Friday, January 20, 2006

On Contraceptives

As evidenced by some of my previous posts, I believe the institution of marriage to be fundamental to society. Also, keeping the institution of marriage sacred is vital to the Christian faith and church. Thus, having a proper theological understanding of marriage is extremely important for each and every Christian to develop. One of the most complex, difficult, and debated aspects of the marriage relationship involves the use of contraceptives within the marriage relationship. Many believe the decision to use contraceptives to be a personal one that is made when they are entering a marriage relationship, but I believe it to be a far more important theological question. I will attempt to convey my beliefs on the subject, but am extremely interested to hear what others have to say.

First, it is important to note that the existence and use of contraceptives have, from a practical standpoint, damaged the institution of marriage significantly. Contraceptives were clearly at the center of the sexual revolution of the 60s, and continue to give individuals confidence that they can have sexual relations without the unintended consequence of having children. Thus, contraceptives have divorced the sexual act from conception to a high enough degree to invert the intended, natural order. In terms of social history, I think there can be little argument against this (except that sexual freedom is a higher value, which is the primary tenet of feminism), but the higher question that must be answered is what I would like to deal with. If contraceptives were only used by Christians, within the confines of marriage, would they be considered a moral good or ill? That is, is the use of contraceptives consistent with biblical values or not?

I first would like to state, and then quickly move on, from the most basic argument that is made about contraceptives. Many Christians will argue that contraceptives frustrate the will of God. I have considered this argument, but ultimately find it by itself to be unpersuasive, because every personal decision we make would then have the possibility of preventing the Almighty in some capacity from achieving His will. The point is taken that even within marriage, contraceptives separate intercourse from procreation to some degree - the question is if that is ok.

Clearly, the Bible affirms that sexual activity is not merely for procreation. Paul speaks of women not denying their husband at any time. In the Old Testament, the Song of Solomon also shows the importance of the marriage act beyond procreation. I believe this is the main argument of those who favor the use of contraceptives - that sex isn't just about procreation, so contraceptives merely allow the Christian to be responsible in their decisions about having a family (when to have kids, how many to have based on finances, etc.). I do not believe, however, this issue to be as simple as determining whether sex is about procreation, pleasure, or both.

At this point, let me state that I believe life begins at conception, so I obviously do not condone the use of any types of contraception that would abort what has already been conceived. Anything from a morning after pill to an abortion would clearly be wrong. But, this doesn't answer the simple question of whether using standard contraceptive devices is right or wrong.

Biblically, I can't really give a much better answer than what I have already said. Because the biblical narratives didn't have to deal with this issue, there is nothing to directly reference. Thus, I believe tradition and Christian logic to be important to use here, but perhaps not definitive. I will state my thoughts, and then listen to yours.

As Christians, we should be responsible yet trusting at all times. When it comes to planning our family, this is a delicate balance. Perhaps having another child would be a financial burden or too time-consuming. While I understand this argument, I ultimately reject it completely. I believe that trusting God knows when we are ready to have a child is more important (and reliable) than our own plans. Even so, the statistics I have looked at show that Natural Family Planning is statistically equivalent to most types of contraceptives. So, even if one wishes to be responsible, there are other ways than using contraceptives. This brings up the important issue, if family planning is biblical, then why isn't family planning using modern technology biblical? I still can't get around this question, but will provide perhaps my only original thought on this subject.

I believe there to be a fundamental difference between contracepted sex and non-contracepted sex. I also believe there to be a difference between family planning and contraceptives. Non-contracepted sex (within marriage) is safer than the use of pills and such. Natural sex, is also just that, more natural, and thus has a profound psychological edge over contracepted sex. Moreover, it is scientific enough to be responsible, but natural enough to allow God to use the sexual act for its primary purpose: procreation. Furthermore, natural family planning affirms the biblical values of self-control and self-denial. Christians, even within marriage, can act as witnesses to their ability to responsibly abstain from sex, even if they are sleeping right next to that person. As an example to teens who feel it impossible to abstain from sex, this could be powerful, or to friends who find it difficult to be abstinent outside of marriage, this would be a great example. Morever, from a practical standpoint, this type of self-denial could add a lot of romance into a marriage relationship (though from a moral standpoint, this doesn't have a lot of weight).

Ok, so I probably haven't proven anything to you, but I think I've stated why I am not going to use contraceptives within marriage, and also why I think that you shouldn't. My points are not entirely definitive however, so I am certainly open to discussion and disagreement, so have at it.

39 Comments:

At 11:08 PM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

I have more to say about the issue, but not enough time right now. I'll just take issue with one statement that you made:
"but natural enough to allow God to use the sexual act for its primary purpose: procreation"
I don't believe that procreation is the primary purpose of sex. When sex is first introduced in the Bible (Genesis 2:24) it says "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." There is nothing to indicate that "this reason" has anything to do with procreation -- its not even mentioned at that point in the Bible. So I feel that whole point is invalid. I'll hopefully post more later...

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

This issue is pretty tough, so mad props for taking it up. Just a few comments:
1. I don't think using particular words in Gen. will give us any idea of whether contraception is right or wrong. So the 'this reason' argument is falicious in that you can go right back and say union was always intended to produce children, as naturally that is what unprotected sex does. So (1) trying to figure out what 'this reason' is and building a moral response on it is questionable and (2) I can use that same phrase to show contraception is wrong because 'union' in a Jewish context means more than just two people having at it like it does today.

2. I am in favour of natural family planning and feel contraception is wrong, but it is a very difficult issue. Especially if you use NFP with modern technology (the Catholic method) which is 99% effective, but is contraception just material or does it count as contraception if you avoid sexual union because you know a child would be produced. I think arguments could go both ways because I am not sure God intended us to figure out how to measure mucus and all that gross stuff in order to change the number of children. But maybe it is only immoral if the act is done and ommision is not an immoral act, assuming contraception is wrong. I guess I would need a little more ethics work on that.

3. My main reasons for supporting NFP are probably because those who practice it responsibly tend to have stronger marriages and better families. More children (no, you don't have 1320 kids if you practice NFP!, but maybe 8) tend to make families stronger and more financially responsible, as well as tending to be more emotinally and social adjusted. NFP also is said (note: all argument is in spite of experience, but I guess everyone is in that boat!) to strengthen the union on all sorts of levels between husband and wife - especially since you will have to take sex a lot more seriously and understand your partner's desires, preferences, feelings, and such. It is a two way act instead of the possibility of one partner using the other.

3. It is certainly (?) the case that the introduction of the pill and some other forms of contraception have done damage to the family and marriage in general, but I don't think that is a main reason for not using certain barrier methods within marriage. It might be an additional reason but certainly can't stand on its own.

4. In all said this is again a difficult issue and I don't judge or challenge anyone who has seriously thought about this issue in view of Scripture, the Church and their own experiences with spouse and family. A reasoned position on either side is good enough for me, although I find myself feeling more compelled by the NFP route, which hopefully will stay true even when I am marriaged most likely to a non-Roman Catholic.

