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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Friday, December 31, 2004

A romantic dinner

Tonight my husband took me to Duff’s, a restaurant specializing in chicken wings, for our anniversary dinner. The kids came along too since we were traveling. We dined in the game room where loud, pounding music added that special ambience. While we waited for our entrees, our daughter (almost 3) pumped it up on the Express Pump It Up dance floor and our youngest son (almost 6) called the shots at the pool table (he wasn’t playing.)

When our meals finally came, we savored the hot (spicy) wings swimming in sauce. The kids got off easy though, they shared a single order of mild wings. And fought over who should drink which milk.

As my husband and I gazed at each other from opposite ends of the table, he broke out in a sweat. I think it was the wings. They were darn hot; my nose started to run before I’d finished even one. That’s a good sign. (I told you this was a romantic dinner). The reaction of my nose is a good indicator of whether wings are hot enough.

When our wings were reduced to nothing but a large scattered pile of bones, we were still hungry, so we put in one more single order. We were promised it'd be ready in 20 minutes. 45 or so minutes later we had our extra order. Meanwhile, we spent probably a hundred dollars in quarters.

We polished off the wings and then got ice cream bars, which were actually as tasty as gourmet desserts but a lot cheaper (we were broke by then, and Duff’s doesn’t offer gourmet desserts anyway). They were the perfect finish to a most romantic dinner...

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Top hats

Truly masterful craftsmanship of the type belonging to artisans of the past is a rarity, so it was wonderful to read this article in the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle about an “ordinary” man who makes extraordinary hats.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


I have nothing of any value to say regarding the destruction recently visited upon South Asia by killer tsunamis, but want to light a candle, so to speak, for both the dead and the survivors.

I watched the news report on television last night while eating dinner, which was not good timing. The footage of endless rows of dead bodies, their limbs frozen in awkward positions by rigor mortis, and especially a hospital floor crammed with the bodies of children, was horrific to say the least. A man carried the stiff body of his young son upside down in a terribly unnatural way, and another wailed over the body of a child that lay in his lap.

It was rather annoying, in a distracted sort of way, to hear the reporter say something to the effect that people vacationing in Thailand for the holidays had their peaceful getaways disturbed. Though I understand the misfortune of that, the fact that entire families were wiped out in a seeming instant, and the livelihoods of whole villages decimated, makes disrupted vacations pale in comparison.

Lord have mercy on the survivors as they heal and go on. Provide residents with food, clean water, shelter, and protection against illness. I pray the world will respond adequately to help these our neighbors in great need.

Monday, December 27, 2004

C. S. Lewis: reflections, human nature, and humility

If I had to pick just one characteristic of C. S. Lewis’ that I appreciate the most (if I had to pick just one), I’d choose his humility. Which really is a form of honesty. Beyond his astute literary genius, Lewis was able to illuminate for all humankind the truth of its own nature, as manifest in its aspirations, motivations, and foibles, because of his honesty. Even his fiction was not merely entertaining, but rich in substance. I confess to at times wishing I’d been born a generation or so earlier, across the ocean, and fortunate enough to attend Oxford or Cambridge while he resided there.

I’ve been reading Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms, which is especially enjoyable because, as Lewis writes in the Introductory chapter,
“In this book, then, I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained, when reading the Psalms, with the hope that this might at any rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers. I am “comparing notes”, not presuming to instruct. (p. 9)

The wonderful humility in this is that, by the very nature of his sincerity and abilities, he instructs quite masterfully, without pretense of explicit intent to do so. He is not writing as a dispassionate scholar, but from the heart.

Lewis’ approach resonates with me, and I hope to guide and educate my children in similar manner. Not in a completely analogous way, of course, because the nature of the pilgrim-to-pilgrim relationship differs from the parent-child relationship. But by sharing heart, thoughts, and attitudes, along with doubts and uncertainties, I hope to show my children a way to approach learning and life that will serve them well throughout their lives.

The Introductory chapter to ROTP begins thus:

This is not a work of scholarship. I am no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist. I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself. (p. 9)

Now, this might seem a terribly unconvincing way to start a book. But that’s the beauty of it. Continuing:

If an excuse is needed (and perhaps it is) for writing such a book, my excuse would be something like this. It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes, after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert me it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.

In other words, this book is more of a devotional than a scholarly study. One for the heart as well as the head.

