act of sexual intercourse will bear fruit in new life, they do not try to sterilize the act and perform it under self-imposed conditions of sterility. Instead, they simply abstain from it. They take no temporary or permanent measures to make one or more of their own acts of sexual intercourse to be fruitless, barren, sterile, or devoid of engendering new life.

So although the two couples have the same destination, the goal being to avoid pregnancy, there are two roads to the destination, two ways to avoid pregnancy. One way is to abstain from sexual intercourse when one knows it will be fruitful; the other way is to have sexual intercourse while also trying to make it fruitless. One way means foregoing some acts of sexual intercourse; the other way means imposing sterility, either temporarily or permanently, upon one’s own acts of sexual intercourse while also performing those acts.

But is this a difference that makes a difference? What is so wrong about self-sterilizing one’s own acts of sexual intercourse? After all, does not nature effectively do something similar for a certain time each month (roughly)? And there is nothing wrong, according to the Church, with couples having sex during the infertile time. Furthermore, in some cases biology impedes fertility for other more permanent reasons, yet according to the Church it is not wrong for permanently infertile couples to engage in sexual intercourse. So, setting aside abortifacient contraceptives, what is wrong with a couple technologically causing similar infertility conditions for a time? After all, at least then fertility is controlled, sex becomes more convenient, its pleasures become available on more occasions, without stressful fear of pregnancy, allows for romantic spontaneity, and avoiding pregnancy no longer depends on our obviously weak abilities to refrain from it. And even by the Church’s own admission sex, its pleasures, romantic spontaneity, and responsible parenting are good things.

This line of questioning requires us to get more specific about what is going on in the lives of the two different couples.

In the life of the NFP couple there are two relevant sorts of acts. First, there is their act of abstaining when they know their intercourse will be fruitful. Second, there is the act of sex when they know that it will be fruitless. With their own intellect and will, they do nothing to make one of their own acts fruitless. Let us call their sexual acts natural sex. Natural sex is one kind of activity, an activity with an essence and a goodness all its own. Now, natural sex is an activity that often takes place between couples that are in fact infertile at the time the activity is enacted – infertile either because the woman has not yet ovulated or because a spouse has a biological impediment to conception, e.g. hormone deficiency, low sperm count, etc. For the NFP couple, natural sex is enacted in circumstances of infertility, but the infertility is not an object of choice. They do not say in their hearts “yes” to sterilizing any one or more of their acts of intercourse, but they do often have sex in infertile circumstances. The Church’s teaching is that infertility, when it is a circumstance of sexual intercourse, is not a circumstance that makes the activity of natural sex wrong. Natural sexual intercourse, even if done in circumstances of infertility, is an inherent good for married couples, for society, and for the human race.

In the life of the contracepting couple, however, a different kind of activity is carried out. Contraception is the method of self-imposed sterility, self-imposed because the fruitlessness of the act proceeds from the intellect and will of the persons, and the intellect and will are the deepest part of the self. The contracepting person chooses both a.) to do something before, during or after sexual intercourse to make the act fruitless and b.) to perform the act that one has deliberately made fruitless. This is not the same kind of activity as natural sex, but an instance of an altogether different sort of activity. Let us call this different sort of activity self-sterilized sex. It is an act with an essence all of its own, distinct from natural sex, and with an apparent goodness all of its own. Self-sterilized sex often seems to couples to be the better activity to perform because it allows for greater control over one’s reproductions, allows for sex to take place more numerously throughout the month and so is more convenient, allows for greater spontaneity, and does not make the avoidance of pregnancy dependent upon the weak wills of the couple. Most people also think, falsely, that self-sterilized sex is more effective at preventing pregnancy than is periodic abstinence, but this is an urban legend and demonstrably false. NFP and contraception, when both are used right, are statistically the same in avoiding pregnancy.1

Whistling and fishing are two different kinds of activities, and so the choice to whistle and the choice to go fishing are two different choices to perform to different acts. But these activities are easy to distinguish. Sometimes activity-types are hard to distinguish: killing and letting die, murder and execution, vengeance and justice, fraternal correction and wrongly judging another. So too with sex, there is natural intercourse, sometimes done in circumstances of infertility, and self-sterilized sex. The Church’s teaching on contraception comes down to this: instances of natural sex are choice-worthy, even when done in circumstances of infertility, instances of self-sterilized sex are never choiceworthy, no matter what the circumstances or further aims of the people might be. But it is hard to see what it is about self-sterilized sex that makes it to be never choice-worthy.

Natural sex, even if done in circumstances of infertility, is inherently good for several reasons.

First, it is the an activity in which the couple affirms within their intellect and will that the design of their bodies is already perfect, and since the human person is a living body with a specific design, it is a way by which the couples affirms the goodness of the other person.

Self-sterilized sex, on the other hand, lacks this component of personal affirmation of the goodness of the other person. Persons are treated as flawed, broken, and in need of perfecting through artificial means precisely because the persons with their intellect and will take measures to alter their own or each other’s bodies.

Second, natural sex is a way by which each spouse gives the self in his or her totality to the other and receives the other in his or her totality from the other. Since fertility is part of who each person is, they give their totality in giving their fertility, whatever it happens to be at the time, to each other.

In self-sterilized sex, however, a spouse withholds an integral part of his or her self from the other. For one or both spouses deliberately suppress the inherent tendency of sex to procreate. They withhold what fertility they have at the time precisely in the act that is supposed to be the way in which they give the self and receive the other as a personal totality.

Third, natural sex communicates a certain message through the language of the body. It communicates “I give myself to you totally, and I affirm all that you are as good in itself, for your own sake”. The language of the body always says this in sexual intercourse, but whether the language of the body is communicating a truth or not depends on whether the act is an instance of natural sex or self-sterilized sex. In cases of natural sex, the language of the body speaks truthfully, for the persons in the their intellect and will really are holding nothing back and really are affirming the other person is his or her totality.

In self sterilized sex, however, because the tendency of intercourse towards procreation has been deliberately suppressed, the language of the body is lying. It is saying, indeed, “I give myself to you totally and affirm all that you are as good in itself, for your own sake” but in fact one or both of the spouses is withholding whatever fertility they have at the moment from the other, denying that the other is already perfect in the design as a personal body, and is rejecting the other for who he or she really is.

Fourth, natural sex is a way in which human beings are set free in and through their bodies. Their bodies and their bodily functions are not considered as alien intrusions upon a preconceived notion of what sex should be, but they act out a bodily activity according to its pre-established design and can become comfortable, happy, and joyful in their bodies because of their bodies.

Self-sterilized sex, however, cultivates the attitude that people need to be liberated from their bodies in order to have the goods of sex or certain goods of life. The self-sterilizing couple is trying to get away from the implications of their bodies inherent in sexual intercourse. So long as they continues to self-sterilize their own acts, they cannot but think that their bodies are a burden and a problem for being what a human body is, and an alien intrusion on what sex is supposed to be. Their concept of what sex is, and what is good about it, does not include the tendency towards procreation present in every act. So they think of sex as if the human body needs to be gotten away from, they are not comfortable in their bodies, but only to the extent that they can get away from the body as it naturally is.