 
At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Smash said...

I agree that you didn't make the case against contraceptives. An interesting possibility for a future post might be how Protestants left the fold on this issue early in the 20th century. From what I've read the Protestants didn't leave the reservation until the 1930s. Also I believe that many of the leaders that push contraceptives were only ten years from openly pushing abortion as well. Just a suggestion.

 
At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Smash said...

Also, please consider posting on dating v. courtship soon. I'm very curious to what you're going to say.

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

The commments are much appreciated, because as I took up this issue I realized that it is far more complex and difficult than I thought. I'm leaning toward Hans' position that as long as someone has a well-reasoned, scripture-referenced, tradition-considered view, I am satisfied. While I definitely believe there is a right and wrong ethically here, I am not sure that we'll be able to discern it this side of eternity definitively.

I'd like to hear more opinions on the subject, and I am interested to hear what some of our church history buff friends have to say about the Protestant/Catholic split...

 
At 7:51 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

Ok, first I'll admit my opinion is not going to be Biblically nuanced, or Biblical for that matter.

First, I think the typical family has changed quite a bit as world economies have become decidedly less rural. It was all well and good to throw contraception to the wind when more children meant more wealth (both in status and in free labor) and families could copulate naturally to their heart's content as long as they could produce enough food for the clan. However, this is no longer the case.

In my opinion, the role of parents as primary caregivers to children entails a greater committment materially than it used to. I believe that part of being a parent is the responsibility to provide sufficient tools that allow the child to do as well as he is able in current world conditions. Up until the last 75 years, parents could produce copious amounts of, for example, non college-bound offspring without seriously damaging the ability of the offspring to participate and become (relatively- social equity plays a large part in my view) normalized to current conditions.

However, today (college still being the relevant example) parents who produce more children than they can support, I believe, are fundamentally failing in their role as primary caregivers. Couples barely over the poverty line should have the option to control the amount of "loin fruit" they produce without regimenting their sex to certain non-fertile parts of the month, or however NFP works, so that their children have at least the minimum in terms of life preperation tools.

Also, I'm not sure where this crowd stands on some of the far reaches of evolutionary biology, but a great book on human sexual relations is "The Sperm Wars" by (Robin Baker?).

I think, in terms of ethics, a little utilitarianism could go a long way in preventing hordes of Barnabas' biblically liberated couples from doing their part to create a solidly ensconced social underclass...

 
At 10:34 PM, Anonymous school prayer said...

Greetings from Down Under, no not Australia, NZ the real downunder! Hi Barnabas18 I was surfing blogs (as you do) looking for pray information when I came across your site. While On Contraceptives wasn't an exact match I enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks for the read, I'll visit again some time. take care.

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

I don’t know how productive a response I can give to this post, because unlike the tax post, for example, where we had a lot of goals in common and differed on methods, we’re probably going to disagree on nearly everything. I’ll try anyway.

My biggest problem with your underlying assumptions is that I don’t grant that the existence and use of contraceptives have damaged the institution of the family, because I don’t think the family was ever very healthy to begin with. Has the easy availability of contraception made greater promiscuity possible? Yes—but it’s a different sort of promiscuity than that of the past. I’ll give you an example. An article about craigslist that I read the other day featured a woman who uses it to find no-strings-attached sex with men. She wrote, “it’s great—about 100 men responded to my post, I met with 10 of them, and ended up sleeping with 3 or 4 of them.” I point this out because I think we can all hold this up as the perfect example of how contraception is abused. BUT, I don’t understand why this immature, promiscuous American woman slutting on craigslist is any worse than having women dying in childbirth left and right, Spanish men in Mexico in 1550 having a Spanish wife back home in Barcelona and a household of Indian concubines, the US military having to do everything in their power to keep American soldiers in World War I out of brothels in France, the cultural acceptance of prostitution in the old west, the raging homosexuality of early Greece, Romania’s dictator Ceausescu monitoring the fertility of his female subjects in the 1960s to make sure they were having sex and producing healthy Romanian hotties, Henry VIII’s wives and their executions, or the Nazi soldiers who raped their way through Europe in the early 1940s. (If you want the books to read about any of these things let me know.) It’s tempting to see each of the things I’ve just mentioned as an aberration in what was a relatively healthy family scene until feminism, Roe v. Wade, and the sexual revolution came along, but I think that’s backwards—the history of family and sexuality is the history of war and aberration alongside economic necessities dictating family size, as jacksolon pointed out.

The family/sexual/contraceptive landscape of the past was just so darn different than it is today that it’s hard to compare. Though redhurt and j. morgan and others disagree with me, I don’t think “the status of the family in France in 1910” or “the status of the family in the US in 2006” or “the status of the family in Athens in 482 BC” provide even meaningful comparisons. So, that’s objection #1.

Second, I don’t understand why evangelical Christians selectively single out procreation as such a high priority, and accuse people who use contraception of frustrating God’s will in some special way. Why does this frustrate God’s will in a way that is more acute than any of the thousands of other ways that we frustrate God’s will on a regular basis? Why is God so much more active in our sex life than he is in church, or in the mission field, or in Starbucks? Why is it every Christian couple’s duty to have Christian babies, and lots of them? If this is the case, shouldn’t we be putting tons of effort into getting the Catholic church to cease upholding celibacy? Shouldn’t Christians get married to someone with whom they are compatible ASAP and start having families? I think all of these things are entailed by your reading of the Bible.

Lastly, and trivially, I’ll never understand how Natural Family Planning isn’t contraception. Either you’re having sex with no regard to pregnancy, or you’re trying to prevent pregnancy in some way. As hans bluntly put it, “I think arguments could go both ways because I am not sure God intended us to figure out how to measure mucus.” The pill, condoms, NFP, or even simply only having sex during non-fertile periods is contraception. Pretend some Christian couple doesn’t believe in “artificial” birth control but takes a year off from sex, and says “God just doesn’t want us to have a baby right now.” That’s BS. That’s birth control.

Planning your family the way that Americans do, by deciding when to have children, how many to have, and where to send them to school, etc., is not only an immense blessing, but a luxury by the world’s current standards—and I agree with jackscolon that “parents who produce more children than they can support, I believe, are fundamentally failing in their role as primary caregivers.”

You wrote that one of the primary tenets of feminism is that sexual freedom is a trump card. I agree with this assessment and share your disagreement with the principle, but, I also don’t subvert sexual freedom to some nebulous concept of being fruitful. Sexual freedom is one prima facie right among others, and it’s neither more nor less important than the other factors relevant to how Christian couples live their lives.

mair, rip me to shreds.

 
At 8:16 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Comment 1 of 3

This comment will serve to clear up what I consider to be factual errors or confusions in the original post. Of course, these are (somewhat) debatable points, but my purpose in posting them is not to get into a debate over the specifics, unless that helps to further a discussion about the role of contraception in marriage (which I take it is Barnabas’ point for this post). It is, rather, to set the stage for what I understand to be accurate information on which I am basing my comments (part 2 of 3).

