Thursday, April 26, 2012

CONTRACEPTION (Part 2)

We will continue in this article with some of the reasons why the Catholic Church is against any and all forms of artificial contraception. We stated in Part 1 that our objective is not to glorify it, and that contraception should only be used by legally married couples. We also want to repeat that any contraception that would cause abortion is not acceptable. But our purpose here is to demonstrate that the Catholic Church’s reasons for condemning responsible artificial contraception are actually unreasonable.

“Natural Law”

The Catholic Church tells us that contraception is a violation of “Natural Law,” because it deliberately “blocks” the natural purpose of sex which was designed by the Creator. But we could say that using deodorant / antiperspirant is also a violation of “Natural Law,” since using it, too, deliberately blocks the natural purpose of the skin and sweat glands, which were designed by the Creator. What about suppressing the urge to use the restroom until you have an appropriate time to go? Aren’t you “blocking” that natural function (at least temporarily) that God designed? What about medicines that block the natural production of stomach acid, or the ones that reduce a fever? And doesn’t suntan lotion / sunscreen block the natural UV rays from access to your skin?

So, if contraception violates the Natural Law, then so do these other things. But we don’t see the Catholic Church up in arms over these other things. So, their “Natural Law” argument doesn’t work because the Church is being inconsistent with it.

As we mentioned in Part 1, “Natural Family Planning” (NFP) is the only type of contraception allowed by the Catholic Church. They insist that the “possibility” of conceiving during sex must always be there. But, ironically, Catholics often brag that NFP, as a contraceptive, is just as, or more efficient, than other contraceptive methods, and can be as high as 99% to 100% effective. If this is true, then why are Catholics allowed to use NFP as a contraceptive, since it offers the least amount of “possibility” for conception?

These are simply more examples of the Catholic Church playing word games. From a moral standpoint, when NFP is used as a contraceptive method, the Catholic couple deliberately avoids conceiving and has the same intent (no pregnancy) and they get the same result (no pregnancy) with NFP as they would with artificial contraception, but without using artificial contraception. Morally, there is no difference.

The Guilt Trip

Some Catholics will say that using artificial contraception is “playing God.” According to the Catholic Church, contraception “…harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life’.” (Vademecum for Confessors, 2:4)

First of all, is it “true love” to impregnate an already tired, over-burdened wife with yet another child, a wife who is already concerned about the couple’s ability to adequately manage the energetic toddlers they already have?

Second, being a good steward by making wise choices in spacing your children is not “denying God’s sovereignty.” Using artificial contraception will not, and cannot, override His sovereignty. Nothing can do that. If God really wants a woman to be pregnant OR barren, there is nothing that can stop Him, so this is a false argument. It may have something to do with His specific will in a particular couple’s lives, but it doesn’t affect His sovereignty. By definition, it is not possible to “interfere” with God’s sovereign will. He has already taken all things into account. On the other hand, it is possible to go against His “moral” will (i.e., His Law / Commandments). But we find nothing in this Law that prohibits responsible contraception.

“Let God Decide…”

Catholics will say, “When you are using NFP you are letting God decide the number of children you have. This is the right way to do it.” This is a noble thought, but exactly how does a couple “let God decide”? Do they just casually ignore any potentially serious problems, like health, financial or child spacing issues? No, God expects us to make reasonable and responsible choices in every other area of life, so why not in this area also?

Yes, God is the One Who makes the final “decision” as to whether pregnancy occurs or not. But there’s a difference between getting pregnant because God overrides our well-intended and responsible plans, and getting pregnant because we were just being irresponsible.

Every couple should strive to know God’s will for their family and be accountable for it. You are disobeying God if He wants you to have a large family, when you are striving for a small one. And you are disobedient to God if He wants you to have a small family, when you are striving for a large one. Every couple should first seek God’s will earnestly, and put aside any selfishness. But the idea of “letting God decide” should not justify a couple going beyond their means. God expects us to use common sense.

“God Will Provide…”

Because the Church encourages large families, another thing Catholics will often say when couples are hesitant to bring more children into the world is, “Don’t worry, God will provide.” This, too, sounds very spiritual, but this does not remove the obligation to make wise decisions on the part of the couple.

