Theology, Faith, and Contra-contraception


#1

I am a non-Catholic (non-Christian for that matter) who recently married a Catholic. I attended with my then-fiancée the natural family planning course, and was curious about the Biblical justification for the Catholic ban on contraception. Reading some of the verses cited at ScriptureCatholic.com I encountered the same justification: contraception is an act of negating God’s will. In other words, when God wills us to have children, we will have them; when God doesn’t, we won’t. We should see fit to trust God in this matter and not take the issue into our own hands, so to speak.

At the family planning session, it was also pointed out that contraception is an act of what we might call negative-faith. True faith in God precludes contraception, because it’s saying to God, “I don’t have faith that you’ll do what’s best for us.”

I may be oversimplifying the argument, but that’s what I took away from it.

When I heard this, I immediately thought, “If that is a lack of faith and a rejection of God’s will to use contraception, why do Catholics make use of medical services?” When sick, Catholics pray; Catholics ask for healing and intercession; Catholics say, “Thy will be done” — and then go to the doctor. If it’s God’s will you will be healed, you will be healed. If it is not God’s will, then you should humbly accept it as such. Further, going to the doctor is a clear lack of faith in God’s power.

Now, I’m not really advocating this — I’m playing devil’s advocate, so to speak. But I assure you all, such nonsensical arguments against the medical profession have been made. I grew up in a Protestant sect where they were made, and I know of people who died because of rejecting medical treatment (i.e., for appendicitis) because it was a lack of faith and a rejection of God’s will.

So my question is this: how can these two positions be justified? If it’s a lack of faith in God’s plans for your life to use contraception, it’s just as much a lack of faith in God’s plans in your life to make use of medical services (including medicine). If we should accept God’s will regarding the number of children in our family, shouldn’t we accept his will regarding the health of our bodies? After all, the Bible clearly states that our bodies are temples of God — our bodies are God’s possession, not ours.


#2

Dear GaryScott,

In the last couple months since I got on these boards and ranted against the Church’s position on NFP v ABC, I have heard a lot of arguments on the topic of ABC (Artificial Birth Control) but not yours.

While I have read several documents and articles on the topic and exchanged hundreds of posts on this topic, I have come to the conclusion that for me, at this point, it boils down to an acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church because the logic so far has escaped me. I think I can repeat what I’ve heard, but it doesn’t make sense; I have quit ranting because I finally decided that issues of faith and morals, by definition, cannot be proven or disproven and so to even have a discussion one must allow there to be a de-facto standard, which I have conceded may as well be the Church. This is apparently not the Church’s view on why she is “infallible” on faith and morals, but I am speaking to you on a level I think might make sense to you and do not claim to speak for the Church.

That said, I think the place to start in addressing your concern is the premise that the “unitive” and “procreative” functions of the marital act must never be separated. Therefore, periodic abstinance, such as NFP (don’t call it “rhythm method” around an NFP advocate or you’ll know why I’m warning you) used for avoiding pregnancy can either be OK or not OK, depending on your reasons, but ABC is intrinsically evil because it seeks to separate the unitive from procreative. In your medical analogy, you are seeking to “improve” or “fix” something that is wrong and therefore using technology for a healing purpose. Using ABC you are seeking to thwart normal functioning of the body during the sex act.

I hope that gives you a place to start, though I suspect it will raise more questions than it answers!

The document most often quoted in matters like this is Humanae Vitae, available here at the Vatican web site.

Alan


#3

Gary,
I am in the same boat as you as pertaining to prevetion of Gods will. To be honest if its Gods will how could we possible prevent it. I think a condom or pill will stop him. Plus in reality both NFP and other contraceptives are infact Artificial in nature. They both are provided by His creation and they are both manupulated to do a certain task.
That being said, I do believe that birth control in any form can and is sinfull in certain situations.
In the end for me it falls to obedience, I must be obediant to the Church. I may not like it, but neither does a child who"s “because I said so”. Only those who are as Children may enter with the Father.


