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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Bits and pieces, 7/05/05

After a few glitches (problems with the server), Intellectuelle is off the ground. We’ve introduced ourselves and now regular posting begins. Please stop by and see what’s on our minds (and hearts). Feel free to share what’s on yours in the comments.

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Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost presents an article by Macht of Prosthesis as part of his “Expert Witness” series. Macht’s piece discusses definitions and understandings of technology. I found these very interesting in light of some of the discussion that’s been engendered on my contraception posts (links in sidebar). According to the theories of technology that Macht mentions, I believe contraception to be “instrumental,” i.e., of neutral morality on its own. I would view a firearm the same way. Contraception and guns can both be used either for good or for evil, but are not evil in and of themselves.

At least one of my Catholic dissenters, however, views contraception “substantively,” i.e., believes it to be possessed of evil in and of itself, because of its purpose and intent (see comments here). In the Catholic view, there is never a legitimate reason to do what contraception does.

I would like to further explore ways to look at contraception as a technology, and hope to have opportunity to do soon.

(I discuss C. S. Lewis' views of contraception as a technology in this post.)

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John Schroeder posts yet another excellent entry in the GodBlogCon prayer blog, which I highly recommend to anyone who confesses a faith in God through Jesus Christ (not just those interested in the GBC). He quotes Oswald Chambers:

The counterfeit of obedience is a state of mind in which you create your own opportunities to sacrifice yourself, and your zeal and enthusiasm are mistaken for discernment. It is easier to sacrifice yourself than to fulfill your spiritual destiny, which is stated in Romans 12:1-2 . It is much better to fulfill the purpose of God in your life by discerning His will than it is to perform great acts of self-sacrifice. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice . . ." ( 1 Samuel 15:22 ). Beware of paying attention or going back to what you once were, when God wants you to be something that you have never been. "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know . . ." ( John 7:17 ).

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Alas, I was not able to attend Jim Wallisafternoon lecture at Chautauqua Institution on July 4th as planned, because I had to work! I played the holiday pops concert with the Chautauqua Symphony, which rehearsed at the same time as the lecture. I will try to find a Chautauquan Daily newspaper and read the report on Wallis’ lecture. Perhaps I will write about it.

Wallis is also speaking during the morning worship services every day this week, but I won’t be able get to those.

7 Comments:

  • Bonnie, there's a lot in this post that will make me come back when I haven't been on the computer so long.

    I was just thinking about conception. (How often do you here that line?):)

    By Blogger Lexie, at 11:22 AM  

  • Dear Bonnie,

    Please tell me if I missed it, but I'm still waiting for a defense of artificial contraception that makes no mention of NFP.

    As far as the concept of neutral instrumentality is concerned, the Catholic (and historical Protestant and Christian Orthodox) objection to artificial contraception is not over the device itself, but over its use.

    So, for example, a gun is not in itself bad, but *using* it to kill an innocent (i.e., murder) is.

    Similarly, there's nothing wrong with a popcicle stick, but *using* one to induce vomitting so that one can "eat more" without gaining weight is wrong.

    It is possible to imagine legitimate uses for contraceptives (e.g., hormone therapy, finger cot), but to purposefully and actively thwart God's purpose for marital relations *by any means* is wrong.

    So, contraceptives are morally neutral, but using them for contraception is wrong.

    Respectfully,

    Jimminy Cricket (a.k.a. MJ)

    By Blogger Lawrence Gage, at 2:40 PM  

  • MJ,

    Regarding the defense of AC that you are asking for, did you miss my response at the end of our previous discussion on another comment thread?

    Regarding the "instrumental neutrality" of a gun: in your view, might a gun have any legitimate use?

    ...but to purposefully and actively thwart God's purpose for marital relations *by any means* is wrong.

    Would you elaborate on what you mean by "by any means?"

    Thanks,
    Bonnie

    PS I may not be able to read or respond for several days, but I will when I can. Thanks.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 4:03 PM  

  • Bonnie,

    Perhaps I did miss it, because the last thing that I saw you write to me on that thread was this:

    I would be glad to repeat arguments, if necessary, and answer any other questions at another time. This is not an evasion, and, though an explanation is not owed, I will provide it: I need to focus on some other things for the time being, and think it would be best to let this discussion rest a bit.

    That was quite a while ago. What did I miss?

    Regarding the "instrumental neutrality" of a gun: in your view, might a gun have any legitimate use?

    Sure. At a minimal level, a gun can be used for hunting, and for self-defense. Why do you ask?

    Would you elaborate on what you mean by "by any means?"

    Since our previous round of correspondence, I've give the subject some thought. I think a more fundamental explanation is in order to avoid further miscommunication.

