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Note: This is a cross-post from Called to Communion. We’ve discussed contraception at great length here, so I don’t expect anything here to be earth shattering. But I’d love to hear your thoughts nonetheless. Btw, the comments on the post at Called to Communion have been great, so I’d encourage you to check those out and comment interact there as well.
The Catholic Church has stood, since its inception, firmly against the use of any artificial methods of contraception. In fact, it is the only Christian institution that, as a whole, has held this teaching consistently for all of Christian history.
Within years of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, where Anglicans became the first Christian group to officially approve the use of contraceptives, contraception came to be viewed as an unquestionable human right even by many conservative Protestants. And it’s understandable from a pragmatic point of view. It can be a difficult issue for pastors to dictate what ought and ought not happen in the bedroom affairs of their parishoners. But lately, I’ve seen a few Reformed pastors thinking about the issue out loud and coming to some negative conclusions about the practice of artificial birth control. Read the rest of this entry »
With the Prop 8 trial finishing up today, I’ve been thinking a bit about the issue. Part of me, the part that was dominant for a long time, felt that, much like the previous post on women being ordained as priests, it didn’t really matter because nothing spiritual was actually happening from a Christian perspective.
Gay people can’t get married because, ontologically, marriage is a sacrament that can only happen with the proper matter: a man and a woman. If the words of the sacrament are spoken over two men, they’re not married. They’re two men who have gone through a ceremony that signifies their commitment to each other but does not enter them into any kind of spiritual union.
This has no bearing on whether or not gay people can get a marriage license from the state. They certainly can. It’s happened. Society has not fallen apart. What’s the big deal if we let them have their piece of paper? Read the rest of this entry »
Ok, advil first.
There is a concept in Christian thought (goes all the way back to when there was such a thing as “Christian thought”) of the natural function of the body. It’s good to do things that help the body function properly or restore function to the body that has been lost. To wit: It’s good to have surgery on your heart if your heart is not pumping your blood like God designed it to.
It is bad to do something to your body that does not help it’s proper function. To wit: It’s bad to cut off your finger because you’re harming the functionality of your body.
Now, there is obviously more to life and our treatment of our bodies than the purely physical and functional side, but the physical is one side of things that is a concern.
Now, how does this apply to pill popping? It is the natural function of your head to protect your brain and keep all your squishy bits in place. It is not the natural function of your head to ache. Your head was not built in order to be an aching machine. Therefore, taking a pill that will not otherwise harm your body or reduce the functionality of any other part of your body is not a problem (I throw in that last part because taking say, four codeine to get rid of your headache would certainly do the trick but would reduce the functionality of other parts of you, i.e. your reason, your motor function, etc.)
It is the natural function of your eyes to see. If you get macular degeneration and there’s a pill you can take to make your eyes better, you can take that. You’re restoring your body’s proper function.
It’s the natural function of your reproductive organs to reproduce (not they’re not called the orgasm organs). To take a pill that makes your reproductive organs unable to perform their task harms the function of your body and is not good. It might feel good to use your genitals after you rendered them useless, but that doesn’t mean you’re using your body for the function God built into it.
It might help to think about the fact that God gave us our bodies and, ultimately, they are His. We are responsible to use them in accordance with the purpose to which they were given to us. This applies to any gift of God.
Money is a gift of God, but that does not mean that any pleasurable use of money is permissible. Children are a gift of God, but that doesn’t mean we can use them for slave labor, as enticing as that might be. That’s not what God gave us children for. He gave us children that we might train them up to be His servants. There are attendant pleasures to having children, no doubt, but if we were to take the pleasure of having children and shirk the responsibility, we would be misusing the gift God gave us, no matter how much fun it might be.
So, when we take our sexual capacity with its reproductive capacity which are inextricably linked, and take a pill to reduce the functionality of our bodies, we are acting against nature and against the way God designed us.
Simply put, the advil restores a proper function of the body, the Seasonale defeats a proper function of the body.
As to who finishes first, I think there is a misconception which is being and will continue to be cleared up as Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body continues to permeate Catholic culture. The sexual act cannot be thought of as merely what happens from the moment of penetration to the moment of male ejaculation.
The sexual act is much bigger and reaches far beyond these clinical terms. That’s why I’m hesitant to engage is such discussion. Our former Holy Father, may his memory be eternal, was an avid student of phenomenology and certainly agreed with this line of thinking. The most crucial factor for Pope John Paul II was that the sexual act be an act on the part of both parties of complete self-donation, or mutual self-giving. If one goes into the marriage bed with that as the primary goal, everyone will come out happy. This will probably take work and practice like everything worth a damn, but I assure you it can all be achieved without contraception of any kind. If the reader cannot picture how this could be, he is either not married or has a very poor imagination/sex life.
The Church teaches that what is offensive to God is any sort of sex that puts up any sort of barrier that would prevent the couple from giving themselves to one another completely, fertility included. If you’re not in conflict with that, you’re fine.
I think the point often gets sidetracked to fertility issues like this was highschool biology class. It’s not. The point of the Church’s rules on contraception is to preserve the integrity of the marital act which, not to put too fine a point on it, is vaginal intercourse between a married man and a woman with nothing between them, open to the possibility that life could come from the act they are committing.
The minute you mess with the integrity of any aspect of that act (in which orifice the intercourse takes place, the number or type of persons involved, or the fertility) you’re doing violence to the nature of the marital act. God made it a certain way for certain purposes.
With artificial contraception you’re lying with your body. You’re saying ”I’m giving you everything”, and yet you’re holding back. Now, there could be a way to lie with your body with NFP, but it’s not doing so by its very nature.
You could intentionally hold back your fertility from your partner and use the fast from sex as a way to render yourself infertile, but it’s not necessary. NFP can be used as a method of responsibly spacing pregnancy while still maintaining the integrity of the marital act. The obvious difference is that nothing artificial is placed between the husband and wife to prevent conception. To use JPII’s language, the giving capacity of the man still gives and the receptive genius of the woman still receives. Conception is left in the hands of God. The couple has done nothing to change the nature of the act to prevent conception.
Every form of artificial contraception necessarily places something between the husband and wife that attempts to portray either the giving of the man or the receiving of the woman as other than what it appears to be. It says one thing and does another. If it’s condoms, the man is giving and then taking back. If it’s hormonal contraception, the woman is going through the motions of receiving while making sure her body will not actually receive it.
It’s this fundamental dishonesty in the place where we most clearly image God that the Church finds so detestable about contraception. Here, where we should be speaking most clearly and honestly with the language of our bodies, contraception throws in lies and muddies the waters of communication.
That’s why, despite this being a debate about contraception, conception is almost a side issue. In having sex when the chance of conception is less, man and woman are still authentically giving and receiving, they’re still giving the total gift of themselves to each other with no interruptions, they just might be lessening their chances of having a baby. The act itself is authentic and honest.
…the abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it.”