Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Protestants rethinking contraception: inconsistency of thought

In A Hard Pill to Swallow (at Christianity Today online), Agnieszka Tennant writes about her change of mind regarding the birth-control pill. I can appreciate the transformation of her thought, but find her tangling-together of many separate issues itself hard to swallow. I also note an inconsistency of thought regarding “opennes to life” that, surprisingly, appears consistent among those who support the practice of natural family planning.

Of her use of the Pill, Tennant asks,
What did my daily habit say about my faith in the One who reduced himself first to a cell, then two, then 128, then 256 and more, then to a defenseless baby—and whose door is always open for helpless intruders like me? Could the little pill have stood for more than just a chance to get a fiscally responsible life before opening it up to stinky diapers? Could Mircette have changed not just the hormonal makeup of my cells, but also what cannot be seen under a microscope? Could it have served as one more safety lock on the door not just to my womb, but also to my figure, my marriage, my home, my career, my gym routine?
God is in these details.

Yes, God is in the details, but what exactly constitutes a detail, and why lump all of these “details” together as if they are of equal consideration? They’re not.

(Tennant’s suggestion that the Pill has an almost mystical influence is interesting; do certain wishes lead a woman to go on the Pill, or do its effects influence a woman’s wishes...or both?)

It’s one thing to eschew artificial contraception for reasons of bringing sex and conception as its natural consequence closer together, but it’s another to object to the Pill on the grounds that it may actually cause the demise of a fertilized ova due to inhospitable conditions in the womb. Serge at Imago Dei has written a detailed post examining this very issue in Can a Christian Family Ethically Use “The Pill”? In it, he certainly does not fit Tennant’s characterization that
...for every God-fearing, pro-life physician who opposes the pill, there seem to be at least three who embrace it. They point out that there isn't enough research and that we're merely talking about a potential tiny little abortion—and an involuntary one at that.
From what I’ve seen of his writing, Serge opposes abortion altogether, no matter the size or whether voluntary or not. Size and cause are not the issue; the issue is whether or not the womb could possibly be inhospitable, even 1/1000% of the time, to a fertilized ovum due to use of the Pill.

I believe that Tennant’s conclusion goes a little beyond the evidence (or lack thereof), though I greatly respect (and agree with) her wish to avoid any possibility of causing the demise of an embryo. Of her discomfort with this aspect of the Pill, Tennant says:
This sense of discomfort never evolved into an absolute dogma: I still wouldn't say that taking contraceptives is a sin. But I questioned the assumptions I found underneath my pill popping.

I wonder why she would say this if she truly believes that there’s a good chance that the Pill may cause an early abortion. The sixth commandment states, “You shall not murder.” If there is a chance that the Pill may cause the death of an embryo, then what would be the problem with calling its use a possible sin? Calling a spade a spade (or a sin a sin) is not the same as deciding everyone’s personal morality for them; each person alone is accountable to God for his/her own thoughts and actions.

I don’t support the ostensible hesitation to speak of what is right and wrong for the reason that it might “impinge” upon someone else, that I see among Christians. Rights and wrongs are obviously a part of life, and in order to be true to Christ, Christians must accept the Decalogue (as well as other instruction given in Scripture) as God-given. Distinction must be made among “absolute” right and wrong, “personal” right and wrong, and matters that are not clear. But there is a human propensity to try to obfuscate or deny what is clear, and Christians are no exception (I include myself in both the “human” and “Christian” categories). But to declare what is clearly right or wrong is not also to insist that everyone must make the right decisions about everything, because of course not even the most pious of Christians (which would not include me) can do this. Allowing one another space and individual accountability does not equate with shutting up about (or pussy-footing around) truth. Regarding the commandment not to commit adultery, we wouldn’t say, “Well, having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse is a sin, but I’m not going to call it a sin because to do so might offend your desire to decide for yourself”...would we? Or should we?

I understand that someone may wish to be humble and therefore only speak of what they themselves have learned, in the spirit of saying, “This is my personal story; I offer it to you for whatever benefit it may have for you,” and I appreciate that sentiment very much. However, most of the time when someone does this, it seems that in truth they hold quite firmly to opinions of right and wrong (in a more absolute sense) that still come out in what they say. In the case of Tennant’s article, she makes somewhat hyperbolic (and contradictory) statements in the midst of sharing her thoughts (such as the characterization of pro-life physicians quoted above; saying that [on the Pill] “I could have sex whenever I wanted, without fear that pregnancy would impose...” (The Pill is not 100% effective, as she states elsewhere in the article; surely she was aware of that while using it?), and “...I cheated on the Pill and everything it stood for” (this is not true, for she states, near the end of the article, that she and her husband are currently taking steps to prevent conception of a child).

Tennant speaks of matters of convenience regarding reasons people use birth control/contraception/family planning, and indeed these must be examined for legitimacy. I do not believe that all matters of wishing to limit one’s reproduction come under this category, however. Neither does the Catholic Church, which is why it allows natural family planning (which Tennant acknowledges, accepts, and practices). Strangely, she speaks both against and in favor of conception-control at the same time. First, she shares that after working on a piece by the Torodes, a couple who practice no family planning whatsoever,
...gradually, my reservations [about giving up the “security” of the Pill] gave way to fascination with the authors' reckless surrender.