I would like to outline some of the points which struck me in the first three chapters:

1) In terms of civil justice, we in modern America (as well as England) enjoy a much greater measure of justice overall than those who lived in the times of the Psalmists. This statement may make some sputter but really, it’s all relative. “Christians cry to God for mercy instead of justice; [the Psalmists] cried to God for justice instead of injustice” (pp. 16-17) I realize that this is a generalization, yet it's worth noting.

2) “…the [ancient] Jewish picture of a civil action sharply reminds us that perhaps we are faulty not only by the Divine standard (that is a matter of course) but also by a very human standard which all reasonable people admit and which we ourselves usually wish to enforce upon others. Almost certainly there are unsatisfied claims, human claims, against each one of us. …Of course we forget most of the injuries we have done. But the injured parties do not forget even if they forgive. And God does not forget.” (p. 18)

3) “…of course the fatal confusion between being in the right and being righteous soon falls upon [those who have been wronged]. …There is also…a still more fatal confusion -- that between the desire for justice and the desire for revenge. “ (p. 22)

4) The call to forgiveness: “It seemed to me that, seeing in [the Psalmists] hatred undisguised, I saw also the natural result of injuring a human being. The word natural here is important. This result can be obliterated by grace, suppressed by prudence or social convention, and (which is dangerous) wholly disguised by self-deception. …The reaction of the Psalmists to injury, though profoundly natural, is profoundly wrong.” (p. 27)

[it is written,] ‘Though shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart…thou shalt not avenge or bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Leviticus 19:17-18) ‘If thou seest the donkey of him that hateth thee lying under his burden…thou shalt surely help with him.’ (Exodus 23:4) ‘Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thy heart be glad when he stumbleth.’ (Proverbs 24:17) ‘If thine enemy hunger, give him bread’ (Prov. 25:21) (p. 28)

5) Indignation, which may “[pass] into bitter personal vindictiveness, …may still be a good symptom, though bad in itself. It is a sin, but it at least shows that those who commit it have not sunk below the level at which the temptation to that sin exists --just as the sins (often quite appalling) of the great patriot or the great reformer point to something in him above mere self." (p. 30-31)

(This is something that tends to confuse me: how do I know that any (or all) of my cares and concerns are not, at their root, selfish? Does it matter that they are if the selfishness they are rooted in is a desire to please God and further His kingdom on this earth because that’s the right and true thing to do, and I want to do the right thing because it makes me feel worthy? If I am seeking Him first, will not my desires, in some part, become conformed/transformed to His? Yet the flesh and the spirit still, and will always in this life, war.)

6) A more terrible sin (than vindictiveness): for “a man to think that his own worst passions are holy.” This “encourages him to add, explicitly or implicitly, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to the expression of his own emotion or even his own opinion as [so many] so horribly do. (It is this, by the way, rather than mere idle ‘profane swearing’ that we ought to mean by ‘taking God’s name in vain’).” (p. 31)

7) “...the Supernatural, entering a human soul, opens to it new possibilities of good and evil. From that point the road branches: one way to sanctity, love, humility, the other to spiritual pride, self-righteousness, persecuting zeal…If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse.” (p. 32)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmastime is Here... one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. I loved the music on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” TV special as a child, and it still captivates me today.

In googling for an audio link to include, I could only find a newer version of the song that has no soul at all. Here’s an listing where you can hear about a minute of the Vincent Guaraldi original (instrumental version).

Thankfully the ACLU hasn’t gotten “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and its explicitly Christian message off the television yet:

"And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid ... And the angel said unto them, "Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord."

"And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men."

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." - Linus Van Pelt

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Illusion and sin

In today’s Breakpoint commentary, Mark Earley talks of a new book by Joe Loconte, William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation. Loconte’s book, The End of Illusions, compares the liberal anti-war rhetoric of the WWII era with the liberal anti-war rhetoric of today.

Sadly, I am not the student of history that I should be, so I cannot evaluate Loconte's claims. However, they are fascinating, and, if true, extremely significant.

Writes Loconte,
... "the latest fads in theology, psychology, and economics had flattened the Bible's hard-nosed teaching about evil and its deep link to human personality. . . . Indeed, the fatal flaw of liberal intellectuals was what the realists called 'the dogma of the natural goodness of man.'"

