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Sin, Sex, and Solidarity

May 17, 2013

800px-Forbidden_fruit

Few people today, Catholics included, “think with the Church” on sexual morality. This is obvious. The more difficult question to answer is why. Multiple reasons, I’m sure, although I think we can rule out the world’s embrace of an “anything goes” moral relativism as the culprit. Even my most libertine friends have absolute standards governing their sexual behavior. Consent, for example. I’m no psychologist or spiritual counselor, able to unearth underlying motivations, but, in speaking to friends and acquaintances, I have not been led to conclude that they reject Catholic teaching on the meaning of sexuality because they want to live how they want to live, rules of morality be damned. Rather, they largely reject the teaching because it doesn’t make moral sense to them. The theory taught by the Church–that sexual activity not “ordered” toward procreation is inherently sinful and of grave matter–however coherent it may be to them at the abstract level of theory, fails to translate into their real world lived experience.

Sin supposedly causes harm, not merely in the hereafter, but also in the here and now. In the words of the Catechism, sin “injures human solidarity,” the togetherness between and among people, the ties that bind them. Lying, for example, breaks down trust, and even where the lie is unknown to the deceived, one can easily imagine the lie at the center of the relationship and understand its effects upon it. The solidarity itself becomes a lie, waiting only for the truth to emerge and crack or shatter the edifice. However, in the case of what the Church deems sexual sin, i.e., any sexual behavior that intentionally frustrates procreation or that deliberately doesn’t follow the form that would typically lead to procreation, injury to solidarity seems, well, not to be there as a demonstrable consequence. At least, I haven’t been able to figure out what this injury is. Consequently, I haven’t yet been able to understand how the practice matches the theory. I’ve asked Catholics who write knowledgeably about human sexuality to explain to me the specific, concrete ways in which contraceptive and same-sex acts injure solidarity and otherwise wound the person, but I’ve yet to get a specific, concrete wound and causal relationship from it to the sinful sex act. The theory is repeated to me as if it were self-evidently true. Or I’m told that negative consequence are not always apparent or may take time to develop.

Here’s the situation as I see it. The Church claims there is a causal relationship between 1) contraceptive or same-sex sexual acts and 2) interior wounds and injury to solidarity. If this is true, then one should, conceivably, be able to demonstrate it; i.e., pinpoint the specific wound and show precisely how non-procreative sex and not something else led to it. This may be difficult, as you cannot fully see into another person’s soul, but it shouldn’t be as a rule impossible, as a wound is something you can see. We’re not talking about abstractions here: the Church says that these sexual activities necessarily cause real wounds in real people. So what are these wounds? In what specific way does non-procreative sex injure solidarity? It’s not enough to respond by saying the wounds may not be apparent or may take time to develop. These responses may be true, but they leave the question open. And they leave the question unanswered to a culture that rejects the moral reasoning concerning these sexual acts put forth by the Church. It’s also not enough to point to a wound and assume it was caused by a deviation from sexual norms.

The Church is losing ground on these issues to the wider culture, in part because the theory doesn’t hold water for a lot of people. It doesn’t correspond to their real lived experience. When I look at the relationships of same-sex couples with whom I’m friends, I see no signs of wounds or weaknesses that I can attribute to the nature of their relationship.  Indeed, their solidarity appears to be the result of what the Church calls morally-disordered orientation and sinful action.  How can what injures solidarity be the basis of solidarity? When the Church says that these sex acts injure solidarity and wound the soul, people in the wider culture wonder what it’s taking about. And this is why I think Catholics, to be persuasive, have to do more than repeat the theory; they need to to show, in actual practice, exactly how these sins wound and injure. Catholic can’t assume the theory, but must start from the concrete to demonstrate that the theory is true.

How would you go about doing this?

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223 Comments
  1. alexanderschimpf permalink
    May 17, 2013 8:30 am

    A thoughtful post, and I agree that a clearer articulation of these matters would be helpful. Just two comments (not snarky today):

    1. It seems like the Scriptures presume that an awful lot of people are going to be lost. That makes me wonder if it is really in the cards for the Church to ever “gain ground” on such issues in the wider culture. Perhaps the message is primarily for those given the grace to recognize its truth?

    2. As a start on “wounds” caused by contraception, on a physical level, you could direct attention to some of the powerfully negative physical effects of the “Pill.” On a more spiritual level, you could point out the amazing prevalence of depression even among one’s seemingly happily contracepting friends. And, of course, children are an aid to solidarity.

    • May 17, 2013 10:34 am

      In response to alexanderschimpf’s first point above, I would say that if the Church is writing off “an awful lot of people,” as destined for perdition, then the Church should leave off agitating for its doctrines to be translated into statute law.
      As for the Pill, it also has powerful positive physical effects for some women, and I don’t think we can make any one-to-one connection with regard to contraception and depression. Since one major incentive for the use of contraception is the alleviation or elimination of anxiety caused by the possibility of unwanted pregnancy, we might well assume that it works against depression. Moreover, I can only understand contraceptive use as causing depression, if that depression were founded upon guilt. If Kyle is correct in his thesis that large parts of society feel no guilt for using contraception, then from what would the depression arise?
      Unfortunately, children are not universally “an aid to solidarity,” as much as we might hope that this would be the case. In many cases, they can be shown to work against it.
      Nice try, but I can award no cigar here.

    • May 17, 2013 10:45 am

      Very reasonably articulated points but, in response to point two:

      Negative side effects from the pill are traceable to biochemistry — not the fact that subsequent sex acts aren’t oriented toward procreation. The Church would argue that, even absent such side effects, such contraception would be sinful. Also, many medications have negative side effects, but such treatment is not generally regarded as sinful. So, a reliable correlation does not exist.

      Can a higher level of depression be correlated with contraception? Can a causal connection be demonstrated (recognizing Kyle’s concluding point in paragraph three).

      That non-procreative sexual acts do not contribute to solidarity in this way does not mean that they injure solidarity, as the Church claims — or even that they don’t contribute to solidarity in other ways. Nor are procreative and non-procreative sex acts mutually exclusive. Having non-procreative sex at any given time does not mean that one does not or will not have children.

      • May 19, 2013 11:06 am

        You’re right, the harmful effects of the Pill are moot when it comes to establishing the sinfulness of contraception. The harmful effects are related to biochemistry, and not to the subsequent sterile acts.

        Also, it bugs me that people often point out that the fact that the Pill is a class 1 carcinogen. I looked up a list of class 1 carcinogens; the list also included sunlight.

    • May 17, 2013 12:16 pm

      The church makes moral arguments for its positions. It’s fair to ask whether those arguments work.

      How do we know that the use of contraception caused the depression?

      • alexanderschimpf permalink
        May 17, 2013 1:10 pm

        I agree about evaluating the arguments. However, the “arguments” of the universal Catechism seem to be abbreviated in most cases, so one would need to look elsewhere for fuller articulations of the positions. Given that, it does not seem entirely fair to lean on the arguments of the Catechism too heavily, nor to invite others to do so. But don’t get me wrong–I liked the way you handled this in the post above.

        As for the depression suggestion, I also agree that is certainly the kind of thing that could not be conclusively pinned down. But where does the Church say that the damaging effects of sin are immediate and obvious, such that we could easily establish a causal connection?

  2. T J Hostek permalink
    May 17, 2013 10:22 am

    Kyle is on to something good. The Church’s sexual teaching is 1 of the few areas of its theology that is not based on human experience but rather is entirely theoretical to confirm a deep seated negativity toward corporeal reality and disdain for the erotic, neither of which are consistent with its Incarnational nature. Younger people, in particular, are following an innate sense of morality based in human experience that nullifies this theoretical and negative view. Truth actually is something that can & needs to be experienced. Sex ifeels good for a reason, actually for many reasons! So, enjoy it! Whether by yourself or with others!

  3. May 17, 2013 10:50 am

    Nice post! Though I share your skepticism in this regard, I imagine that those who don’t would still find your argument comprehensible and approachable, which is rare.

    (But there’s a typo in the last sentence of paragraph 3.)

  4. May 17, 2013 11:13 am

    It is amazing that it would have taken thousands of years for followers of Christ to recognize that our view of human sexuality is “not based on human experience,” and it is still more amazing that those who have revealed this to us are the very people responsible for the devastation of the contemporary Sexual Revolution. No evidence that its most ardent devotees have been “wounded” (if not killed outright)? Look harder.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 18, 2013 7:19 am

      I think it is off the mark to blame every questioning of Church teaching on sexuality on the sexual revolution. Go back and look at the testimony of the married men and women on the papal commission on birth control in the 60’s. They were not part of the then nascent sexual revolution. I think the real point is that it has only been in the past few decades that the voices of lay men and women, married with children, have become heard in this discussion.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 18, 2013 5:51 pm

      For a thousand years the followers of Christ got slavery wrong, not sure why you think they were anymore right about sex and many would have been killed if they were to follow the teachings of Rome regarding contraception.

      • Shadrok permalink
        May 19, 2013 7:24 pm

        Do you assume the Church has never had a notion of the lesser evil? Although one might point out that if pregnancy will kill you, you probably shouldn’t have sex at all, one might then talk of ruined marriages etc. But even then, are you under the understanding that the Church has declared contraception a greater evil than death or divorce? It’s unclear to me, in a “rock or a hard place” situation, why you assume the Church gives priority to the avoiding of contraception.

        As for slavery, I can only wonder what moral authority other than the Church itself has conclusive “proven” for you that they got it wrong in the past. Appealing to “it’s obvious” doesn’t work, because it obviously wasnt obvious in the past, and appealing to the hierarchy’s current working stance doesn’t really work either, because if they reversed on this issue once, we must assume they could always reverse again!

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 20, 2013 4:38 am

          I believe his Holiness was wrestling with the issue in the prevention HIV transmission and condoms in Africa. to rather ludicrous effect. Am I completely wrong in this but in category the church regards masturbation a greater evil than rape?
          I would think the moral authority of the slave in every age would more than suffice to prove the Church got in wrong in the past.
          That;s just in teaching let me know when we move to actions

        • Commoner permalink
          May 20, 2013 9:48 am

          Isn’t the fact that the Church teaches contraception (used for the sake of contraception–we are not talking about using a condom to protect from disease or taking the Pill for health reasons) is always and everywhere an objective mortal sin (culpability varies according to one’s knowledge level, of course) enough to assume that the Church considers it a greater evil than death (not a sin at all) or divorce (not necessarily a sin at all, such as in the case of abuse)?

        • Yori permalink
          May 20, 2013 1:19 pm

          “Isn’t the fact that the Church teaches contraception (used for the sake of contraception–we are not talking about using a condom to protect from disease or taking the Pill for health reasons) is always and everywhere an objective mortal sin (culpability varies according to one’s knowledge level, of course) enough to assume that the Church considers it a greater evil than death (not a sin at all) or divorce (not necessarily a sin at all, such as in the case of abuse)?”

          It’s way more complicated than that. Yet for some reason, when people hear the Church condemns contraception, they leap to the conclusion that this means the Church promotes every ridiculous hypothetical they can imagine in which contraception might be the lesser evil.

          Death is not a sin is a silly thing to say. Causing death, by negligence or directly, is homicide. Certainly in a situation where someone was not going to abstain entirely, a condom would be a lesser evil than spreading HIV, etc.

          Of course, some conservatives might say, “Yes, but people can abstain.” This is true, but not necessarily (apparently, in some cases) without irreparable damage to the marital relationship. Again, thinking that the Church thinks that causing such damage is the lesser evil is to be leaping to conclusions. Maybe in a case like idolatry the Church would prefer the breakdown of the marriage to the sin in question, but if we’re talking about preventing adultery (assuming the other party is going to leave for someone else if they don’t get sex) and the harm done to the children etc etc, a good case can be made for using contraception as the lesser evil. Certainly, the Church has not (and, really, cannot) released some “ranking of priorities” in which avoiding contraception is #1 even at the expense of future adultery and children having to live in a broken home etc.

          “Am I completely wrong in this but in category the church regards masturbation a greater evil than rape?”

          The Church has never attempted to rank sins other than the venial/mortal distinction.

          Some Scholastic theologians would have speculatively said this, but they are not Magisterium necessarily.

          Furthermore, I’m pretty sure someone like Aquinas would have only said that masturbation was the greater sin AGAINST CHASTITY specifically, when considered only along THAT virtue’s “axis.” Rape would have still been the worse sin considered absolutely, because rape is also a HUGE sin against Justice, not just Chastity.

  5. Commoner permalink
    May 17, 2013 11:45 am

    It seems to me that the Church’s argument is that using contraception leads to people viewing each other as sex objects to be used and abused.

    I do believe that using contraception makes it easier for people who like to use people for their own pleasure to do so with fewer consequences.

    But what does not translate is that a loving married couple who has tried NFP for a decade–really, truly tried, not just going through a few motions–who then resorts to contraception is going to degenerate into a couple of sex perverts using each other for their own pleasure.

    We are that couple, and while I believe our choice (sterilization) is objectively wrong as it is the mutilation of a healthy part of the body, it has not ruined our marrage (ten years out from the procedure at this point), turned us into a couple of degenerates using each other to get off, or otherwise harmed our friendship. My health was in serious trouble after all those pregnancies–and I do mean serious trouble—and we hope and pray for God’s mercy on judgement day. Today I am a much healthier and happier mother (one of my children just commented on that to me today, actually–those early years of constant pregnancy and many small children were very tough!)

    In the meantime, we look around at all the couples we know from our families and college (most of whom do not believe in contraception at all), and we do not envy their relationships or their continuing struggles with the stressor of NFP on their marriages.

    I dunno. I guess I am just agreeing that our experience with our sexuality and our fertility does not match at all with what the Church told us we would experience. And most people make decisions based on their experiences and the experiences of those around them. I don’t know what it means as far as the Church goes. I am not prepared to say I know better than the Church, by any stretch of the imagination. But at the same time I can’t deny my very real experience and don’t even know what to hope for for my children. NFP was brutal, but contraceptives are no walk in the park either. I don’t want them to go through what we did, but I also don’t want them endangering their souls. I’m still traditional enough to really fear that.

    • May 19, 2013 11:33 am

      Thank you so much for your honesty.

      I am constantly dismayed and amazed by the lies that NFP promoters tell. What is worse, it seems that there is so much fear and shame placed on people like you to lie as well (tell everyone that NFP is such a blessing to your marriage) that the people who are truly struggling will keep silent about their struggles at best, or at worst, lie to others.

      This cannot last forever.

  6. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 17, 2013 12:16 pm

    One could make the usual critical comments, which would surprise no one. Anyways, they hardly need to be as Kyle has limned the issue excellently, sanely and courageously. Some of us are interested in these issues more culturally than strictly religiously at this point. The views and conduct about sex of more than a billion Catholic people on this planet of ours is an issue for everyone. Not only those adhering to the Church’s teaching in one form or another. Somehow Kyle’s way of putting it tweaked a thought that I don’t often let surface to consciousness, though it is a big one in the Catholic sphere of sex.

