Natural Law


#1

I have a question concerning natural law. Many of the church’s most controversial teachings, especially those concerning sexual morality, hinge on the idea of natural law. In some cases the logic is easy enough to follow. Regarding the teachings on abortion, for instance, once the personhood of the unborn is accepted, a right to life is a natural consequence. The prohibitions against murder is a universally accepted moral principle (the trick is usually getting “personhood” established, whether the issue is murder or tribal warfare or other violent act).

Other concepts, though, such as the idea that the sexual act must be unitive and procreative, are harder to swallow based on reason alone. Yet if this is derived from natural law, why should this be so? Natural law, as I understand it, is not like the Trinity or Eucharist, something that must be accepted on faith alone. In discussions of issues such as contraception, though, I always see natural law cited. Also troubling is that natural law has in the past been cited in defense of what now seems indefensible, such as in denying women or racial minorities equal treatment, for instance.

I’m not currently married, or even in a serious relationship at this point, but it’d be nice to have these sorts of questions resolved by the time I get to that point. Certainly the argument that NFP is healthier is very appealing, but I’m not sure that quite makes it a moral argument. After all, organic beef is much healthier than the hormone and anti-biotic laden mainstream beef, but I don’t see anyone arguing that eating hormone-injected beef is immoral, just unhealthy.

The validity of natural law has wider implications beyond contraception, of course. If homosexuality is not chosen, for instance (and the verdict still sees to be out on this), then the argument against it relies entirely on natural law. I also fail to see how issues such as contraception and homosexuality are even on the same moral plane as abortion and other acts that target human life.

Anyway, thoughts on this would be much appreciated. It’s not so much that I’m opposed to church teaching in this area so much as that I can’t truthfully say I completely accept them as long as these objections remain.

Thanks.


#2

You might try posing this question to the Apologetics Forum for a more thorough answer and discussion. You might also want to go to Ask an Apologist.


#3

I’ll give it a go (just realize this is my understanding…I am not posing this as offical Catholic teaching but merely the way I see it):

Contraception: The reason for the Church’s teaching that it is a seroius sin is because the reason a person would feel the need to use contraception indicates a serious defect in the faith of that person. That may sound harsh but consider these four things:

  1. God is a benevolent God who wills only what is ultimately good for us.

  2. God is the creator of life. We cannot create a life without His active participation.

  3. God is perfect. He cannot make a mistake.

  4. God is wisdom in perfection. He knows what is good for us better than we do.

Okay. Now think of every reason you can come up with why people would want to use contraception. I believe that in every example you will find a rejection of one or more of these fundamental principles of faith.

It is all about faith. The marital act of love is really where the faith of the couple is displayed for what it is. When it comes right down to it, do we really trust God? Are we really able to let go of control and rely on the God we profess belief in?

Unfortunately for many the answer is no. Faith is a gift from God. We all need to pray for faith.


#4

First thing I want to mention is that NFP should not be thought of as contraception. NFP should only be used when there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. Defining serious reason is much more difficult, but it is not to be used for selfish reasons, so try to avoid thinking of NFP as birth control. NFP is knowing our fertile time and then not having sex during that time instead of misusing sex as contraceptive couples do.

Second thing for you to consider. Contraceptive sex is sex for the pleasure only and trying to exclude the possibility of pregnancy. Homosexual sex is generally the same thing. Homosexual sex is wrong because it is not possible to create human life through the homosexual acts and therefore the act is just for pleasure. It seems like a vast difference between heterosexual sex and homosexual sex, but really it isn’t when contraception is used. Let that sink in. I know it is contrary to the message we get from society, but it is my understanding that contraceptive sex is every bit as sinful as homosexual sex, however it is more understandable to us heterosexual why someone would use contraception. When you think about it though, all the reasons for using contraception are usually quite selfish and have nothing to do with God.

You understand why abortion is wrong. So, you can probably understand why using The Pill is wrong too since it can cause a fertilized egg to be expelled from the body because it can’t implant in the womb because of the hormonal effects of The Pill (abortifacient). So, that takes care of one big reason not to use the Pill, but as for other barriers. It has to do with the purpose of sex and respecting God’s will. Ask yourself if you think you alone choose to create a baby (with partner) or if the baby is a gift from God. A baby is a gift from God with a God given soul. So, how do you know that God doesn’t want to give you the gift of a baby when you are having contraceptive sex? If you don’t use contraception, then you will conceive when God wants the act to be fruitful. Non-contraceptive sex is the only way to know that you are accepting the beautiful, precious gift of a child when God wants you to have one.