Then Tennant explains that her decision to stop using the Pill was clinched by a talk with Amy Laura Hall. (I have posted commentary on another of Hall’s interviews.)

Why, she [Hall] asked, do we feel the need to perfectly time and fit children into our busy schedules? Is this a Christian instinct?

If not, then why do so many practice NFP, which obviously is done because some feel the need to “time” and “fit” children into their lives and families in some way? NFP certainly does not represent a “reckless surrender” of one’s reproductive capacities to God.

I do agree with Hall’s assessment of our culture and decry it as she does:
"Only in a small number of cultures do we have the idea that adults should do their work, worship, and entertainment without the presence of children," she says.

Our culture is certainly deficient in its welcome and support of children, and this is something that must be reckoned with in regards to culpability. As I said in the above-linked post, one can only fight City Hall so much. One must live within the culture one is a part of because we are all dependent on our culture for our well-being and livelihood in many ways, and to deny this is to deny reality. Many people do live “alternative lifestyles” very successfully but not everyone can do so in the same ways due to circumstances and situations beyond their control.

Here is the major inconsistency in Tennant’s position:

Since his church members have got this NFP thing together, my husband and I took the Catholic Couple-to-Couple League's training course. NFP is no longer our grandmothers' calendar roulette. It can be tricky to master, but when properly applied, it can be 99 percent effective. Let me define "effective." In addition to bringing husbands and wives closer, NFP is great for planning pregnancy (no, I don't say this facetiously) as well as for delaying it.

But you never know.

And in this not knowing, we remain open. Consistent life ethicist that she is, Hall taught me that being pro-life isn't only about opposing surgical abortion. It's about opening ourselves to the risk and mess and uncertainty that accompany any God-sent guest we allow into our lives. The least we can do is leave our doors unlocked. Like Rahab did for the spies. Like Mary did for Jesus.

Tennant herself acknowledges in the article that “breakthrough” ovulation occurs with use of the Pill, and other forms of artificial contraception have “failure rates” as well. So, to compare the effectiveness of NFP as a method of contraception favorably with the effectiveness of artificial contraception yet at the same time assert that NFP “allows for openness to life” while artificial contraception does not is to state a contradiction! NFP may allow for a small percentage more “openness” than artificial methods of contraception, but to state that one is “open to life” while avoiding sexual intercourse during periods of fertility is to state an untruth.

This is how Tennant puts it:
It's one thing to get off the pill and another to be actively trying to conceive. Leaving my door unlocked doesn't necessarily mean that I must stand in the street, asking passersby to come in, right? I believe in free will. And in a Christian's right to use condoms and/or natural family planning (NFP). For a time that my husband and I will determine, we feel free not to solicit visitors.

Sounds to me like she’s trying to have her cake and eat it too. Which is her prerogative, of course, and perhaps represents a step, in her mind, toward giving up a measure of control of her (and her husband’s) reproduction. But I question the actual hard-and-fast, quantifiable difference in “openness to life” using NFP as opposed to the Pill for those who have the same purposes in using either method, i.e., “family planning.” (Yes, use of NFP may lead to somewhat more “openness to life,” and it is true that a couple must be more actively deliberate about avoiding conception when practicing NFP than when relying on the Pill, but still, said couples’ purposes in using either method are essentially the same.)

Though proponents of NFP will deny that this is the thinking of most users of NFP, the fact is that what Tennant says of the Pill can also be said of NFP:
What [does using NFP] say about my faith in the One who reduced himself first to a cell, then two, then 128, then 256 and more, then to a defenseless baby—and whose door is always open for helpless intruders like me? Could [NFP stand] for more than just a chance to get a fiscally responsible life before opening it up to stinky diapers? Could [it change] what cannot be seen under a microscope? Could it [serve] as one more safety lock on the door not just to my womb, but also to my figure, my marriage, my home, my career, my gym routine? (emphasis added)

28 Comments:

  • That a woman would conclude maintaining a clean, healthy, welcoming uterus by using NFP instead of hormones is philosophically congruent with a desire to maintain a clean, healthy, welcoming heart and home and seems commendable! Pointing out that couples who go off the Pill still use some form of family planning is a red herring. That couples still use a form of family planning is not the issue; how it is done, the accompanying attitudes, and physiological effects of those choices is.

    By Blogger Susan, at 3:40 PM  

  • Thanks for your comment, Susan. I see no proof for what you call a red herring, however. A woman abstaining from intercourse during her fertile period is certainly not offering a "welcoming" uterus -- she's saying that, though the "princess" is ripe for visitors, no princes may call! Neither are her heart or her home welcoming either, at such a time.

    You are using the terms "clean" and "healthy" subjectively; "unaltered" might be a more accurate term for the physical aspects. As to the heart, I certainly don't think that NFP guarantees either a clean or a healthy heart as far as "openness" to children goes.

    I agree that attitudes and physiological effects are very important when it comes to one's view of family production, but the point of my post was to illustrate the inaccuracy of saying that NFP represents "openness to life" in a substantial way greater than use of artificial contraception.

    True "openness to life" would enjoy the marital relationship in its fullest with no intent to control conception whatsoever.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 5:29 PM  

  • I agree Bonnie. The same heart issues are involved in the use of NFP and the Pill.