Let us summarize these differences with a chart.

Natural Sexual Intercourse Self-sterilized Sexual Intercourse

The person: The person:

affirms the pre-established design of rejects the pre-established design of

the body as being already perfect the body as being somehow imperfect

gives the self in totality to the other withholds part of the self from the other

receives the other in totality from the other receives only part of the self from the other

truthfully communicates in the language of deceptively communicates in the language

the body “I affirm you in your totality, I give of the body “I affirm you in your totality,

myself completely to you” I give myself to you completely”

cultivates a sense of personal freedom cultivates a sense of needing to be liberated

in and through the body from the body and its ordinary workings

So, natural sex is an activity in which husband and wife affirm the perfection of each other’s pre-established bodily design, embrace each other as persons with that bodily design, give themselves completely as living human bodies, i.e. persons, to each other, and use the language of the body to signify in truth the deepest reality of what their love really is, and find freedom in and through their bodies. Self-sterilized sex, on the other hand, is an activity in which husband and wife deny that their pre-established design is already perfect, reject the pre-established design as something undesirable at the time, deliberately suppress the proper functioning of their bodies, and withhold a part of themselves from each other in an act of sexual intercourse, all the while signifying to each other in the language of the body “I affirm you, I accept you, I give myself to you completely”. Self-sterilized sex is convenient though, and it can be done more often throughout the month, and there is no need ever to say no to appetite should they both want to do it, and it can always be spontaneous, without stressful fear that it is “not the right time”.

It looks like the attractions of convenience, spontaneity, and self-uncontrol have duped us into setting aside the real good for its counterfeit. It is not simple dogmatic assertion in calling natural sex the real thing and self-sterilized sex the counterfeit. For glancing at the chart above, one should be able to see that the things in the left column are good, becoming to a rational creature, and in keeping with the dignity of the human person. The things in the left column, however, are unbecoming a rational creature and not in keeping with the dignity of the human person. But we have only begun to point out differences between natural sexual activity and self-sterilized sex. For so far, we have only looked at what goes on within the activities themselves. We have not looked at how the activities fit into human life as a whole. Let us first look at how they fit into marriage, and then look at the societies built by people who want and approve self-sterilized sex.

The best source of information about how these two activities differ is from couples who have practiced both for a long period of time. Typically, couples who start out enacting self-sterilized sex and switch to NFP as their way to avoid pregnancy report several differences between them. Obviously, they must learn self-control, learn to say no to the movements of appetite even when both of them want to say yes. They often describe this as learning to trust each other. The likelihood of infidelity in the self-controlled person is obviously lesser than in the self-uncontrolled person. Furthermore, they are required constantly to communicate with each other about things central to their marriage (like when and whether to have a child), the man especially learns to become sensitive to the workings of the female body, and sensitive to his wife’s body in particular. Since the person just is the living human body, sensitivity to her body is sensitivity to her. The women, in turn, feels accepted, affirmed, and loved precisely for her being a fertile being. No “ifs”, no “ands”. no “buts”, her fertility is so great and mysterious a good that he would deny himself sexual pleasure before he would try to suppress it, and she feels the same way about herself and about him. Self-control, trust, communication, and acceptance are dispositions and attitudes that can only make a marriage better. And removing them can only make a marriage worse.

Self-sterilized sex, however, removes the necessity for constant communication. It is assumed that contraception will be used until the next time they talk about kids. The freedom of being able to do it whenever you both want to, and never having to say no to it when you both want to, erodes self-control over time. Of course, some couples use neither contraception nor NFP, and simply leave everything is God’s hands. For these couples, the need for self-control typically comes when she is pregnant (which is more often than other couples probably). Women who switch from the pill to NFP typically report that they no longer felt like their fertility was being treated as a problem, they no longer felt resented for their fertility, they mistrusted their husbands less and were less suspected his motives. She begins to feel like he wants “me” rather than just sex. She no longer feared that if they got pregnant it was “my fault”.

In table form…

Natural Family Planning Contraception

cultivates self-control erodes self-control

cultivates constant communication removes motivation for

about the most important things communicating about serious things

cultivates trust cultivates suspicion

cultivates sensitivity cultivates insensitivity

cultivates a sense of total affirmation cultivates a sense of rejection

and acceptance

Having looked at how the two ways of avoiding pregnancy fit into marriage, let us look at how they fit into society as a whole. In the encyclical letter Humane Vitae, Pope Paul VI made four predictions about what would result in society should contraception and self-sterilized sex become something customary, approved, and desired by the people in that society. He was not arguing that contraception is wrong because it has these consequences. He is not a utilitarian. Rather, he was arguing that if contraception, and self-sterilized sex are true goods (as opposed to counterfeit goods) on an individual level, then that individual good should figure into and harmonize with the common good of society. For the individual’s good and the common good are coherent with one another, to advance one is to advance the other. But contraception and self-sterilized sex, if desired and approved by a society, poison that society in dramatic ways, undermine the common good, and thus cannot be good for the individuals who desire it and approve it. Quoting from Archbishop Chaput’s Pastoral Letter “On Human Life”:

4. In presenting his encyclical, Paul VI cautioned against four main problems (HV 17) that would arise if Church teaching on the regulation of births was ignored. First, he warned that the widespread use of contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality." Exactly this has happened. Few would deny that the rates of abortion, divorce, family breakdown, wife and child abuse, venereal disease and out of wedlock births have all massively increased since the mid-1960s.

Obviously, the birth control pill has not been the only factor in this unraveling. But it has played a major role. In fact, the cultural revolution since 1968, driven at least in part by transformed attitudes toward sex, would not have been possible or sustainable without easy access to reliable contraception. In this, Paul VI was right.

5. Second, he also warned that man would lose respect for woman and "no longer [care] for her physical and psychological equilibrium," to the point that he would consider her "as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion." In other words, according to the Pope, contraception might be marketed as liberating for women, but the real "beneficiaries" of birth control pills and devices would be men. Three decades later, exactly as Paul VI suggested, contraception has released males—to a historically unprecedented degree -- from responsibility for their sexual aggression. In the process, one of the stranger ironies of the contraception debate of the past generation has been this: Many feminists have attacked the Catholic Church for her alleged disregard of women, but the Church in Humanae Vitae identified and rejected sexual exploitation of women years before that message entered the cultural mainstream. Again, Paul VI was right.

6. Third, the Holy Father also warned that widespread use of contraception would place a "dangerous weapon . . . in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies." As we have since discovered, eugenics didn’t disappear with Nazi racial theories in 1945.

Population control policies are now an accepted part of nearly every foreign aid discussion. The massive export of contraceptives, abortion and sterilization by the developed world to developing countries—frequently as a prerequisite for aid dollars and often in direct contradiction to local moral traditions—is a thinly disguised form of population warfare and cultural re-engineering. Again, Paul VI was right.