Pregnancy is the natural result from heterosexual sex, so to do anything to make heterosexual sex an act that hinders the natural consequence of sex is to pervert the sexual act into something done just for pleasure and slams the door in God’s face. It sort of says “Thank you, God for this pleasure, but we don’t want your fruitful gift, so you keep it, until we feel like we want it.” Why do people think that God designed us wrong and caused us to have babies from having sex? If God doesn’t want you to have a baby, you won’t. If God does want you to have a baby, then using contraceptives is against HIs will, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you be infertile naturally, if God didn’t want you to procreate.

Well, that is how I see it. Scott Hahn has some tapes on this and you might check out the couple to couple league, if you haven’t already. www.ccli.org I think.

I know it would be quite difficult to be single and not use contraceptives, but if a person is trying to live according to God’s will, then no sex before marriage. If you get to marriage, but don’t want to have children right away, then you have to evaluate your reasons. It is just so you have time to be a self-centered couple. Is it for material gain, such as being able to afford a bigger house or work up the career ladder? All these things are common and acceptable in our society, but just remember that God never commanded us to have college degrees or two car garages, but he did say be fruitful and multiply and there are tons of verses in the Bible that indicate children are a reward to us and not an accident to be avoided. Does this help at all? I wasn’t raised CAtholic and I struggled with this issue myself, but once I realized that babies are a gift from God and not just a decision my husband and I would make, then that helped. The other thing that helped is to realize that there is a “design” to sex. Yes, it is pleasure, but it is also designed to be reproductive. Who designed us this way? God, and so, who are we to act as if he made a mistake and try to prevent the consequence of sex which he designed. Would we ever think of using a pill or some barrier that prevent us from feeling any pleasure while we had sex? Of course not! That would be unnatural wouldn’t it? Same for the procreative part of it. It is unnatural to prevent it.


#5

[quote=Chris W]Okay. Now think of every reason you can come up with why people would want to use contraception. I believe that in every example you will find a rejection of one or more of these fundamental principles of faith.
[/quote]

Your line of reasoning also reaches the conclusion that using NFP is a rejection of faith. However, the magisterium teaches that the use of NFP is moral provided there are just reasons for postponing children. Thus it seems to me that your reasoning cannot be correct.


#6

Barrier contraception is wrong because it removes the “total self giving” from the equation. How can you and your spouse become one flesh if there is a barrier between you? One should never hold anything back. This is one reason premarital sex is wrong. You’re holding back the commitment to marriage, you’re not giving all of yourself. The act becomes selfish when it should be selfless.

With NFP you always are still open to the possibility of life. We’re not expected to irresponsibly just keep churning out babies. Likewise, we don’t expect people to just throw their money around and say, “God will provide.”

People tend to think of NFP as having sex during infertile periods. While this is true, I think the better way to look at it is abstaining during fertile ones. Instead of imagining your baseline at total abstinace and then only engaging in sex during infertile periods, imagine your baseline as having sex all the time and then choosing to abstain periodically. If you do this, NFP is a sacrafice, it does not provide a bonus pleasure.

Another way to look at it is this: God does not expect us to have sex during every fertile period. Likewise, he doesn’t prohibit us from having sex during infertile periods. We need to stay open to life, however, all the time.

As for “natural law,” that basic refers to what God intends. We use natural law because in secular society people will not even look twice at an argument involving God.


#7

I do not think that Natural Law is as complicated as many of us make it out to be. In the case of contraception which is regarded as one of the more complicated applications of the Natural Law for example–If its true that God made man and woman to be permanently joined together and if He gave us our sexuality as a gift for the dual purposes of unity of the spouses and child bearing, then it very easily follows that anything that violates any aspect of these principles is a violation of the Natural Law.

We are the ones making it complicated, we seek out any and every variation that may circumvent these laws of nature. It only seems complicated because we are now so far removed from these fundamental principles.


#8

[quote=Catholic2003]Your line of reasoning also reaches the conclusion that using NFP is a rejection of faith. However, the magisterium teaches that the use of NFP is moral provided there are just reasons for postponing children. Thus it seems to me that your reasoning cannot be correct.
[/quote]

I see your point. However, as Whatif pointed out, NFP should not be thought of as contraception. There are reasons the Church approves of for the use of NFP but in the big picture, NFP does not take God out of the equation. Hence, the use of MFP would not be an indicator of a deficiency of faith, in my opinion.

A couple also has the right to abstain from sex. We are not obligated to have marital relations, other than the obligation to meet the needs of our spouse and to live a loving life of unity.

Does that make more sense in light of my previous post?


