Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What is the difference between NFP and artificial birth control?

A few weeks ago, the USCCB issued a statement on married love (104k PDF). They are for it. The usual suspects editorialized against the bishops’ reaffirmation of the Church’s consistent teaching. Catholic Pillow Fight did a fine job of refuting NCR’s editorial.

JCEICL3 took a slightly more nuanced approach, in which he raises a good question. What makes NFP morally different from artificial birth control (ABC)? Many otherwise orthodox Catholics see no difference between the two.

Some use this belief to conclude that no form of contraception, natural or otherwise, is permissible in marriage. I disagree with their position, but I must respect the fact that they are erring on the side of life. For those like who cannot in good conscience see a difference between NFP and ABC, the only morally acceptable option for avoiding pregnancy is abstinence.

Others use this belief to accuse the Church of hypocrisy and to attempt to debunk the Church’s teaching. If NFP is permissible, they argue, other forms of birth control must also be acceptable because there is no essential difference between the two. To draw this conclusion, they must ignore the large body of Catholic teaching about the evil of contraception. JCEICL3 seems to be doing just that. He writes:

The real question it almost seems that the Church is avoiding is this: What renders it morally licit to deliberately, freely, and knowingly engage in conjugal acts during a period when the woman is known to be infertile?

The most obvious answer I can discern based on the doctrinal statements from the Vatican such as Humanae Vitae is that the expression of unitive love renders conjugal acts licit even when the procreative dimension is entirely absent.

What JCEICL3 is missing from his formula for licitness is openess to life. This leads him to conclude:

If this is true, we can ask if there are situations where unitive love can be expressed even when the procreative end of sexuality is neither primary, or present. There obviously are, such as when the woman in a married couple passes the age of menopause, or when infertile heterosexuals marry. Can this same logic apply to contraception practiced within a marriage that is open to children overall? Can this same logic apply to gay unions?If it cannot, how do we show that it cannot without calling into question how natural family planning is morally licit?

For the unitive aspect of the marital act to be complete, the couple must be willing to give everything to eachother, including their fertility. They must be open to life. The question arises, why is NFP open to life when ABC is not? Maybe this analogy from Christopher West will help answer that question:

A young couple are planning their wedding. They can only afford to invite a small number of guests to the reception and the groom has a huge family. Conveniently, the groom’s family all live overseas, so it is not likely that they will not be able to make it to the wedding. If they sent the groom’s family invitations, knowing they were not likely to come, would they be open to the groom’s family attending? Let’s answer that by posing this question. If, by some miracle, the groom’s family did show up, what is the couple’s response? If they were overjoyed to see his family then I’d say they were open. If they were disappointed and really did not want them there, then I’d say they were not open. It’s a matter of their interior attitude. Conversely, if the couple did not send the groom’s family invitations, or worse, went out of their way to ask them not to come, then, regardless of their interior attitude, the couple would not be acting in a way that is open to the groom’s family.

Happy Advent.

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33 Comments:

  • When discussing the Church’s teaching on birth control, I think that it is important to make a distinction between hormonal methods and barrier methods. Hormonal methods are more obviously illicit, because of their ability to cause an early abortion. How can you consider yourself to be open to life while putting your children at risk like that? Not only are hormonal methods like the pill actively hostile to life, they sabotage a healthy, functioning body system.

    The problem with barrier methods is a little less obvious, and it took me a while to understand why they would be wrong to use. If NFP is as effective as its promoters claim, why is it any different than using a barrier method? Barrier methods don’t really attack a new life the way that hormonal methods do (well, there is spermicide – that even sounds hostile, doesn’t it?)

    I am not as qualified to discuss this as many others, but that’s the beauty of the internet, right? The way I understand it is silly, but here it is: Anyone who lives in the D.C. area is familiar with the Dulles Toll Road. The road is HOV only going into the city in the morning from 6:30 to 9am, and HOV only going out of the city in the afternoon from 4-6:30 pm. If you are traveling alone, you are free to travel the road in any direction anytime, but you must understand that during the HOV hours, you are likely to get a ticket. Men are fertile all the time, but women are not. That’s natural law, the way that God designed us to be. Using a barrier method is like sticking a blow-up doll in the passenger seat to try to avoid getting a ticket during the restricted hours on the toll road. It is contrary to the design of the road, it ignores the other licit options (traveling at a different time, or traveling with a friend) and it may not work anyway. Now, I certainly don’t mean to equate God’s natural law with VDOT, or children with traffic tickets, but like I said, it’s a flawed and mostly silly analogy.

    To simplify, barrier methods are our attempt to exert our will over God, with no room for His design or His plans. We are actively doing something to try and make ourselves infertile, when we want to be infertile. NFP allows us to take advantage of the time that God has made us infertile, while still respecting His design, and being open to His will.

    By Anonymous Christina, at Monday, December 04, 2006 8:12:00 PM  

  • Sorry to put this comment on such a serious post, but I just wanted to say thanks for the Sugar Bowl post and good luck in Honolulu. I'm actually going to be there that day myself, but not running. Gotta love those 70- and 80-degree temperatures, though.

    By Blogger Adam Kealoha Causey, at Monday, December 04, 2006 10:46:00 PM  

  • My friend, SRL, responded to the Facebook copy of this blog entry. His comment is worth noting so I have reproduced it here:

    That is a very eloquent screed which is a compendium of fallable points all orchestrated to detract from a very simple point, and that is intent. If the intent of your heart is to avoid procreation, then you are by definition not open to the creation of life. If you were, then you would be in full marital unity regardless of the time of the cycle and not in periods of avoidance when the female is statistically unlikely to be fertile. Those in the Church who want to have doctrinally correct birth control set up the straw man argument that the inability of the woman to procreate during certain times of the month is "natural and created by God" and therefore is acceptable means of avoiding conception. One could argue that God gave man intellect, and it is by this intellect that he figured out the physiology behind NFP just as he did the physiology behind estrogen and progestin.