So, here we go:

“let me state that I believe life begins at conception, so I obviously do not condone the use of any types of contraception that would abort what has already been conceived. Anything from a morning after pill to an abortion would clearly be wrong.”

I agree that “life begins at conception,” but that is not what is really at issue. Pregnancy does not begin until implantation. Morning after pills (not to be confused with RU-486) do not kill fertized eggs, they merely prevent implantation. So they are in a very basic way different than abortion. Abortion terminates a pregnancy, morning after pills prevent pregnancy. That is an important distinction, because it means that morning after pills cannot have an abortive function. You aren’t pregnant until a fertilized egg has implanted; you cannot abort unless you are pregnant.

“I believe that trusting God knows when we are ready to have a child is more important (and reliable) than our own plans.”

I would be careful to make a sharp distinction between these two things. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus asks his Father to “give us this day our daily bread,” yet he accepts meals from ordinary people all the time. My point is that God’s provision and our planning are often, even mostly, the same thing.

“the statistics I have looked at show that Natural Family Planning is statistically equivalent to most types of contraceptives.”

In practice this is probably true, but deceptive. If you use contraception properly, then success rates assymtotically approach 100%. BCP’s have to be taken every day, without exception, on an empty stomach, at the exact same time to be this effective. The trouble is that a fair amount of women don’t actually use the pill that way.

Similar levels of exactitute have to be used with condoms, diaphrams, or other barrier methods. However, when used properly, and especially when redundancy is practiced, contraceptives are 100% effective.

“Non-contracepted sex (within marriage) is safer than the use of pills and such.”

False. The pill is complete safe for the vast majority of women. Especially those who have other gynocological issues, the pill has benefits beyond contraception that usually improve the woman’s overall health and well-being. Unless you are a smoker with diabetes and liver problems and excessive cloting agents, the pill is absolutely safe and often beneficial.

 
At 8:16 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Comment 2 of 3

Now, I want to address natural family planning (NFP) and some specific points that Barnabas brought up about it:

“Natural sex, is also just that, more natural, and thus has a profound psychological edge over contracepted sex.”

In the biological sense, NFP is the farthest thing from “natural” I could imagine. In order to approach anything like “planning,” women have to go to extroidenary means. Does take body temperature rectally five times a day sound natural? How about daily measurements of cervical mucous?

In a relational sense, NFP is the farthest thing from “natural” I could imagine also. Let me set the stage: John and his wife Jane are at dinner on their fifth aniversary. During dinner, Jane excuses herself to go take her temperature and measure her cervical mucous (already ruining the flow of things). When she comes back, Jane informs John that they won’t be able to have sex tonight because her cervical mucous had thickened. Now, how natural does that sound?

Look, sex in marriage has to be spontaneous and fun and intimate and mysterious. To reduce it to the mechanics of biology so you don’t get knocked up ruins all that. John is just a semen pump and Jane is just a very-well measured semen receptical. Sex is not supposed to be like the German rail system. That isn’t natural.

“Moreover, it is scientific enough to be responsible, but natural enough to allow God to use the sexual act for its primary purpose: procreation.”

Like I said, in order for it to be scientific enough to be responsible, it has to ruin the “natural” part. So, it is either “natural” or it is “planning.” Secondly, what is this “allow God to use…” business? I don’t know what to make of that, but that becomes really problematic. I am not sure we “allow” God to do anything. I just don’t know what to make of it. Finally, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that procreation is the primary purpose of the human sex act. I think it is indespesably part of it, but I don’t know that you could argue that is primary.

“Furthermore, natural family planning affirms the biblical values of self-control and self-denial.”

But surely you don’t want to say that if someone uses the pill or condoms that they couldn’t also affirm and practice “the biblical values of self-control and self-denial.” That seems to me to be a separate issue.

“Morever, from a practical standpoint, this type of self-denial could add a lot of romance into a marriage relationship.”

As a married man, I find that hard to understand. In all seriousness, I agree. I am just saying that engaging in self-denial for the purpose of discipline or romance is great, but NFP’s version of self-denial doesn’t really facilitate that.

 
At 8:16 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Comment 3 of 3

So, where does that leave us? Well, I think Barnabas asked the right question:

“if family planning is biblical, then why isn't family planning using modern technology biblical?”

As I see it, and you are all welcome to disagree, the question is not “which methods of family planning have the Bible’s seal of approval,” it is “are there moral considerations regarding family planning that either make it acceptable or unacceptable so to do.”

So, here is the question: is reproduction like socks or eye color? In other words, is it something that should be understood as governed by choice or by biology?

It seems to me that if you are going to argue that BCPs and condoms are morally problematic for Christians, then, to be consistent, you are really getting at something like, “family planning is an inherently wrong practice for Christians.” If that is the case, then you just need to screw when you feel the urge and let God’s will (and your sperm) do the rest. I think that is a perfectly consistent, morally and theological compelling, and totally valid possition.

If, however, family planning is something you want to do, then there aren’t any compelling, consistent differences between different non-abortive means. At that point, the issue comes down to convenience and effectiveness.

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger Mair said...

I have just a few things to add:

1) I agree with Charles and J. Morgan completely in their assessment of why NFP is completely unnatural. My big problem with the whole method is that it is entirely disingenuous. To say that birth control seperates sex from procreation, and then to practice "natural" family planning, which means not having sex at fertile times, is also separating sex from procreation. Very illogical.

2) As a woman who is not a feminist, but has feminist sympathies, I want to call Barnabas to the table on a completely inaccurate and offensive statement he made. Barnabas said: "Paul speaks of women not denying their husband at any time."
This is not at all what Paul says. Paul says:

"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 7:3-5

This makes sex a mutual act of mutual fulfillment - not something for the husband as Barnabas has made it in his Biblically inaccurate statement. It is the kind of partriarchy represented in Barnabas's statement that feminist revolt against. It's not that women necessarily want total sexual freedom, but that they want equal rights, so to speak, in the pursuit, enjoyment of, and decision making surrounding sex.

3) Hans - how are you justified to say this???:
"those who practice it responsibly tend to have stronger marriages and better families. More children (no, you don't have 1320 kids if you practice NFP!, but maybe 8) tend to make families stronger and more financially responsible, as well as tending to be more emotinally and social adjusted."

Do you have evidence to back this claim?

4) Hans - you speak of non-NFP sex as a way for one partner (meaning man?) to use the other. I want to turn the tables here. I've heard tell of many women who practice NFP using it to manipulate their husbands into doing things like giving them a backrub by telling them that they are fertile and can't have sex. How does this sort of behavior foster healthy intimacy between Christian couples? Instead, shouldn't we push for healthy communication about sex that enables both partners to be honest about their desires and feelings? In addition, I also know of women who've used NFP to "trick" their husbands who didn't want children. They knew they were fertile and told their husbands they weren't. Again, is this a healthy model of Christian marriage and partnership? I don't think so.

