Friday, July 28, 2006

Contraception And The Catholic Church--FAQ'S

1. What has been the teaching of the Catholic Church about artificial birth control? How long has she taught this?

Most people do not realize that EVERY Christian Church in the world taught that artificial birth control was morally illicit up until 1930! Could the Church have had it wrong for 1930 years before suddenly getting it right? Hardly. And now, the Catholic Church stands alone in upholding the same moral principle that began in 33 AD--that artificial birth control is intrinsically evil. The most comprehensive Church document about this issue is Humanae Vitae, written in the 1960's as culture's attitude toward sex, love, and babies was radically changing. I would recommend it to EVERY married person--Catholic or not. In short, the views about sex, in the culture at large, were such that: 1) sex was a right; 2) sex was primarily for fun; 3) sex was casual, a pastime, if you will; 4) sex is merely clinical--we are no different than the animals in our appetite for it.
The Catholic Church stepped up and reiterated what the Christian Church had taught from its inception: 1) sex is a gift from God; 2) sex is nothing if it's not holy; 3) when you treat sex like it's anything less than holy, you profane it; 4) sex is unitive and procreative all at once--to separate these two missions of this holy act/gift, is to profane it and He who gave it to us; 5) the unitive act of sex is to say what Jesus said at the Last Supper--'This is my body which will be given up for you.' When you use artificial birth control, you lie with your body because you do not give all of it but merely one part.
See, the central theme of Scripture is the idea of 'covenant'. A covenant, in Scripture, is more than a legal declaration or agreement, it is a full and entire giving of self. A contract says 'I give you this product/service in return for that product/service. A covenant says 'I give myself to you and you give yourself to me.' The Book of Revelation hammered this home for me when we see Heaven portrayed as the 'Marriage Feast of The Lamb'. This imagery should do two things. First, it should tell us something about the nature of marriage as a covenant and not as a contract (as the Jews held it in Old Testament times). Second, it should tell us about the nature of the covenant between Christ and what Paul the Apostle calls 'the spotless bride'--namely the Church.
Christ, through His new covenant, elevates Marriage to something holy, not just contractual. As such, it is supposed to prefigure or imitate the nature of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, a marital covenant is called to imitate the love of the Trinity--eternal, exclusive, and life giving. Remember, there is no marriage in Heaven, for we are all married to Christ. And so even those not called to earthly marriage are called to understand the nature of marriage because he/she is married to Christ through the new covenant. As such, do you really think that refusing certain fundamental aspects of your spouse, such as his/her fertility and life-giving ability mirrors what the Trinity does? Uh, no. If we're called to imitate Christ, do you think Christ holds back anything or refuses his spouse simply because this love may produce life? Uh, no. So why do we do it in our earthly marriages?

Christ's relationship with His bride, the Church, is to be eternal, exclusive, and life giving. For when one converts to His Church, a new spiritual life begins. The nature of the love He has for his bride is perfect--He gave his life so that she may live. This is what is demanded of husbands and wives, according to Ephesians 5. Did Christ hold back anything in his redemptive work? No, it was perfect so that His Church may have spiritual life and give birth to others in its salvific workings in the world. This stuff can get a bit muddy but the point remains--marriage on earth is patterned after the marriage in Heaven of the Trinity--totally giving, totally unending, and totally life-giving. Attempts to prevent life from happening as a result of this love is futile in the Heavenly Marriage, and, for us, contrary to what we're called to as Christians on Earth.

Humanae Vitae, and specifically Pope Paul VI, made the following predictions for a culture that embraced contraception and had easy access to it. You tell me if they've come true or not:

  • First, he warned that the widespread use of contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality." With adultery at an all time high in marriages, with 1.5 million abortions occurring yearly in the US alone, with venereal diseases still increasing, with a 50% divorce rate, with growing amounts of children born out of wedlock, with child and spousal abuse climbing yearly, and with families breaking apart by the boat load, it isn't hard to see that this culture has compromised its morals. The main reason, in my opinion, is because we can. We now have the technological ability to backslide morally and get away with it. Now let's be fair--the proliferation of birth control isn't he sole contributing factor in these cultural norms but it'd be pure denial to say that our culture' s attitude toward sex has not been transformed for the worse with the onset of birth control technologies and its accessibility. The cultural revolution caused, in part, by our society's mindset toward birth control and, subsequently, sex in general, has produced exactly what Pope Paul VI said it would.