#9

Natural law, as applied to human beings, includes not just biological nature but our full nature as human beings with a rational soul and free will. To be “natural” in the human sense is to have all of these elements of our humanity engaged in our actions. Although an embryo or an infant does not have the ability to exercise reason and will, an adult must exercise them in choices related to life in God – which includes our procreative faculties.

Hope that helps.


#10

[quote=Chris W]Does that make more sense in light of my previous post?
[/quote]

Not really. Let me try again.

Two hypothetical couples, couple A and couple B. Both of the couples have two children, and both of their households are strained (in terms of house size and overall economic resources) to the point where neither couple thinks that they could properly raise a third child at this point in time, or for the next few years.

Couple A practices NFP to implement their plan of postponing a third pregnancy. However, couple B practices artificial birth control having the same effectiveness rate as NFP. Both couples are “open to life” in the sense that should a pregnancy occur anyway despite their efforts, the couples will welcome a third child into their families.

I don’t see how couple A and couple B score any differently on your list of four fundamental principles of faith in God.


#11

NFP is abstaining during fertile periods. It means respecting God’s design and making a sacrifice.

Contraception is turning your back on God’s design and doing it your own way. Instead of making a sacrifice, you selfishly do what ever your bodily appetites desire. Plus, the pill can cause a baby to not attach to the uterus wall after conception. This is abortion.


#12

[quote=Catholic2003]Not really. Let me try again.

Two hypothetical couples, couple A and couple B. Both of the couples have two children, and both of their households are strained (in terms of house size and overall economic resources) to the point where neither couple thinks that they could properly raise a third child at this point in time, or for the next few years.

Couple A practices NFP to implement their plan of postponing a third pregnancy. However, couple B practices artificial birth control having the same effectiveness rate as NFP. Both couples are “open to life” in the sense that should a pregnancy occur anyway despite their efforts, the couples will welcome a third child into their families.

I don’t see how couple A and couple B score any differently on your list of four fundamental principles of faith in God.
[/quote]

Couple is placing an active intervention between themselves and their fertility. They are contravening the natural fertility cycle. They are thus thwarting and blocking each marital act and rendering the act intentionally infertile. The distinction is sometimes difficult to grasp at first, but once the lightbulb goes on, you’ll shout, “Eureka!”


#13

[quote=mercygate]Couple is placing an active intervention between themselves and their fertility. They are contravening the natural fertility cycle. They are thus thwarting and blocking each marital act and rendering the act intentionally infertile. The distinction is sometimes difficult to grasp at first, but once the lightbulb goes on, you’ll shout, “Eureka!”
[/quote]

I agree with you. My problem is that I don’t understand how this relates to Chris W’s principles of faith. Which leads me to believe that those principles of faith don’t really target the reason why contraception is wrong.

The wording of those principles of faith make it sound as though any couple who make plans for the desired future growth of their family are committing a sin. Whereas I believe that such plans are not sinful; the sinfulness of contraception lies in the means, not necessarily in the end.


#14

[quote=Catholic2003]I agree with you. My problem is that I don’t understand how this relates to Chris W’s principles of faith. Which leads me to believe that those principles of faith don’t really target the reason why contraception is wrong.

The wording of those principles of faith make it sound as though any couple who make plans for the desired future growth of their family are committing a sin. Whereas I believe that such plans are not sinful; the sinfulness of contraception lies in the means, not necessarily in the end.
[/quote]

What was I thinking? Sorry for cluttering the thread with stuff you already know. Chris W will have to answer that for himself.

As for your statement which I bolded here, you should also add that the motiveis sinful – either with ABC or NFP – if it is purely for selfish reasons that we limit our family size. *Humanae Vitae, *with great wisdom, specifies that limiting family size must be “for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts.”


#15

[quote=Catholic2003]I agree with you. My problem is that I don’t understand how this relates to Chris W’s principles of faith. Which leads me to believe that those principles of faith don’t really target the reason why contraception is wrong.

The wording of those principles of faith make it sound as though any couple who make plans for the desired future growth of their family are committing a sin. Whereas I believe that such plans are not sinful; the sinfulness of contraception lies in the means, not necessarily in the end.
[/quote]

You continue to make good points Catholic 2003. I am not sure we actually disagree. I agree with you that such plans are not sinful; the sinfulness lies in the means.

You see, when God is not removed from the equation I think we are still open to God’s plan, and we trust in His judgement. But there is a distinction, even if the motives (i.e. wanting to postpone pregnancy) are the same, between attempting to achieve those goals while allowing for God’s involvement, and attempting to acheive those goals while preventing God’s involvement.