This heresy, Loconte writes, assumed that "sin resides mostly in social and political institutions"; once man is freed from them through reform or revolution, he will "rise to new humanistic heights."

Says Earley,
Well, in all the work we have done in prisons and with prisoners over the last thirty years at Prison Fellowship, we know that is not the case.

Indeed, theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr attacked this heresy and revived the scriptural definition of sin: rebellion against God and His laws. Hitler's rage and maniacal fury against the Jews, Niebuhr asserted, must be stopped through confrontation.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Artificial beauty

was under scrutiny at the recent Plastic People Pageant in China...

I thought beauty pageants were supposed to be about real people, sort of, but I’m not sure which people the Artificial Beauty Pageant in China is about – the contestants, or the surgeons who, um, modified them. Who gets the prize money?

It’s a Chinese version of Extreme Makeover. The list of surgical procedures those people went through could make you cry, and not just because of all the carving. All that pain and risk is endured just so the final products – excuse me, people – can end up looking like strange Barbie dolls!

Fox’s The Swan is actually worse because it attempts “total-person” makeovers, but that’s silly because it’s basically about making the "patients" look like glamour girls (read: tramps) so they’ll feel better about themselves. Sheesh! Whatever happened to I Peter 3:3-4?

The Swan claims to take “women who are stuck in a rut and revitalize them by revealing their beauty and confidence.” Revealing their beauty? You've got to be kidding. If only they actually tried doing that. Obviously these women have little confidence to reveal or they wouldn’t be in ruts. So The Swan team, magnanimous as they are, helps make them nice pretty "houses"...that are built on sand. It's grievous, not to mention pathetic.

Unfortunately, it's not just in America that the idol of physical perfection is being pursued to such lengths. From another article related to the Chinese pageant:

Beauty pageants were once considered reviled displays of western decadence but have become big business in Communist-ruled China following more than two decades of economic reforms.

"I wanted to convey a message to society -- that the pursuit of beauty is ageless," said 62-year-old Liu Yulan, the oldest contestant who turned to plastic surgery to smooth facial wrinkles and fill out her drawn cheeks.

I want to be clear that I don’t find anything wrong with looking one’s natural best by aid of subtle makeup, nice clothing, or tasteful jewelry. But there’s a difference between a little “polish” and a charade.

What’s also lousy about this “pursuit of (artificial) beauty” besides the pursuit itself is the poor stewardship involved...surely there are better uses for those 1000's of dollars/yuan.

Update: here's something to add perspective: a smart, happy, well-adjusted girl with Treacher Collins Syndrome (congenital facial deformity). Thanks to Elena via Proverbial Wife for the link.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Cold winter's day

I tried to go out and take pictures today but couldn’t get the shots I wanted. It was 7 degrees F with a wind chill of who-knows-what and my gloved hands froze within minutes.

It was really a terrible day to take pictures anyway -- overcast with light snow blowing around, which meant low contrast shots. But it had a beauty I wanted to try to capture. (Didn't succeed 100%, but I tried :-) )

 Posted by Hello

 Posted by Hello

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Blessed are the meek

From World Vision magazine's Winter 2004 issue:

Meekness is one of the most misunderstood moral qualities. In our society, a meek person is a spineless weakling. Actually, Jesus uses a word that expresses the relinquishment of all illusion of control. Those who know their utter dependence on God, and are trained to trust God in all things, know that they have nothing to lose.

Dear Lord, help me to be meek...

Bigotry and rights

Jeremy Pierce has been writing some really incisive stuff lately. He’s been looking at terms which occupy public and political debate as well as help define worldview. These terms are misunderstood by many, including Christians. Last week he discussed bigotry, pointing out what it is and what it isn’t. Yesterday and today he’s tackled the idea of rights by defining what they are and what they aren't.

Mr. Pierce also discussed parental rights, which is interesting in light of this headline from today’s Fox News: Should Parents Have Right to Eavesdrop?”

I think Jeremy is on to something and hope he is or will publish his writing beyond the blogosphere. It needs to get into the mainstream of both Christiandom and the culture-at-large. It needs to be part of the discussion in churches, Bible-study groups, schools, and households. Maybe he could publish Parableman’s Exegesis of Popular Cultural Terms! It could include bigotry, rights, tolerance, and life, to list a few...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

ACLU vs. school district over evolution

Can we sue the ACLU for meddling? They are taking the Dover, PA school district to federal court to try to stop them from teaching “alternate views" on evolution, which apparently refers to ID.