7. Fourth, Pope Paul warned that contraception would mislead human beings into thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, relentlessly turning the human person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.

Herein lies another irony: In fleeing into the false freedom provided by contraception and abortion, an exaggerated feminism has actively colluded in women’s dehumanization. A man and a woman participate uniquely in the glory of God by their ability to co-create new life with Him. At the heart of contraception, however, is the assumption that fertility is an infection which must be attacked and controlled, exactly as antibiotics attack bacteria. In this attitude, one can also see the organic link between contraception and abortion. If fertility can be misrepresented as an infection to be attacked, so too can new life. In either case, a defining element of woman’s identity-- her potential for bearing new life—is recast as a weakness requiring vigilant distrust and "treatment." Woman becomes the object of the tools she relies on to ensure her own liberation and defense, while man takes no share of the burden. Once again, Paul VI was right.

8. From the Holy Father’s final point, much more has flowed: In vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryo experimentation are all descendants of contraceptive technology. In fact, we have drastically and naively underestimated the effects of technology not only on external society, but on our own interior human identity. As author Neil Postman has observed, technological change is not additive but ecological. A significant new technology does not "add" something to a society; it changes everything—just as a drop of red dye does not remain discrete in a glass of water, but colors and changes every single molecule of the liquid.

Contraceptive technology, precisely because of its impact on sexual intimacy, has subverted our understanding of the purpose of sexuality, fertility and marriage itself. It has detached them from the natural, organic identity of the human person and disrupted the ecology of human relationships. It has scrambled our vocabulary of love, just as pride scrambled the vocabulary of Babel.

Of course, there are some people who will read this and object that contraception and self-sterilized sex are not really the cause of these things, that correlation is not causation, that this is a post hoc fallacy, that goodness of abortion does not logically follow from the goodness of self-sterilized sex, etc.. But such replies simply miss the point of Pope Paul VI’s warning. He was maintaining that it is impossible to harmonize the individual desire for and approval of self-sterilized sex with the good of society as a whole. He was urging that a people cannot have both the desire for and approval of self-sterilized sex and a flourishing society free of abortion, free of public immorality, free of high rates of divorce and adultery, free of the degradation of women, and free of the state domination of persons. For those who want to maintain the opposite, let them point to history and find a society where there is the widespread desire for and approval of self-sterilized sex without the degradation of women, without the steady declining of marriage, without rampant recourse to abortion, etc. Where there is one, there is always the other. Whether they be cause and effect or two effects rooted in an underlying cause is irrelevant. Whether they logically follow from each other is irrelevant. The point is that in such societies, the logic of raw appetite becomes the only common logic.



1 The only exception to this might be if one compared NFP with surgical sterilizations.



TP on Questions on Contraception

Dear Heath,

I sent your email on to Br. James. He is on a technology fast during lent, only using the internet on feast days, so it may be some time before we hear back from him.

I can try to provide some meager responses. As I said, though, my expertise in Catholic thought (if I can be said to have anything resembling expertise) is focused in systematics and dogmatics, I really don't know squat about Catholic moral theology. But, I'll try.

First, maybe it is wrong for you to use NFP. That is, if your conscience speaks against it, or you can’t do it with peace of heart, then you shouldn’t do it.

Acting in accord with NFP is not a failsafe for acting morally. NFP is just a means, a method of attaining (or, prolonging) a desired state of affairs. Like any method, if you employ it with a sinful intent, you are sinning. If my spouse and I use NFP because we are selfish and don’t want children, we are sinning. However, if we use NFP for the sake of the other (my wife has severe fertility problems and she my become unhealthy if she gets pregnant; it would be imprudent – really imprudent, not just mean we couldn’t buy a new SUV – for us to have another child in our current financial state) then the intent is not sinful. You need a serious reason to employ NFP.

All that is preliminary, though. I think the problem you are having with NFP is employing this all-important distinction: not acting for the sake of a good vs. acting against a good. You were close with the ensuring/making distinction you drew, though you thought it to be counterintuitive. I’ll provide some examples where we use that reasoning in the hopes of making the distinction between not acting for the sake of a good and acting against a good. Consider these examples:

  1. The good of truth

A large, sensitive woman asks me, “Am I fat? Be honest.” Suppose I mumble and change the subject. Here, I haven’t acted for the sake of the good of truth, since I haven’t given her the truth. Suppose, on the other hand, I say, “You? Are you kidding? Of course not!” Here, I haven’t acted for the sake of the good of truth, since I didn’t express what is true. Moreover, I acted against the good of truth insofar as I lied to her.

  1. The good of life

I have a very sick grandmother whose lungs are failing, is unconscious, and has previously begged that we do not keep her alive unnaturally. The doctors tell us that, if she is to live, we must put her on an iron lung machine. Suppose that my family prays about it, contemplates her wishes, and decides that it will be best for her if we don’t put her on the machine. Here, we haven’t acted for the good of life. We see that for life to be prolonged, she must go on the iron lung machine, and we decided not to put her on the machine. Suppose, instead, that I take a pillow and smother her with it. Here, we I have not acted for the good of life, but, moreover, I’ve acted against it by smothering her.

  1. The good of procreation

As you read this, one hopes, you aren’t having sex. Right now, then, you are not acting for the sake of the good of procreation. But, surely, you aren’t acting against it in virtue of not having sex now.

I hope these examples help show that the distinction between not acting for the sake of a good and acting against a good is a viable distinction with moral magnitude. If it is, we have what we need to draw a salient distinction between NFP and ABC. NFP sex is sex that is not acting for the sake of the good of procreation, but not acting against it. ABC sex is sex that is not acting for the sake of procreation and acting against the good of procreation.

If I answer some of the questions you raise in the email, I think it may make this position more clear.

You write:

Doesn't an NFP couple, by practicing all the temperature taking, charting, etc. choose with their intellect and will to ensure that all of their future acts of sexual intercourse will be fruitless?

What Jim meant with this line is that they try to make an act that is procreative in nature non-procreative in nature. They are taking acts that are, of themselves, life bearing, and trying to make them not life bearing. The NFP couple, in contradistinction, when charting and taking the temperature, is not trying to make an act that is of itself life bearing into an act that is not. The distinction is this: ABC couples take an act and strip it of something, NFP couples abstain from the act, and hence there isn’t an act for them to strip of a good. They are not trying to act against, or foil, a good. They are just not acting for the good.

You write:

"They take no temporary or permanent measures to make one or more of their own acts of sexual intercourse to be fruitless, barren, sterile, or devoid of engendering new life."

Again, they do take overt measures (they choose objects) which ensure that the sexual intercourse will be fruitless.

When Jim writes that the NFP couple doesn’t take measures to make an act fruitless, he means take an act that has the property of fruitfulness and strip that property away. The NFP couple, on the other hand, never takes an act and strips from that act the potency to bear fruit. Rather, they choose to abstain from an act when it could bear fruit – again, the distinction between not acting for the sake of some good and acting against a good.