    A little over one hundred years ago, we did not completely understand the physiology of the menstrual cycle such that NFP would be viable. It is contradictory for the Church to say on the one hand, "Deliberately altering fertility or the marital act with the intention of preventing procreation is considered to be sinful", then in dametric opposition state "However, having sex at an infertile time in a woman's life also considered acceptable, since the infertile condition is considered to be created by God, rather than as an act by the couple intended to frustrate fertility". That is a specious position to take and the average intelligent person would likely recognize is as such were it not for the fact that what is generally left out of that statement is that the language of the Casti Connubii encyclical of Pope Pius XI included the language of "during pregnancy or post menopause". This was not intended to be an affirmation of NFP but rather to affirm unity during periods of inevitable infertility.

    I had a discussion recently with someone who I find to be intelligent and well versed in the doctrines of the Church. To be in proper liturgical form, NFP is only to be practiced in times of extreme circumstance such as poverty, risk of the mother's life due to medical conditions, etc. We all know that NFP is widely taught to Catholic couples with a wink and a nod as a way to avoid pregnancy instead of the intended dogma prescribed by the Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI. So, just as the debate of the infallibillity of the Pope after Vatican I in 1870 has raged on through the years, so shall this. Dissenting Catholics will argue that there is no sriptural reference to birth control and all of this is in the end the creation of man in the more recent era of the 20th century. This begs the question of why God did not address this issue earlier in human history.

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 2:43:00 PM  

  • As I understand it, the prohibition on artificial birth control - whether hormonal or barrier - protects the sanctity of the marital conjugal act. To introduce external hormones or barrier devices to the marital conjugal act for the purpose of preventing pregnancy is to interfere with the "total giving of oneself" to another as a full, fruitful, faithful person; it is, in fact, saying to the other "I will give you all of myself....except this one thing."

    I fail to see how refraining from engaging in the marital conjugal act (for the few days each month that correspond to the female's most fertile period) damages the sanctity of the marital conjugal act.

    By Blogger Jerry, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 4:06:00 PM  

  • SRL is correct to consider intent when analyzing the morality of NFP. He writes, "If the intent of your heart is to avoid procreation, then you are by definition not open to the creation of life."

    That is true. He continues, "If you were [open to the creation of life], then you would be in full marital unity regardless of the time of the cycle and not in periods of avoidance when the female is statistically unlikely to be fertile."

    That is not necessarily true. Practicing NFP does not mean someone is opposed to procreation in general. It merely means someone is seeking to avoid conception at a particular time.

    Couples, who are otherwise very open to procreation, may have good reasons to avoid conception in particular situations. For example, the wife may have an illness which makes pregnancy life-threatening; the husband may be out of work and unable to provide health benefits for the family; or the wife may be taking medication which causes birth defects. Catholics can debate what constitutes a good reason, but I’m sure we can all agree such reasons exist.

    If a couple is faced with a good reason to avoid pregnancy, what are they to do? One option is to abstain from the marital act. Is this immoral? Would the couple be opposed to life in this situation? I don’t think so.

    Let’s say the couple still has the same good reason to avoid pregnancy, yet they use artificial birth control to avoid pregnancy. In this case their intentions and disposition may be open to life, but their actions are not. By inserting contraception in to the marital act, they are objectively acting in a way that is closed to life. Their good intentions cannot make their actions any less immoral.

    Good intentions be themselves cannot make an illicit act licit. Let say I want to save a kid who needs a heart transplant. Another kid who is dying of cancer has a heart to match. If I kill the kid who is terminally ill (he only has weeks live to anyway), and give his heart to the kid who needed the transplant, have I done something morally acceptable? No. Murder, even with the best of intentions, is still murder.

    Likewise, using artificial contraception, even with the best of intentions, still perverts the act of marriage.

    The tricky question concerns NFP. Not having sex during fertile times is not inherently immoral. I’m doing it right now. Having sex during times of known infertility is not inherently immoral. Pregnant and post-menopausal couples do it all the time. Couples who practice NFP are simply having sex during times of known infertility. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Since the act by itself is morally acceptable, we need to look to the couple’s intent to determine if they are acting sinfully. If they have a good reason not to conceive, then they are acting morally.

    SRL’s attempt to vilify the intentions of people who teach and practice NFP does nothing to shed light on this subject. A theological position should be judged on its merits, not on the holiness of those who follow it. That being said, all of the couples I know who practice NFP are holy, orthodox Christians who are very open to life.

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 5:06:00 PM  

  • In opening, I would ask Jerry a simple question. What greater barrier is there to the marital union than no physical union at all? You should rephrase your hypothetical rhetorical statement to say, 'I will give you all of myself.....except this one thing ON THESE CERTAIN DAYS'.

    Tom's argument though eloquent to some extent in its wording, is specious. First of all, he apparently either not read or does not understand the writings of the former Popes. Secondly, he restates what I had already stated with regard to extenuating circumstances in a marriage. Then, he goes on to juxtapose outright murder to contraception in an attempt to compare intent, hello straw man.

    First of all, a couple who are presumed to be open to life, are NOT IN FACT OPEN TO LIFE if they purposefully deny the marital act during those days where she is most likely to become pregnant. This is so basic that I am finding it difficult to believe that you don't understand. Tom, you can't be dismissive and say that a couple is not opposed to procreation in general and then grant exceptions outside the "generality". That is like saying that I am opposed to murder in general, but it is ok to kill terrorists. It is the same hypocrisy I find in some liberal who opposes the death penalty but is ok with abortion.

    The sooner that you are going to be intellectually honest and admit that NFP is in fact a "barrier method", and is in fact the perfect barrier method, the sooner we can lay this silly debate to rest.