Instead, we need to be educating Christian men and women on the truth and lies about contraception and sexual practices and urging healthy dialogue about sex and intimacy.

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Looks like Barns and I are taking a beating, as suspected. Just to answer the two questions posed to me:

1. The statements about "stronger marriages and better families" come from personal testimonies (I live in a largely Roman Catholic area) and statistics on various websites. For instance:
"In a poll by Nona Aguilar, less than 1% of the NFP couples tabulated had been previously married and divorced, yet 70% had been married six years or more. These couples have certainly found some way of coping with strain. It may be NFP."

Now I guess you have to decide which statistics to trust, since all statistics are biased to some degree, but based on the supporting personal testimonies I know I generally accept the NFP statistics from Couple to Couple and such. Do they have a bias? Sure. Do you have a bias? Sure. That's why I don't think it is an easy answer, but there are certainly stats out there backing my statements.

2. Of course some people are going to abuse NFP. People are sinful. But those are clearly the exception to the norm and I would hazard are less frequent than the abuses on the other side (interesting if Charles could find some numbers on this). I was thinking of men abusing women in these areas because I think that is more likely, or at least that is what I have been told. I think a level of trust is involved with any family planning, 'natural' or otherwise. But it seems that NFP is less likely to be abused than BCPs. I am not positive though, I just know that many women feel frustrated by husbands and sexual demands and such. But that is not everyone.

3. In all I think good communication in sexual relations is probably key. So if NFP doesn't keep you communicating honestly with each other and BCPs do in a more appropriate manner than maybe that is best. My main concern was voiced earlier by the fact that until the 1930s no Christian group allowed contraceptives. Now I am a little more traditionally concerned than most, I have a lot of respect for venerable Christian thinkers from the Church's history and I know how dominated by secular nihilism the Church has started to become (wow! Long essay on this!), not that the Church back in the middle ages was better, but the theological seriousness and Biblical committment was. I really don't think we do ethics correctly in the Church today, or as well as it was done in the past - so I am naturally (no pun intended) suspicious of newer movements, especially in such a different direction than traditionally conceived (hehe). But I could very well be wrong on this issue, I need to do a lot more work. I only ask that those who are against NFP actually seriously engage with the other side because as far as the Church is concerned the burden of proof is on your case. You may very well be right, but it is not as simple an issue as some make it out to be.

Hopefully I will have something more fruitful to add after my ethics paper on it, but that is next year. Oh well. I won't be married by then anyways.

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Two more quick comments I was thinking about:

1. I forgot to mention in my list of biases that I am biased too. Obviously.

2. I think we need to differentiate between the act and the desire in order to deal with this issue effectively. So NFPers desiring to have sex but not proceeding with that desire because of consequences (the production of a child, etc.) is not 'contraception' in the same way as a couple having sexual intercourse but using a barrier method. Denying the act is not the same as denying a natural result of the act. You may question whether the means of knowing the result are valid, but it is not appropriate (as far as I can see) to equate NFP with contraception in the same sense as BCPs and barriers in the way it seems Charles and others are doing. Just a point on act versus desire. On a similar note as way of bringing this out, Biblical Christianity would say the desire of homosexuals is not sinful (in the same way?) as the act of homosexual union. Just trying to clarify so that Barns and my position doesn't look as ridiculous as all of you think.

And finally I think that the most 'reasonable' form of NFP would be to not use measuring techniques but just always assume procreation when having sexual union. This means that if there is a desire than the couple needs to address the situation and decide if it is morally appropriate to act on that desire given family circumstances and such. This makes it a very demanding sexual relationship, but does avoid what to me right now seem contradictions in the NFP view of contraception (maybe NFP is contraception, but a moral form of it?). That's what I have got right now.

Marty, where are you on this?

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

I am quite interested in the opinions that have been expressed so far, and they have been helpful, seeing as this is the first meaningful discussion I've had on this subject.

Hans - I agree completely with most of your last post, especially on the burden of proof on those who favor contraception. Church tradition is/was against contraception, and I think that the burden of proof is on why it has been wrong.

The only thing I have to add here is that I totally disagree with charles and jacks that it is irresponsible to have children beyond our financial means. Think about what this logically means... poor people should not have children. At face value, I disagree with that proposition. Furthermore, poverty is never seen as a negative in the Bible. Personally, I feel so strongly about having a big family that I would put myself into poverty to do so, and I would disagree that I was committing a moral wrong in that instance.

Also, Mair, I apologize for the patriarchal remembering of the verse you quoted. Clearly, I should have looked it up and quoted it properly, but I think you are taking liberties with what I said. Like Hans said, communication and partnership are key in marriage, and I personally think that with NFP these things flourish. I'm not making an argument for NFP because it gives men power over women.

 
At 3:40 PM, Blogger Mair said...

Hans -
You quoted some report saying: "In a poll by Nona Aguilar, less than 1% of the NFP couples tabulated had been previously married and divorced, yet 70% had been married six years or more. These couples have certainly found some way of coping with strain. It may be NFP."

This is a clear case of what sociologist call self-selection - that is, the same types of people who choose NFP are ALSO the types of people who would not divorce, and would uphold the sanctity of marriage in the face of adversity (thus having long marriages). There is absolutely no justification for making a causal connection between NFP and length of marriage/less divorce. It is not a case of NFP = long, healthy marriage. It is a case of ??? = propensity to use NFP AND have long healthy marriages. What ??? is may vary, but is probably attributable to political/theological conservatism, among other things.

Barn -
While the Bible does not talk about poverty negatively, and while I myself learned valuable lessons from time spent there, I just want to hash something out with you and others who are involved in this discussion. You may say: "Personally, I feel so strongly about having a big family that I would put myself into poverty to do so", but what you leave out of this statement (and perhaps out of your thought process here) is that you are not only putting yourself into poverty, but also your wife and children. By so doing, you are systematically disadvantaging your children (and also you wife) in the arenas of education, health care, life-chances, etc. The literature demonstrates time and time again that poor children are across the board at a disadvantage at school, and tend to have more health/behavioral problems. While political conservatives try hopelessly to equate this to intangible/vauge things such as "character", the sociological evidence falls hard on the side of the bottom line - money.

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

Mair - I fully understand that having children beyond certain financial capacities would put the entire family in poverty, but so what? God has never put me in a difficult situation that He didn't deliver me from, and I truly believe that children are blessing's from Him. I do not believe that our actions are meaningless or that we should act recklessly, but we should act faithfully. If it is on my heart to have another kid, knowing the financial ramifications, I would proceed nonetheless.

Your rant on how important money is in this equation doesn't persuade me in the least. The Bible is clear about the poor being blessed, and no amount of sociological data on the ills of poverty changes that. Of course I believe in social and political policies that alleviate poverty, because less poverty is a valuable goal, but that does not imply that we should make personal life decisions with money as the motivating factor.