Couple A intends to postpone the pregnancy in a natural way, although perhaps every bit as effective a contraception, the act, and the consequences of the act follow a natural process as designed by God. Couple B needs to be sure they are in control and so they intend to prevent the natural process God designed from taking its course thus removing God’s will for them from the equation.

Couple B may be open to life, should their efforts fail, but I cannot see how they can say they are open to God’s will for them, when they are trying to prevent the God designed natural process from taking place.

I don’t know if I am making more sense, or making the issue more confusing. But I am open to exploring what you are suggesting here, so bear with me, k?

Peace,
Chris


#16

It just dawned on me perhaps why Catholic 2003 is objecting to my initial post, so let me clarify and perhaps revise my position:

I do not see the reasons for feeling the need for artificial contraception as being the same reasons for using NFP. Postponing a child for example, is a reason for trying not to get pregnant, but it is not a reason for needing to use artifical contraception. The need to use artificial contraception would be because one cannot accept the possibility that God might give them a child now, so they will do everything in their power (except abstain) to prevent the natural process from occurring. The intent is to remove God’s involvement so as to accomplish the goal.

Those who would use NFP for the same goal of postponing a child do not have reason to use contraception because while they have ideals, they remain open to God’s will for them.

A person with whom I discussed this recently, and who uses artificial contraception agrees with the description in my initial post, and although in tears, this person admits that when it comes right down to it, he is not able to risk the chance that God may give them a child. He is afraid to accept God’s will even though he knows God will only do what is ultimately best for them. It is a control issue. It is the person choosing their will over God’s will. Faith is a gift.

As with the last post, I am not sure this clarifies my position any better, but hey, I’m trying.


#17

[quote=Chris W]As with the last post, I am not sure this clarifies my position any better, but hey, I’m trying.
[/quote]

Thank you very much for the effort you are making to help me understand. I think I’m beginning to see, and I have one more very specific question: Which of your four principles (from post #3) is couple B violating?

I try to understand general statements by applying them to specific situations to see if they guide me to the answer; this is what I am trying to do here. So to complicate matters, consider couple C, who use NFP to chart the cycle of the female, but who practice non-procreative (and thus sinful) sexual practices during the fertile period. To me, couples B and C are committing the same sin, that of abusing their sexual facilities to obtain pleasure in ways contrary to natural law. It is the means that is sinful here for both couples, not necessarily the end.

Now consider couples 1 and 2, each of whom have a small child with the flu. Couple 1 prays for God to heal their child, while couple 2 goes to the doctor for treatment. Why is what couple 2 is doing not a sin, but what couple B is doing is a sin, when both seem to be trying to invervene with God’s will? Looking at the four fundamental principles of faith, the only one that appears to apply differently to couple 2 (versus couple B) is principle #2 “God is the creator of life.” Since God is not the creator of death, couple 2 isn’t going against God’s will as couple B is.

However, from your explanation, I think that couple B is instead violating principle #1, “God wills only what is good for us.” But wouldn’t that also apply to couple 2?

I’m now thinking that it is important to take the definition of sin as “doing your own will instead of God’s”. Thus any sin is in itself a violation of principle #1. And next we need to understand that the Church has defined the use of contraception as a sin, while the Church approves of the use of medicine.

Anyway, thanks again for your efforts in explaining your thinking to me.


#18

The idea about the natural law is that it needs to be discovered, not invented. It is created but by God, not by men. In a way, it may be termed as the law of right reason, because it is reasonable and logical as it is the order in which God intended the world. It does apply to changing situations and it does cover all what we invent and create as humans, therefore it isn’t out of touch with the reality. But it’s still God’s sorting things out the proper way and not something we can change.

The idea behind unhealthy things being immoral is that harming yourself isn’t morally right. It also falls under the Fifth. If you teach others that harming yourself is OK for them or if you convince them to do what is harmful to them, it also falls under the Fifth - and this time it’s more easily seen. Convincing your wife to use the pill would violate the Fifth by putting her to all the risks and some inevitable bad consequences. Saying it’s OK makes people believe it and either do as you say or repeat it. So we have pretty much all of it covered. Note: so yes, artificial contraception falls under the Fifth because of harming the woman, not because of abstract unconceived children being killed. However, preventing life from being conceived in a drastic way, like the use of a condom, could be construed as going against the Fifth.