    By Anonymous SRL aka Stafford Long, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 5:54:00 PM  

  • Stafford’s argument boils down to one premise. He writes, “What greater barrier is there to the marital union than no physical union at all?” His point is well taken. The marital act is an important part of the sacrament of marriage. There is a reason we call it the consumation of marriage. Certainly, willfully abstaining from the marital act for narcisistic reasons would be a barrier to marriage. What if the couple has good reason?

    Let’s take this one step at a time. Stafford, for good reason, is it morally acceptable for a couple to abstain from the martal act?

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 6:47:00 PM  

  • SRL aka Stafford Long:

    You have apparently missed my point:

    * artificial contraception interferes with the sanctity of the marital conjugal act.

    * not performing the marital conjugal act cannot interfere with the sanctity of the marital conjugal act because the couple in question are not performing the act. I cannot profane an action if I am not participating in the action.

    Also, as far as I know, couples that practice NFP have a divorce rate of less than 5%, so I don't see that abstaining from sex for a few days each month as damaging the marital union.

    You typed:

    "First of all, a couple who are presumed to be open to life, are NOT IN FACT OPEN TO LIFE if they purposefully deny the marital act during those days where she is most likely to become pregnant. This is so basic that I am finding it difficult to believe that you don't understand."

    To sum up your position, you feel a couple that abstains from the conjugal act during the female's most fertile period is practicing contraception. I think you go too far in what you consider to be "open to life".

    There is a difference in being "open to the creation of life" (not introducing artificial barriers to conception into the conjugal act) and "practically ensuring the creation of life" (not abstaining from the conjugal act during high fertility). While I am certain the Church calls me to be open to the creation of life, I am also rather certain it doesn't call me to practically ensure it every month.

    You may call NFP's abstaining a "barrier", but to call merely abstaining from the conjugal act during fertile periods a "barrier" is to stretch the meaning of the word to its breaking point. If my (soon to be) wife and I decide to make love and a pane of glass materializes between us, and there is no way for our bodies to complete the act naturally, the glass is therefore a barrier. However, we decide not to make love, there is no barrier to us making love: our not making love is, in fact, a mutual agreement involving self-control from both members of the couple.

    The Church calls a couple to leave each conjugal act open to the creation of life. It does not require couples to engage in the conjugal act during the female's most fertile period, leaving the "when" and "how often" to the couple.

    You typed:

    "Then, he goes on to juxtapose outright murder to contraception in an attempt to compare intent, hello straw man. "

    and then:

    "Tom, you can't be dismissive and say that a couple is not opposed to procreation in general and then grant exceptions outside the "generality". That is like saying that I am opposed to murder in general, but it is ok to kill terrorists."

    I enjoyed how you chide Tom for setting up a straw man in your 2nd paragraph, then do the exact same thing in the next paragraph.

    As straw men go however, it was not a particularly compelling one. With Tom being in active duty in the Air Force, and myself being the son of a decorated WWII veteran, comparing murder to what our military personnel does to protect our country (and each other) won't help your argument any. When terrorists stop blowing up innocent civilians, I will begin to feel bad about our military killing them. Or are you one of those Pax Christi folks who think that people and nations have no right to defend themselves?

    One more note - I posted this in another comment for an another post:

    "You can usually gauge the degree to which someone has become unhinged by the AMOUNT OF WORDS HE PUTS IN ALL CAPS....."

    You might want to reconsider your style in future comments....

    By Blogger Jerry, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 7:17:00 PM  

  • Tom said: "Stafford, for good reason, is it morally acceptable for a couple to abstain from the marital act?"

    I'm anxiously awaiting the answer to this question, because if it is not, I'm going to have to clear my schedule...

    ps- you guys are jumping up and down on my last guilt nerve. Of course intent matters, but who really ever fully understands their own intentions? I struggle with this all the time! Even the degree to which I understand my own motives is limited by the (vast) imperfections in my relationship with God, who is the only one who truly knows the ins and outs of my heart. Bah - its enough to give me an ulcer...

    By Anonymous Christina, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 8:37:00 PM  

  • Christina, don't worry. Stafford is just trying to take the most extreme "too catholic for the pope" position in order undermine the church's position.

    He doesn't think birth control is wrong, and his method of "debunking" the catholic teaching is to make it look as extreme and absurd as possible.

    You just had Charlie. It is okay to wait a year or two before thinking about giving him a sibling.

    Don't get scrupulous about your intentions in marriage. Just enjoy the gift God has given you.

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 9:09:00 PM  

  • In response to what Jerry said, I find that when a person can't win the debate on merits alone, they generally go into a protracted state of rambling extraneous commentary that often refutes itself, points out spelling and grammatical errors, descends into personal attacks, and in doing such allows the recipient to bask in the knowledge that her or she has won the debate.

    Jerry, when you make a statement that purports to the listener for example that "not engaging in the conjugal act cannot interfere with said conjugal act" is simply ludicrous. I guess you can't see the forest for the trees. I know you are a good person and mean well, but the concept is really a simple one.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 10:21:00 PM  

  • Stafford,

    You have not answered my question.

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 10:55:00 PM  

  • No, Tom I think that they can engage in the "martal" act anytime they want, LOL.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Tuesday, December 05, 2006 11:44:00 PM  

  • srl

    Did you read what you just typed? Two posts ago you said this: "I find that when a person can't win the debate on merits alone, they generally go into a protracted state of rambling extraneous commentary that often refutes itself, points out spelling and grammatical errors"

    Then in response to Tom you said this:
    "No, Tom I think that they can engage in the "martal" act anytime they want, LOL."

    So, I guess Tom has won then since you are pointing out his spelling errors?

    Or would you like to answer his question, so we can get this debate back on track....

    I'll restate the question for you: Is it morally acceptable for a couple to abstain from the marital act?