 
At 4:23 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Mair - I agree with a larger factor being involved, but I think it is reductionist to say that NFP does not interact with that factor (political/theological) is. So say it is Roman Catholic morality that is the factor behind it all (doubtful, but just in case). It is way too reductionist to say that Roman Catholic morality causes NFP and healthy marriages. Learning NFP has a lot of effect on RCM and healthy marriages have an effect on NFP and RCM. Again, RCM is just a name for the ??? factor, but I don't think this entirely top down causality method is realistic, no matter how nice it looks on paper sometimes. So While ??? might be behind or more overarching, ??? does not exist in the form that 'causes' healthy marriages without NFP and a bunch of other things (evangelical spirituality, daily Bible reading, whatever). So I take you argument well but I think you are seeing things as too one-way. There is a circular effect in all of this and that needs to be taken into account. RCM might be why I do NFP, but then NFP 'causes' my RCM and healthy marriages, and visa versa.

Causality is much more complicated and so I don't think your charge is entirely persuasive.

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

Barns- I don't want to start arguing semantics with you or referencing verses, but the Bible talks plenty of other places about being fiscally responsible. I think God also says somewhere, "Use your noggin, because my job is not to endlessly bail you out of preventable situations."

Will God provide? Sure, when I'm watching TV and I see Sally Struthers walking through your background while your naked offspring frolic, I'll send a check... and a condom.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Barnabas and Hans,

I think your responses have missed some crucial points that I want to bring back out. Hopefully, you could both respond to these so that we can get at some of the fundamental disagreements.

Charles made an amazing point that was largely overlooked (or at least misunderstood/misappropriated):

“Either you’re having sex with no regard to pregnancy, or you’re trying to prevent pregnancy in some way.”

Now, I understand Hans’ distinction between act and desire and all that. That said, I think you are both missing something crucial. In both NFP and contraception, NOT GETTING PREGNANT is a goal. Having a debate over which methods of not getting pregnant is silly; having a debate over whether or not Christians should consider this when gettin’ it on is a worthwhile debate. So, as I said in my earlier post:

“It seems to me that if you are going to argue that BCPs and condoms are morally problematic for Christians, then, to be consistent, you are really getting at something like, ‘family planning is an inherently wrong practice for Christians.’”

Now, Hans dances around this a bit by saying, “I think that the most 'reasonable' form of NFP would be to not use measuring techniques but just always assume procreation when having sexual union.” But, as I said, “it is either ‘natural’ or it is ‘planning.’” In other words, if you aren’t measuring, it isn’t NFP, it is just guessing. As such, you really aren’t doing anything that would facilitate “planning.”

So, in order to argue that it is fine for Christians to have sex while trying to not get pregnant, then the burden of proof is extremely high to demonstrate that some methods of doing so are more “moral” than others. If, however, you are arguing that Christians cannot rightly desire to have sex while trying to not get pregnant, then NFP is irrelevant. What you are then arguing is that Christians should not engage in any family planning of any kind.

So, I am just curious which one you are arguing.

Second and relate, both Hans and Barnabas argue that, “until the 1930s no Christian group allowed contraceptives.” Again, I think you are missing the crucial issue here. It isn’t that “no Christian group allowed contraceptives” before 1930, it is that Christians were to consider sex and attempting procreation as the same thing before 1930. That is to say that Christians were not to have sex without trying to get pregnant. Contraceptives are a red herring here; the issue is again about whether or not “family planning” is acceptable.

Now, Hans says something curious about all this. He says that his position, “means that if there is a desire than the couple needs to address the situation and decide if it is morally appropriate to act on that desire given family circumstances and such.” Now, as I understand that, Hans is arguing that if a married couple doesn’t want to have children at the time, then they shouldn’t have sex. Now, I think that is a perfectly consistent argument, but I also think it is 1) insane, 2) unhealthy, and 3) a prescription for a disastrous marriage. Look, sex is good. We should want to have sex with our spouses and we should do it. Often. So, if this is the position you are advocating, then I think you are way off base. If not, correct me where I am wrong.

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

J. Morgan, I don't disagree with you entirely. The issue does seemingly come down to whether or not we have a role in deciding whether to conceive or not. Family planning and other contraceptives both seek to give us control of the situation.

You asked Hans if he was advocating completely abstaining from sex when a couple does not want to have children - I don't think either of us is advocating that position. Instead, I'm advocating that family planning has advantages over contraceptives, and to be honest I am underdetermined as to whether there is a moral imperative here.

I don't know if I have much more to add on the subject. I agree with you that sex within marriage is a good thing, has value apart from procreation, and shouldn't be a stressful part of a marriage relationship. That, however, doesn't change my fundamental position.

 
At 3:32 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

J. Morgs - excellent points of clarification. Let me try and address them at least from my side of things.

1. I think the first order issue here needs to be: "Is sexual union seperate from procreation?" You brought this up with the Church history bit and it is an important point. The rhythm method was discovered before the 1930s but I can't find out whether the Church allowed it or not before then. But assuming your premise that it did not before 1930s and then introduced it as a 'moral way of contraception' we still have the original question: was the Church right in seeing sexual union and procreation inimately linked?

Good question. And a decisive one I might add, for if it is right than contraception would be ruled out of court immeadiately and NFP would either have to go for my 'striped down' version or answer some very interesting questions about natural law.

Side note: there is a argument in RC circles for the 'naturalness' of the new tempeo-ovulation method because it is not adding anything artificial to the body, no matter how artificial charts and such may seem to be. I don't think this is the strongest case standing on its own, but could be used for a cumulative case in favour of NFP. This line of thinking stresses that we are 'discovering' what God has given us in order to 'plan' procreation. So it is not what we put on but rather what we learn and know about our own God given bodies. I think this needs to be taken seriously, even if it stresses a form of natural reason/law that we might initially feel uncomfortable with. That being said I do not think it is an a priori argument, but can supplement any other argument for a more persuasive case.

So do sexual union and procreation go together? Well, two points:

1. Obviously not every sexual act brings about procreation, but forcing it to happen or not is a false dicotomy. NFP allows for the possibility of pregnancy, it does not give any certainties. Even in the 'dry' periods it is still possible and has been done, only the probabilities are rather slim. But the possibility is still there and NFP keeps that alive while allowing for 'reasonable' planning of family due to means and such.