You write:

Well, actually, doesn't an NFP couple say that your body is not perfect when it's fertile? I won't give myself to you if you're fertile - the message seems the same in ABC and NFP.

I don’t think this is quite right. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with saying “I won’t give myself to you if you are x. Consider when x is ‘in a grocery store’. The message in this case isn’t that the lover is imperfect, but that prudence decrees that the marital act is imprudent at this time (and only if there are serious reasons for not having children then). Honoring the dignity of the partners and the act itself, I’d rather not act than act but have to employ instruments to change my lover. In this way the ABC act claims the lover to be imperfect in a way that the NFP act does not.

The main points are these:

  1. There is a morally weighty distinction between not acting for the sake of a given good and acting against that good.
  2. It is not immoral for a couple, in compliance with prudence and justice, to want to limit their family size – for good reasons. (the intent of limiting family size is not intrinsically evil, like the intent to rape is).
  3. From 2), we can deduce that the desire ‘not to act for the good of procreation at this time’ is not an immoral intention for a couple with good reasons for having it.
  4. A decided and deliberate act of contracepting is an act that not only is not for the sake of procreation, but is against the good of procreation.

This isn’t an argument, of course. It is just a list of important points I want to reemphasize.

I was going to write a bit in response to the last ‘historical snag’, but I don’t have anything really crucial to say now. I can’t think of a single source more than 100 years old that praises NFP. But: 1) my knowledge of Church history isn’t vast, and 2) from my tradition, that isn’t too crucial, provided I have some normative teaching now that doesn’t contradict a previous normative teaching.

Two places I’d lead you to look for philosophical and theological arguments for the morality of NFP are:

Why Humanae Vitae was right: A Reader by Janet Smith

Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later by Janet Smith

Both have arguments about section 16 of H.V., the section where Pope John VI (may eternal light shine upon him) claimed that it is moral to plan intercourse around the rhythm of the female body.

I hope that you find this, in some way, helpful. It was beneficial for me to think through these issues for myself. Give my love to the family. I hope to hear from you soon,

In Christ,

Tim

12.13.2005

Let's look at Scripture for a change!



NFP violates a grammatico-historical exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7:5, which reads:

Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Let's look at the Greek: me (do not) apostereite (refuse; this word can commonly also mean: rob, steal, defraud) allelous (each other) ei meti (unless) an ek sumphonou (by mutual consent; lit. out of the source of mutual consent) pros kairon (for a brief time {'brief' is not literal, but is most certainly implied by the pairing of these words, even kairon itself though translated 'time' was viewed as an occasion rather than an extent}) hina sxolasete tei proseuxei (in order that you may devote yourselves to prayer) kai palin epi to auto ete (and that you may again be together {this is the word order for the proper emphasis, hina (in order that) should be carried twice: originally and again with kai}) hina me peiraxei humas ho satanas (in order that Satan may not tempt {commonly test} you) (by means of; also during) diaten akrasian humon (your self-indulgence {sometimes lack of self control}).

Now, let's ask some exegetical questions:

Question: Does the "ei meti" extend all the way through to the "hina sxolasete tei proseuxei" or is this left to personal interpretation? In other words, must all three conditions be met, as in: "unless by mutual consent" and "unless for a brief time" and "unless in order that you may devote yourselves to prayer?" Or are the second two conditions optional, as in: "unless by mutual consent" and "for example, for a brief time," and "for example, that you may devote yourselves to prayer?"

Answer: The "ei meti" (unless) extends through all three conditions because if they were separate thoughts from the unless they would have been separate statements, and also because the word "hina," is specifically used to refer back to the "ei meti" (unless).

Simply put, Paul’s Greek wording states that all three conditions must be met to allow abstinence: 1) mutual consent, 2) brief time period, and 3) for prayer.

Question: Is fasting also implied in "hina sxolasete tei proseuxei." Some manuscripts read "prayer and fasting."

Answer: Some Greek texts do include the word for fasting "nesteiai" in this verse as "tei nesteiai kai tei proseuxi" (for fasting and prayer). The explanation for this discrepancy is simple to explain. Prayer ("proseuxei") in Greek meant literally "devoted communication to the Lord." It referred to a state of mind rather than a specific act. Certain Jewish sects took for granted that fasting was a mandatory condition for the proper state of mind of prayer. In such a case, both went hand in hand. If the scribe who copied the text was of such a sect, he would have been obliged by the ultra-specific literal convention of the time to add the word for fasting. Roman influence on the Greek language of the time required ultra-specificity. So, fasting is not necessarily implied, unless you believe that fasting is required for proper prayer to occur. It seems logical to assume that the original manuscript of 1 Cor. likely only stated prayer.

Question: What about the meaning of "pros kairon" (for a brief time)? Could this brief time be repeated on a monthly basis?

Answer: Kairon definitely means a "brief" time. Exactly how long is meant by "brief" is not stated, but it is obviously supposed to be a time which is brief enough that the couple come together again in order to avoid temptation from Satan. However, in any case, it must come to a definable conclusion. With the words "pros kairon," typically the goal must be achieved at the end of the period of time. A conclusion must be reached, like the harvest at the end of the "season." Thus, sequential repetition on a monthly basis is not allowed in Paul’s choice of words.

Abstinence must be temporary and not repetitive, and it must be mutually agree to. But, most importantly, abstinence is only allowed for the exclusive purpose of prayer, not the prevention of pregnancy.

Augustine also had an opinion on "Natural" family planning:

Two books composed in the first year after his baptism as a Catholic Christian proclaim the reaction [of St. Augustine to birth control]. They are The Morals of the Manichees and The Morals of the Catholic Church. They were written, Augustine states specifically, to refute the Manichean claims of continence. In The Morals of the Manichees, Augustine declares that the Manichees are opposed to marriage. They are opposed to marriage, because they are opposed to procreation which is the purpose of marriage. They permit marriage, it is true, to their Auditors, the multitude of followers or catechumens who are not held to the standards of the Elect. These marriages of Auditors, however, the Manichees attempt to deprive of substance, for they advise the Auditors to avoid procreation. Augustine recalls the advice given and evaluates its significance in a passage which turns into a major attack on contraception:
Is it not you who used to warn us to watch as much as we could the time after purification of the menses when a woman is likely to conceive, and at that time refrain from intercourse, lest a soul be implicated in the flesh? From this it follows that you consider marriage is not to procreate children, but to satiate lust. Marriage, as the marriage tablets themselves proclaim, joins male and female for the procreation of children. Whoever says that to procreate children is a worse sin than to copulate thereby prohibits marriage; and he makes the woman no more a wife but a harlot, who, when she has been given certain gifts, is joined to man to satisfy his lust. If there is a wife there is matrimony. But there is no matrimony where motherhood is prevented; for then there is no wife. (The Morals of the Manichees 18.65 PL 32:1373)

The method of contraception practiced by these Manichees whom Augustine knew is the use of the sterile period as determined by Greek medicine. The Manichees, despite their keen interest in avoiding procreation, had acquired no better information. Probably they explained the disappointments which this advice must have entailed as due to some failure to watch the period closely.

