Today, more than ever, we live in a society that is obsessed with sex… a society with rapidly weakening morals and very little self-control. Many things contribute to this moral decline, but the Catholic Church will blame contraception as a major factor. Contraception is often blamed for the rise of abortion, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, and the increase in sexually-transmitted disease. It is believed that it encourages promiscuity (sexually loose morals) and that it promotes irresponsibility.
It is true that the abuse of contraceptives has played a role in the moral downfall of this nation. But the abuse of something does not necessarily mean that it cannot be used for good when used responsibly and wisely. Yes, there are wrong reasons to use contraceptives, but that doesn’t mean that ALL contraceptive use is wrong. Now, we are not promoting any contraception that causes abortion, since abortion is murder. And even acceptable contraceptives are not appropriate for everyone, since sex outside of legitimate marriage is condemned by God. They should only be used by legally married couples. All couples should educate themselves on this important issue in order to prayerfully determine which contraceptives are safe and acceptable.
The purpose of this article, though, is not to glorify contraception, nor to condemn it altogether, but rather, to show that the Catholic Church’s view of it is unbiblical, unbalanced and misleading.
The Catholic Church’s View
The Catholic Church condemns all use of artificial contraception for any reason, even for legally married couples. The Church describes contraception as:
“Abortion… sterilization… [and] “… every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” (Humanae Vitae 14)
Besides abortion and sterilization, their list of forbidden methods would include “coitus interruptus” (the withdrawal method), condoms, IUD’s, the Pill, spermicides, and others.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls artificial contraception “intrinsically evil.” (CCC #2370) Furthermore, according to the Church, “This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable” [infallible?]. (Vademecum for Confessors, 2:4)
As for as the Church is concerned, any “legitimate intentions” when using contraceptives, don’t count (CCC #2399). The correct method must be used.
But on what basis does the Catholic Church make these claims? Let us look at some of the reasons now.
Natural vs. Unnatural
The only type of contraception that the Catholic Church accepts is what is called “Natural Family Planning” (NFP), a method which includes observing the rhythm of the wife’s natural cycle, testing the cervical mucus, and observing body temperature. Thus, one can determine the time of fertility and abstain from sex on those days.
One of the main reasons that the Catholic Church is against artificial contraception is because it is… “not natural.” They are basically saying here that “natural” is right and “unnatural” is wrong. But if being natural is a requirement for something to be morally right, then shaving your beard, trimming your nails, cutting your hair, and using deodorant are all sinful practices, since these actions go against the “natural.” So, are these things immoral? Of course not.
If interfering with something that happens naturally is wrong, then why take medicine when you’re sick, because it just may be God’s will for you to die! Surely, you don’t want to interfere with God’s will, do you? And if “unnatural” is wrong, then having a prosthetic (artificial) limb would also be a sin. But would anyone dare to suggest this?
Closer to the topic, if “unnatural” is wrong then adoption is also wrong, since it too, is not “natural.” Perhaps those who have to adopt were “never meant to have children” in God’s eyes, and that adoption is actually opposing His will! Of course, this is silly. Furthermore, what is more UN-natural than celibacy? Yet, the Catholic Church has nothing against any of these things. So, they are not being consistent in this, but rather, are playing word games.
Bottom line: “Unnatural” does not necessarily mean morally wrong. Whether “natural” is good or bad depends on the context.
Or perhaps, when they say it’s not “natural,” they are speaking more specifically of the intent of the Creator, that it’s not something that God meant to be. Ok, fine. But does the Catholic Church know God’s intention for every last couple on earth? Does God intend for every wife to become pregnant? And if so, how many times, and how are the children to be spaced? Is His will identical for all couples? No, indeed.
So, it is obvious that the Catholic Church (or any church) can’t speak for every couple. And since the Bible does not specify how many children to have or how often to have them, and since responsible contraception does not go against any scriptural principle, therefore each individual couple is obligated, concerning family planning, to make good decisions and to take responsibility as good stewards (1 Peter 4:10).
Be Fruitful and Multiply
Another reason that Catholics are against contraception is because God commanded Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28) So they claim that this direct command to the first parents extends to us today. But remember, there were ONLY TWO PEOPLE on earth when God said this! The need to “fill the earth” is not so great today as it once was. Large families were more common (and more necessary) in the Old Testament because of the financial and social security that they brought in that society. But God never set a quota (high end) nor a limit (low end) to the amount of children they could or should have. Again, each couple’s situation is different.
By the way, if it was truly God’s will for every wife to “be fruitful and multiply” (i.e., beyond a child or two), then Mary was certainly a sinner, since she could have had other children after the birth of Jesus, but didn’t (according to Catholics).
The Catholic Church tells us that, in the act of sex, the possibility of conception must always be there, that the couple must always be “open to the transmission of life.” (Humanae Vitea 11) But why? Is this a command from God? If the possibility of conception must always be there, then what about those times when conception is impossible, e.g., when the wife is already pregnant, or during menopause, or after she has had a hysterectomy for a valid reason, etc.? Should the couple never have sex at all during these times?
Catholic documents tell us that, in the act of sex, we “cannot separate the unitive from the procreative.” Really? According to whom? Did God say this, or did man? Because nature itself shows us, in the female reproductive cycle, that there IS a natural separation / distinction between the time of fertility and the time of non-fertility. There are naturally times in her cycle that conception is not possible. So, this idea of not being able to separate the two elements is false.
Also, God, through the apostle Paul, warns us concerning sex between husband and wife:
“Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7: 5 - NASV)
God knows that whenever a husband and wife have sex, the level of temptation to be unfaithful decreases. Notice that Paul does not encourage long periods of abstinence, but tells them to “come together again.” Why? So they will not be tempted by the devil… NOT because of some missed opportunity to produce children. Paul doesn’t say, “Come together again, but only when conception is a possibility.” His concern here was the spouses satisfying each other, so as not to be tempted.
The Catholic Church is against artificial contraception because of the reduced chances of conceiving. But if responsible artificial contraception is wrong because the possibility to conceive is limited, then NFP is equally wrong (when used as a contraceptive method). The purpose of both of them is avoiding pregnancy - the intent is the same. In both cases, sex is “intentionally rendered unfruitful.” So, why would one method be sinful and not the other? There is no moral difference between them. Again, it’s just semantics.
It is ridiculous to think that a couple would be allowed to avoid conception by NFP all their lives, yet, it is “intrinsically evil” to do the exact same thing (avoid conception) by responsible artificial means, even once.
Catholic documents on contraception are filled with warnings which bully Catholics (who may not really want many children) into having large families.
Some Catholics may say that the Church doesn’t force them to have large families, but given the intimidating, guilt-inducing language in some of these documents, many devout Catholics are certainly made to feel guilty if they would rather have a small family, or no children at all.
We will continue this topic in Part 2…