    In the first place, it needs to be acknowledged that we're talking about the morality of individual acts. I think I'm on safe ground in assuming that you will agree that one cannot justify an evil act based on a larger context of good acts. For example, if one were adrift at sea on a boat with a number of crewmen, the shortage of food and the desire to save at least some crewmates would not justify killing one of them to decrease the consumption of food. As St. Paul affirms, you cannot do evil that good may come it. And I know you will agree, an evil act is an evil act. Period.

    Secondly, we have to examine the criteria that make an act good or evil. At the moment I can only recall two (but for the purpose of this discussion, that should be enough):

    1. the goodness of the act itself, and
    2. the goodness of the agent's intention.

    If either of these criteria are defective, no matter how good the other criterion is, the act cannot be good. It only takes a single fly to spoil the ointment.

    For example, driving a friend to the bank is good, but driving a friend so that he can rob the bank is bad; only the intention is defective. On the other side, the friend's robbing of the bank is bad even if he needs money for his aged mother's kidney transplant; here the act itself is defective.

    (Of course the morality of acts and their subject's intention under consideration here is separate from the morality of the instruments you discussed in the post.)

    Now I think part of what may be confusing is an implicit comparison to NFP. I will now discuss NFP in order to clarify the language, but PLEASE keep in mind that I am NOT (here) defending the practice.

    With that large caveat in mind, let's apply our moral analysis to NFP. Of what acts does NFP consist?

    1. tracking the wife's fertility,
    2. abstaining from marital relations during her fertile period, and
    3. (possibly) engaging in marital relations during her infertile period.

    The common understanding of NFP proponents is that none of these acts is in itself morally deficient (and I have trouble gainsaying them). There CAN however, be a deficiency in the intention. So, like our fellow driving his friend to the bank, there's nothing wrong with driving; it is his intention that is at fault.

    Having made that distinction, I think my assertion about artificial contraception (AC) can be clarified. What I am saying is that AC is per se wrong. That it doesn't matter what intention a couple has in using it, the act of using it is defective. It doesn't matter that they are "generally" open to children, a good intention doesn't justify a bad act: using AC is wrong in and of itself, and cannot be justified by any good intention.

    A friend of mine who believes in NFP gave me a metaphor. There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep one's weight down to a healthy level. Dieting is a licit way to achieve this, but purposefully vomitting is not. In dieting, one merely abstains from eating, and there's nothing per se wrong with not eating. In purposefully vomitting, on the other hand, one actively uses food in a way God did not intend: one has isolated the pleasure of eating from the objective purpose for that pleasure.

    The pleasure of eating is never an end in itself. The same is true of pleasure in general. Pleasure is merely a subjective good God has created to move us to fulfill our natures by attaining an objective good.

    As with vomitting, in AC the spouses purposefully and actively isolate the pleasure of marital relations from the purpose given by God. As Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "the biological purpose of sex is children" (HT: Martin LeBar). To thwart that purpose by commission (as distinct from omission) is to reject the Creator's plan for us, and hence unjustifiably wrong.

    Respectfully,

    Jimminy Cricket

    By Blogger Lawrence Gage, at 11:26 AM  

  • What did I miss?

    Read the paragraph above the statement you quoted in the other comment thread, MJ.

    I’m wondering, though, why you require a defense of AC with no mention of NFP.

    In the first place, it needs to be acknowledged that we're talking about the morality of individual acts.... And I know you will agree, an evil act is an evil act. Period.

    Fine.

    The common understanding of NFP proponents is that none of these acts is in itself morally deficient (and I have trouble gainsaying them).

    I have addressed this, in this post and this one.

    Having made that distinction, I think my assertion about artificial contraception (AC) can be clarified. What I am saying is that AC is per se wrong.

    I understand, and have understood, that this is what you are saying. I do not find the arguments supporting this (that I have seen so far) convincing, and have explained why previously.

    there’s nothing per se wrong with not eating

    Maybe, and maybe not. Not eating to a very great degree will result in death. You might not want to tell an anorexic that it’s OK not to eat.

    The pleasure of eating is never an end in itself. The same is true of pleasure in general. Pleasure is merely a subjective good God has created to move us to fulfill our natures by attaining an objective good.

    Should pleasure never be an end in itself? I’m not sure we can always say that. But calling it a motivator does flirt with calling it an end in itself. (Pleasure is a difficult thing to discuss in simple terms.)

    As with vomitting, in AC the spouses purposefully and actively isolate the pleasure of marital relations from the purpose given by God.

    It involves a lot more than mere pleasure, MJ, as I have have said in other posts and commentary.