In the history of the thought of theologians on contraception, it is, no doubt, piquant that the first pronouncement on contraception by the most influential theologian teaching on such matters should be such a vigorous attack on the one method of avoiding procreation accepted by twentieth-century Catholic theologians as morally lawful.


Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, by John T. Noonan, Jr., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966

Discussion Pt. # 3.

It appears time to keep the discussion moving along - though we will certainly rehash even previous posts in the time to come. This then brings us to Discussion Pt. # 3.

Make a thee-part case for NFP:

a. What distinguishes NFP from contraceptives?

b. Put forth a case on how to respond to those who level the objection that NFP is no different than contracepting because the married couple is still exercising their will over God' (There are certainly different variations on this objection, sometimes put in question form).

c. Make a case based upon 3a. and 3b. why NFP is to be preferred.

I invite all contributors to author original posts on the topic and I look forward to the comments from the readers of this blog as our discussion continues.

12.07.2005

Let's Get Physical

This would hardly be the preferred way to spend time with one's spouse - together, yet not quite. So close. Two-made-one, yet a two-made-one divided by millimeters that might as well be miles.

The Roman Church teaches/confesses a Theology of the Body. What we do with our bodies and how we use them speaks something - confesses something.

As Lutherans this makes sense to us too, even though we have seldom applied it to discussions in this area. After all we too hold to the Creeds whereby we confess the Creator of a good but now fallen creation, the Incarnation of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead in Christ Jesus our Lord. We believe, teach, and confess these very physical realities by the Word of God.

Yet, when it comes to the Theology of Marriage, and talk of contraceptives and the avoidance of children I so often run into Lutherans (prominent professors and others) who suggest that what is really important here is the motive of the married couple.

Now let me first say, lest anyone misunderstand, that motive/goals/ends sought after are important and should be brought up in pastoral care and Christian conversation on these topics. (I do, however, believe that a majority of the motives held even in Christian marriages for not having children are illegitimate and ill-conceived - an argument for another day and another post).

What I do argue here is something we all know: Motives/goals/ends don’t justify means. And in this case when we relegate ourselves only to talk of the married couple's motives to the exclusion of talk about the means we place ourselves and our marriages on shaky ground.

Therefore, when the question to contracept or not to contracept arises, we cannot simply stop our discussion at motives. We must also consider the means that we will use. In this context, any talk of means of contraception is also talk of the Theology of The Body within the context of a Theology of Marriage.

In the Temple, the physical curtain/the veil spoke something about the reality of the relationship between God and His people. This changed in Christ Jesus.

In the picture above, the glass speaks something, confesses something about the reality of the married couple who meets there once a week – staring each other in the eyes with pupils dilated, speaking sweet-nothings – a very intimate setting save for the thin glass that so profoundly separates the two-become-one.

If I were to go to kiss my wife and at the last second I slipped some plastic wrap between our lips she would be surprised and ultimately offended. I could explain to her that it is the height of could and flu season and my motive is to protect her/me from me/her. She might understand the motive but I guarantee that she would not give assent to the physical means. Why? Because the means unnecessarily and offensively separate the two-become-one – a marriage that is to be an icon of Christ’s mystical, sweet, un-separated, communion with His bride the Church.

If a little plastic wrap, a little glass, a little linen speak so much, how can a little latex speak so little to so many?

12.05.2005

Sex & Death

If you are not already aware of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture then today is your day and from this day forward all generations will call you blessed!

Not only is it a fine magazine, but as I was poking around their site this evening I stumbled upon a fine article by Thomas Fleming that deals with our present discussion. This is a well written piece and deserves our consideration and I'm sure a few comments.

Sex & Death by Thomas Fleming
ooooo

12.02.2005

The Contraceptive Age: Again More Fruit?

I remember sitting down with some members of my family, about two years ago now, and the topic of conversation was homosexual marriage.

We all shared concern over the issue and it didn't take long before one of us voiced the Battle Cry of the right-leaning Christian Republic: They have no right to redefine marriage.

I was even surprised by what came out of my mouth in the next moment: More and more I am led to believe that the homosexual community is not redefining marriage. Rather, they are simply taking advantage of the redefinition of marriage that has taken place in the past several decades at the hands of heterosexual community.

And what is that redefinition? Whereas once children were understood to be a prime blessing/good of marriage, under the contraceptive age children have been made optional and removed as a prime blessing/good leaving "commitment and mutual love" as the central pillar of the institution.

The problem is that "Commitment and mutual love" are no respecters of gender. If they are made the core of marriage and children are made to be optional (which they are by the contraceptive age) then we are left with little ground upon which to deny homosexuals entrance into our institution of "commitment and mutual love." The pronouncement of the Word that the Lord made them male and female no longer has any bearing on marriage. Certainly it is still for the moment helpful for the continuance of the human species, but it has little or nothing to do with the essence of marriage. Or so the reasoning goes.

Are we seeing here another contraception connection - one that ties our contraceptive age to the current push for homosexual legitimacy and marriage? I look forward to your comments.

Check out the following links:
Logic, Weed-eaters, Homosexuality & Contraception - written by Janet E. Smith
Love and... Marriage and the Meaning of Sex - written by Jennifer Roback-Morse

12.01.2005

The Contraceptive Age: Bearing its own fruit

One brother took knee-jerk offense yesterday to a claimed connection between contraceptives and abortion. Let me then offer a another claim about the contraceptive age that will add insult to injury.

Contraceptives have been instrumental in the rise of divorce and the denegration of marriage in the last 40 years - while contributing gravely to many other social woes.

Here are two articles to read on the topic.

W. Brad Wilcox, writing for Touchstone Magazine, writes an article entitled: 'The Facts of Life & Marriage'.

Matt C. Abbot also writes in an interesting article entitled: 'Rush Limbaugh, Divorce, & Contraception'.

11.29.2005

Moving Beyond 'The Pill'...

The inaugural post for this blog was on November 4th, and was entitled ‘Cruising for Pill info on the info Super-High-Way’. In it I recalled my disappointment over what little information one can find concerning ‘The Pill’ on the LC-MS website. The one piece of information that can be found there is a brief paper by Dr. Richard Eyer entitled BIRTH CONTROL PILLS: CONTRACEPTIVE OR ABORTIFACIENT?

In recent days I have given this paper more thought and have come to the realization that it serves as a great spring-board for our continuing conversation. At the moment (even as more people are sharing their stories of marital thought and practice concerning contraception in general and specifically ‘The Pill’) it appears that it would be advantageous for us to move beyond ‘The Pill’ toward a discussion of the more general class of contraceptives.

Dr. Eyer writes:
"The claim that hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill include an abortion causing effect is being widely spread by well-meaning, but misinformed pro-life people. The rumor claims to be based on scientific fact when there is no such evidence to
support it... The issue here is a concern for the credibility of the pro-life witness. At present it is being compromised by misinformation and is causing divisiveness within that same community."