#4

Alan,

You wrote,

[quote=AlanFromWichita] In your medical analogy, you are seeking to “improve” or “fix” something that is wrong and therefore using technology for a healing purpose. Using ABC you are seeking to thwart normal functioning of the body during the sex act.
[/quote]

When the body starts multiplying cells like crazy because of cancer, it is only functioning normally under those given circumstances (namely, the presence of cancer cells). If you ask God to change the circumstances (i.e., remove the cancer) and he doesn’t, then medical science is “thwarting the normal functioning of your body,” isn’t it?

Besides, we “thwart the normal functioning of our body” every day. Do you shave? Do you relieve yourself as the urge comes? Do youi flatulate in public? Do you cut your hair and fingernails? What’s the difference in thwarting that function and thwarting any other.

(I like that word, by the way. THWART! Say it three times really fast – it almost sounds obscene!)


#5

[quote=GaryScott]then medical science is “thwarting the normal functioning of your body,” isn’t it?

[/quote]

Sure, but if you want to get sufficiently picky, you could say eating is thwarting the “normal” function of the body which would be to die of starvation. Drawing your hand away from a hot stove is likewise “thwarting” the normal function of the body under those circumstances, which would be to cause great pain to be felt and perhaps incur some charring.

Perhaps “restoring the natural healthy function of the body to its design characteristics” would be a better analogy, but in the end it doesn’t matter anyway because I don’t claim to know a logical explanation for the Church’s overall position.

Besides, we “thwart the normal functioning of our body” every day. Do you shave?

My face? Yes, but for some reason I despise doing so. I’m not thwarting any bodily processes, such as stopping the hair growth; I am merely removing dead material. Me and Madonna don’t shave our pits, though.

Do you relieve yourself as the urge comes?

Not exactly; I try to get to a bathroom first. I suppose I’m artificially delaying it. I know one lady who had a hysterectomy and they somehow cut a particular nerve so that she never has the urge; she just has to go occasionally like a person with a broken gas gauge has to fill occasionally.

Do youi flatulate in public?

Sometimes, if I think I can get away with it. The other day some jerks annoyed me tremendously in a bookstore and I could tell they were moving into my area. From earlier experience that evening, I knew I was fatally armed so I laid a silent egg and calmly moved out of the area. What a joy it was to witness their moving into the area as I watched from around the corner! :smiley:

I never do in an elevator with just two people in it, though.

Do you cut your hair and fingernails?

I cut fingernails, and pay to have the hair cut by someone else.

What’s the difference in thwarting that function and thwarting any other.

Removing dead material that has no functional effect.

Hey, I’m neither supporting or refuting the Church’s arguments here because I have little time right now to really think through how these questions apply. I’m just having fun answering your questions. My main purpose is giving you those arguments is to give you a head start at understanding the Church teaching about which you asked.

Peace,
Alan


#6

For me, the very simple answer the Bible tells us that children are blessings.

Sickness, disease etc. are not blessings but a curse and result of original sin.

We should welcome blessings and seek to remove the results of sin.


#7

It’s difficult to understand the teaching against contraception without studying the underlying theology of marriage and sexuality. I don’t think there’s anything that Catholics today misunderstand more about they’re faith than the teachings regarding sexuality.

Of all the gifts God has given us sexuality is totally unique in that it allows us to actually participate with Him in the creation of a new person. Comparing artificial birth control to treating cancer is a non sequitur, though it may not appear so on the surface. Sex is sacred. Cancer cells are not.

I recommend the book Three to Get Married by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. In reading that book about the authentic Catholic teaching on marriage I really gained a better understanding of why the Church teaches what she does about contraception. It’s not really light reading but it’s well worth the effort (and I’m single…married people will undoubtedly get far more out of it than I did :smiley: )