  • Second, Pope Paul VI warned that man would lose respect for woman and "no longer [care] for her physical and psychological equilibrium," to the point that he would consider her "as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion." I'll be the first to admit that I've been guilty of this. Anyone that's seen pornography is an example of what Paul VI is talking about. The culture at large has lost sight of what sex is--a gift in which we literally give our selves away. Knowing that we can have sex without having to consider the procreative aspect of it leads to an inevitable disregard for the act. Contraception might be marketed as liberating for women, but the real "beneficiaries" of birth control pills and devices would be men. Forty years later, contraception has released males -- to a degree never before seen-- from responsibility for their sexual aggression. Speaking from experience, I've been guilty of caring only about sex in my marriage--objectifying my wife as a vehicle purely for my physical satisfaction. It happens. We used birth control in various forms for the first 11 of our 12 married years and, personally, I can say that the gift provided us by God turned into vain repetition, empty physicality, and an imbalanced relationship in which our sex life became an anchor around our collective neck. In today's culture, it's not about giving exclusively (only you), eternally (always you), or entirely (all of you, including your fertility). It's about satiating an appetite, doing it in a way that won't result in the burden of a kid, until we tire of each other, and maybe even with someone other than our spouse. The fact that infidelity is rising, spousal abuse is rising, and divorce is rising, points to Pope Paul VI's words coming true in our day.

  • Third, Paul VI warned that widespread use of contraception would place a "dangerous weapon . . . in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies." In other words, cultures like the one in China would arise in which parents are allowed a limited number of children to supposedly protect the interests of the state. Consequently, babies are killed through outright murder and abortion is wanton and commonplace there. Parents who try to hide their children from the government suffer greatly at the hands of a government that has taken eugenics to a new level and uses contraception to hold its people bound. Population control policies are part of every third world assistance package the United States appropriates--even mandating abortion in exchange for food and aid. It's a thinly veiled attempt at cultural re-engineering and population warfare, in a sense. In short, the onset of contraception has enabled the irresponsible use of it--a distinctly human problem.

  • Fourth, Pope Paul predicted that contraception would mislead human beings into 'thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, relentlessly turning the human person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.' Ironically, the 'freedom' that contraception has given women has given rise to a twisted feminism in our culture. The feminist culture of today treats fertility, pregnancy and motherhood as a disease, an affliction. This mentality is directly responsible for the 1.5 million abortions yearly in this country because a pregnant woman is told by her peers that she is less a woman for doing that which ONLY a woman can do--give life. She is told that this parasite inside of her is a burden, a barrier to happiness, and, worst of all, that she has the fundamental right to kill it whenever she chooses. In short, the pro-choice movement was borne out of the mentality created and fostered by easy, accessible, and rampant use of contraception. Not to mention the fact that men no longer have to take a share in the responsibility for promiscuity, sexual aggression, and unplanned pregnancy. This supposed 'freedom' for women is really freedom for men, instead.

  • Finally, Paul VI predicted that the human dynamic--the way we relate to each other in matters of eros and agape--the two types of love--would be irreparably damaged with rampant use of contraception. In-vitro fertilization, cloning, stem cell research on embryos, etc are all products of contraceptive technology. I think it's safe to say we've created monsters which we never even dreamed of for our society. Not because they raise ethical questions (though these cannot be understated), but because the effect they've had on our ability to love as God loves has been dramatic and negative. Our view of the sacrament of marriage has all but disappeared, even in Catholic circles. As Paul VI put it, 'It has scrambled our vocabulary of love, just as pride scrambled the vocabulary of Babel. ' And today, we deal with the consequences daily. Same sex marriage, pornography, dead babies in plastic bags/garbage dumpsters, lack of sexual identity, abortion, and embryo harvesting are symptoms which started with a cultural revolution in the 1960's in which women 'freed' themselves, men were to be judged by how many women they'd slept with, and the lines of morality were intentionally blurred unrecognizably.

2. So we're expected to have 20 children?

If that is God's will, then so be it. But the implication is that the Church expects one to indiscriminately keep pumping out kids with reckless abandon--this is not true. All the Church (and by allusion, Christ) requires of us is that we respect the natural order of things. Sex was given to us with clear reason, integrity, and place. To contracept is to willfully 'tie God's hands', so to speak. Spacing of children and limiting of children for good reason are not contraception, according to Humanae Vitae. Issues that are considered in good conscience (e.g., economic, health, etc.) must be taken into account but it's NEVER moral to artificially and deliberately prevent life from occurring. Things like abstinence and Natural Family Planning are morally licit (when done with proper intent) precisely because they do work with the natural order of fertility and are not 'anti child' in their motive and method.