    I am talking about the history of this same institution that is on a such a high horse about preaching a morality that is good for people (supposedly) and as they are wont to say as well, good for society (supposedly). It occurs to me that part of the reason they get away with saying it all the time, is that the witness of history is hard to come by in this regard. How would one come up with evidence if the RC Church’s views on sexual morality have been good, or not. That is why the matter is just left alone, or swept under the carpet conceptually.

    But one matter is amenable to scrutiny. That is the RC Church’s great tolerance for one very dangerous sexual practice, quite ironic given their present high dudgeon about all sort of things. I am speaking of their rather casual view through the centuries of what is called, I think, inter- sanguinity. This means, if I have the word right, people marrying others and having children with them, who are close relatives. It is a fact of history that Protestant cultures were more concerned about this when they came to be, and quashed it more than Catholic ones. Put simply, history is filled with MANY Catholic cousins marrying each other, and the RC Church blessing those unions quite casually. Or at least looking the other might be the proper way to put it. Even though it has long understood that it causes real problems for families.

    Part of the reason that I don’t often think in this vein (pun intended, I guess) is that I feel my life has been complicated by it. For as long as I can remember in my family on my mother’s side the fact that two first cousins had married each other has been blamed for all sorts of problems. There was a crazy Aunt who spent her whole life in an a mental institution, and plenty more problems afoot familialy to warrant concern. Let me hasten to add that the family is filled with smart, very talented and intense people. Also very Catholic people. Yet it is also filled with lots of people with problems which could easily be traced ultimately to that inter-sanguinity. Unfortunately, here is another way that Catholicism does not help, even when the problems are identified. Many of the people with those problems don’t want to be treated, and seek religious, specifically Catholic ones, to cover them over, and in effect self-medicate. I think this is a big mistake, and a sign of intense immaturity. And it is no small thing, but quite tragic for people, as the family was rocked by paranoia of one sibling accusing the other of malfeasance and even hauling the sibling into court. And all sorts of other nastiness. And yet they always say “I still love them and pray for them”. And for most still no ability to see the real problem and deal with it with professional help. Big mistake in my book and one that makes real relationship basically impossible, except in unhealthy ways.

    If some priest had long ago had the sense to dissuade that kissin’ cousin marriage, he might have actually done something really good in the sexual sphere. But of course did not. So in an intensely personal way, I do not see the RC Church as a source of great wisdom on these matters at all, quite the opposite. I guess my point is that sexual morality is a very personal issues and has intensely important personal effects. Thus as Kyle points out, few are ever really “relativists” which debunks the propaganda canard of the RC church right away. And if anyone doubts my bona fides on this matter, and the personal stake I have with these insights, and the long road to compassion and healthy choices it has entailed, they can get it by this. Go to the site my cousin has online called mccormickclan.com, and click on Family Photo and you will see the whole talented, smart and challenged clan. And I am there at about 4 or 5 the farthest child on the right. And please note for Catholic bona fides the presence of my aunt in full nun’s habit, and I mean old school!

    • May 18, 2013 12:18 pm

      You are correct, that was NOT the “usual critical comments.” I am sorry for the damage to your family by an issue I don’t think I’ve ever seen raised.

      I am not sure that red vest and sock combo worked for you, but I’m going to assume you didn’t pick it out. Thank you for sharing your story

      R.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 20, 2013 11:19 am

        Yea, “R”, it is interesting that not only is this issue not raised much for the RC Church, who was quite negligent, but also not raised in societies around the world. Even though I believe the science here is slam-dunk. It may just be that it was pretty pervasive and that many families have similar issues. And in precent times it may also have to do with wanting to steer clear of anything that smacks of Eugenicist ideas. yet surely there is a sane middle ground which says that for health reasons people should never marry their relatives.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 20, 2013 11:25 am

          “R”,

          Separately I would like to comment on your sartorial advice. I agree, but not for the specific reasons. Rather, because even though I have thought of myself as an attractive person throughout my life, based on others’ reactions to me, I have NEVER looked good in any different style of clothes, Just something about me and my physicality that I am the opposite of the “model type” who can make any clothes look good. It used to bother me when I was young. Similarly, I have only ever taken about five good photos of in my whole life. I always thought I photograph terribly. Again, the opposite of the other type. But I have met a lot of people who think that about themselves. So I learned at length that I have a lot of company. At this point I find all one’s little vanities, if that is what they are, pretty amusing. A better place to be,

  7. May 17, 2013 12:51 pm

    Excellent post, Kyle. My experience is like yours–I’ve had conversations, some very long, in-depth, and theologically complex, on the issue of contraception, and I have never yet received an answer to the question you pose that doesn’t either A) assume the answer ahead of time or B) assume an underlying moral postulate that is not evident to one who doesn’t already accept it or C) appear more or less incoherent. It’s interesting that one of the greatest Thomists of the 20th Century, Jacques Maritain, in a series of letters to a priest friend of his, had no doubt, before Humanae Vitae, that the Pill was not morally problematic. Afterwards, he more or less grudgingly accepted it as a matter of obedience; but what’s interesting is that he did not then argue for promoting Humanae Vitae on its merits, but on the grounds of it being official Church teaching. In other words, as it seems to me, even while accepting the teaching, he had enough intellectual integrity not to pretend that there was a legitimate argument from first principles in favor of it which would convince anyone not already convinced. Very telling, in my mind.

    • May 19, 2013 11:12 am

      Wow, I had no idea that Jacques Maritain thought that way! Fascinating.

      • May 19, 2013 1:18 pm

        Here is a partial discussion of Maritain’s views. There are some more detailed articles that I’ll try to find later, if I have time.

  8. May 17, 2013 1:00 pm

    Kyle, great post as usual. Here is one brief reply– for more I might recommend my series on the McDonaldization of Sex over at Patheos. It’s the following question:

    “What would a culture need to do in order to insure that IN EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE the conception of a child is seen as a blessing and not a tragedy?”

    Brief answer: embrace the implications of the belief that the practice sex is good only when welcoming a child is seen as a good.

    All other temptations to sex would be seen as manipulations, aided by a culture that stimulates sexual desire toward the end of various types of consumption.

    • May 17, 2013 4:12 pm

      Fascinating reply, Tim. Thanks. I’ll check out your series. I’ll need to give some thought to your question and answer.

  9. Ulallia permalink
    May 17, 2013 2:53 pm

    Perhaps people are looking at morality the wrong way in general.

    That is to say, for so long morality has been presented as a series of “No” statements, as if being moral consisted of simply not breaking the Law.

    But of course, a virtue- or holiness-based vision of morality is about just that: wholeness. It’s about a positive Yes, not really about “avoiding the Nos,” which are really only there, as it were, to help define the Yes “apophatically.”

    So rather than asking “What harm is being caused to condemn these things?” you might, instead, try framing the question positively: “What values are at stake in human sexuality or sexual desire, and what vision most integrates or harmonizes all of them” without sacrificing any value in favor of any of the others?

    In truth, I think most people have an instinctive understanding of this. Radical philosophies aside, I think most people could admit that the most harmonious and organic vision of sexuality, the most integrated and holistic, the “Platonic Form of human sexuality” as it were, looks something like “A lifelong marriage between a man and a woman where intimacy and responsible family planning are seamlessly harmonized with the rhythms of nature” or something like that. That this can be called something like the “fullest expression” of human sexuality with the least inner value-tension or compartmentalization…I do not think is all that controversial. (And if people thought about it, they’d probably also realize that the “other” solution is total sublimation in achieved celibacy; this is also a “resting point” of desire, albeit a radical gordian-knot-cutting one.)

    Indeed, I think looking at things from this “positive” direction reveals that, in spite of culture-wars rhetoric, there is actually a LOT more “common ground” between conservatives and liberals on sexual morality than either side would admit. In truth, few people think the orgy is the ideal mature expression of human sexuality. Few people see a lifestyle of extra-marital sex as an end in itself (because most people still dream of finding “the one” and getting married; and those who don’t “settle down” by a certain age are still looked askance at.) Most people would recognize that sex with a lover is more meaningful than masturbation or sex with a stranger. Most people still see homosexuality as a sort of tragedy to be accommodated rather than an ideal to wish on children in itself. Infertility is still seen as disordered, and people still see the acts in which they conceived their children as the moments when sexuality was at its fullest blossoming or density of meaning. And, in spite of radical polyamorist trends or open relationships or non-monogamy, most people still feel jealousy, and still have a romantic vision that “cheating” is utterly excluded from.

    Maybe people would be reluctant to formulate it explicitly for fear of sounding judgmental, but there’s no real disagreement about the IDEAL, really, on the level of basic instincts.

    Where “disagreement” seems to come in is in how exactly we are supposed to relate to moral ideals in a Fallen world. Most people know that premarital sex is not “the destination” and would agree with the Church in large degree regarding what the destination looks like (marriage and family, etc). However, they are willing to accept premarital sex and not worry about it as an incomplete STAGE along the way to that destination.

    Likewise, I’m sure if you asked people to think about a perfect world where there was unlimited time and unlimited resources and where their heart was unlimitedly large, many might admit that there would then be no need to worry about contraception, or that if family planning was an issue, it would be more organic and harmonious to achieve it through their desires being in synch with natural cycles, that contraception indeed represents a deliberate “stopping short” of letting sexuality “follow through” to its fullest blossoming, that it is an “imposition” on sexuality that “brute forces” a solution by a “violent” compartmentalization rather than a solution by way of perfect harmonization or integration. However, they’ll also tell you, they’re living in the real world, and resources and time are not unlimited, and their hearts or relationships are NOT (or not yet) perfectly harmonized with natural rhythms as if that sort of organic harmony can just be imposed by willpower. So it’s not even that they don’t recognize the values at stake, but rather that they feel, in practice, they have to negotiate them when a perfect reconciliation is not, in practice, possible.

    It’s unclear, actually, that this is actually “against Catholic teaching.” On the pastoral level, as long as the values themselves are affirmed, the ideals upheld, spiritual teaching has long understood “the lesser evil,” the “rock and a hard place” problem, the approach of “gradualism” in spiritual growth, the idea that in the real world negotiation is often necessary. That the Law condemns, but that following the Law is not what saves, hence why we have Grace to help us go forward and make the most of “the fragments” we have in a world where we can’t necessarily (and certainly not immediately) “assemble the whole picture” or realize the ideal immediately (if ever).

    In this sense, it might even be arguable that liberals have the more “Christian” approach here, and just don’t know it, and that in practice their approach is not actually unorthodox at all.

    What I mean is this: when something like premarital sex is identified as “sinfulness,” conservatives seem to interpret this to mean that “avoiding premarital sex” is an end in itself. That the goal is in avoiding the brokenness or fragmented or “incomplete” expression of sexuality. But I’m not sure that’s actually the right way to look at it, even from within the traditional Christian framework. Indeed, the goal isn’t “not losing,” rather the goal is “winning.” The goal isn’t to “avoid missing the bullseye,” it’s to “hit the bullseye.” It might well be said that the person who throws a hundred darts that miss, but hits the bullseye on the hundred-and-first shot…is much better off than the person who has never missed a shot because he’s never taken one. Applied back to sexual morality, perhaps the Church’s vision shouldn’t be interpreted as “avoid premarital sex!” so much as “Get to marriage!” A yes, not a no. Of course, the Yes vision, in itself, “excludes” premarital sex. Inasmuch as, once you’re married, you’re not having premarital sex, premarital sex isn’t part of the “eschatological vision.” But it’s not clear that the important thing is “avoiding the incomplete forms” so much as “arriving at completion.” This seems to be the kernel of logic in Paul’s “better marry than burn”: for many people “sin” will not be “solved” through abstinence or quitting, it will be solved by following desire “forward” into its full-blossoming at which point it becomes a non-issue.

    I think there is much to be said for the ideal. If sexuality is where the individual is taken up by his species, his universal, if it is the site of potential conflict between what is ordered towards the good or survival of the individual, and the good or survival of the species or collective, then it is of course the locus of great moral concern and relevance if a large part (the most important part, perhaps) of The Good Life is how the individual relates to the collective, how the “desire of the species” which possesses us in sexual desire is reconciled with individual desire and good. There is no doubt that the question of “harmonizing” or integrating the two holistically is of great spiritual concern for the individual and politically, for society as a whole. How the one orients himself relative to his universal, his species, finds no more immediate expression than in sexual desire.

    However, I think what a lot of people have realized is that, in our pluralistic society at least, the idea of imposing a model wholeness from without, as if the “unfragmented” resolution or “final resting place” of desire can be immediately realized just by willing it. I think a lot of people have realized that this causes more spiritual harm than good, and that true spiritual growth, for them, is in following the blossoming of love organically, through its various stages of incompletion, letting the integration knit the fragments together naturally and organically rather than trying to force everything together by repression or a sort of masochistic self-flagellating attempt at an unnatural abstinence.

    Indeed, the modern rhetoric of the conservatives seems almost untraditional. The traditional outlook was that, exactly because nature was fragmented by the Fall, all attempts at sexuality were going to be tainted by original sin, even if you managed to correctly “put all the pieces back together again” there was still going to be cracks and dried glue visible in the picture, as it were. As such, the SUPERnatural solution (total sublimation in celibacy as an eschatological sign) was extolled as the more ideal path. Whereas nowadays, in pushing the order of the Natural so heavily, as if one can actually get back to an “Edenic” picture of sexuality by sheer Reason and Will, and having no real sympathy for the fact of the fragmentation of the natural order and desire caused by the Fall, they actually sound like they’re building a sort of Tower of Babel, and heaping burdens on people according to an Idealism that is quite detached from spiritual reality.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      May 17, 2013 3:31 pm

      Ulalia has completely dismantled his(her) own argument by mentioning it in connection with a Platonic form. Since those Realist (Platonic) forms are in fact not real in any sense, the view Ulalaia has provided as “common ground”, are in fact only ideal. They are far from something that can create wholeness, since they are only an ideal, and not real with small cap r. Nice try.