You can download Sheen’s book freely at ewtn.com/library/MARRIAGE/3GETMARR.TXT


#8

I would also like to add that ABC is, even if inadvertenly, an abortifacient. At times, the woman’s body will ovulate, despite the hormones being taken at that time to prevent this. Abortion, or any ending of human life prematurely, is a sinful act. Therefore, no ABC should be used. Moreover, to gain support from scientific studies, we recognize that NFP has also been scientifically shown to be best for the woman and the man. Pills obviously are a drug that have been shown to lead to cancer in the woman, plus various other ills (always feeling like their pregnant, gaining weight, irritability, sickness, etc.). As my husband says, “Why would I ask you to take something that could possibly hurt you, and makes you feel lousy, just so I can have you when I want?” I thought that was very insightful of him. :wink: Moreover, for a man to get a vasectomy for instance, also has shown to lead to a higher instance of cancer and other ills (to learn more, read the NFP book you were given–I’m assuming it was The Art of Natural Family Planning, it has all the details). Finally, looking at condoms as a form of ABC, we simply realize that placing something between the man and the woman during the most intimate act of marriage, intuitively denies the body, and thus the spirit, the unitive outcome the act was to perform.

As a woman, I can say that we need the unitive to feel special, loved, and holy.

Finally, as far as your concerns about medical interventions, I believe that others have already answered that question more than adequately.

God bless,
-Amy


#9

I would recommend “Swear to God” by Scott Hahn as a good resource on the angle you are taking to this topic.

Looking at marriage from a sacramental point of view, you need to understand a sacrament. Every sacrament gives grace. Grace is God’s own life! Every sacrament has an outward, visible sign and an invisible communication of grace. In Baptism, the water is the outward sign; in anointing of the sick, oil; holy orders, laying on of hands; etc.

EVERY sacrament brings LIFE! So it is no surprise that in marriage the outward sign is the marital act. This action affirms and re-affirms the marital covenant and inwardly confers grace. But, the marital act ALSO participates in God’s power of creation. True, visible life comes from that act. And NO OTHER.

Artificial birth control prevents that life. The best analogy I have heard is when in ancient Rome, the people would feast and feast, then vomit out the food, so they could go back and feast some more. GROSS! Artificial birth control does just that. Think about it.

To me, rejecting artificial birth control makes the most sense from a sacramental standpoint.

Gary, I hold a great respect for you for asking questions rather than standing aloof and simply rejecting this teaching out of hand as self-contradictory.

God bless you and your wife!


#10

I am unfamiliar with the website you reference. I did read the references, and I believe the problem is they are out of context, only a list without the explanation of Catholic teaching.

What you describe, “trust god and not take issues into our own hands,” is called Providentialism, and it is not Catholic teaching. The Church teaches responsible parenthood and cooperation with God. The Catholic teaching against contraception is not based on the premise you describe above, although I can see how this random stringing together of bible verses would lead you to that conclusion. The verses are relevant and are a part of the body of Church teaching, but the basis of Church teaching is not Providentialism.

While I’m sure the instructor meant well, this argument is not the basis of Catholic teaching on contraception.

Yes, you make a logical argument here. Unfortunately, you were led down this path by the incorrect information put forth on the topic of contraception. I think when people are attempting to explain a complex topic in a limited amount of time, they try to simplify and use analogies that are, unfortunately, incomplete.

Yes, that would indeed be a logical argument. I’m glad to see you are interested in understanding the Church’s teaching. It’s complex, and I don’t know if can be done justice in such a forum as this. If you’d like to discuss, I’ll do my best.

Some really good resources include books, tapes, and pamphlets found at www.omsoul.com. Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West is excellent—I just finished this book and it was awesome. The book Life Giving Love by Kimberly Hahn is also excellent and explains the topic well.


#11

To address the underlying issue, I think the Church ban on contraception is true and correct but the way the Church teaches it is wrong.

The Church bans contraception for reasons of “unitive act”, “procreative act”, “marital chasty” and so forth. These are entirely good things but they are secondary.

I believe the primary reason for the ban on contraceptives is found in Jer 1:5 - “before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. God is saying that he has already created and already knows who your children are before the beginning of time. God already loves your children. If you don’t bring them into existance, you will have to answer to God for a human life.