    By Blogger Joe C, at Wednesday, December 06, 2006 1:51:00 AM  

  • First of all Joe, whoever you are, Tom is one of my best friends and I was giving him a hard time in jest as we commonly do, not actually pointing out a typographical error. Now that we have established that you don't know what you are talking about from the standpoint of our interactions, I will be happy to answer your question that is different from the original debate. The answer is of course, yes, under certain circumstances.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Wednesday, December 06, 2006 1:07:00 PM  

  • Before all my my friends tear eachother apart, I suppose some introductions are in order:

    Jerry is my best friend from Notre Dame and co-author of this blog.

    Joe is my best friend during my time in North Carolina and England. His blog, "Joe Cautero," is linked on the sidebar.

    Christina, Joe's wife, is my ex-girlfriend's best friend. I claim at least partial credit for introducing her to Joe. She and Joe have a new baby named Charlie.

    Stafford is my best friend in Shreveport. I'll miss him when I go to D.C. His blog, "Polititees," is also linked on the side-bar.

    Now that we all know eachother.

    Stafford,

    If it is morally acceptable for couples to abstain from sex (for good reason), then is NFP (for good reason) acceptable?

    Afterall, NFP is nothing more than abstaining from the marital act during times of known fertility.

    By Blogger Tom, at Wednesday, December 06, 2006 2:36:00 PM  

  • Stafford:

    (Your words in italics)

    "I find that when a person can't win the debate on merits alone, they generally go into a protracted state of rambling extraneous commentary that often refutes itself"

    If you read my comment carefully, you will find 1) a fleshed out argument that addresses the points you made in your argument, 2) a criticism of your criticism of Tom, and 3) a criticism of your occasional all-caps usage. I fail to see where it becomes a "protracted state of rambling extraneous commentary that often refutes itself". Please cite an example from my comment that meets this description.

    "....points out spelling and grammatical errors..."

    I did neither. I chided you for 1) chiding Tom for “setting up a straw man” by using an analogy then doing the exact same thing in your next paragraph and 2) your silly all-caps phrases in your comments. At no point did I point out any spelling or grammatical errors. This is a rather careless assertion on your part.

    "...descends into personal attacks..."

    You’re the one who came on "Tom and Jerry" and, in the span of your first comment on our blog, implied that Tom was being intellectually dishonest. If you found the sarcasm embedded in my reply to be a personal attack, fair enough. Folks who fail to show the proper respect to my friends can expect no quarter from me.

    "Jerry, when you make a statement that purports to the listener for example that "not engaging in the conjugal act cannot interfere with said conjugal act" is simply ludicrous..."

    You have misquoted me. The actual qoute from the above comment is "not performing the marital conjugal act cannot interfere with the sanctity of the marital conjugal act" which is a logically sound and true statement. I followed that sentence with "I cannot profane an action if I am not participating in the action.", which is another logically sound and true statement. If your only rebuttal of the arguments in my comment is to critique a single misquoted statement, you are doing precious little to buttress your position.

    "I know you are a good person and mean well, but the concept is really a simple one."

    I appreciate the compliment. While I agree that the "concept" you speak of, your assertion that NFP = artificial contraception, is simple, it is also erroneous. The church’s position is very simple:

    For a couple to be married in the Catholic Church, they must be open to having children. Once married, if for whatever reason(s) – financial, physical, emotional, etc. - they wish to space the births, they may employ NFP. Though the "ends" of NFP can be identical to those of artificial or hormonal contraception, the means are quite different in that

    a) If a couple employs no artificial or hormonal barrier to conception during the conjugal act, that conjugal act is, by definition, open to the transmission of life.

    b) By engaging in the conjugal act in a manner that is "open to the transmission of life", the couple protects the sanctity and fullness of the conjugal act.

    That’s pretty much it.

    Your intended line of attack is to assert that for the couple to abstain from the conjugal act for the purpose of delaying (or avoiding for the time being) conception is the same thing as employing artificial contraception for the same purpose. I addressed this in the above paragraph: though the "end" can be identical, the means are most certainly not.

    I really cannot explain it more clearly than that.

    By Blogger Jerry, at Wednesday, December 06, 2006 4:10:00 PM  

  • Jerry,

    First of all, I hate to keep correcting you, but you seem to predisposed to, and have a habit of misconstruing facts, statements, and debates to fit your preconceived notions. I did not "come onto Tom and Jerry" as you stated. Tom did in fact post my rebuttal to a statement on his Facebook account which brought me into a wider discussion here.

    Secondly, you stated that " a) If a couple employs no artificial or hormonal barrier to conception during the conjugal act, that conjugal act is, by definition, open to the transmission of life."

    That is patently false because it is designed to dress a broader issue with concise circumstances. If a couple places a barrier to the conjugal act - in this case space and distance- with the express and purposeful intent to prevent pregnancy, then they are by definition not open to the creation of life during that period of time that they are denying each other marital unity. The fact that you can't understand or won't admit that can only be intellectually devoid or dishonest. So I will ask you, which is it in your case? This is remniscent of Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman, Ms Lewinsky" statement where you parse statements conveniently in an attempt to fit your argument.

    You also said, "I appreciate the compliment. While I agree that the "concept" you speak of, your assertion that NFP = artificial contraception, is simple, it is also erroneous.

    I am not asserting that they are the same method of contraception and I never stated that they are equal, I am stating plainly that they are both contraception in that they seek to acheive the same end.

    Then you said in an earlier post," I fail to see how refraining from engaging in the marital conjugal act (for the few days each month that correspond to the female's most fertile period) damages the sanctity of the marital conjugal act." I would point out that just because you fail to see it, "don't make it so" in the Southern vernacular.

    God Bless.