Schools can teach all kinds of nutty things and call it education (which in some cases it is), yet the ACLU thinks that teaching an alternate view of scientific data, as well as evidence that may not support evolution, violates the separation of church and state. Just because the alternate view hold that there is an intelligent designer. In other words, they want to limit education!

They fear that teaching ID along with evolution might establish religion. Sheesh!

This move is as dumb as scratching references to God from lesson plans when teaching the history of Thanksgiving. You mean mention of God offends some people? We’ll just pretend history was different. Ack!

I know there are those who claim that science which does not support evolution is “bad science,” and maybe in some cases it is, but there’s also data claimed to be supportive of evolution that’s itself suspect.

I’m encouraged that the Dover school district (which is close to where I grew up) supports presentation of differing views and evidence concerning the origins of life. Kids need to be taught how to evaluate information of all kinds and to draw their own conclusions, rather than be spoon-fed or indoctrinated. I hope the district prevails.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Guess the Christmas song

Time for a little comic relief on this blog!

My husband brought this list of "renamed" Christmas songs home from work today: can you guess the original names?

1. Bleached Yule

2. Singular Yearning for the Twin Anterior Incisors

3. Righteous Darkness

4. Arrival Time: 2400 Hours -- Weather: Cloudless

5. Loyal Followers Advance

6. Far Off in a Feeder

7. Array the Corridor

8. Bantam Male Percussionist

9. Nocturnal Noiselessness

10. Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers

11. Frozen Precipitation Commence

12. Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle

13. Query Regarding Identity of Descendant

14. Delight for This Planet

15. Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings

16. The Dozen Festive 24-hour Intervals

Anyone get them all??

Number of stay-at-home parents on the rise?

As of the 2003 U. S. Census, 23.6% of all households with children age 15 and younger contained a stay-at-home parent. The number of stay-at-home parents was nearly 5.5 million. There were 23,209,000 households with children age 15 and younger; 5,388,000 of which held a stay-at-home mom and 98,000 of which held a stay-at-home dad.

According to the article linked above, this was the first-ever analysis of stay-at-home parents.

Details can be found on page 10 of this report (in pdf format) titled “America’s Families and Living Arrangements 2003.”

Thanks to Shirley Witcher and Martin O’Connell of the U.S. Census Bureau for providing this report.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Coincidental review

I just visited Mere Comments for the first time in several weeks, read this post, and followed the link to this review of Joseph Pearce's book, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, by Touchstone Senior Editor S. M. Hutchens. I found the review to be meaningful and highly significant.

I would love to purchase and read Pearce's book but my house is already cluttered with piles of partially-read books that have turned our home into a fire hazard; meaning, I’d be insane to take on yet one more...

This is the part of the review I found especially noteworthy:

Accompanying this conviction [that “the Object of faith and hope is realized only beyond this world, where it must always be firmly kept not only by the tellers of tales, but the custodians of the life and faith of the Church”], as one might imagine, is deep suspicion of realized eschatology, precluding identification of the True Church (or the heavenly Narnia, or Britain) with any of its present, earthly forms. This conviction is also at the heart of Protestant ecclesiology, which in its purer form does not arise from mere anti-Catholicism, but from a positive vision of the nature of reality and our manner of comprehending it, a vision far older than the Reformation-era confessions on the nature and identity of the Church in which it came forward with such force. Lewis believed this vision of the nature of things is taught by ancient Wisdom itself.

To the Protestant Lewis was, the temptation to regard any ecclesiastical form, as faithful as it might be to its heavenly archetype, as the One, True, Church that comprehends heaven and earth, presenting itself as offering in the here and now, especially to disappointed seekers after certitude, the kind of supernal finalities the Catholic Church appears to offer her children, is something to be resisted in every one of the many forms it takes within that Church. What we find here, in the darkened glass of our present existence, are reflections—true reflections, but still only reflections—of glory that leads us on toward it, but cannot fully comprehend that glory or its joy in itself.

One cannot make a perfectly loyal church member, a wholly devoted convert, of any Christian who thinks this way, for he will never take his church, whichever church that might be, with the ultimate seriousness the accredited magisteriums (as they must to be what they are) require. He will always look beyond them for something higher and better, of which their communions are at best only worthy reflections. He will always be accused by the partisans of those churches with malignant individualism, and be classed with the truly malignant individualists, for doing it, even when his deepest love and firmest devotion is for the same City Father Abraham saw afar off, for the Kingdom that is not of this world, for the heavenly Jerusalem of which every earthly Jerusalem is only the barest reflection.”