#12

Here’s a short piece by Janet Smith, entitled Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later which is helpful on the birth control issue.
An excerpt:

I think the experience of the last many decades has revealed that the Church has been very wise in its continual affirmation of this teaching for we have begun to see that contraception leads to many vicious wrongs in society; it facilitates the sexual revolution which leads to much unwanted pregnancy and abortion. It has made women much more open to sexual exploitation by men. In fact, Humanae Vitae predicted a general lowering of morality should contraception become widely available and I think it is manifest that ours is a period of very low morality—much of it in the sexual realm. There is little need here to provide a full set of statistics to demonstrate the consequences of the sexual revolution, for who is not familiar with the epidemic in teenage pregnancies, venereal diseases, divorces, AIDS.


#13

Based on what I’ve read here, then, I would have to agree with AlanFromWichita – it’s a question of accepting the Church’s authority, for it doesn’t seem to be Biblically or logically provable.

Alan wrote

[quote=AlanFromWichita]While I have read several documents and articles on the topic and exchanged hundreds of posts on this topic, I have come to the conclusion that for me, at this point, it boils down to an acceptance of the teaching authority of the Church because the logic so far has escaped me. I think I can repeat what I’ve heard, but it doesn’t make sense;
[/quote]

There’s a lot of truth to that in the twenty-first century, but the original prohibition on birth control is easily understood in an ancient context. For most of human history, the birth of a child was not the guarantee of an adult. A significant amount of children died in infancy, and if a woman had twelve children, five to seven might have been luck to survive to adulthood. (I don’t have the statistics now, and I might be actually underestimating the ancient infant mortality rate.) In that context, the Old Testament command to “be fruitful and multiply” has a vastly different meaning.

Another thing to take into account was the population at the time. The notion that the world could ever be overpopulated was as foreign to them as the notion is to us that someone today could fail to see it as a possibility. In the twenty-first century, it’s clear that the earth can only support so many humans. Whether or not you grant that we’re now closing in on the upper limit or not, it’s undeniable that we are approaching it, and at an exponential rate. This puts a new urgency on a notion (namely, that of population control) that was not even extant when the Bible was written.
So how are we to understand the Church’s position now? Simple — a question of face. Admitting it’s wrong this late in the game would result in a major loss of face. And so proof-texts about spelling one’s seed are trotted out against the hard evidence of demographics, and for the faithful, faith once again conquers scientific knowledge.

What the church needs is a reasonable position on “artificial” birth control. It’s fine and well to say that a relationship should be open to the potential of a new life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that ever sex act as to be open to said possibility.

If it’s a question of the life-giving potential of sex, why is nothing said about all the potentialities which have become actualities, namely unwanted children? Why not encourage adopting children as an option? It seems awfully one-sided for the Church to be lambasting women who chose to have an abortion out of one side of its mouth and not even given lip service to the needs of already-born, clearly-unwanted children.

As far as the argument I heard that it’s a questioning of God’s will in your life, that was indeed how I heard it explained here in Poland in the pre-wedding family planning session. It’s how it’s been explained to other Poles, from what I’ve heard from couples who’ve been through the same session. So apparently, the Polish Catholic Church is, at least somewhat restrictedly, teaching this non-Catholic doctrine as a justification of birth control.


#14

I write as you know from the perspective of one long married to the only man I have ever known (in the biblical sense) and one of the “first fruits” of the sexual revolution of the 60s, and like many of my generation the bitter inheritor of the results of buying into the lies that fostered that revolution. Think of me as your on-line MIL (egad what a prospect)

what I find missing in nearly every thread on the NFP topic here, and elsewhere whereever “the younger generation” i.e. my kids discusses the topic is one simple reality which is never accepted or stated: there are times when abstinence is good for the marriage. St. Paul said it eons ago and it is still true. It is good at times for spiritual growth, or for devoting energies to some other good. example: a man goes to war or to sea duty, the wife is for the short-term all-consumed at work (residency, bar exam prep etc.). It can be good for the health of either party, the woman recovering from childbirth, the man recovering from surgery etc. It can be good for growth in intimacy on other levels–even secular “sex therapists” and marriage counsellors advise it for this reason at times. Either party is all-consumed in caring for the family in some other way, i.e. during breast-feeding (that is why so many women lose the desire at that time, it is a natural hormonal reaction), or the man is travelling for his new business.