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 17, 2013 8:02 pm

        Not sure where I ever claimed the “forms” were anything other than idealist, nor where I said they could create wholeness. In fact, I think my whole point was the opposite: the Church’s teachings should be interpretted only as ideals. The Law may describe what wholeness looks like, but attempts at following the Law do not cause you to become whole because that is a spiritual cargo-cultism; it’s the confusing of cause and effect, like thinking that treating if symptoms will cure a disease.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 17, 2013 8:31 pm

          I love Peter Paul, but he’s carping, Ullalia. I think what you have written is one of the most brilliant formulations of what SHOULD be the Church’s position on “human sexuality” that I’ve ever read at Vox Nova, and I’m bookmarking it. Don’t presume, however, that I agree with you on every particular: I don’t, for instance, seem to doubt, as you do, that the “supernatural path” is what is STILL enjoined by genuine, Scriptural religion, and I don’t think that the Church has done a very good job at all in telling “gay” folk what they SHOULD do with the equally “broken” sexual longings that THEY have–mostly, I agree with you, because of their embarrassment over preaching positively about human sexuality, rather than restrictively. But Peter Paul is wrong: this is better than a “nice try.” Thank you for it.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 17, 2013 8:38 pm

          Ends with a whimper, not with a bang.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 17, 2013 9:05 pm

          “I don’t, for instance, seem to doubt, as you do, that the ‘supernatural path’ is what is STILL enjoined by genuine, Scriptural religion”

          I never said I doubted this. I just said that the hierarchy has moved away from holding their nose at the (always broken) natural and therefore extolling the supernatural solution of celibacy…to this emphasis on the realization of trying to achieve an unbroken natural model (just look at Theology of the Body!) But in doing so, they’re abandoning their own tradition, AND throwing human beings under the bus in the process.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 17, 2013 10:29 pm

          May I remind those who love me, that at the Council of Constance they burned Jan Hus for the same Realist Metaphysics that Ulalia displays here. If you love me you will love precise Church history….and at length realize it is all incommensurate. Still room for faith, just not so uppity!!

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 18, 2013 9:36 am

          I’m not espousing any particular metaphysic.

    • May 18, 2013 2:00 pm

      I didn’t pay too much attention to the metaphysics Ullalia’s post, but I was really struck by this part of her piece.

      “On the pastoral level, as long as the values themselves are affirmed, the ideals upheld, spiritual teaching has long understood “the lesser evil,” the “rock and a hard place” problem, the approach of “gradualism” in spiritual growth, the idea that in the real world negotiation is often necessary. That the Law condemns, but that following the Law is not what saves, hence why we have Grace to help us go forward and make the most of “the fragments” we have in a world where we can’t necessarily (and certainly not immediately) “assemble the whole picture” or realize the ideal immediately (if ever).”

      I think she is onto something in this respect. It reminds me of a book I read about Louis XIV. He had three mistresses (at least) by my count, and yet it was fascinating and surprising to read about how the Jesuits in his court, who were his confessors and his pastoral caretakers, did not condemn him as a “cafeteria Catholic” or a “Catholic in name only.” They actually viewed his chronic adultery as a youthful peccadillo that he would eventually outgrow, and in fact he did. Interestingly enough, it was traveling priests who would sweep into town, give homilies about King David’s adultery, and then leave town. The priests who lived and worked in Versailles were much more patient and forgiving.

      • Shadrok permalink
        May 19, 2013 7:31 pm

        Of course, Emma, is there evidence of pastoral intolerance today? Yes and no. Certainly, opprobrium is still directly heaped on those divorced and remarried or in a same-sex relationship or a cohabiting situation.

        But when it comes to contraception, given how private it is, is anyone ever actually “singled out” for using it? Do priests act particularly harshly towards it in the confessional?

        It seems to me that as long as you uphold the orthodox ideal here, they really are likewise extremely lenient if you fall short. There are no “consequences” publicly, nor even privately beyond what the person himself chooses to abide by. What’s so hard about paying lip service to an ideal or mentioning one more thing in the confessional?

        I think Ullalia is right; the problem here is less about what is called “sin” and more about how people understand and approach the significance of that category in general in terms of their response to it.

        • Yori permalink
          May 20, 2013 1:29 pm

          I also think the “political” question plays into it. People think (because the hierarchy has led by example) that admitting contraception is “sinful” means that they have to oppose its public availability, or oppose talking to their kids about safe sex, or other silly stuff like that. Of course, this does NOT necessarily follow. A “rigorist” understanding of how we are to appropriate and relate to a categorization of something as “sinful” might say so, but it is unclear that this is actually what we are required to do; heck, in the Middle Ages even Church-related institutional organs would license brothels in order, they thought, to help “contain” vice and its ill effects. In some ways, this is the much more Catholic attitude.

  10. May 17, 2013 3:43 pm

    The Church claims there is a causal relationship between 1) contraceptive or same-sex sexual acts and 2) interior wounds and injury to solidarity. If this is true, then one should, conceivably, be able to demonstrate it; i.e., pinpoint the specific wound and show precisely how non-procreative sex and not something else led to it.

    This strikes me as bizarrely backwards. The relationship between sin and interior wounds and injury to solidarity is not causal, as if they were two completely different things; the latter is not an additional consequence but includes the sin as well as its consequences. The only way to determine whether something wounds human nature and injures solidarity is to establish that it is a sin; having done so, you’ve already pinpointed the specific wound: i.e., it’s a sin, a failure of love of God and/or neighbor involving craving for secondary goods. We see this over and over again in the case of other sins. There is no need to “pinpoint the specific wound” in acting hatefully toward one’s parents, to take just one of many different examples: acting hatefully toward one’s parents is itself a wounding of human nature and injury to solidarity, even if it were just a matter of secret thought with no other discernible consequences.

    Thus the real question just boils down to the question of why these things are sins.

    • May 17, 2013 4:10 pm

      This is not how I read “injuring solidarity.” Let’s take your example of secretly hating one’s parents. If there really is hatred there, even in secret, that hated means something for the relationship between the child and her parents. The hatred is present in the relationship, but it is a different thing than the relationship, which covers more ground than the attitudes of the parents and child. The child may not show that hatred through typical signs, but it affects the nature of this specific relationship. The family is not really as together as the parents might think. If that hatred is expressed verbally or physically, the ties that bind the family will unravel even more (unless there are counter-forces at work). We can trace the breakdown of this family to the acts of hatred (among perhaps other causes). That alone doesn’t tell us hatred is a sin, as things other than sin can injure solidarity, but it can help us see that the acts of hatred were injurious. If the acts of hatred were not harmful to the relationship, that would be weird, no?

      • May 17, 2013 5:06 pm

        Acts of hatred obviously just are the harm to the relationship; it can lead to additional harm, yes, but it doesn’t need the unraveling of the relationship to harm the relationship; it is itself an injury to the relationship, even if it is wholly within the heart — indeed, even if it is wholly within the heart, and then repented a little later and overcome. You don’t have to wait for the injury to solidarity: as inconsistent with love of neighbor, the sin is itself anti-solidarity, which is why it needs to be repented even if it is momentary and no further harm comes from it. Further harms may show just how dangerous a particular sin can be; but they are not what makes it injurious to solidarity: the bare fact that it breaks, impedes, or weakens love of neighbor is enough for that.

        • May 18, 2013 7:10 am

          Whether we speak of an act as the harm to a relationship or as the cause of harm to a relationship, my question stands: in what specific ways do contraceptive/same-sex acts break, impede, weaken love of neighbor, or otherwise injure solidarity? If you wanted to show this breaking, impeding, or weakening to someone who didn’t buy the Catholic teaching on sexual morality, how would you go about doing it?

        • May 18, 2013 11:39 am

          Yes, and that’s precisely my point: this is just another way of asking why it’s a sin, and nothing more.

  11. Thales permalink
    May 17, 2013 4:34 pm

    The theory taught by the Church–that sexual activity not “ordered” toward procreation is inherently sinful and of grave matter–however coherent it may be to them at the abstract level of theory, fails to translate into their real world lived experience….. However, in the case of what the Church deems sexual sin, i.e., any sexual behavior that intentionally frustrates procreation or that deliberately doesn’t follow the form that would typically lead to procreation, injury to solidarity seems, well, not to be there as a demonstrable consequence.

    Sometimes when I come to Vox Nova, I am puzzled because it sometimes seems to me that I must live in an entirely different sort of Catholic community, with an entirely different type of Catholic/Christian acquaintances with different backgrounds, than some of the posters and commenters here.

    Kyle,
    Have you never encountered a man who regrets his prior porn habit and who now thinks that during his prior life he was acting selfishly and cheapening his own personal dignity — and who thinks that he suffered some damage or injury from his prior habit? Have you never encountered a woman who regrets her prior life of promiscuity (practiced “safely,” free from disease, always with consent, etc.) and who now thinks that she was being used and objectified, and regrets that fact — and who thinks that she suffered some damage or injury from her prior lifestyle? Have you never encountered a married couple who regrets using contraception during an earlier period of their marriage and who now think that during the prior period they were selfishly using each other for pleasure instead of making a gift of themselves to the other — and who think that their relationship was damaged or injured from this prior lifestyle? And, finally, have you never encountered someone who finds the Church’s teaching on sexuality and contraception more fulfilling than the alternative? If you haven’t, I respectfully suggest that you got to get out and meet more people.

    At least, I haven’t been able to figure out what this injury is. Consequently, I haven’t yet been able to understand how the practice matches the theory. I’ve asked Catholics who write knowledgeably about human sexuality to explain to me the specific, concrete ways in which contraceptive and same-sex acts injure solidarity and otherwise wound the person, but I’ve yet to get a specific, concrete wound and causal relationship from it to the sinful sex act.

    See the Theology of the Body and all related extensive writings on the topic of sexual morality. The injury is from selfishly using or objectifying yourself or another person, instead of honoring yourself and making a gift of self, selflessly, to the other person. Now you might not find this persuasive, but it’s odd to hear you say “no one has given an explanation.” There is plenty of literature giving an explanation, though you just might not find it persuasive. Also, another thought: you say that a lie, even where the lie is unknown to the deceived, can have an effect on a relationship. (You do the same with secret hatred in the comments.) What about lusting for someone, even where the lust is unknown to the one lusted after — can you see that there might be effects upon the relationship just as an unknown lie or unknown hatred?

    And this is why I think Catholics, to be persuasive, have to do more than repeat the theory; they need to to show, in actual practice, exactly how these sins wound and injure.

    I disagree, in part. I think that these are both the wrong angles to take. I think it’s better to have a positive message of evangelization than to have a negative explanation of how these sins wound and hurt — in other words, I think that it would be better for the Church to express that the life the Church proposes promises greater happiness, peace, and joy than what the person currently has. (Or, the very least, the negative explanation of sin has to always be coupled with, and superseded by, the Church’s positive promise of lasting peace and joy.) I think it goes back to the question of how to evangelize, how to spread the Good News. I don’t think it’s best done by saying “you probably don’t even realize it as you live your normal and livable and manageable life as a non-Christian, but I’m telling you that you are deeply injured and harmed by your sin. So repent!” That’s not compelling evangelization. It is more persuasive to say, “I know that you’re living a basically normal and livable and manageable life as a non-Christian, and it might seem that you’re getting by. But perhaps your heart is restless and perhaps you might be finding the water that you are drinking doesn’t quite quench the thirst as you’d hoped. If so, here is some water that will quench your thirst, here is a life that will give you a lasting and a greater joy and peace than you would have thought possible.”

    • May 17, 2013 4:56 pm

      You’ll note, Thales, that I am not asking about everything the church deems to be a sexual sin, but very specifically “sexual behavior that intentionally frustrates procreation or that deliberately doesn’t follow the form that would typically lead to procreation.” I can see how pornography, promiscuity, or a selfish use of contraception would injure solidarity.

      “The injury is from selfishly using or objectifying yourself or another person, instead of honoring yourself and making a gift of self, selflessly, to the other person.”

      Are you saying that every contraceptive and same-sex act is selfish? If so, can you show me how this is so without first assuming the truth of the theology? You don’t need to buy the theology to recognize signs of selfishness, so what signs can you point to in people who contraception that would lead you to conclude that what they’re doing is selfish?

      • dismasdolben permalink
        May 17, 2013 8:46 pm

        Greater love than this hath NO man: that he would lay down his life for his friend.

        I have known PLENTY of “gay” men and “lesbians” who were willing to die in the place of their friends–especially during the AIDS crisis. This alone proves to me that “same-sex-love” is potentially just as unselfish, just as self-sacrificial (and, therefore, “chaste,” by the ancient definition of the spiritual virtue) as heterosexual love.

        The real problem is that the Christian churches have not been able to argue, because of their feteshizing of “the family” and their concession, to a Protestant and secularist culture, of the primacy of connubial love, over agape-love, over filial or fraternal love, over mystical love of “the Divine,” that REFRAINING from–to put it bluntly–genital contact–may be the HIGHEST expression of love for members of one’s same sex–which, if it can be refrained from–would make of “same-sex-love” an equally sacred expression of God’s love for his creation, as connubial love.

        My point? Vows of “special friendship” with a promise to TRY to be chaste should be pronounced publicly in Catholic churches, before congregations who should be as willing to help “homosexuals” perfect their love for each other, in the same way that the Catholic faithful join with the newly marrying in that resolve.

        • Traps permalink
          May 17, 2013 9:07 pm

          Why should a vow to try to be chaste have to be included? If it was understood that was the expectation, why put an extra burden or standard there? The same thing you propose could be proposed also for divorced-and-remarried folk as “brother and sister” even if a second church marriage could not be given.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 19, 2013 11:33 pm

          Traps, I agree with you.

      • Thales permalink
        May 17, 2013 9:46 pm

        I can see how pornography, promiscuity, or a selfish use of contraception would injure solidarity.

        Really? Because your post didn’t make it sound like you did. And it appears to me that most of your commenters didn’t think so either. In your post, I didn’t see any reference to marriage, or monogamy, or exclusivity in your post. You talked about what the Church calls “sexual sin”, and your definition covered pornography, masturbation, fornication, promiscuity and every other sexual sin the Church identifies (i.e., “that deliberately doesn’t follow the form that would typically lead to procreation”). Your questions asking “what are the wounds?” and “what’s the injury?” are questions that I’ve heard many times by people questioning the Church’s teaching on pornography or fornication.

        There’s a reason I say all the above. It seems to me that to come to an understanding of why homosexual acts or contraceptive sex in a married relationship injures solidarity, I think you have to have an understanding of why pornography, masturbation, fornication, and promiscuity injures solidarity and develop an understanding of the morality of the sexual act in contrast.

        Are you saying that every contraceptive and same-sex act is selfish?
        The intention behind the act might not be selfish, but the act itself cannot be an authentic gift of self. But as I said above, it’s my opinion that an understanding of the sexual act as a gift of self has to be developed in contrast with those sins that are more obviously violations of the gift of self (like pornography and promiscuity), before moving to the more difficult scenario, like contraceptive sex between a married couple.

        • May 18, 2013 7:17 am

          Really? Because your post didn’t make it sound like you did.

          Really? Because I specified FIVE TIMES that the particular sexual acts I was addressing were those not ordered toward procreation, i.e., (NOT E.G.!) contraceptive and same-sex acts. I also used the pronoun “these” when not renaming the specific sex acts I had in mind.