These paragraphs describe the way I take and live my Christian faith, in words far more precise and eloquent than I could ever muster.

I am boggled by the serendipity of finding this review, which really came about only because I happened to notice my blogroll today and see “Mere Comments” there, which reminded me that I hadn’t visited recently. The timing of the review's appearance and my reading it is especially striking since recently I've had a very long and involved debate with Elena, a Catholic blogger. The discussion started on my blog and continued on hers (see first two paragraphs of this post). It began with her responses to my posts on the topic of contraception and centered mainly on its various aspects, but also led into Protestant vs. Catholic issues as well.

I had not been aware of certain beliefs and characteristics of Catholics and Catholicism, prior to this discussion and my own subsequent, personal quests. Some of these very beliefs and characteristics are articulated in Hutchens' review.

Also interesting is the timing of mention of another current book, The Clash of Orthodoxies... by Robert P. George, yesterday on Rusty's blog, New Covenant. Though I’ve seen the title before, this book and the thought it explores were brought back to my attention.

And of course then I realized that, duh, George is one of the writers included in another book I just purchased (mainly for one chapter specifically!): Common Truths: New Perspectives on Natural Law!

So here I am again: faced with much more to study than I, a stay-at-home, homeschooling, very-part-time musician/music teacher, heavily-involved-at-church mom of three; can possibly digest in the time I’ve got to pursue it!

Anyway, the coincidence of all this is remarkable to me...

Another portion of the review I found interesting and relevant:

Let us begin by admitting that we all assign Christians not of our communion to whatever purgatories we can muster—or at least, this Protestant reviewer will admit it for himself. We have our opinions on where they have gone wrong that can hardly be articulated in a sociable way, apart from what the other will perceive as patronizing and belittling of the kind that Pearce here visits upon Lewis. It is impossible, after all, from a purely Catholic point of view, to see non-Catholic Christianity as anything but systemically flawed and any non-Catholic as what he is apart from sins that blind him to the truth, particularly when it faces him full-on, as it did Lewis, in friends like Tolkien and writers like Dante, Newman, and Chesterton. For those who are interested in a well-researched, well written, and eminently Catholic solution to the riddle of Lewis the Protestant, this book will serve. I put forward here, however, another, non-Catholic, one.

Hutchens speaks of perceiving the opinions of a differently-striped Christian “as patronizing and belittling” when said Christian explains where one has gone wrong; this is exactly what I experienced in discussion with Elena. I felt that she viewed my opinions on contraception as "systemically flawed" and could not view me for who I am, nor my statements for what they were, apart from [my] "sins that blind [me] to the truth."

Personal reasons aside, I highly recommend Hutchens' review. It is a very important piece of writing.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Contraception, Part VII: Response to an Essay by Alicia Mosier

Many thanks to Steve at Imago Dei for assisting me in my search for writings by contemporary Christian thinkers on the topic of contraception. Steve referred me to the First Things website, where I found a marvelous symposium of essays on the topic.

Alicia Mosier’s essay contains arguments which are essentially the same as those presented by Elena during our extensive discussion (links to which can be found in this post). By responding to Mosier's essay here, I hope to present my own viewpoint in more concise and gathered form than was possible in the discussion with Elena.

The primary charge I would like to illuminate is that the Catholic position has a blind spot when it comes to promotion of natural family planning while maintaining disapproval of what is known as artificial birth control (ABC), or, as I prefer, artificial contraception (AC). For example, Mosier states the following:

“What is wrong is contraception itself: the deliberate will, the choice, to subvert the life-giving order and meaning of the conjugal act.”

What is not discussed is the fact that NFP is a deliberate choice to subvert the life-giving order and meaning of the conjugal relationship. Mosier goes on to say:

“Paul VI addresses this objection directly. Conjugal acts, he states, "must remain open to the transmission of life" to serve the good of procreation. But he goes on to say that without that openness, sex doesn't advance the unitive good of marriage either. A sexual union in which contraception takes place and thus in which the procreative good is actively thwarted, he implies, is not a one flesh union at all. Husband and wife are not fully giving themselves to each other; there is a barrier between them, and it is as much spiritual as physical. The acts of intercourse performed by married people in such a context may be sexual, but they are not marital.”