Also there are times when abstinence is dictated by circumstances. NFP, defined as periodic abstinence for a greater good, is the only system that acknowledges the reality that abstinence can be a positive good, not always a grudging sacrifice. Couples of today, as immersed in the doctrines of popular culture as they seem to be, simply do not seem to realize that sex-on-demand is not a viable foundation for a good marriage.


#15

The sexual act’s purpose are unity and procreation. ABC is a perversion of the sexual act because it reduces the sexual act to an ends to itself, and is a refusal to allow God to create an eternal soul. Sex then becomes a mere source of pleasure and/or entertainment. It is stripped of its sacred purpose.

That’s it in a nutshell, as I understand it. It makes sense to me, if you accept the premise that God instituted marriage and the sexual act for the purposes that the Church teaches. Is it possible that the logic escapes you because you do not accept these premises and/or perhaps desire to use ABC? (Sorry if I’m making assumptions, I’m just suggesting).

The world’s population will not just keep increasing on and on. Demographers believe it will reach somewhere between 9 and 12 trillion, and then begin to decline. This of course is assuming that people will continue to use ABC. The same could be true, however, if NFP was properly used. (9-12 trillion is a lot, but it simply means we’ll have to live off less…the amount of resources Westerns, including myself, consume is disgusting).
Here’s a link to Dave Armstrong’s articles on the subject: ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ345.HTM#33)
You may find them helpful. God bless.


#16

It occurs to me that we talk about sex as if it were some “sacred” event. How is it so sacred for humans when (especially monogamous) animals do the same thing? They obviously have a procreative component, and if you doubt the unitive component, just try to separate two animals engaged in the act; men have been killed that way.


#17

[quote=AlanFromWichita]It occurs to me that we talk about sex as if it were some “sacred” event. How is it so sacred for humans when (especially monogamous) animals do the same thing? They obviously have a procreative component, and if you doubt the unitive component, just try to separate two animals engaged in the act; men have been killed that way.
[/quote]

Humans have spiritual souls, animals do not. We are in the image of God, and we participate in the mystery of the Trinity through the generation of new human life, new eternal souls. Sacraments are all sacred acts, and the marital act is a covenant act, it is an act of Sacrament. Therefore it is a holy act.

Your comparison to animals is flawed, animals act solely on instinct and there is no “unitive” component. Stand between a bull and a heifer and you will get run over, not because of the bull’s love for the heifer but because of the rutting instinct, the same would happen if you stood between an animal and food if it were starving.


#18

The death of Onan in Genesis and the death’s of Annanias and Saphiia (both for giving unworthy or incomplete gifts) when coupled with Ephesians 5 are about the best purely Biblical argument. Of course you can look at Romans 2 and see that the arguments from natural law are just as valid. Especially, when you consider the authority of the Church. If you really want to start to understand more read Good news about sex and marriage by Chris West and then go get his CD series (10 CD’s for $3.90 plus shipping and handling) giftfoundation.org/transaction/index.asp?pid=1Matt


#19

[quote=GaryScott] The notion that the world could ever be overpopulated was as foreign to them as the notion is to us that someone today could fail to see it as a possibility. In the twenty-first century, it’s clear that the earth can only support so many humans. Whether or not you grant that we’re now closing in on the upper limit or not, it’s undeniable that we are approaching it, and at an exponential rate.
[/quote]

Perhaps because the American economy views people primarily as consumers rather than producers, the myth of overpopulation has come into widespread acceptance.

In actuality, for Europe at present and perhaps soon for America, the problem is underpopulation. Europe’s fertility rate is below replacement levels, requiring heavy reliance on immigration. American’s low fertility rate, while not yet below replacement levels, undermines Social Security and threatens the economy.

Does anyone view himself as a consumer only? Or do you produce more than you consume? Or is it only those other people–undesirables, perhaps–that you want to depopulate?


#20

OK people lets keep it really simple.

By God’s will, we are designed to have children as a result of Intercourse. Anytime we thwart God’s will it is a sin.

Dean


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