    My whole point is that it is hypocritical of the Church to take a position that contraception is evil, and then promote contraception via NFP with the implication being that their approved method of contraception is not contraception.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 1:04:00 AM  

  • Now, that I've missed most of the firestorm here - I just wanted to compliment Christina on her tollway analogy. It's perfect! My RCIA candidate has been struggling with this issue and I might use this for her.

    By Blogger Diane Haag, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 10:34:00 AM  

  • Diane,
    Thanks! I made a mistake, though - its not the Dulles toll road that has the HOV hours, its a section of 66 - doh!

    By Anonymous Christina, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 11:57:00 AM  

  • The analogy is charming, but does little to address the original point. It is no surprise that Diane would find it applicable though.

    First of all, I am clearly not a resident of DC, but I have never heard of an entire freeway being HOV only, particularly a tollway that one pays to drive on. If it is as you say HOV only, then why would the attendant let you through the access point if you were alone thus enabling you to break the law.

    That makes no sense. Using the blow up doll analogy and stating that the you are trying to subvert the law is exactly what using NFP would be outside of extenuating circumstances.

    Again, the hypocrisy of the Church saying that contraception is inherently evil because you are not open to the possibility of life and then providing you with a different method of contraception which when practiced you are also in fact not open to life, is confusing to the faithful. Were it not, we would not even be having this debate now would we.

    In fact, I will go a step further. If the church doctrine states that contraception via NFP is acceptable in extreme circumstances such as when the health of the mother or potential newborn is at stake, and then allows a method that is much less reliable such as NFP, then that is deplorable. THere are many millions of Catholics who realize that the Church is hypocritical in some aspects, such as when it coddles priests who are molesting boys, allows gnosticism to enter the church, etc. That does not mean that it is not good overall, but it is imperfect just as we all are and has issues that need to be addressed.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 6:44:00 PM  

  • Stafford:

    (your comments follow "S:")

    S: you seem to predisposed to, and have a habit of misconstruing facts, statements, and debates to fit your preconceived notions. I did not "come onto Tom and Jerry" as you stated. Tom did in fact post my rebuttal to a statement on his Facebook account which brought me into a wider discussion here.

    Again you parse something I wrote to suit your own purposes. The full sentence from my above comment is "You’re the one who came on "Tom and Jerry" and, in the span of your first comment on our blog, implied that Tom was being intellectually dishonest". That is a true statement.

    If you read the comment sequence again, you will see that I did not treat Tom's reposting of the Facebook post as your first comment. The third comment is Tom’s posting of the Facebook account. The sixth comment is your initial entry on our blog where you implied Tom was being intellectually dishonest and employed your silly all-caps usage. My first comments addressed specifically to you come in the eighth comment, and address only the content of your initial comment (the sixth), not the content of your writing containing in Tom’s Facebook reprint.

    Did your initial post that you yourself posted on our blog contain a statement that implied that Tom was being intellectually dishonest? It most certainly did. Nothing I said in the above statement is untrue. As with your previous post (#11), you begin with a careless assertion.

    S: you stated that " a) If a couple employs no artificial or hormonal barrier to conception during the conjugal act, that conjugal act is, by definition, open to the transmission of life."

    That is patently false because it is designed to dress a broader issue with concise circumstances. If a couple places a barrier to the conjugal act - in this case space and distance- with the express and purposeful intent to prevent pregnancy, then they are by definition not open to the creation of life during that period of time that they are denying each other marital unity.


    At least you quoted me correctly this time. However, your reading comprehension and ability to maintain discipline in your logical reasoning is a little lacking. Reread my statement:

    "If a couple employs no artificial or hormonal barrier to conception during the conjugal act, that conjugal act is, by definition, open to the transmission of life."

    The statement deals with whether or not a given conjugal act is open to the transmission of life. If no artificial or hormonal barrier to conception is employed, the given conjugal act is open to the transmission of life. There is no possible way to deny this statement.

    I would then say that if a couple consistently engages in the conjugal act in above manner, that, because each conjugal act is open to the transmission of life, the couple would meet the requirement of being open to the transmission of life.

    You hotly contest this logical step. You say that if the couple refrains from the conjugal act during the woman’s fertile period, that since they are not "open to life" during that period, that they are not "open to life". I would counter by saying that you go too far in saying they are not "open to life", as a) in the act of leaving each and every conjugal act they engage in open to the transmission of life, they are certainly demonstrating an openness to it, and b) not refraining from the conjugal act during the woman’s fertile period goes beyond being "open to the transmission of life" and could be more accurately described as "practically ensuring the transmission of life".

    S: The fact that you can't understand or won't admit that can only be intellectually devoid or dishonest. I will ask you, which is it in your case?

    Actually it would be neither. The position I am defending (the Church’s) is one that is balanced between two extremes:

    Un-Natural Family Planning (UNFP) : 1. Attempting to space births for any reason is not immoral; 2. Any means of attaining this end are equally moral.

    ----The Church: 1. Attempting to space births for legitimate reasons is not immoral; 2. Only natural means of attaining this end are moral -----

    Super-Natural Family Planning (SNFP): 1. Attempting to space births for any reason is immoral; 2. No means – natural or un-natural - of spacing births are moral

    To navigate the tightrope so as to not fall off into one extreme or the other takes careful thinking and logical discipline. On this issue you seem determined to try to argue for SNFP #1 so that you can justify UNFP #2. The Church doesn’t buy it, and neither do I.

    S: I am not asserting that they are the same method of contraception and I never stated that they are equal, I am stating plainly that they are both contraception in that they seek to acheive the same end.

    I covered this above.

    S: Then you said in an earlier post," I fail to see how refraining from engaging in the marital conjugal act (for the few days each month that correspond to the female's most fertile period) damages the sanctity of the marital conjugal act." I would point out that just because you fail to see it, "don't make it so" in the Southern vernacular.

    The statement I made makes a simple assertion: someone cannot profane an act by not doing it, as there is no act being performed to profane. Your merely stating that my original statement is not true, without offering any convincing argument in support of your position, does not therefore "make it so".