        • Thales permalink
          May 18, 2013 10:03 am

          Kyle,
          Sorry, I’m not trying to have a fight here. Sorry if my comment sounded snarky. Just trying to have a discussion. My point is that pornography/masturbation and fornication/promiscuity are Church “sexual sins” in large part because they are sexual acts not properly ordered toward procreation. It seems to me that if one wants to have a discussion about the morality of the sexual act, it’s necessary to start with the easier cases (like fornication, ie, contraceptive sex outside marriage) in order to develop a shared understanding of the nature of the sexual act and why it’s improper in the easier case, before moving to the harder cases (like contraceptive sex in marriage). If a person doesn’t think that sex outside of marriage is improper, than it’s not really possible to have a discussion about contraceptive sex within marriage. Now, I presume that you think that heterosexual sex outside of marriage is improper (though you may not — which is fine, but then we’d have to have a discussion about that first), but I don’t know *why* you do. I have to know *why* you do in order to learn your understanding of what makes that particular sexual act improper. Once we have a common understanding for what makes that particular sexual act improper, THEN we have a common premise from which we can consider more difficult cases (like contraceptive sex within marriage).

          In short, since I don’t know what your understanding of the morality of the sexual act is (eg, why you think that pornography and promiscuity is improper), then I can’t discuss why a contraceptive act is improper because I’m ignorant of your premises and we’d just be talking past each other.

        • May 18, 2013 6:37 pm

          Thales: My point is that pornography/masturbation and fornication/promiscuity are Church “sexual sins” in large part because they are sexual acts not properly ordered toward procreation.

          I completely disagree with this. Yes, these acts are sins, but procreation has nothing to do with it. Pornography is sinful because it objectifies people, using depictions as a form of arousal or entertainment. There is no love or intimacy involved and the people are treated like products. This is the same reason promiscuity is sinful–in effect, each partner is treated as a method of gratification rather than as a person, with love not entering into the equation. Masturbation is wrong because it’s inwardly directed (I think C. S. Lewis discussed this somewhere). Sexuality is supposed to take one out of oneself–first by opening oneself to a lover, then by commitment to that lover in a permanent way (marriage), and generally (but not always) by having children, which involves one in the larger community, etc. Masturbation, with or without pornography, defeats this goal and turns one in on oneself.

          Fornication is more complex. To the extent that it’s casual, or just about having a **** buddy, then it’s not really a matter of love or uniting two people. On the other hand, if a couple is committed to each other exclusively and faithfully, and even is open to children in some cases, then it’s hard to see how they’re much different de facto from a married couple. In fact, in the early days of the church, that is how you got married–you started living together as man and wife. Remember, in sacramental theology, it is the couple, not the priest, who are ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony. I’m not saying that couples shouldn’t get married in the Church, or married at all, far from it–just that there are various situations, all technically labelled “fornication”, which are in actual practice very much different.

          If procreation were the sole criterion here–or even an efficacious one–then sterile couples and elderly couples would not be allowed to marry. It follows, then, that the making of community between a man and a woman, in which each opens out from him/herself to another in a public way, is the operative factor, whether or not children do, or even can, result from the marriage. Most–but not necessarily all–heterosexual sex outside of matrimony doesn’t do all this. That’ why such sex is sinful, not because of procreation (which as I’ve pointed out can occur within the context of fornication, anyway).

      • Jordan permalink
        May 17, 2013 10:05 pm

        re: dismasdolben [May 17, 2013 8:46 pm]:

        “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:38 KJV)

        Substitute “cross” with “basal thermometer” and witness the inversion of holy grace. This thermometer is but one god pelagian Catholics have substituted in a mad rush to deny the moral labyrinth within which humanity lives. Would a “proud NFP couple” grab orthotricyclen and condoms if OK’d by the pope tomorrow? You better bet! For whom, then, are the self-appointed pious living?

        Right now, in an eternal sphere, Pelagius and Jansenius are playing chess, drunkenly laughing. At whom? Certainly not me, certainly not when I would fall into the arms of my now lost but still desperately desired decade-long love. At least we, two men, lived beyond the nagging need to placate a Father who cannot be pleased with anything but a forthright acknowledgement of our sins.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 18, 2013 9:39 am

          To be fair, it’s not clear every NFP couple would abandon it if “the law” were suddenly renounced.

          I was surprised to find out, but apparently it’s catching on among hipster atheists (like breast feeding) even on account of its organicity and “feminism.”

        • May 18, 2013 1:29 pm

          You’re right Ullalia, however most hipster atheists who practice fertility awareness advocate the use of condoms or oral sex during fertile times.

        • Thales permalink
          May 18, 2013 3:08 pm

          To add, to Ullalia’s point, I’m part of an NFP couple that wouldn’t change even if morality permitted it: the Pill is bad for the environment and my wife is terrified of the potential health problems of pumping your body so full of hormones that it stops functioning properly.

        • Jordan permalink
          May 18, 2013 6:05 pm

          Thales [May 18, 2013 3:08 pm]: I admire your dedication to NFP. I also agree with you about the enviromental effects of the Pill after it is metabolized and dispersed into water systems. The Pill, like any pharmaceutical, has possible negative effects (e.g. thrombosis).

          Given what I have read about sincere Catholic couples who have failed at NFP despite every best intention, I’m convinced that, if all bets were suddenly off, a fair number of even the most devout Catholic couples would at least use a barrier contraceptive at times. For not a few devout couples, even a barrier method might alleviate marital strain due to periodic abstinence.

        • Shadrok permalink
          May 19, 2013 7:37 pm

          Is “marital strain” from periodic abstinence to be so uncritically assumed?

          Lots of married couples have sex very rarely in general. Are we really to buy that not being able to have baby-free sex whenever they want is an intolerable burden on people or strain on their relationships?

          It may be so for some, but all should admit that this in itself is a bad thing, represents a brokenness itself. That a couple should work towards a point where a little discipline or limitation to their sexual expression is no big deal.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          May 19, 2013 11:36 pm

          “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:38 KJV)

          I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at, in your reply to me, but just let me say, in response, that openly professing one’s “same-sex-attraction” and asking for the help of one’s brothers and sisters in “regularizing” it, and disciplining it in a socially acceptable way (i.e. “gay marriage” or “civil unions”) should be a sufficient taking up of one’s “cross.”

  12. Paul Connors permalink
    May 18, 2013 5:00 am

    It is common for countries where safe and convenient contraceptives are freely available to also have sub-replacement fertility rates. I.e. those countries, over time, will experience a steadily declining population. (There are various effects that temporarily counteract this, but it is very dubious that any of them are realistically sustainable.)

    This can have severe economic effects. The changing percentage of aged people in the population has effects on the economy, the labor and housing markets and social security. For example, in Japan about 25% of the population is aged 65 or over, but by 2030 this will increase to 38%. A increasingly smaller percentage of the country that is young will be working to sustain the standard of living of an increasing percentage of older people. To a lesser extent the economy of developed countries such of the USA has already been distorted.

    Eventually this sub-replacement rate must end in the economic collapse of entire countries — or else a wholesale change in social structures. It’s just far enough over the imaginable horizon that it’s widely ignored today. To alter such a trajectory requires major changes — especially because some social structures implicitly rely on the assumption of widespread contraception (e.g. the idea that delaying producing children until a later age is a reasonably unremarkable choice). Even if a wholesale reversal is engineered (and how will it be enforced, eh?), it will take significant time for it to go into effect.

    To look for the effects of sin at a personal level may indeed not always be obvious. But the cumulative effect on human solidarity may be enough to subvert a whole society. In which case the blame will be shared by all who brought such a thing about.

    • May 18, 2013 8:36 am

      I’m curious to know how far you’d take this analysis, Paul. Women choosing 1) to pursue careers rather than become mothers or 2) choosing to limit the number of children they have so as to advance in a career would also decrease fertility rates. Contraceptives help with these goals, obviously a great deal, but they could conceivably be pursued by abstaining from sex or by use of NFP. If the birth rates fell below replacement without the aid of contraceptives, would you call these choices of women sins?

      • Paul Connors permalink
        May 18, 2013 7:03 pm

        “If the birth rates fell below replacement without the aid of contraceptives, would you call these choices of women sins?”

        That’s a bit of a science-fictiony supposition — large numbers of women following the teaching of the Church on contraception in particular ways, in sufficient numbers to negatively affect the fertility rate of a society. However: can career advancement really be a serious reason for choosing NFP for a long time? Perhaps for some careers, for a few years. But I can’t see it being a legitimate reason for vast numbers of married women.

        As opposed to that kind of science-fiction, the issues I’ve been pointing out are actually having effect today, and will unavoidably become more and more important as time goes by. E.g. Singapore has switched in a few decades from a society which fines families which have more than two children to one which tries to give all kinds of advantage to families with more than two children — but with little consequent effect on the fertility rate.

        The injury to solidarity is already happening, will get worse in the future (it’s a matter of mathematics), and this is largely invisible even to Catholics in developed countries, as your post shows.

        • May 19, 2013 11:59 am

          I ask the supposition as I’m trying to understand your moral principles here and whether you think a drop in birth rates always stems from a moral failure. And I had single, non-sexually active women in mind in mind as well. Not just married women. Let me pose the question another way. Suppose a friend of yours, a woman who is single, tells you that she has no intention of ever getting married or having children. She wants to pursue and give all to a career. This particular career would happen to be very accommodating to her if she were to start a family and need to take maternity leave, etc., as the demands of pregnancy and motherhood required. Nevertheless, she has no interest in children or marriage and wishes instead to devote herself fully to her work. In your view, would there be any moral problem with your friend’s intention and disposition?

        • Paul Connors permalink
          May 19, 2013 5:38 pm

          “I’m trying to understand your moral principles here and whether you think a drop in birth rates always stems from a moral failure. “

          A drop in birth rate is, by itself, not sufficient evidence to include that there has been a moral failure on anyone’s part. And the same for an increase in birth rate. We have to examine the reasons for an increase or decrease. In the current circumstances, given the fact that the large decrease in birth rate in the developed world is leading to all kinds of increasingly severe effects on society (as I pointed out in previous comments) — effects which may in fact alter the economic landscape of entire countries — we can ask why people have chosen that birth rate for society.

          I think that the main answer is simply that people are usually paying no attention at all to society’s birth rate, and are only looking at things from a wholly personal perspective. I.e. it’s a huge failure in solidarity.

          “she has no interest in children or marriage and wishes instead to devote herself fully to her work. In your view, would there be any moral problem with [her] intention and disposition?”

          So long as she had taken into account the social effect of her choice, her intention could be reasonable.

        • Shadrok permalink
          May 19, 2013 8:05 pm

          I’d add Kyle that such a choice on her part assumes she’s willing to give up sex and marriage/companionship entirely.

          While an individual might, on a demographic level, good old human nature will always take over and the number of self-selected celibates (for God or career) will be limited.

          Contraception, on the other hand, tinkers with that very balance itself. It enables people who otherwise would be led by nature into having babies in spite of their own other interests on account of their desire to scratch that itch…to be able to both scratch it and not have a kid. This has demographic consequences in a way that the abstinence of those naturally gifted with celibacy does not, since those would always be abstaining anyway, whereas contraception actually “changes the equation.”

    • Commoner permalink
      May 19, 2013 2:58 pm

      How many is enough to avoid culpability for the injuries to solidarity brought on by either contraception or NFP (because if I am reading you correctly, it’s the reducing the number of children women are bearing vs. the method that brings about that reduction that is the real problem.)

      One day NFP might be incredibly accurate, and couples may have to abstain for only a few days a month. In which case, it might become a much more viable form of birth control for the population at large.

      Isn’t the problem you bring up brought about by birth control vs. contraception? Couples who practice extended ecological breastfeeding, prolonged abstinence, or extremely accurate NFP would be just as guilty of damaging this solidarity you mention as those who use contraception to reduce family size.

      Good luck selling that one to the masses. Once the Church started talking about “responsible” parenting in the same breath as family size, I’d say any guilt about limiting family size to what a couple can reasonably handle went right out the window. If there is such a thing as responsible parenting, it is apparent the Church must also believe there is such a thing as irresponsible parenting when it comes to planning your family. And each couple is going to decide what responsible parenting means for them in their particular situation.

      My grandmother told me that she and the other women in her area were told by the local priests that once you had four children, you had done your duty (late 1940s/early 50s). I never could figure out how the magic number 4 was any better than today’s magic number two. But your argument brought that conversation to mind. How many do we have to have in order to “fulfill our duty”?

      I had a lot of children. Should I feel better about using contraception because we already did our best to combat the economic woes coming due to people not having as many children? I don’t think the Church views it that way at all. We commit just as much of a sin if we contracept after 6,8, 10, or 12 kids as we would have if we had contracepted after one or two.

      • Paul Connors permalink
        May 19, 2013 5:36 pm

        “Couples who practice extended ecological breastfeeding, prolonged abstinence, or extremely accurate NFP would be just as guilty of damaging this solidarity you mention as those who use contraception to reduce family size.”

        Yes, I agree, they could be. The effect on society as a whole always has to be taken into account.

        “If there is such a thing as responsible parenting, it is apparent the Church must also believe there is such a thing as irresponsible parenting when it comes to planning your family.

        Yes.

        “And each couple is going to decide what responsible parenting means for them in their particular situation.”

        And they can make this decision responsibly or irresponsibly. In the current situation, contraceptives are being used to a sufficient extent that they harm and threaten society in foreseeable ways.

        “How many do we have to have in order to ‘fulfill our duty’?”

        There actually is a duty to take into account the effect on society of the choice of child-bearing. E.g. right out of Humanae Vitae: “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

        It can be difficult for each particular couple to decide what to do. Society can aid this choice by providing benefits to those who have children. (It may be difficult to find effective benefits because, in some developed societies, this runs right against the group-thinking of large parts of those societies.)

        “We commit just as much of a sin if we contracept after 6,8, 10, or 12 kids as we would have if we had contracepted after one or two.”

        Both may be sins, but if their effect on society is different, then the gravity of the sins is not equal.

        • Commoner permalink
          May 19, 2013 8:23 pm

          But is this really what the Church teaches? That it is a more grave sin to contracept if you only have two children vs. ten?

          I’ve honestly never really seen that argued anywhere before.

        • Paul Connors permalink
          May 20, 2013 1:10 am

          “But is this really what the Church teaches? That it is a more grave sin to contracept if you only have two children vs. ten?”

          More precisely: say we had a society in a significant need for children, and two couples in the same circumstances. Then if one couple bore two children before resorting to contraception, and the other couple chose to bear more before also resorting to contraception, how could their guilts be identical?

        • Shadrok permalink
          May 19, 2013 8:23 pm

          This is silly. No one will be using NFP to have fewer kids than the replacement rate. If you have disciplined your passions enough to abstain periodically, it’s assumed you will also be responsible enough to have 2-3 kids.

        • Commoner permalink
          May 20, 2013 6:31 am

          It may or may not be silly. You never know what scientific advances are going to bring. NFP proponents point out China as an example of a place where a large number of couples have been able to use the Billings method to limit their family size to only one child. I suppose the idea of being forced into an abortion if your birth control fails is enough to keep people on the straight and narrow with NFP.