Yes, God even provides for those who are not His children. He causes the sunshine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). But this fact alone doesn’t mean that you are in His will. There comes a point where a person can be guilty of tempting God in this “God will provide” context. Should we quit our jobs, stand around doing nothing all day, and “just trust God” to provide for our needs? Obviously not. Again, there is a balance when it comes to trusting God and exercising responsibility. The Bible says that the one who doesn’t provide for his own family has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel (unbeliever). (1 Timothy 5:8)

The Case of Onan

Catholics believe they have a biblical case against contraception by pointing to Onan in Genesis 38:6-10:

“And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, ‘Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.’ And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore He slew him also.”

So the question is, why exactly did God take Onan’s life?

Catholics claim that Onan’s sin was that he practiced contraception, namely that he “spilled his seed” on the ground, using the “withdrawal method” instead of impregnating Tamar. They will say that his sin was his chosen METHOD of birth control.

But this assumption is quickly disproved by asking a simple question: “Would Onan have been spared if he had used ‘Catholic-approved’ birth control (i.e., NFP) to prevent pregnancy?” Of course not. In God’s eyes, he would still have been avoiding his duty. So, it had nothing to do with the specific method used.

But it’s very clear in this passage that Onan’s sin was that he failed to raise up a son for Er, “…lest that he should give seed to his brother.”

But Catholics believe that can’t be the case; there had to be more involved, since the penalty for not providing a son for your brother’s wife was not death, but public humility. (Deut. 25:7-10)

Perhaps so, but we think that it can safely be said that Onan’s case was similar to that of Ananias and Sapphira in the early church (Acts 5:1-10). They withheld a certain amount of money in their offering and lied about it. But neither lying nor stealing (withholding money) was a capital offense, yet God took their lives also because of their deception. It is very possible that Onan (like Ananias and Sapphira) was killed by God because of his deception in pretending to do a godly service (providing a son for his brother), but actually neglecting to do so.

The simple lesson in this is NOT that contraception is bad. The lesson is that disobeying God is bad.

It is also interesting to observe that the footnotes in the Catholic New American Bible say:

“In the present story, it is primarily Onan’s violation of this law [the law of levirate], rather than the means he used to circumvent it, that brought on him God’s displeasure.” (World Publishing, copyright 1987, p. 44)

Furthermore, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia concerning Genesis 38:

“Consequently, no certain argument can be based upon this text to prove the sinful character of either improperly completed intercourse or masturbation. Evidence for this must be sought elsewhere.” (McGraw Hill, copyright 1967, Volume 10, “Onanism”, page 696)

For the record, whether Onan was aware of it or not, this family line was extremely important to God – Tamar was destined to be an ancestor of Christ! (Matthew 1:3)

The Fathers Know Best?

Catholics will almost certainly also point to the early church fathers and their opposition to contraception. But what was the reasoning which determined the early fathers’ view of contraception? Was Scripture the greatest influence which led them to their beliefs? Were these beliefs accurate, biologically? The answer in both cases is no.

For a long time, one of the false beliefs of the early church was that the male’s semen contained a fully formed human being and the female’s womb was simply a place for it to grow. These early church fathers considered any male semen that was not implanted in the female (i.e., “blocked” or “wasted” in any way) to be a form of abortion.

It was the heavy influence of rigid Stoic philosophy, along with this faulty understanding of conception, that was the main reason for their negative view of contraception.

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

“Clement [of Alexandria] adopted the Stoic rule set out by Musonius Rufus: the SOLE LAWFUL PURPOSE for initiating marital intercourse was procreation… This rule became the dominant opinion of the Fathers and of the medieval theologians on the lawful use of marriage; it effectively excluded contraception.” (McGraw Hill, copyright 1967, Volume 4, “Contraception”, page 271) [Ephasis added]

Again, not only did it exclude contraception, it excluded sex for a lawfully married couple for ANY reason other than for having children. In other words, the accepted modern Catholic form of contraception (NFP) would not have been accepted by them. Today, it would be very rare to find a modern denomination that actually follows the contraception views of the early fathers.