    By Blogger razorbackmama, at 12:03 AM  

  • Couple A claims to be hospitable. They point to the fact that they have a guest room. The room, however, is only made ready when guests are invited and expected and at that time and no other, the bed is made up with clean sheets, the floors are swept, the bathroom has clean towels etc. However the rest of the time, the room is left cold and accumulates dust, has old sheets and towels from the last person who visited, the cat sleeps in there... you get the picture. So when an unexpected guest arrives last minute, this is what they encounter.

    Couple B claims to be hospitable as well, and has a guest room, however their guest room is ready with fresh sheets, towels, warmth, flowers on the table, etc at all times, for both the expected and the unexpected guest. Anyone dropping in would feel welcomed, would not feel like an inconvenience, would be cared for from the moment they arrived.

    Is there not something evidently different here? While you can argue all you want that both couple A and B could have terrible underlying attitudes about an unexpected guest, couple B's actions are more congruent with people whose hearts are truly welcoming to the visitor -any visitor!

    Knowing that no FP method is %100 reliable (and go figure...our culture actually believes we have the power and right to create or deny life), a woman whose chosen method of FP creates an environment in the womb that is life-compromising, and knows it, and continues to use this form, would seem to, by her actions, care more about other things than the safety and nurture of a child who might be conceived unexpectedly. A woman using NFP places the ultimate well-being of any child she bears, whether expected or unexpected, in top priority.

    While it is indeed possible for couples to have "unwelcoming" attitudes using any form of FP, again I stress that to make this your main detraction merely reveals an unwillingness to grasp the point of the CT article. It is telling the story of a woman whose heart changed as she realized how the Pill was affecting her body, her relationship with her husband, her attitude about having children, and acted in accordance with her conscience. I say, "Bravo!"

    By Blogger Susan, at 8:56 AM  

  • Susan, that was a very good analogy on the difference between NFP and artificial birth control.

    Bonnie and I have discussed this off and on for a year. I can't think of any other compelling argumentation that she would find persuasive.

    From past experience, I am beginning to think that this is something that you can't easily explain to someone - it's something that must be lived first. The author of the article did a great job of illustrating that in her article.

    I applaud her for sharing her experience, and I applaud you Susan, and you for your wise comments!

    Thanks Bonnie for tackling the topic yet again. :)

    By Blogger Elena, at 9:23 AM  

  • Shalom!

    By Blogger Susan, at 9:58 AM  

  • Sounds to me like she’s trying to have her cake and eat it too.

    Actually no, that would be the artificial contraception couple who wants to enjoy all of the pleasures of the marital act without the consequences. With NFP there is a natural cause and effect that is intetionally and deliberately erased in the contracepted act. But we've done this before Bonnie. Why don't you try NFP and see if you can tell the difference?

    By Blogger Elena, at 2:59 PM  

  • There are many “heart issues” involved in the practice (or lack thereof) of various methods of family planning. Some may be common to all; some will be different from one method to the next. Surely not all of them are the same for use of both the Pill and NFP, but I believe that some are, as I pointed out in the post.

    Susan, your analogy is based upon a supposition about the womb should a breakthrough ovulation occur during use of the Pill. Obviously, the womb is not always inhospitable at these times because many women conceive and bear healthy children while using the Pill. The concern is that it may possibly be inhospitable at times, and I acknowledged this in the post. I also stated that I believe this is enough reason not to use the Pill.

    Elena and Susan – Susan’s analogy only involves use of the Pill; it is not applicable to other forms of contraception. Barrier methods do not affect the conditions of the womb. In her article, Tennant says she supports “a Christian's right to use condoms and/or natural family planning (NFP),” yet near the beginning of her article she asks (and I quote in the post), “What did my daily habit [the Pill] say about my faith in the One who reduced himself first to a cell, then two, then 128, then 256 and more, then to a defenseless baby—and whose door is always open for helpless intruders like me?” (emphasis added) She also tell us that she “told Hall that my husband and I had removed the safety lock from the door to my womb in case the Great Lover of Strangers wanted to send any visitors our way.” What safety lock did she actually remove? How does use of barrier methods and/or NFP represent removal of a “safety lock?” There still is some sort of “lock” in place.

    Susan, in your analogy, that the hospitality or lack thereof of the womb itself is the only criteria for a person’s being hospitable to a new life is curious. You do not mention the fact that with NFP, though the womb and ovum may be ready and waiting, no guests are invited nor allowed anywhere near during the most hospitable time. What does it matter if the guest room is spic-and-span and the chocolate’s waiting on the turned-down sheet, if the guests aren’t even allowed in the house, and the entertainment, who’s practiced her act for days/weeks, gets to play for no one?

    Is there not something evidently different here? While you can argue all you want that both couple A and B could have terrible underlying attitudes about an unexpected guest, couple B's actions are more congruent with people whose hearts are truly welcoming to the visitor -any visitor!

    Susan, I’m not concerned with attitudes toward unexpected guests. My post is not about “unexpected guests.” My post is about whether or not the door is open to any and all guests, unexpected or not! Tell me what actions a couple practicing NFP are taking to welcome new human life when they purposely abstain during the fertile period in order to avoid a conception?

    ...our culture actually believes we have the power and right to create or deny life.