Dr. Eyer's premises are, as I understand them:
1) That a lack of scientific evidence leaves us with no grounds upon which to believe/suggest/rumor there to be a link between the pill and abortion (an argument based on biology).
2) Furthermore, that misinformed pro-lifers who espouse such a connection are hurting the pro-life witness.

Dr. Eyer has thus (as far as his logic is concerned) denied the connection between the pill and "an abortion causing effect." Thus Christian couples are saved from this "rumor" set forth by "well-meaning, but misinformed pro-life people." The Pill is safe, he argues.

For the moment I will concede this point to Dr. Eyer (though I do not agree with his premises or his conclusions). Let's say ‘The Pill’ is safe. I would still like to ask the following important questions...

Is the only potential connection between ‘The Pill’ and abortion one of biology? Or, insofar as ‘The Pill’ falls into the larger class of contraceptives is there another connection to abortion? (Notice I have broadened the scope of concern from ‘The Pill’ to contraceptives in general.)

The answers are No and Yes, respectively.

Sam and Bethany Torode, in their book Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception (Eerdmans, 2002), point out that their is also a legal/cultural connection. They write (pg. 66):

In America's history, there has been a clear progression from endorsing contraception to accepting abortion. Legally, "reproductive rights" were first established by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which guaranteed the right to contraception for married persons. In Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), the court extended contraceptive rights to the unmarried. Both decisions overturned state laws, passed by largely Protestant legislatures in the nineteenth century, banning or restricting the sale of contraceptives. In so doing, they set the precedent for the right to abortion created by Roe v. Wade (1973).

On the surface, it seems ridiculous: How could the right to prevent pregnancy be construed as a right to terminate a pregnancy? Writing for the majority in Roe, Justice Harry Blackmun states that the realm of "sexual privacy" established by
Griswold and Eisenstadt "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy." (Roe v. Wade, 410 US113 (1973), Opinion of the Court, section VII.)

This is a recording of the facts of history by the Torodes. This does not represent their thoughts or opinions on the matter. Rather, it demonstrates the connection in the logic and thinking of the majority of the Justices in Roe v. Wade. In their reasoning and judgment (whether right or wrong) they determined that a woman's right to "privacy" and her decision to engage in contracepting intercourse extends then to her right to decide "whether or not to terminate a pregnancy" (abortion).

There IS a legal/cultural/secular connection between contraceptives and abortion. Like it or not the connection is there. The reasoning and laws that allow abortions to take place rest on the backs of the reasoning and laws that made contraceptives legal.

When it comes to the biology of the workings of ‘The Pill’ we can dismiss the topic – saying that there is no scientific research which we can point to as the smoking gun. But we, and Dr. Eyer, have a more daunting task yet if we wish to eradicate all connections between contraceptives and abortion... We have to deal with the connection named above - a connection that the pro-choice, pro-abortion crowd are well aware of and even celebrate.

"The issue here is a concern for the credibility of the pro-life witness."

To the pro-choice, pro-abortion crowd we, the pro-life contracepting Christians, look less than credible as we cry out against abortions on the one hand, while with the other we whole heartedly embrace - and swallow - the contraceptive age.

11.27.2005

My story

Somehow, for me the pill never seemed like an option. As far back as I am able to remember, contraception always seemed to contradict my notion of marriage's purpose.

It's possible that someone could write off my opinion as the product of parental indoctrination. I was homeschooled for most of my life, the oldest of seven children, and raised by parents who practiced NFP. But, at least until I was 16 or 17 and had already personally decided against contraception, I don't remember either of my parents even mentioning birth control. Somehow I came to the conclusion myself.

Perhaps it all boils down to the environment I was raised in. Whether my parents were intentional about it or not, they had created an atmosphere where children anywhere were welcomed with excitement. To me, all those young couples that were waiting to have kids seemed like they weren't quite married. In my teenage mind, why bother marrying if you didn't want to have kids?

Needless to say, the culture's voice on contraception and sexuality broke in eventually. Worse, it was aided by our church.

I remember our pastor cracking a joke during his sermon the Sunday following the birth of my first brother, the fifth child in our family. You know, the usual: "Bob and Mary welcomed another child this week. Thankfully, the doctor has filled them in on what they were doing wrong." Worse, this sort of thinking didn't bother anyone. It was perfectly in sync with the standard worldview of the fellow members of our church. While our family celebrated a new life, our congregation giggled and pointed at its weirdness.

My run-in with a poor theology of family didn't stop there. At church summer camp, rows and rows of attractive 20-something couples offered seminars on "avoiding sex until marriage--because that's when the sex is best!" All of these couples were childless, and planned to remain so for some time. I heard hours upon hours of teaching on sex, but not a word was mentioned about children, or even family.

To me, the disconnect was eerie. Sure, sex brought a man and woman together. But in my thinking, that togetherness served a greater purpose than just satiating the desires of the two of them. It made their relationship with one another stronger--and not just for themselves--for the sake of the family, the church, and the community. To put it bluntly, all those pretty couples seemed selfish.

In practice though, things are never so straight-forward as the ideal. Years later, facing my oncoming wedding day, I struggled with the magnitude of sex without contraceptives. I'd waited so long for this, I argued with myself, shouldn't I be allowed to just enjoy it without interruption?

The true crime of contraceptives has been their complete marring of our vision of sexuality. God created human life in His image. Truly it is the greatest gift we have received. Without life, all God's other gifts are meaningless. Where life is present, God's gifts strengthen it all the more. Instead of seeing sexuality as necessarily joined with life's creation, we have been trained to see it as optionally joined.

A common argument against NFP posits that if some contraceptives are improper because they allow sex without fertilization, than all methods of family planning must be improper--after all, even couples practicing NFP have sex on days when it would be impossible for a woman to conceive.

But contraceptives are not unhealthy only because they prevent fertilization. They are unhealthy because they modify the sexual act itself--essentially shattering the picture of life-giving communion that God has given us in sex. By design, contraceptives divorce sex from its intended connection to the human race as a whole.

A good friend of mine began practicing NFP with his wife after a year of using barrier-method contraceptives. After struggling with the arguments and deciding to make the change, he commented that while using a barrier, he always felt the message he was sending his wife was "I don't want all of this." The use of contraceptives had essentially divorced him from his wife--and divorced them both from sex's greater purpose.

My family celebrated the one-year birthday of our first daughter just one month ago. We've been practicing NFP since day one. It hasn't always been easy. Especially when faced with the seemingly care-free marriages of many of our peers, it can be easy to say "What the heck were we thinking? Were we thinking at all?" Practicing NFP has not always been easy. Sometimes, when looking at the alternatives, it can seem downright crazy.

But the thought of trying anything else seems like trading wine for Welch's, a cosmic mystery for a cheap paperback. For us, the question has become not so much what might we gain by using contraceptives--more time, money, sleep--but what might we lose? The alternatives pale in comparison.