    On the topic of bulimia: bulimia involves use of food in ways that go beyond pleasure. It is also rarely done in single, isolated acts; it represents a pattern and a type of addiction. I do not believe that use of AC represents or indicates an addiction to the pleasure of sex, though it can certainly be used in conjunction with an addiction to sex.

    As Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "the biological purpose of sex is children" (HT: Martin LeBar). To thwart that purpose by commission (as distinct from omission) is to reject the Creator's plan for us, and hence unjustifiably wrong.

    Why would it make any difference whether a sin is accomplished by commission or omission? I’m not aware that either is any worse or better than the other. That aside, we must first establish that God’s sole purpose for sex is children (or, if you will, that His purpose is for sex to be freely practiced within marriage, always allowing for the possibility of children, which would be the “quiverfull” perspective), and that thwarting this in any form is unjustifiably wrong.

    (Note: Prof. LaBar noted, in his comment that linked to his article, that the published article misspelled his name)

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 1:50 PM  

  • Bonnie,

    I'm now reading the posts you link. It will take me a little while to get through them.

    I’m wondering, though, why you require a defense of AC with no mention of NFP

    I will as a courtesy recount the discussion that led to this request, instead of merely linking to the previous thread. I do this because I respect the value of your time (and note that I do it without expecting the same courtesy in return).

    Recall that I said that you seemed to be responding to my condemnation of AC, not by defending AC, but merely by asserting the wrongness of NFP, "saying essentially, What those people are doing is bad too!'," as I put it.

    Finally I clarified what I saw lacking in your part of the conversation:

    I've given you arguments against AC without reference to NFP. What I'm asking from you is an argument in favor of AC without any comparison to NFP.

    I must be missing something, because I don't understand why you feel the need to question the validity of this request.

    I also have trouble understanding why you feel the need to quibble with every little point I raise. For example, when I refer to voluntary vomitting, I don't mean bulimia. That's why I specified "voluntary." I know that you are smart enough that if you were truly trying to understand what I'm saying you wouldn't raise such a petty objection.

    I am very much trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but the petty, defensive tone of your reply makes me think that a discussion with you on this topic is a fool's errand. I hope that your future responses will show me my error.

    I'll get back to you after I've made my way through the old posts you've referred me to.

    Respectfully,

    Jimminy Cricket

    By Blogger Lawrence Gage, at 12:02 PM  

  • MJ, I will respond to both of your most recent comments here.

    So, contraceptives are morally neutral, but using them for contraception is wrong.

    I got this. I didn’t indicate so explicitly, though, and I apologize for that. I didn’t think it was necessary at the time, but perhaps it was.

    So as to leave no doubt: there is a distinction between the contraceptive instrument and the act of engaging in contracepted marital intercourse. The latter is always wrong.

    Yes, and I’ve argued that the latter is not always wrong. Therein lies our disagreement.

    "Is there any indication Lewis believes there are legitimate uses of it?" Read the post above, MJ, as well as my comments higher up in this thread.

    I have and about all I can find that comes close to addressing the question is when you say that Lewis's statements are "not inconsistent" with what you maintain.


    Please read the quotes in the post from pp. 66-69 of The Abolition of Man. His point is not to discuss what is legitimate and what is illegitimate; his point is to make the points he makes, as I’ve discussed. He illustrates certain realities about certain things. As I said in my review of the book, I think he is dead on in his perceptions of these realities, yet he paints a very narrow picture of the future –- an extreme picture, one that cannot come about unless all people become equally duped and completely separated from the Tao, which I do not think will ever happen. And I’m not sure his purpose is to make a futuristic prediction as much as to illustrate what the end result of a total separation of Nature from the Tao would look like.

    But I may simply, in my slowness, have missed where you actually address the question. I wonder if I, as a brother in Christ, can ask for your extraordinary patience and charity in repeating your answer. I would greatly appreciate it.

    MJ, I made a few general statements in the other comment thread, which I referred you to again later. I also recommended, first in an email a couple months ago, and in comments to you, that you read what I have previously written. This issue has so many aspects, discussions of which are so scattered throughout the writings in my contraception series, that for me to dig through them all and isolate specific sections would be excessively tedious. I have referred you to posts which had content that I thought relevant to your questions, and I would think that it wouldn’t be too much to ask you to read them and all of my relevant writings (in my blog) for yourself. For me to repeat things that I have already repeated several times is more than redundant.

    I was trying to be polite, but I suppose I ended up as vague. I meant you. You don't even seem to take note of that statement by Lewis. If I'm wrong, I ask in all humility that you point out my error.