    I’m not sure exactly what you are saying here...a couple using chemical or barrier contraception or NFP obviously believes they have some power to create or deny creation of a human life.

    While it is indeed possible for couples to have "unwelcoming" attitudes using any form of FP, again I stress that to make this your main detraction merely reveals an unwillingness to grasp the point of the CT article. It is telling the story of a woman whose heart changed as she realized how the Pill was affecting her body, her relationship with her husband, her attitude about having children, and acted in accordance with her conscience. I say, "Bravo!"

    Susan, my main detraction is a pretty big one, and one that you seem to be ignoring. I did not miss the point of the article but I do challenge its consistency and accuracy in this particular area. In my post I acknowledged and commended Mrs. Tennant’s change of heart, did you not see this? But I believe that she, and others with similar view of artificial contraception vs. NFP, are incorrect in what they claim about openness to children. Tennant has progressed in her thought toward a certain attitude and practice regarding openness to fertility, but she’s quite far from its conclusion, which would be where the Torodes aree. I understand the idea behind both her and your analogies and am not concerned with making a statement as to that idea’s legitimacy at the moment; my intent is merely to point out that these analogies represent a very limited openness to children, so to claim that they represent a greater degree of openness than they truly do is to state a falsehood.

    Elena, I’d like to caution you before you draw a conclusion about what people understand, and why. I don’t believe I’ve ever given details of my own personal history with “family planning,” nor do I plan to because it would dishonor the privacy of my marriage. But let’s just say that I may have more “experience” than you think :-)

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 5:55 PM  

  • Susan’s analogy only involves use of the Pill;

    How about the patch? Depo Provera? IUD? tubal ligation and vasectomy?



    What safety lock did she actually remove? How does use of barrier methods and/or NFP represent removal of a “safety lock?”

    Well with the barrier method I would say that company may be coming, but the door is bolted. With NFP there is no company because we're on retreat!


    What does it matter if the guest room is spic-and-span and the chocolate’s waiting on the turned-down sheet, if the guests aren’t even allowed in the house,

    But guests ARE in the house. The question is will there be a hostess?


    But I believe that she, and others with similar view of artificial contraception vs. NFP, are incorrect in what they claim about openness to children.

    And on that point will probably never agree. I can't see how someone who goes to the expense and effort of contracept is as open as someone who says, "let's make love tonight and whatever happens happens. Which is why I think it is something that someone has to truly live for a while to know the difference.

    By Blogger Elena, at 8:55 AM  

  • Elena, you're missing Bonnie's point.

    People who do not use any family planning methods, including NFP, are the ones saying "let's make love tonight and what happens happens".

    People who use NFP are not saying let's make love tonight and what happens happens. They're saying, "gee, I'd really like to make love tonight, honey, and I know you would, too, but we don't want a pregnancy, so let's rent a video and watch a movie instead".

    Big difference.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 10:44 AM  

  • BTW, with the guest room analogy, you're missing the point, too.

    The analogy doesn't hold because the "guests" in question with NFP or no family planning at all or barrier or hormonal family planning have to be created by the couple in question.

    There is no question of guests at all if you're not having intercourse, so the guest room in that situation is all for show and not for use.

    If the pill is eating your cake and having it, too, then so is NFP in the sense that one can have this lovely guest room for show and turn up one's nose at the homemakers who have stored the linens and pulled down the blinds, but one doesn't really ever have to put it to use any more than than those women.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 10:50 AM  

  • People who use NFP are not saying let's make love tonight and what happens happens. They're saying, "gee, I'd really like to make love tonight, honey, and I know you would, too, but we don't want a pregnancy, so let's rent a video and watch a movie instead".

    Big difference.


    Ah, but that ain't necessarily so Jo. Sometimes it turns into, "I'd really like to make love tonight honey... why are we avoiding a pregnancy again? Let's just do it and whatever happens, happens."

    : )

    That's a lot more open than having to wait a month or two for the hormones to clear out of your system!

    If the pill is eating your cake and having it, too, then so is NFP

    Which of course doesn't make any sense because if you are abstaining with NFP you aren't eating cake at all. In fact it's more analogous to fasting!!

    By Blogger Elena, at 2:49 PM  

  • Sometimes it turns into, "I'd really like to make love tonight honey... why are we avoiding a pregnancy again? Let's just do it and whatever happens, happens."

    Key word: sometimes

    Just like sometimes, when a couple finishes a pill-cycle, or runs out of diaphragm jelly, they re-examine their desire to prevent pregnancy and choose not to continue the method they're using, too.

    The end result of both NFP and other means of family planning is that they're exactly that: conscious, deliberate acts of manipulating either one's body or one's sex life in order to avoid becoming pregnant while also maintaining some kind of sex life.

    The only two opposites here are celibacy and engaging in sexual intercourse without using any means of family planning at all.

    Anything else merely lies along the continuum in between.

    NFP in and of itself is merely a means to an end, and that end is exactly the same as using hormonal or barrier methods of family planning - avoiding pregnancy.

    Like any other tool, family planning methods can be used for good purposes and bad purposes. But the good or evil of the purpose lies in the hearts and minds of those using the tool, not in the tool itself.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 4:11 PM  

  • BTW, if we're going to have this hierarchy of openness to life that you propose with your statement that some methods leave one "a lot more open", statistically, barrier methods leave one even more open to life than NFP.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 4:27 PM  

  • The only two opposites here are celibacy and engaging in sexual intercourse without using any means of family planning at all.
    Anything else merely lies along the continuum in between.