If conjugal acts must remain open to the transmission of life, as Paul VI is quoted as having said in his encyclical, Humanae vitae* of 1968, then it should behoove the married couple to learn about their fertility and participate in the conjugal act only during their period of fertility. Otherwise, as is done during practice of NFP, the conjugal act is participated in during the infertile portions of the wife’s menstrual cycle. Coitus during these periods is clearly not “open to transmission of life.” Indeed, the cervical mucous present at this time (G mucous) blocks sperm from entering the uterus and destroys the sperm in less than two hours. This is as much God’s design as the S-mucous which sustains and conveys the sperm to the egg during the wife’s fertile period.

Therefore, use of a barrier method during an infertile period is redundant, and does not entail husband and wife not fully giving themselves to one another unless the fact that retaining sperm which would otherwise be rendered impotent within an hour or two constitutes such (as with use of a diaphragm or cervical cap), or, use of a condom interferes with sensation or causes irritation. Likewise, for the couple relying on the Pill, the full physical giving is only reduced by the period of 4-9 days per cycle** that a woman would be fertile were she ovulating.

Which means that, in order to be consistent, the Catholic position should amend itself and forbid artificial contraception only during those 4-9 days of mutual fertility per cycle that each healthy couple has, if the issue is prevention of conception alone.

Indeed, a marital relationship in which NFP is practiced is one "in which the procreative good is actively thwarted."

“Some argue that as long as a marriage is open to life "in principle," contraception is acceptable and licit. They make the point precisely: the only way contraceptive intercourse can possibly be morally justifiable is if the good of procreation is thought of as a "principle" rather than as something to be worked toward in the reality of our physical world. By definition, not excluding procreation in principle implies not excluding it in reality.”

What Mosier doesn’t say is that, by definition, NFP itself excludes procreation in reality during the cycles it is practiced. What she does say is,
“When Paul VI states that every act of intercourse "must remain open to the transmission of life," he is reasoning from the principle that everything is ordered by God to an end, and that to perform an action that willfully changes the course of something that is moving toward its given end is to act in contradiction to God's design. It is to commandeer what God has inscribed in His universe, rerouting it toward an end one prefers; it is not to be responsible to God in tending His gifts.”

Therefore, if the conjugal relationship established by God for and in marriage is ordered by God to the end that Mosier is implying, i.e., procreation, then NFP is an action that willfully changes the course of something that is moving toward its given end, and therefore it must also be an act that is in contradiction to God’s design, according to the logic of the “principle that everything is ordered by God to an end,” if that end is procreation.

Now here’s the puzzler:
“But conjugal acts are meant for more than having children. As Paul VI himself states, there is another end-unity-to which they are ordained. If a couple decides they ought not procreate for a time, the need remains for them to seek union with each other; the most obvious way to do so is through sexual intercourse. But how, in such a circumstance, can both divinely given ends of intercourse be preserved? According to Catholic teaching, they can-if the couple does not contracept.

Paul VI writes that "every action [is illicit] . . . which proposes, either as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible."

Now, if what Paul VI says above is true, then certainly NFP is as illicit as artificial contraception, because, as a means, it renders procreation impossible via abstinence during the fertile period.

If artificial contraception involves “willing directly against the order of intercourse and consequently against new life,” then NFP wills directly against the order of marital conjugal unity by requiring a period of denial of that unity -- for the sole purpose of rendering procreation impossible.

“Contraception is an act that can only express the will that any baby that might result from this sexual encounter not be conceived.”

The above statement is the reason I believe NFP to be a method of contraception. For, by conjugating only during periods of known infertility (periods of presence of non-fertile cervical mucous before and after three days post-cessation of the presence of fertile cervical mucous), the NFP couple is expressing the will that no baby be conceived.

The NFP couple at this point may argue that by practicing NFP they are acting to postpone conception until a time that they, before God, gravely deem more prudent to allow it, yet at the same time are open to the possibility that conception could still occur. In this way they contrast themselves to the artificially-contracepting couple.

To this I answer that the failure rate for most methods of artificial contraception used correctly is nearly the same as for NFP practiced accurately (reported effectiveness rates vary slightly according to source).