    MJ, if you would like to discuss something, please take responsibility for your own wish and bring it up yourself. This is preferable to second-guessing another person. Besides, I think the reason I have not addressed that statement specifically can be gathered from what I said in my post and in my response to Prof. LaBar’s comment.

    Recall that I said that you seemed to be responding to my condemnation of AC, not by defending AC, but merely by asserting the wrongness of NFP, "saying essentially, What those people are doing is bad too!'," as I put it.

    MJ, I never asserted the wrongness of NFP. I never said, in effect, “What those people are doing is bad too.” I merely pointed out the curiosity, to me, that the Catholic position uses its arguments selectively, i.e., applies them to AC yet not to NFP. I would love it if you or someone else would address that.

    As to the legitimacy of AC on its own, I have never stated a clear position. I have indicated that I see problems with an assertion that all marital use of AC is wrong, and I’ve spelled those out in my series as well as made mention of it in comments to you.

    Finally I clarified what I saw lacking in your part of the conversation:

    I've given you arguments against AC without reference to NFP. What I'm asking from you is an argument in favor of AC without any comparison to NFP.

    I must be missing something, because I don't understand why you feel the need to question the validity of this request.


    I did not question the validity of this request, MJ. I questioned the reason for it. I questioned it since I had already referred you to my topical writings several times, and so that I could better understand where you are coming from so as to best answer your question. As stated above, my thoughts have already been expressed throughout my contraception series, comments, and comments on another blog as I informed you in an email. I have repeatedly referred you to them. Why you insist on asking me to repeat stuff without seemingly being willing to go read it for yourself is beyond me.

    Not only that, but you are asking something of me that you are not doing yourself: you mention NFP repeatedly in your comments to me. If you would like me to discuss AC with no mention of NFP, why aren’t you doing so yourself?

    I also have trouble understanding why you feel the need to quibble with every little point I raise.

    A quibble is a dispute over an insignificant point for the purpose of avoiding a larger point. I clearly have not been evasive. Are you saying that your points are insignificant? I pointed out what I saw to be problems with your points.

    For example, when I refer to voluntary vomitting, I don't mean bulimia. That's why I specified "voluntary."

    That’s the first you've used the word voluntary, MJ. Earlier, you used the word “purposefully.”

    Here’s what you said about vomiting:

    “Similarly, there's nothing wrong with a popcicle stick, but *using* one to induce vomitting so that one can "eat more" without gaining weight is wrong.”

    “A friend of mine who believes in NFP gave me a metaphor. There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep one's weight down to a healthy level. Dieting is a licit way to achieve this, but purposefully vomitting is not. In dieting, one merely abstains from eating, and there's nothing per se wrong with not eating. In purposefully vomitting, on the other hand, one actively uses food in a way God did not intend: one has isolated the pleasure of eating from the objective purpose for that pleasure.

    The pleasure of eating is never an end in itself. The same is true of pleasure in general. Pleasure is merely a subjective good God has created to move us to fulfill our natures by attaining an objective good.

    As with vomitting, in AC the spouses purposefully and actively isolate the pleasure of marital relations from the purpose given by God. As Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "the biological purpose of sex is children" (HT: Martin LeBar). To thwart that purpose by commission (as distinct from omission) is to reject the Creator's plan for us, and hence unjustifiably wrong.”

    MJ, vomiting so that one can eat more without gaining weight is bulimia. Purposefully vomiting to keep one’s weight down is bulimia. Actively using food for the enjoyment of eating while desiring to avoid the consequences of adding food to the body is bulimia.

    (Are you saying that true bulimia is not “voluntary?”)

    I'm now reading the posts you link. It will take me a little while to get through them.

    I am wondering why you didn’t read them before.

    I will as a courtesy recount the discussion that led to this request, instead of merely linking to the previous thread. I do this because I respect the value of your time (and note that I do it without expecting the same courtesy in return).

    MJ, it’s hard for me to believe that you truly respect the value of my time when you ask me to rewrite stuff I’ve already written and have suggested, repeatedly, that you read.

    I am very much trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but the petty, defensive tone of your reply makes me think that a discussion with you on this topic is a fool's errand. I hope that your future responses will show me my error.

    MJ, I did the best I could with what I had to go on. Your assumptions as to my tone are your own, i.e., subjective. In the course of this discussion, you’ve shown very little direct engagement of my statements, which indicates that you have either a) seen the gazillions of statements related to your concerns that I’ve already written and chosen to ignore them, or b) not read them. On top of that, you’ve treated my disagreements with your arguments as misunderstandings of your arguments, and, you’ve repeated an odd request. If it continues in this vein, I agree that this discussion is a fool’s errand.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 10:54 PM  

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