Plus, condoms are ugly constricting stuff. All women deep in heart hate the rubber and all men would gladly get rid of it if shown the better way. Barriers are a problem. People will feel the act isn’t full and will have a problem with it. They will also feel bad about the act not being procreative. Especially women will feel like less of a woman, although I’m pretty sure guys would feel more male for a fully consensual act with no barriers and no artificial things attached. Men are intense on consent. They want willing and contributing partners. Essentially, consent. Where do you have better consent than in a valid permanent exclusive marriage? (And the Sacrament seals it and enhances it). That’s about it with men being polygamous or promiscuous by nature. Women want affection. Ever noticed how they keep calling it “making love” and insist on it sometimes even up to the point of withholding sex from non-marital lovers for calling it something else than that? That’s because they feel bad without their illusion that this is love. They feel bad and they feel low (that’s because lust makes people feel low, because, in a way, its purpose is to make the other man low). They so want to be loved. And where is love better expressed than in a permanent, exclusive, indissoluble marriage? Let alone if it’s blessed by the Lord…

Looks like we have everything covered in one go.


#19

[quote=Catholic2003]Thank you very much for the effort you are making to help me understand. I think I’m beginning to see, and I have one more very specific question: Which of your four principles (from post #3) is couple B violating?

I try to understand general statements by applying them to specific situations to see if they guide me to the answer; this is what I am trying to do here. So to complicate matters, consider couple C, who use NFP to chart the cycle of the female, but who practice non-procreative (and thus sinful) sexual practices during the fertile period. To me, couples B and C are committing the same sin, that of abusing their sexual facilities to obtain pleasure in ways contrary to natural law. It is the means that is sinful here for both couples, not necessarily the end.

Now consider couples 1 and 2, each of whom have a small child with the flu. Couple 1 prays for God to heal their child, while couple 2 goes to the doctor for treatment. Why is what couple 2 is doing not a sin, but what couple B is doing is a sin, when both seem to be trying to invervene with God’s will? Looking at the four fundamental principles of faith, the only one that appears to apply differently to couple 2 (versus couple B) is principle #2 “God is the creator of life.” Since God is not the creator of death, couple 2 isn’t going against God’s will as couple B is.

However, from your explanation, I think that couple B is instead violating principle #1, “God wills only what is good for us.” But wouldn’t that also apply to couple 2?

I’m now thinking that it is important to take the definition of sin as “doing your own will instead of God’s”. Thus any sin is in itself a violation of principle #1. And next we need to understand that the Church has defined the use of contraception as a sin, while the Church approves of the use of medicine.

Anyway, thanks again for your efforts in explaining your thinking to me.
[/quote]

I wanted to post the principles, so we can see what you were explaining.

Contraception: The reason for the Church’s teaching that it is a seroius sin is because the reason a person would feel the need to use contraception indicates a serious defect in the faith of that person. That may sound harsh but consider these four things:

  1. God is a benevolent God who wills only what is ultimately good for us.

  2. God is the creator of life. We cannot create a life without His active participation.

  3. God is perfect. He cannot make a mistake.

  4. God is wisdom in perfection. He knows what is good for us better than we do.

Now, couple B and C would be committing the same sin. As far as using medicine - I have thought of this, too. I think a big part of this is being on the side of life. It is ok, to hope that medicine will cure us. IF God wants us to die, he will take us. However, the flip side of saying if God wants us to have a baby, he will make us is different because in that case, we are taking the side of death (no life). It is not wrong to enjoy the life that God gave us and therefore seek medicine as long as the medical treatments do not take away another’s life. Do you see the difference? Do we know God’s Will on every medical decision? No, we don’t. However, we do know God’s will when it comes to fertility. If we are preventing the natural result of sex during fertilie times, then we are obviously preventing God’s will because we wouldn’t be fertile in the first place if God didn’t will it. I think it boils down to viewing conception as strictly biological or is it a gift from God. If we are just talking about biological treatments, then what is the difference in contraception or other medical treatmenst such as antibiotics, but we are not just talking about biology. We are talking about a new life with a soul being formed in a woman’s womb - a gift from God. It is more than medicine. Do you see a difference?
We try hard to justify contraception because it is difficult to fit into society without using it, but it is such an obvious act against God’s will because we will only get pregnant, if God gives us the gift of conception. Doesn’t that baby have a soul right from the start? Can anyone create a soul, but God? That is why I think it is so different than other medical treatments. Getting treatment to prolong our life is saying that we do not want to end the life that God gave us, but contraception says the opposite, doesn’t it?


#20

WhatIf,

You’re going too quickly for me to follow. Okay, couple B and C are committing the same sin. So which of the four principles is couple C violating? You seem to be jumping in and explaning how they are violating the principles, but I am still unsure as to which principle or principles couple C is violating.


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