    Yet somewhere along that continuum, there is a point in which merely avoiding a potentially fertile act becomes deliberately sterilizing a potentially fertile act. The question remains whether crossing that point on the line remains a licit action for a Christian. It seems that this particular Protestant author has turned her point of view to the one held by all Protestant denominations prior to 1930, which was that crossing that point was not licit.


    But the good or evil of the purpose lies in the hearts and minds of those using the tool,

    Absolutely not. One may have the best of intentions and still be wrong.

    By Blogger Elena, at 2:21 PM  

  • Yes, but that still leaves the evil or good of the act within the hearts and minds of the person using the tool.

    Once anyone or any entity has decided that it's "licit" to exert control over when to become pregnant, how that is accomplished becomes a non-issue.

    If it's okay to continue to engage in intercourse, an act that most Christian denominations will tell you is an act designed specifically and primarily for procreation, while at the same time manipulating your body or your lives with the express purpose of avoiding conception, then it doesn't matter how a person accomplishes this. The act of divorcing procreation from sexual pleasure/physical intimacy has already taken place in your mind.

    Any sex act that is engaged in with the deliberate and planned acknowledgment that it won't be engaged in unless it's rendered "sterile" (or 99% sterile), is the same no matter what means is used to get to the point where you can enjoy the pleasurable and unitive aspects of sexual intimacy while greatly lessening the risk of conception.

    If one is honestly and absolutely about being open to life at all times or accepting God's will in this area of their lives at all times, then they would never use any form of family planning. The plan would be God's and God's alone. But once a person or couple exerts any amount of control over that plan, then they're not open to life on God's terms alone, they're only open to life on their terms.

    Personally, I believe in responsible family planning and I believe that what constitutes responsible family planning is the sole business of each couple and should never be speculated on by outsiders. I do, however, think it's more than a bit disingenuous for the NFP crowd to consider themselves "more" open to life than those who choose other methods of family planning. I know these people think the act of abstaining for a period of time each month makes NFP somehow more "Christian" than other methods, but that's raising the act of abstaining in and of itself to a level approaching idolatry.

    If a couple has already agreed in their minds to enjoy one aspect of sex while doing their darndest to avoid another, then no amount of abstaining makes that any less than what it is, and what it is is the same whether you use NFP or a barrier method or a hormonal method.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 4:10 PM  

  • Yes, but that still leaves the evil or good of the act within the hearts and minds of the person using the tool.

    No I don't think so. I do not believe that we can decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, even for good reasons.

    Once anyone or any entity has decided that it's "licit" to exert control over when to become pregnant, how that is accomplished becomes a non-issue.

    Nonsense.

    One can decide to lose weight. Then one could binge and purge (an illicit act) or commit to careful diet and exercise.

    One could decide to take money out of the bank. Then one could go in with a gun and hold the place up, or fill out a withdrawal slip. One is most definitely licit and the other is not!

    If it's okay to continue to engage in intercourse, an act that most Christian denominations will tell you is an act designed specifically and primarily for procreation, while at the same time manipulating your body or your lives with the express purpose of avoiding conception, then it doesn't matter how a person accomplishes this.


    There is a lot of difference between manipulating your body, which scripture teaches is a temple of the Holy Spirit and made in the image of God, or manipulating your life, which we are all called to do as Christians anyway.

    The act of divorcing procreation from sexual pleasure/physical intimacy has already taken place in your mind.

    Absolutely for the contracepting couple. But an NFP couple is not divorcing the two. That couple completely accepts how the two work together and is avoiding the pleasure with the procreation during the fertile times, using the God-given periods of infertility built into the woman's cycle.


    The plan would be God's and God's alone.

    The design for the fertility cycle IS God's and God's alone. Using that system is within God's design.

    But once a person or couple exerts any amount of control over that plan, then they're not open to life on God's terms alone, they're only open to life on their terms.

    No I still don't agree. The terms of the fertility cycle were planned and laid down by God.

    I do, however, think it's more than a bit disingenuous for the NFP crowd to consider themselves "more" open to life than those who choose other methods of family planning.

    I don't. The contraceptive mentality in the west has been loud and proud for over 30 years, much to the ruin of this culture. I think it is time for those who open to children and those who practice NFP to be equally as vocal in expressing the benefits of living married life within the design God has given for marriage.



    I know these people think the act of abstaining for a period of time each month makes NFP somehow more "Christian" than other methods,

    And historically and theologically they would be correct.


    but that's raising the act of abstaining in and of itself to a level approaching idolatry.

    Nope. Abstaining from sex or from food have deeper theological meanings that have existed for centuries. It has only been since 1930 that those have been rejected by some Christians. It's not an idoloatry but rather a turning back to fundamental Christian values and theology. I applaud the author for rediscovering this and writing about it!

    By Blogger Elena, at 5:10 PM  

  • You're still missing the point. The tool itself is devoid of good or evil. The good or evil comes from the person using it. Whether our intentions are good, or evil, or are good yet the end result is bed, it is still our intent that makes the difference. A gun isn't evil or good in and of itself. Neither is any particular method of family planning.