3. So I'm supposed to rely on the rhythm method and pray hard that I don't have 12 kids?

The 'rhythm method' is a dinosaur. If you want lots of kids, use it. Natural Family Planning is a precise and immensely effective (99% effective when used properly) way to space children, respect the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, and do it in a way that is morally licit. We use a method called the Creighton Method and would never return to artificial contraception. We both have a role in our fertility monitoring and both take a stake in it. For us, we determined that Christ holds us to higher standards than the pagan world and so we are willing to try living by that standard. It isn't always easy but you can see that we don't have 12 kids. The bottom line is that when we made the decision that artificial contraception was wrong and that our selfish and anti-children mentality was negatively effecting our marriage and our moral decisions, our choice became quite easy.

4. What authority does the Church have to get into my sexual business?

Think back. When has God ever left His people without moral guidance? In the Old Testament, He gave us prophets, priests, judges, and kings all delegated moral authorities that were to interpret the Law for His people. Later, it became the Pharisees and, ultimately, Jesus grants His Church authority to preach, teach, and bind/loose all that He commanded them. In short, He left us with a moral authority to teach--if this authority was not infallible, then Christ's teachings would have been useless since His Church would not be able to maintain their integrity over time. But we know that Christ promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail over His Church EVER, and so we abide in His Church as moral guide and teacher. It's not about sexual business but rather salvation. The Church's job is to see each one of us to Heaven or it has failed. And so it takes its responsibility seriously to pronounce certain things contrary to God in concert with Christ's teachings and the teachings passed down by word of mouth and/or epistle by the Apostles. It's no more 'getting into your sexual business' than the Church pronouncing that bestiality is immoral is. Either it's consistent with Christ's teaching or it is not.

5. It sounds like NFP is just Catholic contraception.

Incorrect. There are fundamental moral differences between the two. The obvious one is that contraception involves the deliberate frustration of the marital act while NFP does not. This may seem like a small difference but, really, it's a large and important difference. The Catholic Church has always taught that married couples have the right to plan their families with the assumption that this is done in a just and responsible manner and with the correct motivation. The Catholic Catechism explains it like this:

2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of births. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. (emphasis in original text)

So it's not 'regulation of birth' that the Church is concerned about but selfishness and the immoral means of fostering that. When a couple deliberately frustrates the procreative potential of the marriage act through contraception, they are acting against God's plan and design for marital love. On the other hand, when a couple who have a "just reason" for avoiding pregnancy choose instead to abstain from the marriage act during the fertile time of the cycle, they are not acting in violation of God's design. Abstaining from the marriage act (which is an integral part of NFP) does nothing to deliberately change the procreative potential of the marriage act because there is no act. Again, it is not a sin to postpone or avoid conception for a just reason, but how a couple postpones or avoids conception can be sinful or it can be virtuous.

A decent example is one provided by Christopher West, a Catholic theologian. Suppose there were a religious person, a nonreligious person, and an antireligious person walking past a church. What might each do? Let's say the religious person goes inside and prays, the nonreligious person walks by and does nothing, and the antireligious person goes inside the church and desecrates it. (I'm framing an analogy, of course, but these are reasonable behaviors to expect.) Which of these three persons did something that is always, under every circumstance, wrong? The last, of course.

In short, here the difference is spelled out:

Contraception=the deliberate willing of the non-existence of this possible child that may be conceived as a result of sexual intercourse AND the regarding of said child as 'an accident' or 'mistake' rather than God's divine providence. NFP=not refusing the possibilities of conception but abstaining as a decision to not conceive a child at any given time.

6. But contraception does not affect a real person, it only prevents a possible person from coming to be.

All human acts affect one thing--the future. Homicide, for example, does not erase the victim's past but only prevents them from having a future. Same for contraception--it only affects what life may come. Deliberate homicide (a redundant phrase) is wrong because of its injustice in the act but also in its desire that the victim cease to be. Contraceptive mentality contains the same related will--a deliberate wish that a given prospective life not be. It's often called a 'contralife will'.

7. Humans should be able to have sex whenever they want!

I'd challenge you to quote me chapter and verse on that one! Jesus, in fact, speaks often of the power of fasting, abstinence, and self mastery. Still, the only thing that 'prevents' you from having sex any time you want is your own contralife will. Physically, nothing prevents any married couple from intercourse (short of health issues, of course), it's usually the fact that they are deathly afraid of conceiving a child that would cramp their style. Humans are not animals--we possess an ability to reason and a will in which we can control our urges when it's morally required to do so. That's why we innately know things like rape, incest, homosexual sex, etc. are fundamentally immoral. Paul subdued his body and abstained from fleshly things in his imitation of Christ. We too are called to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ--marital chastity has a place in the spiritual good of the marriage. Use that time to become faith filled as an entity that has become one through the sacrament/oath/covenant you have entered into.


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