The NFP couple may then answer by saying that in the face of contraceptive failure, many women choose to abort. This is a fact I do not dispute. However, what is the significance of this fact in relation to practice of NFP vsersus use of AC? Does it mean that NFP couples are more open to the possibility of conception because they practice NFP, or because they are less likely than users of AC to accept abortion as an option?

It certainly is not true that all AC couples are less open to the possibility of conception than NFP couples. I think it is safe to say that roughly half of all Americans oppose abortion. Of this percentage, certainly a sizable number do not or have not practiced NFP, the rhythm method, or no method of family-size-control at all. Therefore, there must be a sizable percentage of non-aborting users of AC in the population of the U.S, since it's probably safe to say that the vast majority of Protestants use AC, as well as many Catholics. Which means that it’s possible that there is an even greater percentage of American married couples who remain open to the possibility of conception (i.e., would not abort in the face of contraceptive failure) while using AC than of American couples who practice NFP. All of which is to say that use of AC does not automatically carry with it the view that abortion is a licit option.

“The method of NFP is never contraceptive; it never renders procreation impossible.”

This is self-evidently false, which is why I believe the Pope’s reasoning to be in error and feel that NFP users are mistaken if they believe they are not contracepting. Abstinence during the fertile period most certainly does render procreation impossible, though limitations of fertility detection methods as well as human error may render it, in actual practice, not impossible, but highly unlikely. Yet AC itself never renders procreation impossible. Highly unlikely, yes, but not impossible, which is no different as far as prevention of conception goes than abstinence during the fertile period, as far as beginning and end of this period can be determined.

Mosier does admit possibility of illicit use of NFP, though for different reasons:

“Nonetheless, there can be uses of NFP that are not consonant with the natural law and the moral principles enjoined on parents. A husband and wife may leave open the possibility of procreation by using NFP, but if what they really and directly will is that it not be possible for a baby to be conceived, that a new life not come to be, their action cannot be adjudged morally good.”
She gives example of a young married couple that uses NFP to delay conception so that they can travel to Europe one year later. Mosier continues:
“Paul VI states that if a decision to space births using NFP is to fall under the category of "responsible parenthood," it must be "made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law." Discerning the seriousness of one's motives is precisely the task of a well-formed conscience, without which we are apt to confuse our personal preferences with moral goods. A well-formed conscience ought to tell us that, at least in ordinary circumstances, inconvenience on a vacation (or whether one takes a vacation at all) is not a morally serious reason for preventing the conception of a child.

NFP practiced in this way is just as contrary to God's design as contraception, but for a different reason: in this case the husband and wife do not use a wrongful means but refuse to cling to the right end. They might still want to have a baby "in principle," but for selfish reasons-reasons untutored by conscience-they reject having one in fact. NFP is never contraceptive, but the will can be.” (emphasis added)

I agree with Mosier’s reasons as stated for licit delay of conception. But they are no more applicable to NFP than to AC; indeed, the bolded statement above is a delusion. NFP is contraceptive, whether for warranted or unwarranted reasons. Warranted reasons being:
“as Paul VI notes, "physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions" can all play a role in the decision to space births.”

If AC is a wrongful means, and NFP a right means, what makes them so if the complaint against AC is that it denies a certain end, when NFP denies that same end? What makes them so if that certain end is denied as means to the "right end," which is prudent spacing or limiting of numbers of children?

There simply is no grounds for using conception-prevention as an argument against AC yet not against NFP. Therefore, one would need to find other grounds, such as the purely artificial aspect of AC, or its body-altering characteristics, upon which to condemn AC.

Indeed, it is as useful to debate whether or not abstinence is a legitimate form of contraception as it is to debate whether or not use of artificial contraception is legitimate. It is also useful to debate whether use of any form of contraception at all is legitimate, as I did in Parts I-V of this series. But it is erroneous for Mosier or anyone else to use arguments selectively, i.e., against artificial contraception, yet not against natural family planning.

*I appreciate the language of the actual encyclical and prefer it to others’ attempts to interpret it, including Mosier’s. It is more nuanced and therefore more compelling. Yet I still disagree with some of its arguments, and perhaps down the road will address these.

**more information on the observation (of cervical mucous) method of natural family planning (known as the Billings Method) can be found here.

Next installment, I will respond to Janet E. Smith's essay on contraception, NFP, and natural law.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Red berries

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Photographed today.