    Also, if we're not making a conscious attempt to work towards good or evil, then what's the point? Are we predestined or fated towards good or evil before we're even born? That, perhaps, is too off-topic for this discussion, but I don't believe we can even have this discussion if you don't believe we have free will.

    Binging and purging isn't an "illicit" act. It may be dangerous and unhealthy, but it's also usually the act of a person who is incapable of making reasonable decisions. For the purposes of this discussion, I think we'd better stick to reasonably acceptable methods of behavior. Also, dieting and family planning are entirely separate issues. You're comparing apples and oranges here. One could always, too, make the argument that anyone who needed to diet in the first place was already guilty of over-indulgance and gluttony, and probably sloth.

    Same goes for stealing and withdrawing money one is legitimately in possession of. These are two separate acts that may appear similar because they both involve money, but they're not even remotely related. I can choose to use an ATM or online banking or going to a teller to withdraw my money from my account. Holding up a bank and stealing other people's money is not choosing how to withdraw my money. No comparison at all there. But let's not play with ultimately ridiculous analogies. Let's stick to the topic at hand.

    Choosing to deny the natural rhythms of desire is manipulating one's naturally designed body. And once one has decided that they want one aspect of sex without the other, one has divorced procreation from pleasure. There's no avoiding that fact in the end. You want sex. You don't want a baby. You find a way to have the sex and not risk a pregnancy. This is the goal, whether you use NFP, a barrier method, or hormonal contraception. There is no in-between here, especially not when the NFP crowd is advertising their preferred method as equally as effective as hormonal methods.

    Any attempt to circumvent the fertility cycle is working with the fertility cycle. One can't circumvent it unless one knows how it works. And why would a method that has only recently become available be the only "licit" method if it was always God's plan to allow for family planning? Were the women of centuries past just out of luck? Did God intend for this generation to have fewer children overall? There is no logic behind the argument that NFP, as it exists today, is "God's plan".

    NFPers can be as vocal as they like. Their choice. But until they can come up with a logical, proveable argument as to why NFP, a family planning method advertised as 99% effective in avoiding pregnangy, is "more" open to life than the barrier methods with their lower efficacy rate or hormonal methods with their equal efficacy rate, they're not going to make much headway. As it stands now, it's merely a personal choice that couples make for a variety of reasons, some of which may be religious in nature.

    Raising abstinence to a level of idolatry doesn't mean all acts of abstinence are idolatrous. The danger is that some acts will be raised to that level by some people, and I have seen this time and again during the NFP v. mainstream family planning methods argument. Of course the people who've raised their abstinance to that status don't see it that way, but it happens nonetheless. NFPers will say over and over again that their method is more "Godly" because they're abstaining from sex for certain periods. Well, so what? So do people with herpes outbreaks. The abstinence in and of itself doesn't mean a thing.

    I applaud anyone who is sincerely examining their life and their conscience and making changes as a result.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 5:47 PM  

  • *Oops! Should be "bad", not "bed" in the first graph. How Freudian!

    By Anonymous Jo, at 5:48 PM  

  • You're still missing the point. The tool itself is devoid of good or evil.

    No I get it, I just disagree. I cannot think of any good use for an IUD for example that would not be inherently evil.



    I don't believe we can even have this discussion if you don't believe we have free will.

    Well actually I do believe in free will. I do not believe that every choice however is a good one.

    Binging and purging isn't an "illicit" act. It may be dangerous and unhealthy, but it's also usually the act of a person who is incapable of making reasonable decisions.

    Not at all. I know plenty of people who were very capable of making reasonable decisions and yet binged and purged. BTW they had vomitoriums in ancient Rome because binging and purging was socially accepted in that culture at that time.


    For the purposes of this discussion, I think we'd better stick to reasonably acceptable methods of behavior.

    Reasonable and acceptable to whom?

    Analogies to food when discussing human sexuality are very commonly used and I can give you some sources if you wish.


    These are two separate acts that may appear similar because they both involve money, but they're not even remotely related.

    It is commonly held that there is no such thing as a "perfect analogy." Nonetheless I think you get my point and I really don't want to defend the analogies. The point is there are right and wrong ways to do many things.


    Choosing to deny the natural rhythms of desire is manipulating one's naturally designed body.

    But man is not an animal!! Human beings have the ability and the will to not be a slave to their urges and desires. That is, afterall, part of what separates us from the animals. We are the only earthly creatures made in the image of God.



    And once one has decided that they want one aspect of sex without the other, one has divorced procreation from pleasure.

    sigh... if you aren't having sex, you aren't having pleasure or procreation. The recognition of that is what makes NFp different from ABC.


    This is the goal, whether you use NFP, a barrier method, or hormonal contraception.

    There is no argument that the intent to avoid or postpone pregnancy can be the same, but there most definitely is a difference in the methods which I attempted to illustrate with the analogies.


    Any attempt to circumvent the fertility cycle is working with the fertility cycle.


    Nonsense.

    Hormones try to subdue ovulation or make the endometrium hostile, something that is usually seen in an unnatural pathologic state.

    Sterilization destroys healthy body tissue.

    And barrier methods cover up body parts that were never meant to be covered up.