    My whole point is that it is hypocritical of the Church to take a position that contraception is evil, and then promote contraception via NFP with the implication being that their approved method of contraception is not contraception.

    Another re-statement of your basic thesis, which I’ve addressed completely in my last two comments. At this point, if you are still unable or unwilling to understand or appreciate the logical consistency and balance of the Church's position, I can do no more to help you. If you have a problem with the Church's position, then it is, at this point, exactly what it is: your problem. Endlessly responding to the same assertion dressed up in a thousand ways is not an activity that has any particular attraction for me, nor is it my duty to do so.

    Since you insist on simply restating your position and have no apparent intention of parting with your intent to use artificial contraception no matter what argument is put forth, wouldn’t you like to move on to another topic and save us both a lot of typing?

    Cordially,

    JGB

    By Blogger Jerry, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 6:56:00 PM  

  • Correction:

    Above, I typed:

    To navigate the tightrope so as to not fall off into one extreme or the other takes careful thinking and logical discipline. On this issue you seem determined to try to argue for SNFP #1 so that you can justify UNFP #2. The Church doesn’t buy it, and neither do I.


    This should read:

    To navigate the tightrope so as to not fall off into one extreme or the other takes careful thinking and logical discipline. On this issue you seem determined to try to argue for SNFP #1 (any attempt to space births is immoral). Therefore any means, natural or un-natural, would therefore be equally immoral. You then use this newfound moral equivalency of means to justify UNFP #2. Clever, but the Church doesn’t buy it, and neither do I.


    This should clear up any confusion. I stand by everything else as written, especially the last two paragraphs.

    Cordially,

    JGB

    By Blogger Jerry, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 8:00:00 PM  

  • Jerry,

    You are the parsemaster general. You are also hypocritical, uninformed, and closed minded. You would be well served by taking a step back and reading your own posts and think very seriously about what you have said to me.

    My first comment on this blog was the one Tom posted, and you validated that fact when you responded to it. You attempt to revel in technicalities, and ironically at the same time generalities, and miss the larger point.

    Clearly, you are not well versed on the writings of former Popes on this issue. I have already had Tom concede that he has not.

    The bottom line again is this:

    The Church is hypocritical on this issue, you know it, I know it, and the difference is you will defend it just because it is the position of the Church regardless of whether it passes intellectual scrutiny.

    You have meandered so far from the original point of the debate that you now have had to make up new terms such as SNFP and UNFP, and falsely assign on of them as my belief.

    You have no idea what I believe. You may be talented programmer, but you are a terrible debater. You clearly have not read the Humanae Vitae nor the Casti Connubi.

    Your condescension was obvious from your first response. You remind me of that fool who runs that "Big Daddy in the Sky" atheist website. It is the same kind of closed mindedness.

    If you can't see that NFP is contraception, then I am afraid that you are the one who cannot be helped. You are a true artist when it comes to putting words into my mouth. You may dazzle others with your wordsmanship as denoted in your UNFP/SNFP attempt at a syllogism, but I am just a tad more intelligent and see through the obvious fallacy. I just can't figure out if you do.

    I said any number of times that spacing of children for legitimate reasons is not immoral. All I am saying is that the established duality of the church when it comes to contraception is hypocritical and it is, whether you acknowledge it or not. You may not acknowledge that the sky is blue on a cloudy day, but I can assure you that it is.

    God Bless.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 10:31:00 PM  

  • make that "one of them" in my last post. Sorry, I know how all caps and misspellings can come back to haunt you.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Thursday, December 07, 2006 10:35:00 PM  

  • We keep treading the same ground in comment after comment, and I see that you are attempting to "win" this exchange by attrition.

    I have re-read my posts, and I stand by every word I have typed. I have attempted with great care and effort to explain the Church's position. My only regret is that I allowed your initial accusation that Tom was being intellectually dishonest to anger me into lacing my initial explanation with condescension. You responded condescendingly to me, I responded condescendingly back to you, and on and on, back and forth, culminating in your vulgar attack on me in your last comment (a decent portion of your last post was spent attacking my character).

    Your boast of your superior intelligence aside, the thing I found most amusing in your last comment is your assertion that I cannot have possibly read Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubi. I have read both Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubi, and have had (in years past) rather lengthy Q and A sessions on this subject with persons much more versed in moral theology than I (and, most definitely, than you), experiences that neither compelled nor even led me to embrace the conclusion you have. I am hardly alone, as I am also quite certain that Pope Benedict XVI, the late John Paul II, Christopher West, and other advocates of NFP have also read these documents, as well as any other Church publication (formal or informal) on the subject, and none of them (judging by their endorsement of NFP) have come to the conclusion you have. If you consider all these folks to be "hypocritical, uninformed, and closed minded" as well, I will count myself blessed to be placed in such company.

    In lieu of endlessly responding to your tiresome and repetitive attacks on the Church's position, and to your careless and, as I have demonstrated on more than one occasion, erroneous assertions about the manner in which I defend it, I will leave you on this subject as I first encountered you: someone as closed-minded and intellectually stilted (on this subject, anyway) as you have accused me of being.

    I will, however, as a courtesy to you, place my final words on the subject below in bold so that you can easily find them. This way, you can just wail away in comment after comment at your leisure, then refer to the paragraph below for an answer:

    The answers to your objections can be found in this comment and my previous comments. Rather than continue to address your same erroneous assertion restated over and over in different ways, point out the ways you continue to misstate or parse my words into something you can attack, or respond to your recent childish and desperate aspersions on my character, I will instead simply refer you to the arguments presented in earlier comments, as well as arguments presented earlier in this comment.