          But if replacement rate fulfills your duty, that answers my question. We went over twice that, so I guess I am okay ;)

          I stlil believe that in this sceanario, birth control is the issue, not contraception. The only difference is degree of reliability of the particular form you use. Anything that requires a lot of work on the part of people is likely to be less effective than something that doesn’t. That’s just human nature.

          This is probably why some couples I know find abstinence easier than NFP and have chosen near-complete abstinence as their form of birth control.

        • May 20, 2013 11:37 am

          Paul Connors: The effect on society as a whole [in deciding not to have a certain number of children, even by NFP] always has to be taken into account.

          So this rather implies it’s more about a positive obligation to have kids as such, rather than how one avoids it then, right? I’d point out that almost all catechists, NFP promoters, etc., are at great pains to point out that there’s no certain number of children the Church says a couple “ought” to have, and no positive obligation to have a lot, or as many as possible. But this puts things exactly as Commoner says:

          blockquote> Once the Church started talking about “responsible” parenting in the same breath as family size, I’d say any guilt about limiting family size to what a couple can reasonably handle went right out the window. If there is such a thing as responsible parenting, it is apparent the Church must also believe there is such a thing as irresponsible parenting when it comes to planning your family. And each couple is going to decide what responsible parenting means for them in their particular situation.

          There actually is a duty to take into account the effect on society of the choice of child-bearing.

          It’s almost impossible to get people to do something as abstract as this on any moral issue. People won’t even recycle, and that’s something that hits us where we live much, much less than sexuality. About the only way you get people to act consistently for the common good is by coercion or strong social sanctions/ostracism. If you require recycling, or not smoking around non-smokers, and enforce it by having recycling runs to all houses, enforced no-smoking zones, etc., and public disapproval on non-rec yclers and smokers, it works. Otherwise, good luck. Three or four generations ago, there was a strong stigma on childless couples, and intense social pressure from kin and friends to have children. In his biography I, Asimov, Isaac Asimov tells how he and his first wife were non-believers who didn’t want children, but still caved in to family pressure by having two. Those kids, growing up in a time of less social pressure, chose not to have kids, and didn’t.

          In short, unless you’re calling for a return to a more socially coercive attitude towards people having more children, or massive state support for it as in France, or some combination thereof, it seems to me that you’re whistling Dixie. The genie’s out of the bottle, and people will do what they’ll do.

        • Paul Connors permalink
          May 20, 2013 6:52 pm

          “catechists, NFP promoters, etc., are at great pains to point out that there’s no certain number of children the Church says a couple ‘ought’ to have”

          Indeed, there’s no specifiable positive number for any particular couple. However, it’s certainly false to conclude that a responsible couple has no duty to take the needs of society into account. That would contradict what Humanae Vitae points out.

          “It’s almost impossible to get people to do something as abstract as this [taking into account the effect on society of the choice of child-bearing] on any moral issue.”

          Yes, it’s very difficult to change the behavior of people on this issue. But it’s necessary. It’s going to be learning the hard way.

  13. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 18, 2013 7:30 am

    Or these countries might take in immigrants from countries with excess population, easing the transition to a smaller population size. The disastrous effects of climate change are going to cause widescale shifts in populations, and I think that these will swamp the effects of the demographic shifts you describe.

    Further, while widespread access to contraceptives may make substantially reduced family sizes possible, I do not think that the entire blame can be placed on contraceptives, unless you want to roll the entire spectrum of materialism, greed and self-centeredness in relationships that can contribute to having fewer children into the single ball of “the contraceptive mindset.” I find that argument reductive.

    • Mark VA permalink
      May 18, 2013 5:25 pm

      “The disastrous effects of climate change are going to cause widescale shifts in populations…”

      Oh, come on Mr. Cruz-Uribe, SFO, this sounds like a locution from the Coast to Coast Radio. Unless you’re talking about the advancing Ice Age, in which case, I totally agree with you.

      In the event of an Ice Age, I predict that the coming glaciation will finally flush out bigfoot out of his lair, and force that whole elusive tribe to live among us.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        May 19, 2013 1:27 pm

        No, this is an immediate implication of the scientific consensus on global warming. The science of climate change is like watching someone drop a glass: it does not take a lot to conclude that it is going to hit the floor and break. To confuse matters by bringing up the spurious idea of a coming ice age (spurious in the short run, not long term geological time) does not help. The claim that scientists were predicting global cooling in the 1970s has been thoroughly debunked. http://www.skepticalscience.com/ice-age-predictions-in-1970s.htm

        (Kyle: sorry, this is getting off topic.)

        • Mark VA permalink
          May 19, 2013 4:10 pm

          I’m not predicting an impending ice age – I was simply having some impish fun.

          BTW – have you heard the celebrated Zizko discourse on the philosophy of toilet design?

          (Kyle: I too am sorry for mixing sex with the age of climate change)

  14. May 18, 2013 11:34 am

    One quick observation: We have a tendency in our society to think of consequences in a very individualistic or egoist way. If something doesn’t hurt us or someone we know directly, how is it something that is harmful? The problem is that the Catholic understanding of the self is inextricably tied to the community that surrounds it. Contraception is not something that immediately reveals its negative effects on the individual. But when it is something that occurs at a societal level, we see the destructive power at work. The way that sex and family is understood has changed, divorce rates are up, a new “sexual consciousness” has taken root that is actually less libertine and in reality more imprisoning.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 18, 2013 1:59 pm

      Kyle’s post recognizes the harm to solidarity but nevertheless you still have yet to demonstrate the harm. Even then harm to a society must be harmful to the individual.
      We may not have been cognizant of the harm of smoking but when it manifested itself the damage to the individual in terms of health was not negligible compared to the damage to society in terms of healthcare costs etc. However you cannot expostulate a future action which consequences you cannot demonstrate nor foresee without paralyzing every course of action. That “the way sex and family is understood has changed” doesn’t say much of harm (many would think that a good) or causation. Divorce rates are actually going down.
      There’s no there there.

  15. May 18, 2013 1:26 pm

    It’s also worth pointing out that some of the perceived “harms” caused by contraceptives are up for debate. To me, the most obvious one is the belief that the use of contraceptives by women will lead to men to mistreat and devalue women. However, there are societies that have not embraced the practice of contraceptives, such as the Muslim world and schismatic Mormons who still practice polygamy. How do these societies treat women? Not well. Not well at all.

    Of course, contraception opponents could argue that there are many other reasons for Muslim men to treat women badly, but this simply shows that arguing that “contraception turns men in jerks” simply cannot be proved.

  16. Mark VA permalink
    May 18, 2013 5:10 pm

    Kyle Cupp wrote this about the position some of his friends take regarding the sexual morality taught by the Catholic Church:

    “Rather, they largely reject the teaching because it doesn’t make moral sense to them.”

    Perhaps it doesn’t make moral sense to them partly because they are not sufficiently appreciative of the political and historical aspects of this question. The physical and emotional dissociation of sexual activity from procreation is a necessary step in an old ideological quest. Yevgeny Zamyatin satirized it and warned about it in his novel “We”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_%28novel%29

    In a nutshell, sexual activity may be left to the whims of those involved, but procreation can not – it is not in the domain of the activities left to their discretion. What follows this is the question of who should be responsible for the rearing of children.

    In my opinion, our Church does not sufficiently address this history, although Karol Wojtyla did, perhaps indirectly, in his book “Love and Responsibility”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_and_Responsibility

    Whether this has any resonance in our cultural setting (the question of “exceptionalism”) remains to be seen.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 18, 2013 10:45 pm

      And you think Mr. Cruz-Uribe, SFO was farfetched regarding climate change? Though I appreciate the reference to WE

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 19, 2013 4:29 pm

        Trellis:

        One of the interesting things about WE is that they lived inside what we would today call “the force field” – physically and metaphorically. Thus, in this context, “climate change” is a phrase pregnant with meaning.

        Yes, I think it was farfetched. For the time being I remain agnostic on this subject, due mostly to questions about constructing the representative sample space. However, I do believe we have some influence in this area – but it’s a question of degree.

  17. May 18, 2013 6:53 pm

    FWIW, a few general observations:

    1. All of the purported selfishness, damage, etc. supposedly caused to spouses by using contraception to avoid children could be attributed equally to NFP (in fact, some NFP promoters caution against “using NFP contraceptively). I have never yet read a convincing and coherent explanation of the difference. In fact, the very notion that NFP ought not to be used “contraceptively” seems to indirectly admit that there is no difference.

    2. In my mind, natural law theories fail miserably here. The most damning critique is that though the natural law morality was developed by pre-Christian Greeks and Romans, and was in most respects pretty much similar to Christian natural law morality, no non-Christian natural law morality has ever forbidden contraception. This indicates that the notion of it being a law of human nature is not the case. In any case, I’ve had long, long debates about this, and have asked why an infertile couple can marry when they know that each act will be sterile. In short, how do their sex acts differ from contraceptive sex acts? The answer, if pursued far enough, comes down to contraception having the wrong “moral object”. In brief, the non-sinful sex act must be the type of act that could in principle be fertile, even if it is impossible for it actually to be fertile (i.e., “the right kind of act”). Maybe it’s my obtuseness, sinfulness, or stupidity, but this is just totally incoherent to me. Unless one accepts the premise already, I do not see how you get it from first principles.

    3. It seems to me that the same problem, in a different way, occurs with the Theology of the Body (TOB for short). I agree with John Paul II insofar as TOB argues against objectification and for sex as loving mutual self-giving (though you don’t need TOB to get that far). However, even some conservative Catholics have thought the late pope deviated from Tradition in his concept of the “nuptial meaning of the body”; and when he says that sex that denies the possibility of conception is lacking in full mutual self-giving and thus sinful and defective (except if it’s NFP or between elderly or infertile spouses…), he is once more stating something that assumes what he wants to demonstrate. Unless one already believes that contraceptive sex in every conceivable (or inconceivable?) circumstance is defective because it selfishly lacks full mutual self-giving, one’s not going to buy the argument-by-assertion that it is indeed so.

    Finally, I know a couple that was very much damaged by NFP, ultimately divorcing. There were other issues, but one spouse essentially had the attitude that unless each and every act were absolutely perfect, mutual, absolute acts of love–that is, if there was the slightest doubt–then it wasn’t “working”. Something good wrecked by impossible expectations.

    • May 19, 2013 11:15 am

      The most damning critique is that though the natural law morality was developed by pre-Christian Greeks and Romans, and was in most respects pretty much similar to Christian natural law morality, no non-Christian natural law morality has ever forbidden contraception. This indicates that the notion of it being a law of human nature is not the case.

      I’m not sure why this is supposed to be damning. You will search in vain for any non-Christian explicit appeals to natural law* against infanticide, too; it doesn’t follow that infanticide is A-OK as far as natural law goes, or that they shouldn’t have made such appeals. And contraception is obviously a more complicated case than infanticide. It’s generally denied that something’s being a precept of the natural law means that everyone recognizes it — this is only true of the very most general precepts, like “Good is to be sought” or “To the extent one can, one should try to get along with those with whom one lives”, not more specific conclusions, which can be impeded or blocked by (to give the ones that Aquinas explicitly mentions) passions, vicious character, bad education, and bad customs. So I don’t see where you are getting the idea that it’s in any way damning.

      * I put it this way because if natural law theory is correct, all morality is natural law morality — that’s what the ‘natural’ in ‘natural law’ actually means; it’s just a question of how consistent the morality is.

      • May 19, 2013 1:29 pm

        Actually, the Jews condemned infanticide (at least of their own; but see the last couple lines of Psalm 137), and Tacitus, I believe, noted (with some amazement) that the Germans did not practice it, either. The Germans of that time were illiterate and have left us nothing; but presumably if they had, they’d have written condemnations of infanticide. In any case, infanticide is a subset of murder, which all cultures agree on condemning. The devil’s in the details–what constitutes murder?

        It’s generally denied that something’s being a precept of the natural law means that everyone recognizes it — this is only true of the very most general precepts….

        So then what use is it? The general concept is that natural law can be derived independently of revelation, and this is seen as useful in terms of arguing for certain moral propositions in the public square–that is, in convincing non-Christians why X is right or wrong (since presumably a Christian would agree with revelation and wouldn’t need natural proofs). But if you have to accept Christian revelation before you can accept or understand or agree with natural law, then what’s the point of having natural law in the first place?

        • May 20, 2013 11:36 am

          Turmarion,

          This is an utterly irrational response. When someone points out that logic or mathematics is a very difficult discipline, and the fact that all genuine logical truths are necessary (and thus definitely true) and self-evident (and thus rationally discoverable if they are understood) does not mean that all logical truths are immediately known by everyone, what reasonable person would reply, “But what use is it, then?” It’s an absurd response. Natural law, if natural law theory is correct, is the logic of practical reason for human beings; that’s quite literally the foundation of the theory, and the reason it is able to establish links between ethics, law, and human reason. It does not follow from any of this that working out implications is magically easy, nor that Christianity is not useful for clarifying ethical questions, which is what your argument actually requires that we assume.

          It is, in fact, the explicit teaching of the Church that the teaching of the Church is a necessary corrective to flaws in our use of natural law arising from original sin; this is because grace is a necessary corrective to our moral failings and dispositions, which can influence our moral reasoning even in non-culpable ways, even when we are not aware of it. It does not follow from this that the reasoning so corrected cannot even in principle be evaluated on purely rational grounds and, if properly developed and understood, found to be correct on purely rational grounds. The fact that it happened to require grace and Christian doctrine in order to discover it in the first place does not establish (1) that this was the only possible way to have discovered it, rather than just the only one that happened to come about due to historical accidents; nor (2) that once discovered it cannot be worked out, argued over, evaluated, and perhaps accepted on purely rational grounds.

          Natural law theory was not developed to provide persuasion in the public square; it was developed in order to find an adequate account of how reason really and truly relates to law and moral obligation. None of this is surprising; it is right there in Cicero, in Augustine and Isidore, and in Aquinas. If you are holding it to the former standard, you are in fact already committed to rejecting natural law theory in its entirety, because what you are advocating is might makes right. (Quite literally: this particular point, whether rational reasoning in moral matters should be measured by the standard of persuasion in the public square or by its rational adequacy alone, is precisely what is being discussed when Plato gave us the phrase ‘might makes right': it is the claim that ethical arguments exist only to persuade.) If, however, you recognize morality as something rationally discoverable regardless of whether it persuades (however difficult the discovery or however desirable the persuasion), you already know the use of natural law and don’t need me to tell you.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 19, 2013 3:13 pm

        Ah Brandon, you really are a clever one, but aren’t you leaving out the most important part in this comparison between ancient and Christian sources on “Natural Law.” As far as we know as to the actual cultural use of “Natural Law” ideas in ancient cultures they were limited essentially to the morality that guided a tiny subset of the population. Namely, philosophers, and not even all people who might have described themselves thusly, but an even tinier group who believed they were best guided by such abstract notions.
        And sometimes they turned out to be the same people using it as necessary or not. For famous example, Lucretius in De Rerum Natura , who is known both for destructive analyses AND on a personal level, a continued piety towards the gods.

