Natural Law on the Purposes of Sex

I've just come from the Cranach Institute's Love & Marriage conference. Some of our other bloggers were there as well and I'll look forward to hearing their summaries and reactions to the presentations as they relate to contraception. Christopher West had a lot to say about it and I think everyone who saw him would recommend his resources: www.christopherwest.com

Part of West's analysis against contaception concerns natural law reasoning - something much misunderstood among modern Lutherans. NL does not mean: "You have to let nature take its course." NL is not against vaccines, etc. Rather NL simply means that the moral law is written on our hearts and available to all human beings by nature. NL ethicists insist that contraception is immoral. The following explores this reasoning.

Here's a little something that I've been meaning to add to my "Should Christian Couples Use Contraception" paper - it needs a section more specifically about natural law.

All agree that sex has several purposes - usually listed as two or three. I'll give three here to cover all my bases: procreation, companionship, pleasure. These are God-given purposes. Now imagine - just taking the last two listed - any sexual act which is specifically designed to avoid and contradict one of those purposes. Could such acts ever in themselves be godly? If I seek to take pleasure out of sex by a medical procedure to my nervous system, or by seeking to inflict pain on my wife - is that ever godly? If I seek to have sex not for deep intimacy, but rather specifically seek to exclude intimacy from the act (by rape or an orgie or a random pick up) can that ever be godly?

I would say, along with NL ethicists, that specifically seeking to actively frustrate any purpose of sex is ungodly.

Now, in a fallen world there are hard cases. What of women diagnosed with 'frigidity' - a medical condition that means they basically can't enjoy sex? Can her husband lawfully seek sexual intercourse with her or should he abstain? That's a hard case. So first settle the easy cases because hard cases make bad law.

So likewise with procreation. To actively seek to frustrate this divine purpose of sex is intrinsically immoral - so goes the reasoning of NL ethicists. But there are hard cases: serious genetic defects, women for whom another pregnancy may be life threatening to her or the child, etc. But again my plea is to first settle the easy case and then apply the thinking you learn there to the hard cases.

So what you think ye? Any argument that purposely frustrating any of the divinely given purposes of sex is intrinsically immoral?



William Weedon said...

You are obviously running with Chemnitz and the whole main stream of Christian tradition.

The concern about the "hard cases," though, should not be neglected. I know because I lived through it. We personallly wanted MANY children, but we had a very dangerous and odd pregnancy with our youngest - too many times the dr. and midwife said things like: "We've never seen anything like this before." It led to a "hard decision." I'm sure we're not alone in this.

I still question: was our faith too weak? Should we have risked another? We have good friends from our former parish where the wife said: "Nonsense" when the dr. warned her against more, and she had several more children and she is fine.

We, however, chose not to risk it. But it was a hard choice. We had always hoped for a house full.

Pastor H.R. Curtis said...

I'm sure your story resonates with many - and isn't it all the more a pity that we Lutherans didn't have a strong ethical tradition and ethicists to help you through? I hope we can regain that.

Thanks for sharing your story. . .


Caspar said...

Pr. Curtis, I agree 100% with your post. Well said!

To actively seek to frustrate any divine purpose of sex is intrinsically immoral. I also agree that there are hard cases, and that hard cases make bad law.

I would go on to say, however, that in those hard cases, Roman Catholicism has not been exempt from making bad law. NFP "actively seeks to frustrate the divine purpose of sex" by scheduling intercourse "exclusively" outside the fertile period, thus frustrating ("excluding") the procreative purpose ...as well as the purpose of pleasure, since the most pleasurable time is the fertile period. It also frustrates a purpose of intercourse you didn't mention above: that of a curb to sexual sin. In this way it is also a direct violation of 1 Corinthians 7:5. And, as for "actively seeking to frustrate procreation," it requires the most active participation on the part of those who employ this method of family planning compared to all other methods.

Again, this is only a minor difference between our positions, since we both see that these "hard cases" are rare ethical dilemmas requiring casuistry. Even abandoning for the moment the theory of conflicting absolutes as insufficient, I do not see a sinless way out of these dilemmas since we are sinful human beings in which everything we do is tainted with sin. We are in need of God's grace 24/7/365. Were it not for sin, there would be no hard cases, and even if there were still hard cases, we would have no need of a curb against sin.

I see all family planning as sinful and requiring repentance. Nevertheless, I do not wish to add any burden to those hard cases when there is no sinless way out. In these cases, I return to the theory of conflicting absolutes, as imperfect as it is, and suggest the "lesser evil" (though it is not a "lesser sin"). I think in many instances, NFP is not the lesser evil (i.e. the one with fewer and more manageable ramifications).

I also do not consider NFP innocent of violating natural law, as it is against nature to avoid the fertile period. I do not buy the idea that NFP is more open to life than other methods of family planning. One has to be more open to life (or else more ignorant) to choose condoms!

Pastor H.R. Curtis said...


I'm wishing to set aside the NFP debate for the moment and see if we can't get agreement to the basic premise of "deliberately frustrating a God-given purpose of sex is intrinsically immoral."

Roman NL ethicists confess that point, but they say NFP does not violate it. I realize that you disagree - and for a good long time this was debated in Rome and some ultra-right Romanists still hold out against it. So its a real argument worth having.

But for now - can we all agree that deliberately frustrating one of the God-given purposes of sex is intrinsically immoral?


Caspar said...

We are in agreement.

Devona said...

This is a good conversation.

I go have a baby and come back to this! Good job guys.

Pastor Beisel said...

Caspar has some good points on NFP I think. No matter which way you go, if you are trying to prevent pregnancy you are saying "NO" to God. Even with NFP we are trying to "outwit" God. We act like we know what is best for us. How dare God keep putting babies in our wives! What do you think you're doing, God? If you take what Caspar says seriously, the only "natural" thing about NFP is that it uses no artificial methods.

Caspar said...

Thank you, Pr. Beisel.

You put it well.

How about this dialogue:

God: "Be fruitful and multiply."

Satan: "Well, maybe right now isn't the best time... will God really be able to care and provide for you and this child at this point in time? Aren't there other things you should spend your efforts and money on first?"

D. Perkowski said...

The real question is if NL can be viewed from a fixed perspective. This does not call NL's validity into question, it asks if human beings can be relied upon to divine God's plan solely from one time-honored perspective. In doing so, do we not deny the grandeur of God's continuously unfolding reality?

We are after all, a part of God's plan and as such are not our scientific and biological discoveries and advances to be considered part of the fruit of God's creation?

Caspar said...

Yes, but are they all good?