    Understanding how something works so that you can thwart it is NOT THE SAME as understanding how it works so that you can work with it or enhance it.!


    And why would a method that has only recently become available be the only "licit" method if it was always God's plan to allow for family planning?

    Well actually the fertility cycle has been around as long as women have. Even the ancients had a cursory understanding of when to have sex to have or avoid pregnancy.


    NFPers can be as vocal as they like. Their choice. But until they can come up with a logical, proveable argument as to why NFP, a family planning method advertised as 99% effective in avoiding pregnangy, is "more" open to life than the barrier methods with their lower efficacy rate or hormonal methods with their equal efficacy rate, they're not going to make much headway.


    Luckily an NFP proponant did! In great detail too!


    NFPers will say over and over again that their method is more "Godly" because they're abstaining from sex for certain periods. Well, so what? So do people with herpes outbreaks. The abstinence in and of itself doesn't mean a thing.

    Of course it does. And if a herpes sufferers abstains to spare infecting their spouse that is a self-less, Godly thing to do.


    I applaud anyone who is sincerely examining their life and their conscience and making changes as a result.

    On this we agree and I applaud the author for being so open about it.

    By Blogger Elena, at 7:55 PM  

  • Yes...my point exactly. Debating analogies are a waste of time. If you can't come up with arguments for the thing itself, then there's obviously something you can't defend.

    Again, you're talking about the use of a thing, not the thing itself. An IUD is an inanimate object and is incapable of good or evil on it's own. Only people can make it good or evil. Perhaps there is no good, but that doesn't make it inherently evil.

    I have already argued that there are right and wrong choices. I was merely pointing out that using a particular tool didn't make something automaticallly "right". Your argument was that NFP was "right" or "good" in and of itself, when it cannot be. It's the intent of the person using it that makes it good, bad, right or wrong. NFP is not always good just because it's NFP.

    No, just because one chooses not to engage in intercourse during fertile periods but rather waits until they can be 99% sure they're not fertile, one is most certainly not maintaining both the procreative and unitive/pleasurable aspects of sex. One is very deliberately having sex when one has reasonable assurance that procreation will not happen. The same reasonable assurance, AAMOF, as the pill, and greater assurance than barrier methods. The intent (the part where we exert free will) is to be able to have intercourse (whether that's for two weeks out of the month or four) without getting pregnant. That's why it's called natural "family planning". You are wilfully planning your sex lives around the notion that you don't want a pregnancy, but you still want a sex life that includes intercourse. Period. The only method that maintains both the procreative and unitive/pleasurable aspects of sex 100% of the time is using no method at all. Once you've decided to step in and use technology and science to thwart conception, there is no difference between NFP, the pill, and a barrier method. None. The only difference exists in your mind in an attempt to rationalize what you're doing as something different than what a woman on the pill or using condoms is doing. You're having sex and avoiding pregnancy. You can either have sex and never use any family planning method or you can abstain 100% of the time until you want a baby and then you're not divorcing the pleasurable from the procreative, but once you make a conscious effort to have sex and avoid conception, you're no longer 100% open to life, and you're certainly no "more" open to life than someone else using another family planning method - especially since they're willing to have intercourse during fertile periods and while using less effective methods.

    Yes, the fertility cycle has been around since the dawn of time. But NFP hasn't, and you know it. NFP has only been perfected in recent decades. There was no 99% reliable "natural" family planning method for women for thousands of years. NFP is entirely a construct of man, not God. God created the fertility cycle. Any method of conception-avoidance comes from man, not God. Any method of conception-avoidance involves a working knowledge of the fertility cycle. NFP as it stands now relies on exactly the same information the pill does. AAMOF, the pill and NFP have much more in common than a diaphragm and NFP.

    Again, you're attributing an inanimate thing with human morality. Abstinance in and of itself means nothing. It's what's in the hearts and minds of the people involved that bring the moral dimension to the act.

    Openness to life is a mindset. It's something that occurs in one's heart and one's head. You don't automatically become bestowed with a magical "openness to life" by using one family planning method over another. Abstaining from sex during a fertile period doesn't make one "more" open to life. I know you think NFP is some kind of magic ritual that instills holiness and saintliness to your life, but NFP doesn't do that. Your take on your religion does that. That's in your head, not in the thing itself. The bottom line is that if you're using any family planning method at all, you're not open to life while you're using it. You're deliberately trying to avoid creating a new life. There's no getting around that fact. If you were truly open to life 100%, you wouldn't be using any family planning method at all.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 5:35 AM  

  • Debating analogies are a waste of time.

    I didn't say that. I said I did not wish to defend my analogies, (i.e. their worth, their accuracy etc.) because you seemed set on debating whether they were analogous or not.

    The use of analogies in debate and discussion is time honored. The analogy to food in regards to contaception is quite common and I use it with great confidence because I have heard folks such as Professor Scott Hahn from Franciscan University and Professer Janet Smith from the University of Dallas use them.


    If you can't come up with arguments for the thing itself, then there's obviously something you can't defend.

    A nonsensical argument since analogies are used quite frequently all of the time. In fact I challenge you to provide the source for your little rule in a reference on debate and discussion.

    The rest of it is a rehash of what we have already covered.

    By Blogger Elena, at 6:45 AM  

  • I actually find your insistance on "food" analogies quite amusing.