2. Answering this question also depends a lot on how much you think the Bible can say. For instance, the Genesis account (whether reality or myth) puts the first sexual union together with procreation. Is this a side point of the story or is it a natural outworking of the understanding of the creational ordinances (be fruitful and multiply) or is it more direct about the whole issue? Not easy to ascertain, but all possibilities are there. What I think can be said with more certainty is that there are no passages of Scripture which speak about sexual union outside the intention of having children. Again this is not an issue the Scriptures tackle head on so we need to be careful, but they certainly say something about the issue otherwise God's word is a bit useless to us if it is not able to speak some form of truth to all decesions in this world (indirectly or directly). For instance, the Onan passage about 'pulling out and spilling his seed' has been seen as prohibiting contraception since he is cursed. Recent exegesis (which may or may not be incorrectly biased) tends to say that he is cursed because he is not fulfilling his role as 'kingsmen redeemer' and therefore is not submitting to God's authority. So directly this passage may not be saying anything against contraception, but does it say anything in its assumptions and indirectly? Clearly Onan sees sexual union tied with procreation as he is trying to avoid it (although even here he might just be disgracing her, but I don't think so). Or Paul in I Cor. 7 saying "don't give up relations, except for a time, but then come back together." This would normally be seen as an argument against the sexual union and procreation issue as sex is something to be done frequently, but the passage isn't saying that at all. It is saying "you need to have sex" but it does not say how much since we don't know what the norm was. Everyone has to agree that our society has an unhealthy obsession with sex and therefore our views on it are likely to be on the high side of sexual contact. I think this is a question to your last point - sex is good, but how much? Are you sure you are not overemphasising something because of background culture? Is it possible that the presuppositions of your views on it have been severly affected by the saturation of sex in our culture? You do believe that today's Western culture is saturated with sex, don't you?

3. So the question is: is it correlative that the increase in improper sexual agendas that start to occur in the 1920s with 'flapperism' line up quite well with the liberation of sexual union from procreation? To turn the Church history question around, lets grant that NFP was not practiced before 1930s, it is still ancient and universal Church history that sexual union is not seperate from the possibility of procreation. The burden of proof again is on the newer view, especially if you take Church teaching and serious reflection on Scripture to heart. So before we answer the contraception question you rightly point out that the sexual union seperated from procreation needs to be answered. I will hold the traditional line (regardless of insane consequences) for the moment and ask for argumentation for the 'new' line of thought.

4. I think to answer whether the 'striped down' NFP is insane or unhealthy we need to first answer the above question. It might be that we are insane and unhealthy in our sex crazed state of being, therefore what is healthy and sane seems not to be. So I don't think experience is going to be decisive on this issue, although you have that in your pocket and I do not, so I acknowledge my lack. If that precludes me from this conversation that is fine, but I am not sure if it does since we always want to be careful with experience, right? I mean, we live in a broken and fallen world, therefore the truth might/may sometimes seem a bit odd, or even ridiculous. Just maybe. But possibly not here.

 
At 6:57 PM, Blogger Mair said...

I've been refraining from pointing out that I'm the only female voice in this discussion, but perhaps now's the time. The fact is I'm a woman, and that gives me a unique and relevant perspective on this issue (practically speaking). I don't want to go feminist on you here (since I know Charles and J. Morg are the only who would even remotely appreciate it) but, what is apparent to me is that contraception is ultimately a woman's issue. Yes - married couples need to make joint decisions regarding what is appropriate and acceptable for them. But, when the mucus hits the cervix (so to speak), it's all a woman's job (of course, with the exception of condoms, which are just about the most inconvenient option out there). The issue for me, as a woman, is whether or not I have the desire/ability to responsibly and accurately practice NFP. The answer is no. Do I want to take my temperature every stinking morning before I even get out of bed? No. If I did take my temperature every morning, would that accurately tell me if I were ovulating? No. My temperature wildly fluctuates all the time for no apparent reason. Maybe I have an incessant string of viruses or something. Do I want to measure gross things in my body all the time? Hell no. And even if I wanted to do these things, I doubt (knowing myself well) that I have the discipline to do what it takes to ensure effectiveness of NFP. Does this make me a bad woman? A feminist? No.

In addition, I'd like to ask, what about women who can't do NFP because their body follows no predictable cycle? (I know many). What about women who take the pill because they have cramps so severe that they spend a week of every month throwing up and convulsing in pain? What about all the women who can't even remember to take a pill once a day, let alone pay attention to every minute change that might be taking place in their body?

That said - NFP is just to cumbersome for a lot of women. Part of the feminist revolution was to give women the much needed control over their bodies and their sexual/reproductive lives. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. The fact is, we can debate the issue as much as we want, speaking in abstract, idealistic terms. But, on the ground, this issue is very tough for a lot of women, and that's why, on the ground, it may play out differently than in ideological debate.

Finally, if sex is always ultimately about procreation, where does that leave people who are sterile? Who take required medications that make pregancy risky (for them and/or the fetus)? Who simply do not want children? Who are past the age of fecundity? I guess they are stuck with an incomplete, unnatural, and ultimately unfilling sex life. I hope not.

 
At 5:40 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6:52 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Barnabas:

I am confused. You “don't disagree with [me] entirely,” yet you are still “advocating that family planning has advantages over contraceptives” and my case about sex “doesn't change [your] fundamental position?” How is that possible unless you are just disregarding how problematic NFP is (not just with regard to logic and moral consistency, but also with functionality) and basically just saying, “Well, it’s something I want to do just because.”? I am just not getting it.

Hans, thanks for your serious, thoughtful response. I want to reply to a few things (although I don’t know how fruitful it will be).

“there is a argument in RC circles for the 'naturalness' of the new tempeo-ovulation method because it is not adding anything artificial to the body, no matter how artificial charts and such may seem to be…. This line of thinking stresses that we are 'discovering' what God has given us in order to 'plan' procreation.”

The artificial/natural distinction is bogus in my view. Strictly speaking, fashioning wood into a hut is not any more natural than fashioning chemical compounds into plastics. They are both instances of humans, through their God-given ingenuity, manipulating NATURAL, that is, preexisting in nature, materials for some strictly human end.

So, what is the difference between discovering the rhythms of ovulation and discovering the means to produce estrogen pills that prevent ovulation? Why is that not “God’s plan?”

“But the possibility is still there and NFP keeps that alive while allowing for 'reasonable' planning of family due to means and such.”

That’s fine, but that is either not the intent of the couple getting it on, or it is not “planning” in any strict sense. We aren’t exactly interested in the possibility of an accident here, we are interested in the moral reasoning of people who practice or advocate NFP. Unless planning means “easing my mind by hoping,” then it is not doing anything. So I am just not getting that.

Finally, I don’t want to get into the whole Bible and Church thing, but let me just make a few general comments:

Most societies before ours tied ideologies about masculinity to procreative ability. In other words, having lots of kids made you more of a man. It was a demonstration of blessing, wealth, etc. So using historical understandings of procreation without first deeply contextualizing them (or alternatively advocating a renewal of ancient masculine ideology) seems to me to be deeply flawed.
Related, until about the 19th century, most people, particularly Christians, thought that sperm were complete little men that only need a woman’s womb as an incubator. As such, most theology of procreation before the 19th century tend to be patriarchal (for the above reason) and paranoid (in other words, “spilling your seed” was a serious issue, trying to prevent pregnancy was a serious issue, etc.). Now that we know a lot more about reproduction, we may want to be a little more skeptical of ideology based on false notions.

Now, onto the sex. Your question was, “sex is good, but how much?”