“I Just Feel Used…”

The Catholic Church states, “…It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” (Humanae Vitae, 17)

That’s possible, but there are two sides to this coin. It is also possible that the Catholic wife, fearful of the condemnation of the Church, could come to view herself as merely a “baby factory” for producing Catholic children. But Humanae Vitae doesn’t mention this possibility. So if it’s wrong for the husband to make her feel “used,” then it’s also wrong for the Church to make her feel “used.”

Where Does This Lead?

In the old days, the birth of a child didn’t cost anywhere near what it does today (not to mention the cost of raising the child). The temptation to lean on government assistance for help today can be very strong. Since artificial contraception is severely condemned by the Church, it can even drive the faithful poor (who may see no other way out) deeper into the welfare system and to depend more and more on government assistance, because of his (reluctantly) growing family. This is one result of such a system of unnecessary guilt.

What Do You Really Want?

God will sometimes give us what we want, even if it is not in our best interest. For example, in the Old Testament the people wanted Saul as king, but Saul was not God’s choice. However, He gave them what they wanted (1 Samuel 8:9). But it was not till later that they realized the serious error of their selfish request.

But God will sometimes allow this just so that in the end we would say, “I should’ve seen it God’s way and taken advantage of His blessings. What I THOUGHT I wanted is now grieving me.”

In the same way, many couples want to be childless, and they should have that freedom (Romans 14). Refusing to have children is not necessarily a sin – although (just as the Jews who demanded Saul as king) this could very well be something the couple will live to regret.

Personally, I find it difficult to see how anyone can NOT ever want children. Children are certainly a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5). Big families are wonderful, and children from large families are generally more disciplined (depending on the parents), and usually more acquainted with having to share with, and care for, younger siblings. But the bigger the family is, the greater the responsibility. God wants us to be good stewards of all that He gives us… but He wants us to have what we can reasonably manage. Not every couple can handle eight or ten children.

Conclusion

Leviticus 20:10-21 contains a list of specific sex sins. But why is artificial contraception not included here? If God feels so strongly about this “mortal sin,” then why don’t the Scriptures condemn it? Maybe… just maybe… it is just the Catholic Church that feels so strongly about it, and not God.

This is another case of truth mixed with error. We want to stress that there is nothing wrong with “Natural Family Planning.” It is a worthy and acceptable method of birth control. What IS wrong is demanding that this is the ONLY method approved by God, and condemning all other methods.

The Catholic view of contraception is used as a bullying tactic causing an unnecessary guilt trip on good, responsible, concerned and legitimately married couples who may not want large families.

Once again, the Catholic Church’s view of contraception is unbiblical, unbalanced and misleading.

4 comments:

  1. I would say you should abandon some of the arguments you did, because they could end up refuting any notion of sexual morality at all. For example, if sex is just a biological function like sweating, then you should argue there is no way to misuse sex and thus it is morally neutral like sweating is.

    Rather than using the term "block," a better term would be "misuse". Sweating is an involuntary bodily function; it's purpose is to cool down the body. The stench that comes from it is not in itself bad, but unpleasant to our sensibilities. Deodorant is not to take something good and make it bad. Sex is a different thing entirely. It's primary purpose is for procreation, and this requires a male and female cooperation. It thus can be misused, contrary to the Creators design/intent.

    The term "Natural" here applies to the eternal law of God that has been implanted in rational creatures (i.e. humans) so they may discern their duty as humans. This "natural" does not refer to aspects of natural biological functions in general. Sin, by definition, is an willful action contrary to a law.

    NFP is a different and more nuanced issue, but it is not a form of contraception. It cannot be properly understood until more fundamentals are grasped first, such as understanding the essence of Natural Law. Otherwise, it will truly look like word games, and that does nobody any good.

    When a Christian goes in favor of contraception, they lose any principled basis to oppose masturbation and homosexuality. Once you start to explore this connection, you will see what the problem is.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Nick,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Many Catholics (perhaps not you) seem to think that the sex organs are the only body parts that have anything to do with morality, but this is certainly not true (Proverbs 6:16-18). Other body parts and functions can also be morally “misused.”