    Sorry, I'm just not one of those people who has food issues or weight issues, so most of those kinds of analogies would be wasted on me.

    I never said you said debating analogies was a waste of time. I said it, and I said it because I believe it.

    I believe one should stick to the topic at hand when one is debating rather than get lost running down rabbit trails, and using flawed and limited analogies only leads to confusion and tangents that cloud the issue at hand.

    This isn't a "rule", it's what I believe and my take on debate. If you can't argue the point at hand without using convoluted and unrelated analogies, then you can't argue the point at hand, so why bother?

    The point here is that using NFP doesn't leave a person "more" open to life than using the pill or a barrier method. This is the argument.

    My argument is that using any family planning method means that you're not entirely open to life and that you want to maintain a sex life that includes intercourse yet avoids one aspect of what intercourse was intended for - one wants the pleasurable while avoiding the procreative aspect.

    You have yet to provide an argument that refutes this. You have yet to provide an argument that using NFP leaves you entirely open to life and always maintains the procreative and pleasurable in each sex act. That's the only debate I'm interested in. I'm not interested in tangential debates regarding eating issues or bank robberies.

    If you can prove that NFP means one is 100% open to life during each sex act and that the procreative and pleasurable aspects of sex are preserved in each sex act, and that a person can truthfully consider themselves entirely open to life while using a method that claims 99% effectiveness in avoiding pregnancy, then go for it.

    Bottom line: NFP users are just as interested in having sexual intercourse while avoiding conception as pill users and barrier method users. If they weren't, they wouldn't be using anything. That's my argument. Refute that if you will or if you can, and maybe I'll respond. I will not, however, be dragged into a ridiculous discussion on vomitoriums in Rome just to deflect attention from the fact that you haven't yet been able to explain how one can actively seek to avoid pregnancy on the one hand and yet be "open to life" on the other.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 7:19 AM  

  • Many people find the food analogy helpful. As I said, greater minds and scholars than mine use them.

    I'm afraid I will never explain it to your satisfaction - thus my original statement that it is something that has to be lived to truly understand.

    When you are laying down with your spouse with no chemicals or gadgets between you, truly self giving and naked as God intended - there's a difference. The integrity of the sex act that way is maintained. It's powerful stuff.

    I have TONS of links on this topic and I invite you to do your own research. Additionally Arwen/Elizabeth (on my blog roll) has a nice article as well describing the differences as well.

    By Blogger Elena, at 8:05 AM  

  • Yes, but when you're laying down with your spouse only on certain terms and conditions and only when you are being given a 99% guarantee that pregnancy will not occur, neither of you is being truly self-giving at all. You're only being giving under certain terms and conditions and during certain times.

    Now, a couple who chooses not to use any method of family planning is truly self-giving.

    BTW, my husband and I never used any method of family planning at all, including NFP, so I have truly lived this and thus do truly understand what being entirely open to life means. I guess this is why I can't accept a conditional openness to life as being truly open to life.

    By Anonymous Jo, at 8:43 AM  

  • That's wonderful Jo. I think enjoying your marital union without worrying about postponing and avoiding pregnancy is the absolute best! It's an attitude that my husband and I came to embrace after the birth of our third child when I was 35. 4 children and 11 years later, it is one we still subscribe to, despite the odd looks I receive as I push my 5-month old around in her stroller. You don't see many ladies with gray streaks caring for their own babies I guess. : )


    I do however remember the controversy before we were married over whether or not we should use ABC of NFP. The counseling we received prior didn't seem to leave much room for anything else. Interestingly the push then was for contracepting and NFP was very very discouraged. It took a leap of faith to trust in how God made my body and how it worked. To go from there to not planning at all was a baby step.

    By Blogger Elena, at 9:03 AM  

  • I think I need to re-read the exchange between Elena and Jo, but it certainly has been a compelling blog exchange. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to really re-construct both arguments. This is certainly an important issue to work through, inasmuch as our culture has it completely wrong. I still need to think before I post anything, though.

    By Blogger Fr. Andrew Bloomfield, at 5:23 PM  

  • For all but three months of my 10 years of married life, my husband and I have used the principles of NFP to seek pregnancy. What form of ABC can be used to help achieve pregnancy?

    NFP, when used to avoid or postpone pregnancy, relies on communication, commitment, and self-restraint hopefully found in married relationships. Pope Paul VI correctly predicted that ABC would increase infidelity and out-of-wedlock birhs. When NFP and ABC are used for identical purposes, their effects are very different. ABC has made uncommitted sex much less risky.

    The techniques of NFP are usually, though not always, part of a philosophy that that says children are a blessing that we should embrace willingly and generously. I have relatives who say, "She's an NFP teacher? What a joke! She has 8 kids!" They see this as a sign that NFP doesn't work. I see this as perfectly congruent: you use NFP to welcome life and you use NFP when grave reasons dictate that you postpone another pregnancy.

    I do not agree that ABC and NFP are morally neutral. Humana Vitae was spot on in its discussion of what would happen if ABC spread throughout our society.

    I do agree that we need to examine our hearts and evaluate our motivation as we make decisions. We can use NFP to achieve or postpone pregnancy and be selfish, cold, unloving. We can offer or withhold intimacy for manipulative reasons.

    Kelly

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home