        So connecting “Natural Law” to ancient sources might be useful as to how someone Thomas Aquinas thought of himself and his work. But as to what his work really is in the light of history is something quite different. So the question is not whether or not it is denied that “something being a precept of natural law means that everyone accepts it.” This makes the hinge concept whether “everyone accepts it.” Since it was never the case in the ancient world that “everyone accepted it”, and ironically not even those who did in fact accept it (for they often gave personal sway to gods-centered ideation regardless of their views, even of course differing from Lucretius’ extreme example).

        Therefore, what the comparison with the ancient world shows is that the general application to all of society that later effloresced in Western society was a very novel situation. It may have been linguistically based on ancient “natural” philosophers, but it really was a rabbit pulled out of hat conceptually. And in my opinion with just about as much forward momentum for applicability with modern world, as it had with in reverse with the ancient. That is to say, precious little.

        • May 20, 2013 11:40 am

          All of this is non sequitur, as far as I can see, but perhaps I’m just not following your argument; you seem to be confusing natural law, which according to natural law theory is found wherever anyone is engaging in practical reasoning, and natural law theory itself, which is an account of practical reason in these terms. I doubt very much that you are arguing that the poor and oppressed are incapable of practical or moral thought, and if you are not, you are committed to saying that there are basic principles making their though genuinely practical and moral, whatever its limits, and thus to conceding the argument entirely to natural law theory on this particular point, regardless of any other points on which you might disagree with it.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 20, 2013 12:52 pm

          You are a smartie Brandon and very insightful. But simply wrong. I thank you for laying an issue bare which I have tried in a variety of ways to elucidate, with difficulty because it is so hallowed and usual for Catholics especially.

          You have made it clear with this:

          “you seem to be confusing natural law, which according to natural law theory is found wherever anyone is engaging in practical reasoning, and natural law theory itself, which is an account of practical reason in these terms.”

          This contains more than a non sequitor, it has a whole existential and philsophical Evil Kenieval jump over the abyss. It is you who are confusing the idea that “natural law ……is found wherever anyone is engaging in practical reasoning.” I could say a lot of things about this, but will just ask in question form: Does it matter to you that 95% of all serious philosophizing that has ever been recorded on this big blue marble of ours either disagreed with this contention?? Also by what imagining is all of humanity’s practical reasoning construed as consistent with metaphysics of the 13th Century?? Sorry, it’s absurd. No offense to you personally.

        • May 20, 2013 1:14 pm

          I have no idea what your argument is here. Natural law theory doesn’t imply that “all of humanity’s practical reasoning is construed as consistent with metaphysics of the 13th century”; this is at best a bugbear made up in your head. When Martin Luther King Jr. in “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” based the civil rights argument on natural law principles, how in the world could you read that as “MLK Jr was really saying that civil rights depends on 13th century metaphysics”? It’s your suggestion that King was trying to do any such thing that is simply absurd.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 20, 2013 3:24 pm

          Brandon, see below, more space in the depths, De Profundis and all that ya’ know

    • May 19, 2013 11:28 am

      I do agree that the TOB starts with an assertion. I also admit that it bugs me to hear Catholics use the language of TOB in terms of “self gift” as though this is how the Church originally decided that contraception was a sin, rather than a justification for teaching centuries later. It’s deceptive.

      And as for the couple you know, wow. Such a shame.

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 19, 2013 7:46 pm

        Emma:

        In my opinion, Theology of the Body started as a reply, or rather a rebuke, to a move on the ideological chessboard. This is when knowledge of some rather obscure history is helpful, so let me propose this scenario for your consideration:

        After the physical devastation of Word War II, in those places that fell under a new domination, it quickly became apparent that the rebuilding effort will follow the ideological line. There will be no new single family homes with gardens, nor the spacious pre-war apartments with high ceilings and big windows (all signs of inequality). The new model will be the prefabricated “blocks”, with cubicle sized units – micro kitchen, a small “living room”, and a “bedroom” that will fit one bed. Lucky were those few who got two “bedrooms”.

        The young people, especially the university students, who understood well the ideological message and the philosophy of the “blocks”, asked the local Church this question: Given this new reality of the imposed physical impossibility of having a large family (live together), how do we remain faithful to the Church teachings on sexual morality?

        If the answer was just a mechanical reiteration of the traditional teaching, then these students would likely conclude that the local Church is divorced from reality. If the answer was a nod to contraception, then an intra-Church conflict would develop, perhaps even a schism. From the ideologists point of view, a checkmate – in either case, an estrangement of the young from the Church.

        I think you can follow the rest from here.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
          May 20, 2013 1:48 am

          Mark, I do feel obliged to point out that large apartment blocks of uniform apartments are very common in postwar Western Europe as well. Even today I have friends in both Spain and Italy, university professors, for whom a stand-alone house is an impossible dream. So I don’t think that things reduce down quite so simply to this schematic.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 19, 2013 11:00 pm

      “I have never yet read a convincing and coherent explanation of the difference.”

      Except that NFP requires abstinence. How this is “no different” I don’t really understand.

      “In my mind, natural law theories fail miserably here. The most damning critique is that though the natural law morality was developed by pre-Christian Greeks and Romans, and was in most respects pretty much similar to Christian natural law morality, no non-Christian natural law morality has ever forbidden contraception. This indicates that the notion of it being a law of human nature is not the case.”

      Well, Christians and Greeks and Romans have different notions of human nature!

      That is to say, morality is ultimately about how the individual relates to the collective and the cosmos and the meaning of life.

      Christians have a different view of the ideals in this area and a different understanding of what happiness is or what will cause it. In itself, however, this is still not a Revealed Law because Christians believe it really is “written on the heart” inasmuch as this truly IS what humans long for even when they don’t know it.

      But, in a fallen world, you do have to sort of have Revelation to know what happiness is perfectly. Indeed, it is even a De Fide DOGMA that: “In the state of fallen nature it is morally impossible for man without Supernatural Revelation, to know easily, with absolute certainty and without admixture of error, all religious and moral truths of the natural order.” But once you do know what (even just natural) happiness is, you can reason to what sort of life is consistent with it without any special revealed precepts.

      But of course Greek and Roman societies with all their emphasis on honor and military valor and patriarchy etc etc weren’t going to have the natural law right, because they started from the wrong premises about happiness to begin with.

      “In any case, I’ve had long, long debates about this, and have asked why an infertile couple can marry when they know that each act will be sterile. In short, how do their sex acts differ from contraceptive sex acts?”

      This couple has made no moral ACT (a free choice) to choose their sterility. They shouldn’t “celebrate” it, of course, it is a physical defect or disorder. But we’re not consequentialists! It’s not about the consequences.

      “In brief, the non-sinful sex act must be the type of act that could in principle be fertile, even if it is impossible for it actually to be fertile (i.e., “the right kind of act”). Maybe it’s my obtuseness, sinfulness, or stupidity, but this is just totally incoherent to me. Unless one accepts the premise already, I do not see how you get it from first principles.”

      I’d ask what premises you’re starting from. If you imagine (as Kyle also seems to in this post) that morality is ultimately consequentialist, then of course this seems silly.

      But Christian ethics are about becoming virtuous, that is to say, becoming the right kind of person, having the right sort of habits of will, the right sort of character.

      The right sort of choice makes the character right even considered in a vacuum from all external consequences. The Christian’s sexual desire is rightly ordered even if he never has sex, or even if his wife is infertile, etc.

      • May 20, 2013 11:17 am

        Let me preface this by saying that I’m in broad agreement with the views you laid out above, though not in every detail (I don’t think every marital act has to be “open to life”).

        NFP requires abstinence.

        If I have contraceptive intercourse with my wife, I am deliberately having sex in such a way that conception does not occur. If I have sex in a non-fertile period using NFP, I am deliberately having sex in such a way that conception does not occur. What’s the difference? Or to put it another way, you be the question. Why is abstinence an acceptable way to avoid pregnancy, but not contraception? I guess you’d say, “Because contraception blocks or interferes with the natural process?” Then why is “interfering with or blocking the natural process” unacceptable? We do that all the time—think of artificial sweeteners. Why is one mode OK and the other not?

        BTW—if a couple came to pre-Cana and the man declared he was going to have a vasectomy, it’s likely they wouldn’t get to be married in the Church, since the relationship would not be “open to life”. However, if a woman had had a hysterectomy because of cancer, or if a couple were elderly and the woman post-menopausal, their marriage would not be denied, though it would be equally infertile? Why not? You say such a couple “has made no moral ACT…to choose their sterility,” but then you say, “It’s not about the consequences.” If the consequences don’t matter, then why is the act of what’s chosen relevant? And if it’s the act, why is using artificial methods such as thermometers and charts to deliberately choose an infertile time any less an act to “choose sterility”—if only temporarily—than contraceptive sex?

        If you imagine (as Kyle also seems to in this post) that morality is ultimately consequentialist, then of course this seems silly.

        I’m not a consequentialist, though I get accused of being one in discussions such as this—the ends do not necessarily “justify the means”. Let me put it like this: A teaching that any sex that could not be fertile—including NFP sex or sex between an infertile elderly couple—was wrong would be logical and consistent (and seems to have been held by many Fathers). A teaching that not every sex act has to be “open to life” is logical. But a teaching that every sex act has to be “open to life” in the sense of being theoretically fertile, even if fertility is impossible, but that contraception is not “open to life” (even though the acts of an elderly couple or a couple in which the woman had a hysterectomy are every bit as sterile) seems incoherent unless one already assumes the premise—that is, that such acts must be correct in form. That, of course, is circular reasoning: non-sinful sex acts must be correct in form even if they are known with 100% accuracy to be infertile because sex acts that are not correct in form are wrong? See? You don’t have to be a consequentialist to consider this incoherent or begging the question.

        But Christian ethics are about becoming virtuous, that is to say, becoming the right kind of person….

        Agreed. It is not clear to me how contraception in cases of necessity with a married couple whose marriage as a whole is open to children, and who may even have children, in fact keeps the couple from “become the right kind of people”.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 20, 2013 4:04 pm

          “If I have contraceptive intercourse with my wife, I am deliberately having sex in such a way that conception does not occur. If I have sex in a non-fertile period using NFP, I am deliberately having sex in such a way that conception does not occur. What’s the difference?”

          Again, this question assumes a consequentialist framework regarding the moral evaluation of your act.

          According to a Catholic understanding, in the latter case, you aren’t “having sex in such a way that conception does not occur.” You’re just having sex. There is no further need to specify, because the desire for sex is self-explanatory in itself. You haven’t DONE anything ELSE to alter the character of your choice, so there is no need for superfluous extra descriptions of the act as if they are morally relevant. You expect that it WON’T be fertile on account of timing, but you’re not CAUSING it not to be. So there is no additional action (like putting on a condom or taking a pill), no additional choice, which needs to be “explained” by a further specification or motive of choice. You might say your expectation of infertility was part of why you “didn’t choose not to,” but Catholic morality does not require any moral analysis of such “double-negative NON-choices” like that, generally, because really “choosing not to” do something is generally not really considered a choice at all, and certainly not some construction like “not choosing not to.”

          The desire for sex on an infertile day is as intelligible as a desire for sex on a fertile day, because it’s not like you choose what day it is. If I tell you I am going to the store today, my choice is sufficiently explained by why I need to go to the store. The account of my action doesn’t need to explain “why today?” or “why not Sunday?” anymore than it needs to explain why I’m going wearing the clothes I’m currently wearing. Sure, maybe I didn’t go Sunday “because” I had another appointment. Maybe it’s even “because” I was off robbing a bank! But neither of those things are relevant to me going to the store today, as if they are the positive and active cause or motive for my going to the store. “Because I didn’t go Sunday (for this reason)” is not WHY I went to the store (on Monday) anymore than “not being at work” is a CAUSE of me sitting here writing to you right now. It’s like that line in King Lear, “The reason why the seven stars are no more than seven is a pretty reason. Because they are not eight.” But that’s a joke/nonsense-answer, obviously.

          I mean, it’s sort of like the difference between active euthanasia and simply deciding that it’s time to withhold extraordinary means of life-support so that the person can go in peace, I’d think. There are times when a prudent omission would be acceptable even when a direct lie would not be, etc.

          You may assert that YOU refuse to recognize this sort of active/passive difference as morally relevant to YOUR system. But I wouldn’t say that it isn’t a coherent category of difference or that it’s impossible for a moral system to think this distinction is relevant.

          “Why is abstinence an acceptable way to avoid pregnancy, but not contraception?”

          Abstinence isn’t DOING anything. I’m abstaining from sex right now sitting here writing this!

          You seem to be starting from a framework whereby sex is the default and abstinence is some sort of active SUBTRACTION that could be morally judged by its intent. In other words, that abstinence involves some sort of “choice not to do,” as if “not doing” requires an active intervention of the will.

          But the Church starts from a framework that assumes that non-action is the default until something is ADDITIVELY done, and so there is no choice to be analyzed at all in abstinence. “Not having sex on a fertile day” isn’t really a choice, because NOT doing something is never a choice unless you are already doing it or there was already some sort of positive obligation to do it. But the Church has never insisted that there is an obligation to have sex on every fertile day (or else what would single people do? Or people away from their spouse?) All the more, “Not choosing not to” on an infertile day is definitely not a “real” choice, because it’s the mere negation of a negation, a mere verbal construct that represents a miscognition.

          If there’s no positive obligation to have sex on a fertile day, then one cannot judge abstinence on such a day. And if there is no positive obligation to AVOID sex on an infertile day (and there never has been, especially since this depends on a level of knowledge/certainty which hasn’t always existed) then one cannot judge that either. That the two things are “combined” in such a way as to lead to regular sex without conception is non-problematic, because you’re simply talking about “parallel” non-controversial choices. There is no sort of “meta-choice” that combines the two.

          If you agree that TOTAL abstinence would be a logically consistent allowance to avoid pregnancy (and I think anyone would have to unless they wanted to posit some sort of positive OBLIGATION to procreate) then you can’t judge periodic abstinence either. Likewise, if sex EVERY day would be allowed (ie, no obligation to AVOID infertile days), then you can’t judge periodic sex either. If the two “extreme poles” (daily sex, or no sex) are allowed, then every combination IN BETWEEN would have to be fine too, including sex on infertile days but abstinence on fertile days. If neither of those things (sex on an infertile day, or abstinence on a fertile day) is controversial IN ITSELF, one finds it hard to see how a particular combination of the two could be controversial. But neither is controversial in itself, because the Church has never OBLIGATED either avoiding sex on infertile days OR having sex on fertile days.

          So your complaint of inconsistency requires, logically, saying that there is no way to condemn contraception (active choices made to frustrate the fertility of sex acts that are occurring) that doesn’t also require positing an active obligation to abstain on infertile days or to have sex on fertile days?? Is this correct? Do you believe that a “consistent” condemnation of contraception could ONLY be consistent if it also either REQUIRED sex on fertile days or else REQUIRED abstinence on infertile days? But then, don’t you also see how this is consequentialism?