I would just say that, while I agree that our culture is over-sexed, it is also deeply under-sexed. What passes for sex in our culture and what Christian men and women have with one another have nothing in common. Sex in culture is a deeply degenerated form of real sex. Erotic love is not what we think it is.

So, regarding real, erotic love between men and women, there is almost no such thing as too much. Look, marriage has long been considered a sacrament because a man and woman have knowledge of either other in a way that is a) unlike all other kinds of human knowing, b) exclusively reserved for each other, and c) approaching the divine knowing of the other. So, marriage is not primarily about knowing your spouse through sex, but, paradoxically, one knows one’s spouse most fully through sex. That is what makes it amazing, beautiful, and exactly what we need to be having lots of.

Married Christians need to have lots of real sex. They need to enjoy it and understand it as a gift of God and as an undefiled good. They also need to remember that false eroticism is completely different. So, anything that would require a man and woman to go long periods without knowing each other by erotic love is silly. Knowing and being known is vital for a marriage and erotic love is all about real, satisfying knowledge of the other.

 
At 7:19 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

Mair wrote:

"If sex is always ultimately about procreation, where does that leave people who are sterile? Who take required medications that make pregancy risky (for them and/or the fetus)? Who simply do not want children? Who are past the age of fecundity? I guess they are stuck with an incomplete, unnatural, and ultimately unfilling sex life."

This sharpens a point that I made earlier:

"I don’t understand why evangelical Christians selectively single out procreation as such a high priority, and accuse people who use contraception of frustrating God’s will in some special way. Why does this frustrate God’s will in a way that is more acute than any of the thousands of other ways that we frustrate God’s will on a regular basis? Why is God so much more active in our sex life than he is in church, or in the mission field, or in Starbucks? Why is it every Christian couple’s duty to have Christian babies, and lots of them? If this is the case, shouldn’t we be putting tons of effort into getting the Catholic church to cease upholding celibacy? Shouldn’t Christians get married to someone with whom they are compatible ASAP and start having families? I think all of these things are entailed by your reading of the Bible."

I think these two points can be combined into a pretty aggressive dilemma, which goes like this:

Either procreation is a prima facie obligation held as one of the highest priorities by God, or it's not.

Since this dilemma is in the form 'Either A or not A', there is no way to go between the horns--barnabas and hans are going to have to pick a side, both of which have consequences I don't think they want. If the above is the case, then we should all be procreating; if not, then we should be contraceiving (in a godly and responsible way, of course.)

Have at it.

 
At 10:21 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

This post is getting unwieldly, no doubt about that, but I think we are getting close to a conclusion and understanding. Hopefully this will turn out to be "contraceptives are wrong but I can't do NFP." Though Mair didn't intend to say this (obviously) someone could construe her last piece as meaning it. But let me just deal with some last minute objections and then lay out something a bit more, if I remember.

J-Morgs -
1. I agree with you that Barnes has tanked out on this (Barnes, come on!) and said "you are right but I don't want to do it." Barnes, if you are going to tank out, it is much more acceptable to say "I think your arguments are sound and I can't defeat them, but I still feel something wrong here and so I will admit that temporarily you are correct until I can further deal with your arguments." I think this is probably what you meant, but it came out sounding like you just covered your ears and said "I don't care what you say, I'm going to do it anyways!" which is somewhat the way I feel about most people who use contraception when they refuse to even approach NFP. That is not the state of most here, I hope and your comments for the most part bear that out.

2. I think the natural/artifical distinction is important but not essential to NFP, but lets deal with it anyways. I don't think your analogy works because fashioning chairs from trees and fashioning chairs from chemicals still involve the active human function of fashioning. They may be using different materials, but the means are still active. But NFP is not arguing that bearskinned condoms are natural and plastic ones are not. So I think this argument is fallicious. NFP is not an active function but a passive one in family planning (granting that family planning at all is moral, which I think it is, cited without explicit justification - if you want we could deal with this but I don't think it is an issue). So in the chair case it is active and active, whereas in the NFP case it is passive and active. One is the lack of action where the other is active participation. I think these are different situations and so even before addressing 'naturalness' you need to deal with active vs. passive function. I think you can agree with that. It is not saying that we have dealt with the 'naturalness' of NFP, but just that your dislike of 'naturalness' has not really been brought up yet. Agreed?

3. On the issue of naturalness I think it is essential to my and Barnes position that we accept that God has involved himself in ordering nature as such. If you don't agree to this (and you may not) we aren't standing on the same platform and so are passing eachother in the night. So either we agree that God has created nature in a specific way (even if we don't know why or how or such - appendix is a case in point) and that we can learn from nature certain things about ourselves and how he intends us to live, or we need to debate the issue of God ordering nature.

But if we assume that God has ordered nature, than it is acceptable to see NFP as being a possibility because it is a learning of a natural cycle that does not prevent procreation. This is crucial in at least RCM. NFP is not the same as 'artificial' contraception because it is not deliberately stopping the chance for procreation. Again, NFP does not deliberately stop the chances for procreation, within the unitive act of sex. It is no good to back this up and say NFP is stopping procreation because you are not having sex because this assumes that we should always procreate, which of course gives you problems in contraception as well. Contraception on the other hand deliberately sunders the unitive function from the procreative function in a way NFP does not.
Now you need to decide if unitive and procreative go together, but tradition and basic biology seem to say they do, in normative cases.

Note: to deal with the red herring of old people and infertility. The exceptions do not prove the rule. If you agree that God is somehow ordering (or has ordered) creation, and if you accept that we screwed things up through the fall (you don't have to accept this, but I think you should as Christians) then there will be corruptions which are not 'normative' in creation. Infertility is obviously a corruption, old age probably is depending on how much we want to speculate. All this is to say that those "exceptions" do not at all detract from the 'normative' position, which is what we base our ethics on. So those examples are red herrings and I don't feel they have any force on the argument against.

4. Now you may have been saying "well, if procreation and unitive function go together, why any infertile periods at all?" I guess if Barnes and I wanted to be stupid we could invoke the fall, but we won't be silly. Let's just say that there is never the possibility that a child is not produced given all the wild variables that Mair pointed out (thanks for the female perspective on that, we just need Katie Wray to do something here for the NFP side, I suppose), so NFP does not deliberately rule out procreation even during infertility. Birth Control on the other hand actively intends to do this, even if it is not 100% effective. And I think there is a difference between the two cases. NFP says "under normal circumstances a child will not be produced by our union, but one may be" whereas BC says "we are changing 'normal' circumstances to try our best to prevent a child, even if possible." Again I think this brings up the created order (1) and the passive vs. active distinction (2) and the deliberately ruling out procreation during the act, not before (3). Having the desire to have sex and not doing so because of 'reasonable' concerns about support in a fallen world (important) is different than having the desire, then having intercourse but preventing the transmission. The first allows both aspects possibility (even if one is not likely, per accidents - Aquinas?) while the second deliberatly intends to rule out one, even if not totally possible to do so.
I think this might help with the disctinctions and clarify the position. What do you say Josh?