    Cordially,

    JGB

    By Blogger Jerry, at Friday, December 08, 2006 2:24:00 AM  

  • Hypocritical to the very end, fair enough. The bottom line is that you tread lightly around the most basic issue. I assume that this will be the final post on this issue since you have posted an "all bold" paragraph. This from a man who chided me for using caps, but that is neither here nor there.

    So, since you will no longer be engaged in this debate, I will leave you with the question you have yet to answer, in two parts. I really don't expect you to honestly anwer it even in the silence of your own heart because it would force you to hold the Church accountable for their hypocrisy- albeit not malicious- in my view.

    Is NFP, practiced with the explicit intent of preventing preganancy without extenuating circumstances and thereby rendering those who utilize it in that way not open to life at that time, contraception, and therefore contradict the doctrine of contraception being inherently evil and sinful?

    No hard feelings here. God Bless.

    By Anonymous SRL, at Friday, December 08, 2006 2:28:00 PM  

  • Again, that is pregnancy not preganancy for any typo police about.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, December 08, 2006 2:31:00 PM  

  • [pauses to crack knuckles and rub hands together before beginning to type]

    Hello Stafford,
    Briefly, I wanted to clarify my earlier post, since it was confusing. I made a mistake when naming the road. It is not the toll road that is HOV only during certain hours, it is a section of 66 from some point west of D.C. all the way into the city and yes, it is the whole road, not just a lane. When I heard about it, I didn’t believe it either. So, there’s no toll, you can forget about that. Unfortunately, I have been away from home for too long, and I also suffer from chronic sleep deprivation courtesy of my son Charlie, which causes me to make silly mistakes. I hope you will forgive me. Anyway, does it make more sense now, even if you disagree with my position?

    I don’t really want to dwell on my silly analogy because I don’t think it speaks to your particular issue with the Church’s teaching on birth control. It sounds like your issue is not with the blow-up doll, but with the “rules of the road,” as they have been established – you believe that the Church is being hypocritical because in your mind NFP is contraception, yes?

    I have been trying for the past two days to distill my thoughts into a coherent, complete post. It is too difficult for me, and I’m afraid that at best I will say something stupid, and at worst I will fail miserably in articulating the Church’s beautiful teaching, which I care deeply about. There is just too much to say. So, out of frustration and fatigue, I’m going to throw a bunch of stuff out there and see what happens. I didn’t want to do it this way because it seems so confrontational, and believe it or not, I don’t really want to fight with you (metaphorical can of whoop-ass notwithstanding.) I want to discuss the issues with you as someone who is questioning his faith and seeking truth. *Sigh ,* here goes:

    1. “Dissenting Catholics will argue that there is no sriptural reference to birth control and all of this is in the end the creation of man in the more recent era of the 20th century. This begs the question of why God did not address this issue earlier in human history.”

    You mean, there is no scriptural reference to birth control besides the Onan account, right? I am a stereotypical Catholic in that I don’t know scripture well, but even I know about that one. I’m going to remind you that, until the 1930s, all Christian churches condemned birth control. The Anglican Church was the first to make the break. A short 70 years later every Christian church has followed suit, except for the Catholic Church. We have state subsidized birth control (in some countries it is practically mandated), rampant abortion, and 30% of babies born out of wedlock in the U.S. alone. Geez, talk about hell in a handbasket. Did you know that Pope John Paul II wrote more about sex and marriage than all of the previous popes combined? Amazing. Perhaps God is addressing this issue at the perfect time in history, when we need it most, through the writings of his servants, the popes.

    2. “What greater barrier is there to the marital union than no physical union at all? You should rephrase your hypothetical rhetorical statement to say, 'I will give you all of myself.....except this one thing ON THESE CERTAIN DAYS'.”

    I can think of several: abuse, mistrust, anger, contempt, the list goes on an on. Physical union that is not a manifestation of genuine love, affection, and respect would be a greater barrier to marital union than no physical union at all. Physical union that disrespects the Lord of Life my cutting him out of the relationship and attempting to enjoy unlimited sex while deliberately frustrating the procreative aspect would be a barrier to marital unity as well. Where is the barrier when you feel love, respect, affection, trust, and yet mutually agree to postpone your physical union for a time, all the while freely expressing your love for one another in different ways?

    How could the knowledge that your spouse is willing to sacrifice and deny him/herself for your sake and the sake of the family not help you grow in love for them?

    Abstaining in order to postpone pregnancy is not lying or even being disingenuous about being open to life; it is simply speaking the truth in a different language. That truth is this: “I love you and I will give you all of myself, including my ability to resist my desire for you. I will give you all of myself, including my temperance, my restraint, my prudence, because right now we have a serious reason to postpone having a/another baby, and said serious reason is more important at this moment than expressing my love for you in a physical way. So, let us freely express our love in other ways, for a time, using another language, so to speak.” There are many, many other languages in which to love your spouse! Is this not reminiscent of the way that Christ loves us - through self-sacrifice? Doesn’t that make you love Him more? This is one of the great things about NFP. It has the power to improve your ability to love your spouse in a different language (besides the physical.) This changes hearts, makes people more open to hearing God’s will for them in their marriage. Couples that practice NFP switch easily from one language to another, always in communication. They are good at it because they practiced it before they were married, and they use it now to prayerfully plan their family– welcome to marital chastity. It is truly a beautiful teaching, and it is a powerful feature of NFP that artificial birth control can’t touch. ABC’s primary power is to divide and destroy.

    3. “a couple who are presumed to be open to life, are NOT IN FACT OPEN TO LIFE if they purposefully deny the marital act during those days where she is most likely to become pregnant.”

    Here it is: how is it that NFP allows you to claim to be open to life when you’re not? People who use NFP for just reasons are always open to life. I am reminded of Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel, “How?” Couples that use NFP for just reasons often have that attitude – “How can we have another baby right now? We are dealing with X, which is a very serious matter. Christian prudence calls us to attempt to postpone pregnancy for the moment.” The couple is open to the will of God, and refuses to deliberately surpress their fertility, which they recognize as a gift from God. However, they also wish to behave prudently. If by some chance they become pregnant, they are confident that God will support them.