          “I guess you’d say, ‘Because contraception blocks or interferes with the natural process?’ Then why is ‘interfering with or blocking the natural process’ unacceptable? We do that all the time—think of artificial sweeteners. Why is one mode OK and the other not?”

          I think there’s a big difference between a “natural process” conceived of physically, and a “natural process” conceived of in terms of desire. Wearing glasses or having air conditioning doesn’t frustrate “nature,” for example, in the moral sense. Because the “nature” being spoken of in morality is HUMAN nature. Specifically, the right relation of the Nature to the Individual instantiation OF that nature.

          One might point out that artificial sweetener is always put INTO some drink or food that is ultimately still hydrating or nutritive in itself (so sort of like manual stimulation or oral sex integrated as foreplay into a sexual encounter that ultimately ends the natural way). I’m not sure sitting there eating artificial sweetener in itself would be considered morally ordered.

          However, there is another, bigger, difference I’d think. Namely, that eating artificial sweetener doesn’t particularly frustrate any desire. What I eman is: eating is ordered towards individual survival, so as long as no conflict is set up between getting nutrition and artificial sweetening, there is no tension or conflict or rupture because the desire is all taking place within one individual, and so can still be harmonized. Starving to death because of eating artificial food would be problematic, but no one would really do that, methinks.

          However, when we’re talking about sexual desire, we’re talking about a desire that really belongs more properly to the Nature than to the Individual. Sexual desire doesn’t exist for the survival of the individual. Rather, it exists for the propagation of the species, of human nature. It is an expression of the Nature seeking to instantiate itself in new individuals. As such, contraception introduces a conflict between the individual human QUA individual, and the individual human QUA his universal. He’s choosing to put the end of that desire in the particular rather than the universal.

          Periodic abstinence, on the other hand, doesn’t really raise such problems. There is no obligation to fulfill desires, and periods of infertility are already part of human nature, so one can’t claim any conflict between the individual and his nature in this case.

          “A teaching that any sex that could not be fertile—including NFP sex or sex between an infertile elderly couple—was wrong would be logical and consistent (and seems to have been held by many Fathers).”

          Except that would translate into a positive obligation to ENSURE ACTIVELY that all sex acts ARE fertile. But that is a burden that cannot be placed on human beings, because much of infertility is beyond our knowledge or control. All people can control is the content of their OWN choices, of which the fertility or infertility of the day is extrinsic.

  18. Thales permalink
    May 19, 2013 10:28 pm

    Kyle ended his post with a question, and though I answered it above, I want to expand on my answer because no one noticed it up above.

    So you know a lapsed Catholic who doesn’t think that he needs to go to Mass on Sunday. He says he is happy as he is, that he prays to God in his own home, and that he is not harmed or injured by his failure to go to Mass on Sunday.

    Or suppose you have a friend who is Catholic and who refuses to go to Confession. He doesn’t think it’s necessary for God to forgive his sins, and he doesn’t feel hurt or injured by not going to Confession.

    Or suppose you know a Catholic man and woman who live together, but aren’t married, and don’t want to get married. They see no reason to do so, and they say they are happy as they are.

    Isn’t it true that these people are hurt in some way because they are not receiving all the sacramental grace that they could be receiving? The first is missing out on all grace that comes from the Eucharist, the second from Reconciliation, and the third from Marriage. But how do you how do you tell them that they are leading stunted and “injured” lives?

    I don’t think that you evangelize them by telling them that they are living a life injured by sin. Instead, I think that the better way is to tell them that there is another option that promises more grace, and greater peace and joy for their lives. I think the same can be done for other instances of Catholics not seeing any benefit in the Church’s teachings, including teachings on sexual morality.

    • May 20, 2013 8:08 am

      “I think that the better way is to tell them that there is another option that promises more grace, and greater peace and joy for their lives. I think the same can be done for other instances of Catholics not seeing any benefit in the Church’s teachings, including teachings on sexual morality.”

      What happens then, when following the Church’s teachings on sexual morality does not result in more peace and joy, but instead in more fear and hardship?

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 20, 2013 2:01 pm

        I think this again boils down to what I’ve been asking in this thread: how are we to understand moral teachings or moral statements?

        Are they, as it were, descriptions of what achieved wholeness/holiness/virtue/happiness looks like? Or are they an instruction manual for getting there?

        In other words, is a moral teaching a description of the destination? Or is it (also) the map for getting there?

        Is it a descriptive statement of what a (spiritually) healthy person looks like? Or is it also the “medical” knowledge for how to get there?

        I’d argue that many people understand moral teachings as proscriptive/prescriptive when really they are descriptive. The Law condemns, but it does not save. It is a depiction of what the fullest achievement of the Good Life or spiritual holism looks like. But it does not follow that the way to get there is to “follow the law” by effort or willpower, as if the way to become virtuous is to “act as if you already are” (a rather unhelpful piece of advice) or as if the way to get healthy is to “act healthy” (as if not sneezing and not coughing, repressing those things by will, is going to cure your cold).

        The moral teachings may, in fact, DEscribe what peace and happiness look like. But it is spiritual cargo-cultism to imagine that if you just try to “implement” them that you are going to be happy. That is confusing cause and effect, disease and symptom.

        I think it’s much less controversial to say that the use of contraception is a symptom of a less-than-perfect integration or harmonization of sexual desire and all the values inherent therein. I think it is much less clear, even if you accept this interpretation of Church teaching as true, that avoiding contraception is going to CAUSE you to arrive at that perfect integration or holism.

        • Commoner permalink
          May 20, 2013 4:01 pm

          This.

          In a perfect world, my husband and I would have been able to handle all the children nature handed to us. Or would have been able to handle the extended periods of abstinence required to avoid pregnancy without any ill effect whatsoever. My body, both physically and mentally, just wasn’t up to the task. Our finances weren’t, either. We are much less-than-perfect. We did, however, manage 10 pregnancies and lived to tell about it.

          But the idea that following the letter of the law (as many couples we know do) is going to somehow make your marriage wonderful, just doesn’t play out in real life, and there is no pretending otherwise.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 20, 2013 5:58 pm

          Of course, this wisdom would also say that while extrinsic circumstances like finances are not under our power and cannot be a criterion of what a virtuous character looks like, ones desire is more malleable. That is to say, while morality can’t say “Get rich enough to handle all the kids desire would naturally lead to,” it can more validly say “Transform your desires, order your passions, so that they naturally only produce as many kids as you can responsibly handle.”

          However, I think where many pastors (and other interlocutors) in the Church get it wrong is in assuming that this transformation of desire happens by will rather than only ever being up to grace. Yes, just because a spiritually perfect individual would have sexual desire and responsible family planning perfectly harmonized with the rhythms of nature, doesn’t mean that this harmonization is achieved by trying to “force it” by willpower even when it doesn’t actually correspond to the real state of ones passions. That’s like suppressing your coughs and thinking it will make you healthy.

          The Law provides a picture of what a healthy person looks like. It does not follow you become healthy by trying to imitate that picture by willpower. Rather, the Church’s moral program actually offers only grace. While there may be something to be said for some level of discipline or practice in delaying gratification as part of the “medicinal” program the Church offers (like fasting for example), in reality the “medicine” the Church offers is much more in the form of prayer and community and the Sacraments. Grace treats our sickness at its own good pace. Our “symptoms” will whither away on their own as we are healed inwardly; rarely will attempting to treat the symptoms actually cause that healing.

          Contraception may be a symptom of the brokenness of desire in a fallen world; “sinfulness” should be understood in this sense. But it does not then follow that avoiding contraception will cure the disease anymore than trying to suppress symptoms cures any disease. The disease will be cured (and presumably the symptoms naturally fade) by the medicine of grace, not by an effort to repress the symptoms while they still are inclined to erupt.

        • May 20, 2013 7:26 pm

          The disease will be cured (and presumably the symptoms naturally fade) by the medicine of grace, not by an effort to repress the symptoms while they still are inclined to erupt

          This comes perilously close to saying that any sinful tendencies, if we just pray enough or “open ourselves to grace enough”, etc., will magically go away; or that (to be slightly unfair in my phrasing) that one can “pray the sin away”. God can bestow grace when and how He likes, and very occasionally He does so in a way that totally removes a failing or sinful tendency or whatever; but that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s obvious from reading Commoner (and I’ve read other former NFP families saying similar things) that that didn’t work in her case.

          The danger is, as in many similar situations (e.g. “curing” homosexuality, among others) that the person who simply cannot follow Church teaching will be criticized for just not praying hard enough, or being sufficiently open to grace, or what have you. That, to me, does not seem an adequate description of lived reality.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 20, 2013 11:15 pm

          Not sure where you’re getting that from what I’m saying.

          Yes, the advocates of legalism will find a way to turn even grace into Law.

          But that’s not what I’m promoting here at all. Prayer may be a better medicine than direct attempts at willpower, but anyone who promises deliverance on anything other than God’s time is selling snakeoil.

          For many, the deliverance may well be menopause.

      • Thales permalink
        May 20, 2013 11:06 pm

        What happens then, when following the Church’s teachings on sexual morality does not result in more peace and joy, but instead in more fear and hardship?

        emma,
        I know that most of the comments on this post have been debating this issue and arguing that the Church’s teaching on sexual morality doesn’t result in more peace and joy. I was setting aside that question in order to answer Kyle’s question directly (which few commenters have tried to do). I was assuming for purposes of answering Kyle’s question that the Church’s teaching on sexual morality is one that the Church wants people to follow because the Church thinks that it’s good and that it’ll lead to more grace- and peace-filled lives, just like the Church wants lapsed Catholics to receive the Eucharist on Sunday, or benefit from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or benefit from the graces that come from sacramental marriage. With that assumption, I was answering Kyle’s question for how to convince Catholics who don’t follow the Church’s teaching on these issues to try and follow them.

        Now whether the Church ‘s teachings on sexual morality are correct and lead to more peace-filled lives is another issue (which it appears everyone has an opinion on!) :)

  19. Jordan permalink
    May 19, 2013 10:58 pm

    re: Shadrok [May 19, 2013 7:37 pm] (new post, space limitations):

    It [the burden of not contracepting] may be so for some, but all should admit that this in itself is a bad thing, represents a brokenness itself. That a couple should work towards a point where a little discipline or limitation to their sexual expression is no big deal. [my addition in brackets]

    I’m bloody tired of the saccharine pelagians who say “a little discipline or limitation to their sexual expression is no big deal” or similar. Look, my mother almost died from a massive hemmorage (that’s really bloody!) when in labor with me and my twin brother. My brother was born developmentally disabled from a massive perinatal stroke. Not only did my mother take one year to fully physically recover, she had to manage the care of an intellectually challenged child for another eighteen years. Is it any wonder they only had one more child four years later? I don’t know if my folks used the Pill or condoms, and I don’t care. Anyway, they’re observant Catholics in old age, so they’ve made their peace with God regardless of the past.

    Thankfully my father earned more than enough benjamins. Yes, we have always had a deluxe European ride in the drive. Still, my mother had to lobby charities intensely for years just so that my brother could live a secure simple life past eighteen. My twin and I are bipolar, and throughout my younger years my parents have had to pay for medications which are quite expensive. If my father weren’t so successful, my parents would have been quite unable to provide security for my disabled brother. I’d end up drunk outside a dive bar.

    This does not matter to the self-anointed “orthodox”, who take that light out from under the bushel and use it to burn the reprobate. That rush of prurient exhilaration from works-righteousness? Good luck getting through the eye of that needle, Dives.

    • May 20, 2013 7:49 am

      Thank you for telling your story.

    • Commoner permalink
      May 20, 2013 8:56 am

      Re: periodic abstinence.

      There is little doubt in my mind that Jordan’s parents practiced plenty of periodic abstinence during those years of caring for a disabled child.

      I find the assumption that married couples who use contraception don’t practice periods of abstinence difficult to believe. Speaking from my own experience, I can say that between the responsibilities of having many children, traveling frequently for work, and coping with a serious chronic disease, there are plenty of times that we have periods of abstinence. That’s just part of the natural rhythm of life. Add in long, heavy periods, and there’s another week every month right there.

      What was not natural was the timing of the periodic abstinence required for NFP. To never make love when it is truly desirable for a woman puts a strain on many relationships. Add that period of abstinence to all the other periods of abstinence that are part of every married couple’s lives, and it adds up to quite a bit of not making love.

      I have no problem with duty sex, but when you can only make love when it feels like a duty and always have to refrain from lovemaking when you really feel the desire to, it takes a toll year after year. And not just on the woman…….my husband loves when I am totally into it.

      You can tell women (and couples) they shouldn’t feel this way all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact many people do indeed feel this way. Today many women have been brought up believing that their sexual experience actually does matter, and I don’t think there is any going back. I started out marriage firmly believing that we would never use any form of contraception. I fully believed everything I had ever read or heard about NFP and figured if we ever needed to use it, it might not be easy but that we would fully realize all those benefits the Church touted regarding NFP.

      It just didn’t work out that way. Many of our friends and family started their marriages the same way and have come to similar conclusions. The bottom line is that there is no way to fool Mother Nature. If you are going to try to have a sexual relationship while also trying not to get pregnant, there will be a price to be paid. This is true whatever form of birth control/child spacing you use—artificial or natural.

      I think that if the Church was more honest in this regard, she would be a bit more credible. It’s not exactly rocket science that frustrating biology is going to involve a price of some sort. This is why I think the Church was wise to recommend NFP only be used for serious reasons. Long term use for your average couple is risky, So is long-term abstinence. So is the Pill, or the IUD, or sterilization. Every form of birth control carries a price to be paid, and most couples are going to weigh risk vs. benefit. If you took away the fear of burning in hell, I’d guess that quite a few NFP-practicing couples would probably switch to using barrier methods or alternate sexual activity on occasion (i.e. FAM). I certainly know several NFP-practicing couples who have indicated that to me, anyway.

      Without a return to a fear of burning in hell, I just don’t think it is very likely that any large portion of society will ever choose to practive NFP. FAM might get more of a foothold, as I do believe there is (thankfully) much more awareness of the harm of pumping your body full of hormones today than a few decades ago.

      • May 20, 2013 11:25 am

        Well-said, Commoner, well said. I think the current trend (especially by the unspeakable Christopher West) of trying to sell NFP by relabeling the theology of the body as Hot Catholic Sex&trade: and implying that it’s not about sacrifice or avoiding sin but instead putting out some spiel about how much better and hotter NFP sex is and how it bulids the marriage–when it can be verified that this is not necessarily true–not only is diametrically opposed to the original purported theology, but is giving astronomically inflated visions of the benefits and downsides of NFP. Putting a quasi-Hugh Hefner spin on it (one of West’s self-proclaimed heros) doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the Church saying “only this way”, or else. It bears no relationship to reality.