    My point was never that sex is morally neutral, but I’m saying that contraception IS. Artificial contraception is simply a tool. Tools are not “intrinsically evil.” With few (if any) exceptions, a tool can be used for good OR bad.

    You said that the primary purpose of sex is for procreation. That’s true, but that’s something I never did (and never would) deny. But the point is that it’s not the ONLY purpose.

    This Catholic concept of “we must never separate the ‘unitive’ function from the ‘procreative’ function” is absurd. Separating the different functions of a body part is not necessarily “misuse.”

    For example, there are multiple purposes for the human hands, two of which are to forcefully grab, and to gently caress. These are not divorced from morality. Now, each function has its place and we would not expect a policeman to use the “forcefully grab” purpose when holding his tiny infant daughter. Neither would it be appropriate for him to “gently caress” an escaping criminal. Although there is more than one purpose for the hands, there is a particular time to exercise each function. All functions of the hands do not necessarily have to be used at the same time in every situation. There is nothing wrong in sometimes separating those functions and using them individually. It is the same with sex.

    Again, consider the tongue. It is used for eating, talking, teaching, singing, etc. These also can all be tied in to moral activity. So, is it “evil” to talk apart from eating? Is it a “violation” of the use of the tongue to teach while not singing? Must every function of the tongue always be used at the same time? Of course not.

    So, the functions of our members are varied and can certainly be “separated” from each other in different circumstances. And again, these can and do revolve around moral activity.

    I see this somewhat vague “Natural Law” used by many Catholics trying, seemingly, to replace Scripture or its principles. You said the purpose of “Natural Law” is to discern our duty as humans, and you defined sin as a willful act contrary to the law. Well, that’s fine, but Scripture already tells us what sin is and it also gives us the tools we need for discernment.

    Appealing to some nebulous “Natural Law” to condemn the “separation of the unitive and the procreative” is simply special pleading. And it seems to be used as a distraction from Scripture.

    You also said:

    “When a Christian goes in favor of contraception, they lose any principled basis to oppose masturbation and homosexuality. Once you start to explore this connection, you will see what the problem is.”

    Nick, it is not as though Scripture does not already address (at least, in principle) these acts. An act of pure selfishness (a category that masturbation can surely fit into) is biblically wrong. Homosexuality is also clearly wrong according to biblical standards. The basis of Scripture (and its principles) is sufficient to guide us.

    By the way, Nick, I won’t be able to respond for a week or two because I’ll be away from the computer. But I’ll see you later. Thanks again.

    In His Name,
    Russell

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Russell,
    have you read the book "What is marriage"? I see you have some good arguments there and you seem a person of goodwill. My question for you: What is the goal of the unity of the married couple? If it doesn't have a specific goal, what then constitutes this unity? Catholics teach that the unity is both in body and soul. In all dimensions of the human person. However, the only way human bodies become "one" in a bodily dimension is in respect to the purpose of procreation. For all basic human functions the individual forms a whole. However, with respect to reproduction, the two really "become one" because without a person of opposite sex, the reproduction system is infertile. This is why in order to help the unity of a couple by sexual intercourse, they have to keep the act itself open to this purpose. Would you agree with some or all of this?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Leilita,

    Thank you for the comments.

    No, I haven’t read “What is Marriage?” This is the first I’ve heard of it, so I’m not familiar with it.

    Concerning the goal of the unity of the married couple, there is both a physical side and a spiritual side to this. Physically speaking, the coming together / union of the husband and wife is both for producing children and for intimacy. Spiritually speaking, I would say that the purpose of this unity is to reflect the special and exclusive spiritual relationship that we have (or at least should have) with Jesus Christ.

    Leilita, I agree with most of what you said, but I’d have to disagree with the supposed obligation of always keeping the act of sex open to producing children. This idea is simply a Catholic ASSERTION. God never said this. Now, it is not always wrong to stay open to the possibility of conception, but God does not OBLIGATE us to do it all the time. God never forbids the responsible use of artificial contraception in the Bible, nor do any biblical principles go against it.

    ReplyDelete