11.23.2005

Your Stories... (Discussion pt. #2)

So how about all of you? I know by now that this blog has some gained at least some readership. What is your story as a married couple living in this contraceptive age? What wisdom were you, or have you been given during the period of your engagement. Or, as a single person, what are your thoughts, hopes, and convictions on the matter? What teachings and pastoral care concerning marriage, procreation, and contraception have you received from the Lord's Church?

I am looking forward to reading your stories. I expect that many experiences, burdens, surprises, and joys will be shared. It will be interesting if we see any common themes even in the midst of so many individual stories.

11.22.2005

Correction... Addition...

Caspar has helpfully pointed out that that the proposed order of discussion found in Beginnings is incomplete. So, a point #4 has been added to that post. He also points out that in many senses this discussion has the cart before the horse. Systematically, starting at the new point #4 would make more sense in that if #4 were demonstrated successfully then there would be no need for particular discussions on things such as 'The Pill' and NFP. In many regards he is correct.

Nevertheless, I am going to suggest that we maintain the current course of discussion. Why? Because I believe it follows the progression in thoughts/beliefs/and practice that many of us have been on. It is the story of the journey that many Christian marriages have embarked upon in recent years. However, do not be mistaken, this is not to suggest in good post-modern Oprah-esque terms that my journey is normative for me, your journey is normative for you, and never the twain shall meet. The results of such endeavors are usually, "Well I think..." "That's great for you, but I think..."

Rather, our individual experiences should lead us to ask questions about life together in community, as the Lord's body, under Christ Jesus who is the head of His Church. Ultimately, and primarily we are interested in what the Lord has to say about the topic, and what the Church, therefore, has been given to believe, teach, and confess.

11.21.2005

Some links

These are some links that I found while searching "the pill deaths, Puerto Rico."

They are not from sites that are opposed to the pill, or other birth control. In fact one of them is from a feminist webpage.

I post them because I find then to be ironic. They all discuss the high risk of illness and death for women if on the pill for extended periods of time, but none suggest that women do not use them.

They also discuss the controversial deaths of women used as test subjects for the pill in Puerto Rico, and how they have been prevented from happening again by lowering the doses of estrogen in the pill. What they do not mention is that by lowering the levels of estrogen to protect women, that is when the pill is less likely to have anovulatory effects, and breakthrough ovulation is more likely to occur.

11.19.2005

2 Competing Views On ECs

Emergency Contraceptives are all the rage. You hear reports about the ongoing FDA controversy on both nightly news and in news print. The question is whether to make these available over-the-counter or not. Let me just say that I find the term 'Emergency Contraceptive' to be a misnomer. Where's the emergency? Is someone bleeding or dieing? Is pregnancy an emergency? It's not an illness or disease. Or is it?


Of greater concern to me, however, is how within the LC-MS we have two competing views from two different authorities as to how ECs work and whether, therefore, they are to be avoided.

Where do these two views come from? They come from 'Lutherans For Life' and from the 'Concordia Bioethics Institute'.

If I were to go to 'Lutherans for Life' on the issue I would find that Dr. James Lamb writes the following in an LFL informational pamphlet entitled 'Emergency Contraception':

...It is true that EC - which is really a high dose of the "birth control" pill - does work by stopping ovulation, slowing sperm travel, and, if ovulation and fertilization have occurred, by preventing implantation of the embryo...

ergo

...We could talk about the side effects, the risks, and the dangers of young girls being able to obtain the use of these drugs. But only one word is necessary - LIFE... All life - regardless of circumstances or condition or stage along life's continuum - is a gift from God, a gift to be protected and nourished.

Going on this information I would conclude that the use of ECs among Christians would be immoral because of the potential to end a life that is already begun. I would also perk up to the statement that ECs are a "high does of the 'birth control' pill," and I would ask my self whether or not this tells me something about the nature of 'The Pill'.

But then again, maybe I didn't look to LFL for guidance on the issue. Maybe I looked to the Concordia Bioethics Institute. On their website I could find the following from their director:

[ECs are] basically a high does of the same hormones found in the Pill taken within 3 days after intercourse and again 12 hours later... Taking high levels of hormones can cause serious side effects which should be monitored by a doctor. Use of this drug may seem to legitimize sexual activity outside of marriage. Also, the morning-after pill does not protect from AIDS or other sexually-transmitted diseases. And there is the concern that unsupervised use of ECs could cause abortions. Package inserts say one way that EC works is by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting into the lining of the uterus—which would be an abortion; although, to my knowledge, there has been no scientific evidence to prove that point...

Do you see the stark difference between these two responses to ECs? Dr. Lamb and LFL don't even see the need to discuss the numerous possible side effects of ECs (medical and cultural side effects). And why not? Because the first thing that is blaringly obvious is that one way ECs (super doses of the chemicals found in 'The Pill') work is by causing loss of life - micro-abortions.

The director of the Concordia Bioethics Institute, on the other hand, - unwilling to attest any credence to the abortifacient concern as being anything other than a trumped up claim found on a packaging insert - can only talk about all of those secondary things that Dr. Lamb had no need to talk about.

Does the right hand know what the left hand is writing on this matter?

11.18.2005

LC-MS 'Notes for Life' and 'The Pill'


Tina, thank you for outlining for us How 'The Pill' Works.

And Erich, thank you for pointing us to Postfertilization Effects of Oral Contraceptives and Their Relationship to Informed Consent -- Larimore and Stanford
I would recommend that all who desire to take part in this conversation take the time to read this paper by Larimore and Stanford.

Like Tina, Larimore and Stanford outline the possible effects of oral contraceptives - including postfertilization effects. They write that "despite the evidence, which suggests that postfertilization effects for OCs are operational at least some of the time, and the fact that a postfertilization mechanism for OCs is described in the
Physicians' Desk Reference, in Drug Facts and Comparisons, and in most standard gynecologic, family practice, nursing, and public health textbooks, we anecdotally find that few physicians or patients are aware of this possibility..."

They conclude by saying, "The available evidence supports the hypothesis that when ovulation and fertilization occur in women taking OCs, postfertilization effects are operative on occasion to prevent clinically recognized pregnancy..."

These are the exact reasons that my wife and I, and many other couples, have chosen to either refrain from using 'The Pill' or have chosen to cease using the 'The Pill'. Knowing that there is even a credible possibility (demonstrated by Larimore and Stanford to be a strong likelihood) of a post-fertilization/abortifacient effect is enough to make the stand against 'The Pill'.

I recall finding all of this information out for the first time. I was upset. Why hadn't anybody told me before? What would Megan and I do? This was going to mess with our plan to not have kids for x years. I was somewhat tormented during this time not knowing what we would use. But I also became quite resolved that we would not use OCs - a decision that has gotten easier every day since as I have become more and more aware of their other harmful attributes.