Charles - Are you really using formal logic to predicate wills internal to God? Even assuming that we can do so I think your argument rests on a 'perfect world' scenerio, specifially a non-fallen one. I agree that this distinction between A and not-A would work if there had not been a corruption through the fall (you may disagree with Paul's realist account of the fall, but that is a preliminary issue), but since sin entered the Biblical narrative and our lives there is another factor to consider in all these cases. So singleness and eunuchs may not have been the initial plan, but sin has caused all sorts of things, not through that particular person but in nature in general, so that needs to be taken into account. The A vs. not-A logic is harder to use in a fallen reality where what God wills is sometimes for and sometimes against due to sin. So your objections are fair if there was no corruption to nature, but since the orthodox opinion is there is, I don't think they work as well. Let me know if I am wrong about this though, I might be.

J. Morg - as far as your Biblical/historical issues, I don't find any of the Church fathers I looked at (Augustine, Calvin, RCC, Aquinas) describing the sperm as a 'little man' or anything like it. So that may have been a greek or secualr opinion, but I don't think it was a Christian one. To the issue of patriarchy, I think there is a point to that, but I don't think that necessarily destroys the NFP position. It is a larger issue, but it is not inherently anti-NFP to be feminist, I think.

Okay, that's what I've got.

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

Let me clarify my last post, which you has clearly been misunderstood by everyone.

I am by no means saying your arguments are compelling to me, nor am I saying that I do not feel that they can be refuted(in fact I feel Hans has done an excellent job of in his responses). I was, at that point in the discussion, merely saying that I agreed with your crystallization of the issues on a number of levels, and I was merely trying to show where the agreement existed. I was also saying that my fundamental position (which has been outlined in the original post and subsequent comments), remains unchanged.

Hans, don't worry, I'm not bailing. I think there is an ethic here that needs to be discerned, even if it isn't necessarily obvious at first glance.

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

hans, I might reply to your logic and creation ordering questions and comments (good job, by the way--tough issues) later, but I really have to try to nail you down on NFP. Is it birth control? If you want to argue "NFP is a better, more natural form of birth control that is much better for couples," then so be it...but I can't let you get away with saying that it has nothing to do with pregnancy or procreation. If, in your book, not having sex in order not to procreate is better than using birth control not to procreate, then fine, but admit it! Using NFP perfectly and abstaining from sex on iffy days, and thereby avoiding pregnancy for 10 years, might be godly, mature, and super evangelically sweet, but it's still birth control. Admit it!

 
At 1:09 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

I will go for "NFP is birth control but not contraception." Compromise?

 
At 5:30 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

What does everyone else think?

 
At 5:44 AM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...

That's fair. I think I at least alluded to that notion in my post, and I have no problem conceding that NFP allows for responsible, deliberate acting (birth control).

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

Contraception- "Intentional prevention of conception or impregnation through the use of various devices, agents, drugs, SEXUAL PRACTICES, or surgical procedures."

It seems to be contraception by definition.

I hate to be the relativist here, but the whole thing seems to be a dispute of style over substance. In both, the ultimate goal is to prevent pregnancy (with varying success rates), the only difference is the means. It's a personal preference issue along the lines of receiving communion once a week or once a month... like Charles said, If it makes you feel "super, evangelically sweet" than do it, if you don't like the hassle and uncertainity, don't.

Also, I'm going to have to side predominantly with J. Morgan here, tradition should not be blindly followed without context. I think it would be a fundamental flaw to hold blindly to 15th century tradition without reevaluating it under 21st century knowledge.

I won't try to add anything of substance, I think both sides have been well represented and anything else I say would most likely be redundant and obfuscate the issue.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Buckeye Lawyer said...

Barnabas....it's your AE buddy living in Columbus. I love your blog, and I have been quite impressed by arguments made on both sides.

Everyone who reads or posts on this or other well-educated and well-intentioned websites should be thankful to have such a forum available. Thank God for technological advances that allow us to discuss topics that have for much of our lives (certainly true in mine) been viewed as "unworthy of conversation."

And it is in this light that I support contraception. I believe that we have created something, which like anything else created by man (or under man's control), can be misused. But under the correct context of the marital sexual action, this advance allows for the enjoyment of sex with the avoidance of procreation. This can be a great thing. As others have pointed out, a great number of circumstances can make childrearing difficult if not irresponsible.

Maybe this is wrong. Maybe I will think differently when I am in a position to enjoy sex with my wife, but at this point, I believe that contraception is a gift, not a sin.

 
At 12:18 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Jacks - I found that same definition, but I don't think sexual practices entails NFP. I think it is talking about pulling out and such. Again I stress there is a difference between 'active' contraception and 'passive' birth control. Technically not having sex really wouldn't be a sexual practice except in the broadest definition of the term.

I think this post has gone as far as it goes, a good fight from both sides, maybe a tentative win to the opposition, but not a definitive one. I am satisfied with that. Good show.

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Opposition being those opposed to NFP.

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

holy cow - 36 long comments. You sure sparked a bomb with this one. I don't know what sparking a bomb means, but that's ok.

I'm probably going to go with Charles on this one, because I stopped reading after his first comment. Basically,

1.) You haven't given sufficient proof, nor do I really see any, that the family was truly better off before contraceptives

2.) You've never had sex, at least I don't think you have, and you've definitely never been married. While this sounds a lot like telling a man he can't talk about abortion, it's really not, and all I can say is that I think you'll see sex much, much, much, much, much differently once you're married. Lust and Sex are two things that go together quite frequently but aren't the same at all and are also coincidentally impossible - really and truly impossible - to separate in the mind of an unmarried person, period, I believe. Sex is sometimes gross and awkward, and you'll rarely find yourself objective enough to understand that as a guy.

3.) If you don't participate in some sort of contraception, and have sex frequently, it will be God's plan for you to have at least 12 children if your wife is not barren. I guarantee it.

4.) Mary is a sociological genius, and you're just a guy who's changed his major five times. (heyo!)

5.) I don't see why "natural" sex is important. What's so good about being natural? There's nothing "natural" about wearing clothes, driving cars, taking medicine, buying pre-made food, or less socially constructive things, like restraining yourself from beating up the people you disagree with. And who's to say what "natural" is and isn't, anyway? Sex, as a whole, can sometimes seem very unnatural all by itself. Not always, but sometimes.

5.) I'd be a lot more comfortable if Josh would stop saying "cervical mucous."

6.) I'd like to weigh in more intellectually, but I think it's too late. If you want to post a follow up post, Barny, perhaps on a more narrow branch of this topic, like specifically NFP, or what "natural" means in regards to sex, and why that's good, or how excited you are to have sex someday, or something like that, I'd love to see this continue.

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

On second thought, don't post about that natural thing - I'm going to do it. I've got the post all written and waiting in my drafts folder. I just want a few more insightful comments on my latest Jesus post before I move on.

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous smash said...

Post again on something new.

 

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