    Could a couple that is genuinely not open to God’s will abuse NFP and use it for selfish reasons? Sure, probably. You could also go around strangling people with your rosary beads. To paraphrase Ani Difranco, “Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” But why bother? With evil intent, NFP becomes a prohibitively heavy burden to bear in marriage. My guess is that those people self-select out. With a faith-filled, just reasons to postpone pregnancy, the “burden” of NFP is significantly lighter, and can become a genuine blessing in marriage.


    4. “I am stating plainly that they are both contraception in that they seek to acheive the same end.”

    I don’t think you meant this the way it sounds. I know you understand that ends do not make means morally equal. Seeking to postpone pregnancy does not make NFP contraception.

    In fact, I don’t believe that contraception and NFP seek to achieve the same end, really. Contraception seeks to postpone pregnancy while enjoying unlimited sex. In order to do this, it places a positive obstacle to the natural consequences of the marriage act. NFP simply seeks to postpone pregnancy. It does not place a positive obstacle to the natural consequences of the marriage act. The natural consequence of the marriage act during the infertile time is, um, not having a baby.

    5. “My whole point is that it is hypocritical of the Church to take a position that contraception is evil, and then promote contraception via NFP with the implication being that their approved method of contraception is not contraception.”

    NFP is not contraception. It is fertility awareness. Contraception is a one-trick pony. All it does is block/suppress fertility, and sometimes attack very very tiny babies. Do you know of any methods of contraception that can also help you achieve pregnancy? Let’s say you go off the pill, stop using condoms, whatever. If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, NFP can actually help you diagnose the problem, and in some cases, fix it without any other interventions. No contraceptive method can do that!

    6. “the hypocrisy of the Church saying that contraception is inherently evil because you are not open to the possibility of life and then providing you with a different method of contraception which when practiced you are also in fact not open to life, is confusing to the faithful.”

    NFP is confusing to many many Catholics. I admit that some of the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage are counterintuitive, but that does not make them any less true. Many of the things that Jesus said himself are counterintuitive. I think that NFP is poorly taught, when it is taught at all. Mostly it is ignored. I have never in my life heard to a priest on Sunday discuss the Church’s teaching on birth control during the homily. Not once. I have read that a very small percentage of Catholics use it – like maybe 5%. It is very sad, but it is not the only Church teaching that is frequently misunderstood.

    7. “If the church doctrine states that contraception via NFP is acceptable in extreme circumstances such as when the health of the mother or potential newborn is at stake, and then allows a method that is much less reliable such as NFP, then that is deplorable.”

    Wow. Seriously, I think my head just exploded. Let me tell you something about the reliability of NFP vs. ABC. 100% of pregnancies that are the result of ABC method failures happen when the woman was fertile. But, since she wasn’t using NFP, she didn’t even know that she was fertile, because 0% of ABC methods include a mechanism to inform her when she may be fertile. Too bad. If my life were at stake, I’d bet on NFP any day of the week.

    8. “THere are many millions of Catholics who realize that the Church is hypocritical in some aspects, such as when it coddles priests who are molesting boys, allows gnosticism to enter the church, etc. That does not mean that it is not good overall, but it is imperfect just as we all are and has issues that need to be addressed.”

    Coddling priests who are molesting boys is a sin of individuals within the Church, not one of the teachings of the Church that we are called to obey, such as the Church’s teaching on birth control. Do you really consider the Church’s teaching on birth control to be an imperfection or an “issue to be addressed?“ How do you separate it from the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage as a whole? JPII’s Theology of the Body hangs together so beautifully, how do you throw out the teaching against birth control without leaving a garish hole in the pope’s vision for married love?

    I have to admit that the depth of your knowledge about the Church’s teaching on birth control surprised me at first, probably because I don’t know you. Most of the people that I know (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) don’t even try to understand what the Church teaches, and the fact that you have made an effort to research it is refreshing. I apologize for writing so much, but I am totally in love with the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, and so I love to talk about it, even when I am challenged.

    By Anonymous Christina, at Friday, December 08, 2006 4:37:00 PM  

  • Thanks for commenting Christina. Well done.

    By Blogger Tom, at Tuesday, December 12, 2006 4:32:00 PM  

  • I agree Tom,

    That's why I married her...

    By Blogger Joe C, at Wednesday, December 13, 2006 12:16:00 AM  

  • Christina, you ROCK! I'll read this blog now because of what you wrote.

    Katie

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, December 13, 2006 12:23:00 AM  

  • Stafford,

    Your question is like asking, "When did you stop beating your wife?"

    That aside, your question has been answered over and over again by Jerry and others.

    This is what Jerry wrote:

    "Your intended line of attack is to assert that for the couple to abstain from the conjugal act for the purpose of delaying (or avoiding for the time being) conception is the same thing as employing artificial contraception for the same purpose. I addressed this in the above paragraph: though the "end" can be identical, the means are most certainly not.

    I really cannot explain it more clearly than that."

    NFP and ABC may have the same end but the means are very different and that is what makes NFP morally acceptable under some circumstances and ABC morally wrong under all circumstances.

    The answer to your question depends on your definition of contraception. I think you are defining contraception as "any method of avoiding preganancy." If that were true then every priest and nun in the world is practicing contraception. So I don't think that is an adequate definition.

    Contraception is really about sex. It is a way of letting a couple have sex whenever they want and not get pregnant. I would propose this definition, "any method of thwarting fertility during sex."

    No, the morning after pill is not contraception, it is abortion.

    By this second definition, NFP is not contraception. NFP respects a woman's natural fertility.

    By Blogger Tom, at Wednesday, December 13, 2006 10:36:00 AM  

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