Part of my resolve came from reading Luther's Large Catechism - in particular his goods on the fifth commandment. In fact, Rev. Matt Harrison, the Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care quotes the very section that brought me this resolve in the most current Notes for Life. Harrison writes:

In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote, "If you see anyone who is condemned to death or in similar peril and do not save him, although you have the means and ways to do so, you have killed him. It will be of no help for you to use the excuse that you did not assist their death by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from them and robbed them of the kindness

by means of which their lives might have been saved.

Harrison continues:

The task is daunting. In fact, it is impossible - without Christ. But we have been baptized. We have been forgiven and loved and empowered by Christ. We can make a tremendous difference - one life at a time.

How right he is! Granted, he is not talking here about OCs. Never the less, the truth still applies to our present conversation. Do we have a scientific study that irrefutably demonstrates that OCs have a postfertilization/abortifacient effect (an eyewitness account)? No. Do we have a great deal of credible evidence that suggests that it is the case (corroborating circumstantial evidence)? Yes! This then should be more than enough for us as the Lord's baptized people to step away from the 'gray area' of OCs where at best we live in uncertainty over whether we have harmed our neighbor - even mortally. Harrison got it right in his front page article in 'Notes for Life.'

Yet, later in the same newsletter things went so wrong. In the section entitled
Bioethics in the Parish: A Q&A with Dr. Kevin Voss, the following conversation is recorded:

Q. What kinds of reproductive issues might a pastor have to deal with in his ministry?

A. One that comes to mind is the use of contraceptives, specifically with married couples. Couples may question which ones have the potential to cause abortions and which do not. Some contraceptives fall into a gray area, like the pill, which is said to have the potential to cause abortions. One bit of evidence for this position is that the drug insert for the pill says one mode of action is to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, though there has been no scientific evidence of that to date...

This has been Dr. Voss' repeated stance and one that quite frankly bewilders me. I find his report of the situatation to be patently false for the following reasons:

1. As noted above, a great deal more literature than just the 'drug insert' suggests that a postfertilization/abortifacient action exists.

2. As noted above, while there is no scientific "eyewitness account" there is plenty of scientific evidence surrounding the issue that parishioners should be made aware of (Larimore and Stanford's concern for 'Informed Consent').

Furthermore, he never then does give pastoral guidance. Instead he comes off to me as dismissive. The closest he comes to addressing the topic with pastoral care is when he calls it a "gray area". Admittedly, at the end of his article, after many other Q&As he concludes with the following:

We always address issues through the Gospel, the cross of Christ. That is really the lens through which everything is focused...

Unfortunately, I have yet to see, hear, or read Dr. Voss do this on the this issues. I would welcome it if he did. And I would welcome anyone else, through the Cross of Christ, to convince me as to why I should hold a contrary view on 'The Pill' than I do.

Looking forward to your comments and critiques.
David

11.17.2005

How 'The Pill' Works

Tina writes:

I'll take a stab at number 1 - why the Pill presents a problem for us.

The Pill works in 3 possible ways. It's main effect is to prevent ovulation. But, breakthrough ovulation does occur (and as the level of hormones has decreased over time to reduce side effects, this breakthrough could possibly be higher). In this case, the 2nd mechanism - thickening the cervical mucous so that sperm cannot get through to fertilize the egg--would come into play. Both of these mechanisms are truly "contraceptive"--they prevent fertilization.

However, the 3rd mechanism is problematic in that it thins the lining of the uterus, making it inhospitable to a newly fertilized egg (a baby), so that it cannot implant. This would cause the abortion of a week old baby.

The dilemna occurs because no one knows how often this 3rd mechanism actually happens. We know that all 3 mechanisms fail and women do sometimes get pregnant while on the Pill, and go on to deliver healthy babies. But there have been no studies to show how often fertilizations occur and fail--nor is there any incentive for the makers of the Pill to conduct these studies.

I've heard this 3rd mechanism described as a "marketing ploy" to increase the user's confidence in the product. But this is described in the very technical patient insert that is impossible to read or understand without an MD--NOT in the slick pamphlets handed out at the doctor's office.

I'm not sure why pro-lifers are so reluctant to take the Pill makers at their word when they say how the product works. Perhaps our ease and convenience are more important? And if it is explained away in this manner, the consience can be soothed.

Obviously, for we who believe life begins at conception, this 3rd mechanism is a problem. Ob-gyn's will not consider this to be an abortion, however. The medical community defines pregnancy as beginning at *implantation*, not fertilization. If the baby doesn't implant, the woman is not pregnant, so she cannot abort.

For me, because the risk is unknown, I chose to not take the risk with the life of one of my children. It seems others hold the opinion that because the risk is unsubstantiated, we can continue using the Pill in good conscience, until it is proven otherwise. I hold that we should NOT use it until it is proven that it does not pose a threat to a tiny baby.

I believe that if we are to be wrong in this matter, I would rather be wrong on the side of life.

Respectfully submitted,
Tina

TIME to talk about THE PILL

Thus begins our conversation concerning 'The Pill'
Part 1. as outlined

11.15.2005

Beginnings...

On November 13th I commented on Devonas post 'Introductions'. In that comment I suggested that we might frame an orderly discussion over the next days, weeks, months based on the following:

1. State clearly what our concern (those of us who hold it) over The Pill is and show how Confessional Lutheranism would lead us in the midst of that concern.

2. Demonstrate somewhat anecdotally where the journey away from The Pill has led some couples. (This may be a move to NFP for some couples, or to other contraceptives for others.)

3. Make a two-part (or more) case for NFP:
aaaa. What distinguishes NFP from contraceptives? (This will then in part disarm the objection in b..)
bbbb. Put forth a case on how to respond to those who level the objection that NFP is no different than contracepting because the married couple is still exercising their will over God' (There are certainly different variations on this objection, sometimes put in question form).
cccc. (which I am only now adding) Make a case based upon 3a. and 3b. why NFP is to be preferred. (This will sound presumptuous at the present to some, but my hope and prayer is that the discussion leading up to it will validate c..)

4. Make a case (contra 3.) that NFP is just one more contraceptive. Though different in many ways from other contraceptives, it is just one more way of preventing the fruits of marriage that the Lord has commanded/blessed marriage with.

This then constitutes the order of conversation that I am proposing. Does anyone have any additions, subtractions, objections?

Along the way, of course, the path may wander. Other tid-bits may be thrown in. We will find ourselves having discussions over the Word of God, Natural Law, Church History, modern culture, The Roman Church, etc.

I am excited about what is to come. I welcome all discussion on the matter whether for or against what is written. Contention will lead to clarification, and can and will happen in an atmosphere that need not be uncharitably contentious.

This blog is described as an 'open blog'. If you have a particular heart for this matter I would be glad to add you to the blog in such a way that you can author original posts. At the same time, we all recognize that an open blog can only be so open in this regard. Therefore, many others of you will choose to make your contributions to the discussion through comments. A third option would be to e-mail me a post and I would be glad to put it up in your name.

Looking forward to your thoughts and comments.

In Our Lord,
David