        • Commoner permalink
          May 20, 2013 12:10 pm

          The whole marketing of TOB always seemed incredibly sad to me. Do that many Catholics really think sex is bad that we need Christopher West to convince us it’s actually “hot”? (the question of whether constantly “hot” sex is the true goal of a conjugal relationship is a whole other issue)

          I know–and have always known–with such complete and utter certainty that making love to my husband is good that if God himself came down today and told me it was actually a bad thing, I would know I must be hallucinating. The goodness of making love to my husband is written on my heart.

          Besides, as you said, so much of the West-type TOB hype bears so little resemblance to the reality many Catholic couples actually live that it’s only natural to question its widespread usefulness over the long run of a marriage.

        • Jordan permalink
          May 20, 2013 5:21 pm

          Commoner [May 20, 2013 12:10 pm]: (the question of whether constantly “hot” sex is the true goal of a conjugal relationship is a whole other issue)

          Right on. Also, it’s important to remember that Christopher West’s got to sell books. Selling NFP as “Hey! This is your awesome opportunity to have a uterine prolapse after bearing ten children in ten years and after your husband spends three weeks in the quiet room of a state asylum” isn’t exactly a prime marketing strategy.

          I’m kidding. The truth is somewhere in between these two extreme outcomes. West’s NFP pitch is, as you observe Commoner, not only unrealistic but ignorant of human and marital experience. For the record, I’m gay and will never heterosexually wed (the two are certainly not mutually exclusive.) Still, I know enough from my married friends to listen to their experiences before listening to West or Michael Voris.

          I’ve sensed for a long time that the very devout young couples (i.e. 20/30somethings) don’t want to admit that NFP can take a unique emotional toll on their relationship unless they appear as heterodox or at least “not good Catholics”. West merely encourages this silence.

        • May 20, 2013 8:04 pm

          I’ve sensed the same thing, Jordan. It really is a perfect form of mind control. Tell people, “Practicing this will not only prevent pregnancy with 99% accuracy with minimal abstinence, it will give you marital bliss and make your sex even hotter! Oh, and if it doesn’t, you’re an evil heretic, and if you tell others about bad experiences, you and they will all go to Hell.” As a result, when couples don’t experience what they are promised, they are forced to keep silence for fear of social isolation from their family and friends as well as sending themselves and others to Hell.

          It’s the classic Emperor’s New Clothes hoax.

      • Yolat permalink
        May 20, 2013 2:44 pm

        “The bottom line is that there is no way to fool Mother Nature. If you are going to try to have a sexual relationship while also trying not to get pregnant, there will be a price to be paid.”

        Well that’s just the point, isn’t it?

        Sexual desire is unique in that it is for the good of the species, in a way that might be opposed to the good of the individual. This is not true of our other appetites. The desire to breath air, to find shelter from the cold or heat or elements, to drink water, to go to the bathroom, to exercise or stretch, to eat food, to avoid injury or sickness, to flee that which causes pain or is dangerous, to be curious and learn, to have companionship and social standing and safety…all are desires that are ordered towards the well-being of the individual as such, for our individual survival and maintenance and flourishing.

        So while we might say, “No one is [explicitly] thinking of the nutritive while eating,” for the most part we aren’t excluding it either. We need sustenance, we need nutrition, and hunger and eating in response cause us to get it. Yes, some might wish we could eat more than we really can merely for the pleasure without getting full or fat, but that’s pretty clearly just a lack of balance in the passions. In general, hunger directs the individual towards his own good (of nutrition). Same thing with all those other desires.

        But sex…well, reproduction could, in many cases, be for the good of the species IN SPITE of the good of the individual. It is a desire that can cause us (whether this is good or bad considered from some “objective” perspective) to act AGAINST our own good. Because it isn’t really “our” desire. Sexual desire is almost like we are possessed by a desire of the “Species as a Whole” and it is not for individual survival towards which it is ordered, but towards species survival (which may or may not “line up with” individual survival or flourishing). As such, it is almost like a desire from within us that we know comes from without, from the collective, is the species “using us” to accomplish ITS ends (of spreading the seed and having pregnancies result) in potential opposition to our own.

        So the moral question becomes what is the moral way (that is to say, an integrated, holistic, harmonious) way to reconcile or negotiate the “desire of the species” that possesses one in sexual desire, with individual needs?

        This question relates to the problem of the Individual and the Collective in general, I would think.

        Catholics are neither collectivists, nor individualists. The Church advocates a third-way “communion” model of the relationship between the two, as many would recognize in our Social Teachings.

        I think, theoretically, contraception is considered by the magisterium to represent an “individualist” interpretation of the significance of sexual desire and how the individual is to relate to his or her species/collective; inasmuch as the individual relates to the collective, it is in a voluntarist model, on the individual’s terms. If the individual couple chooses to have a baby, it’s because the individual has decided to rationally “opt in” to that sort of relationship to communal life in this voluntarist way, not because the individual has been “swept up in” the current of collective desires larger than the individual. Sexual desire (which is to say, ultimately, ones relationship to other people) is understood as recreational or ordered towards the voluntarist bonding of adults for their individual good. Desire becomes not about knitting society together in an organic blood-based enmeshment, but rather just a currency for individuals to exchange erotic capital with other individuals in a sexual “free market.”

        In some ways, this is the basis of the accusation that contraception makes having a child a matter of “rights” and not a “gift.” However, it also explains why contraception is such a flashpoint question even “politically”: it gets right to the heart of the question of how our social order is to be structured. And since the current order politically/socially takes individualism for granted…it makes sense people think contraception is intuitively okay: they’re operating from an individualist framework.

        I think, also, many people mistakenly take the Church’s condemnation of contraception as advocating a “collectivist” interpretation of sexuality, whereby the desire of the species to reproduce has to be given absolute reign and preference, even when it steamrolls the needs of the individual. However, in truth collectivism reveals itself to not be “organic” at all; the soviet union or communist china have NO problem centrally regulating the reproductive lives of their people according to rationalist concerns, because realized collectivism becomes Statism rather than some sort of actual gift-economy or harmony with nature.

        So the allowance for NFP would seem to, again, be an attempt (I can’t say anymore whether it is a successful one, even theoretically) to square the circle according to a “communion” understanding that does not give priority to EITHER nature or the individual, but rather envisions that the individual ideally finds his or her good WITHIN nature’s limitations in an organic way. That the individual not assert an autonomy OVER nature (which, in this theory, contraception would imply) but also not be simply made a drone of nature either, but rather find the harmonization of the two.

        Of course, this is all theory. In practice, as individual experiences point out, in the real world people may find that they are not able to realize such a harmonization due to extrinsic limits. Another baby could threaten the family financially, but abstinence could become draining etc etc. I’m sure what the Church would say is that in the ideal world, a couple would be able, if they so desired, to have sex during a woman’s fertile period (when she is most desiring) AND accept children because there would be no such limits on resources. In a world that is less than ideal, all bets are off really. The Church proposes that the better way to “negotiate” still involves, yes, sacrificing some individual fulfillment of desire in order to submit to the order of nature rather than just overriding it.

        But, of course, there is a price to pay there, and at a certain point I would have to agree that the moral question becomes whether the spiritual or relational harm of THAT sacrifice comes to outweigh the spiritual harm of asserting oneself against nature. I think this sort of casuistry is often ignored by conservative Catholic moralists, who think more in terms of ideals (ideals which aren’t necessarily wrong) than practical moral balances.

  20. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 20, 2013 3:34 pm

    Brandon,

    You are a profound guy, but you have given yourself over to the vice of propaganda. I am well aware that there is now a virtual cottage industry amongst Catholic natural Law theorists trying emblazon the internet with as many testimonies on King’s great Letter from Birmingham being an historical support for\, of all things, contemporary Catholic right wintery. I will answer in two ways. First by highlighting what a mensch and gentleman Dr. King was. It was the presence of a lot of more left-wing Catholics of the day amongst his supporters that lead him to quote a famous Catholic source. Thus, Ockham’s razor tells us that he likely quoted Thomas mostly out of solidarity with his friends, And what a nice thing to do.

    But as to some deep congruence between King’s views and natural Law theory explicitly and essentially. I think there could not be a denomination in the generally Christian-based churches in America that was more distant from the essence of Natural Law theory than Unitarianism. And that my poor feeble propagandist, is exactly what Dr. King was attracted. Not surprisingly, since the Unitarian tradition has always emphasized a freedom of thought that is quite far from the strictures of classical natural law theory. You are trying to score points with Dr. King and I am not down with that! Whassup?!!

    To wit, from Tikkun Magazine last year:

    The Thinking and Theology of Martin Luther King Jr.
    by: Be Scofield on June 3rd, 2012 | 5 Comments »
    I’ll be leading a 3-week online course beginning June, 19th that explores the theological and intellectual influences of Dr. King. We’ll look at how he interpreted the Christian doctrines, his experience in seminary and higher education, the role of the African-American Christian religious experience in his life and some of the key ideas and people that shaped his thinking. See http://www.radicalking.com for more information.

    Do you remember the news story in September of 2010 about President Obama and a misquoted phrase on his new Oval office rug? The rug contained a popular line that Dr. King used frequently. It read “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” However, as multiple news sources pointed out, it was the Unitarian minister and social reformer Theodore Parker who stated this, not King. In 1853 Parker said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.” While many Unitarian Universalists already knew the correct source of the quote it was fascinating to see the public get a small lesson in Unitarian history.

    As highly noted liberal religious reformers of their day, King and Parker shared some other interesting similarities. They both had originally wanted to be lawyers, but ended up as ministers. Each of them was exceptionally smart from a young age. King memorized Bible passages when he was a child, entered Morehouse college at age 15, graduated from Crozer Seminary as the Valedictorian and completed a PhD from Boston University. By age eight Parker had read Homer, at age ten he began studying Greek and Latin and could memorize 500 to 1000 word poems after one reading. He began teaching at age 16 and he read the entire Harvard college curriculum on his own before later being accepted into the Divinity school. Both men had very supportive and large families and were nurtured by their church community. Each spoke out against war, poverty and the injustices of the day and suffered from public scorn for speaking their truths.

    Parker and King also embraced very liberal and non-literal interpretations of the Christian doctrines. From the age of 13 King denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus in Sunday school and by college and seminary his formal thinking on doctrinal interpretation was figured out. Parker’s theological positions took longer to form and evolved over several years of writing and preaching. One notable difference is that Parker publicly advocated his liberal Christian positions whereas King avoided public discussions about the particular details of his doctrinal interpretation. Parker’s outspoken words landed him in some hot water with congregants. One member said, “I would rather see every Unitarian congregation in our land dissolved and every one of our churches occupied by other denominations or razed to the ground than to assist in placing a man entertaining the sentiments of Theodore Parker in one of our pulpits.”

    Another interesting chapter in King’s theological life is the fact that he and Coretta attended Unitarian Churches while living in Boston. According to theologian Rosemary Bray McNatt, Coretta told her that King even expressed interest in being a Unitarian minister but felt that he couldn’t adequately participate in the social issues that faced African Americans in the tradition.

    • dismasdolben permalink
      May 20, 2013 6:27 pm

      Fascinating, Peter Paul. I didn’t know any of this!

    • May 21, 2013 4:28 pm

      It would help if you actually addressed the argument made instead of shadowboxing with arguments in your imagination.The King point was specifically addressed to an objection you made based on an obviously false premise about the relationship between natural law theory and what you called “13th century metaphysics”; the sheer ridiculousness of your original premise can be seen by looking at how it functions in an actual natural law argument, like King’s in “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. That this is a natural law argument is not at all a matter of dispute, and that it serves as an obvious counterexample to the assumptions about natural law on which your comment was based is also not at all difficult to determine. None of your comment here actually addresses this issue; nor does it address any argument I actually made. (Moreover, since I’ve actually studied King’s personalism and read many of the works of Parker, Bowne, and Brightman, I am entirely capable of seeing through your attempt to snow me by throwing around a few names on this subject. Again, there is no dispute or question in any of the literature that King actually uses natural law theory in “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for the obvious reason that he’s quite explicit about it; nor is there any controversy about the fact that in that letter King specifically uses it to address one of the serious ethical questions about civil disobedience for civil rights, and thus not a minor question; nor is denomination or whether King was a “mensch” even remotely relevant to any of these points. It is you who have brought propaganda into the matter, not I. And, again, any claim, such as you have committed yourself to making, that “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” depends on “13th century metaphysics” is sheer nonsense.)

      What’s more, this is becoming a pattern. Your 13th century metaphysics comment was in turn a response to my comment about how your previous comment had apparently confused ‘natural law’, taken in the sense of principles of practical reason purportedly being a law natural to us, and ‘natural law’, taken in the sense of a theory so identifying these principles. It is quite easy to recognize that your 13th century metaphysics comment does not actually address this point, either.

      When we clear away all the dust you’ve thrown up, there’s no argument. You’ve thrown up a lot of labels that turn not to be relevant, made a few statements about natural law theory itself that can easily be shown to be false, and more than once switched the subject when called on an error.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 21, 2013 10:24 pm

        Brandon,

        Well, at least you are consistent. I was imagining you in some Ivy cottage coming up with just that response. I understand that for you for a person actually thought in the broad view of their life is of no moment for your need to save the appearances for yourself (and your career I am guessing—ouch! ) from your Natural Law imbroglio. I get it. For you it does not matter if MLK was an utter theological liberal, and did things like a lot of theological liberals of his day like deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. What you care about is his having used Natural Law language in that letter. Well, generous guy that I am, I will give it to you. So what? King was a leader, And leaders use all sorts of thoughts and views to get their vision accomplished. Or are you such a jejune fellow that you cannot acknowledge this simple fact of history. MLK’s having used natural law language is no more an blanket endorsement than Churchill;s having used all sorts of ideation to rally his country men. MLK was a great leader. That means using ideas as motivations. That is what it means to be a leader.

        But it is another thing entirely to suggest as you are doing that this iconic figure endorsed a de facto Catholic view. Dream on, partner. The opposite is probably true. King seems to have embraced a vastly more tolerant theological and moral ethic than the RC church has ever endorse. You know Brandon, there is a use for your great mind beyond defending nostalgia. Get a life. You deserve it.

        • Hopemore permalink
          May 22, 2013 10:50 am

          As Brandon has kept saying, I’m not sure what your argument is here.

          MLK may not have endorsed all the Catholic conclusions regarding the application of natural law reasoning. But he and many others recognized the principle, at least, that there is a law written into the very nature of man. That one can, for example, reason whether a law is just or unjust by whether it defends or rather degrades the dignity of man. This requires asking “in what does man’s dignity consist?” and analyzing whether various sorts of things are intrinsically opposed to it etc etc. This is natural law reasoning right there!

          More specific assumptions about the relation of the individual to nature or of intent to desire or of the teleology of appetites to the licitness of choices etc etc…may be more “specific” conclusions of this reasoning process that not everyone reaches or agrees with.

          But few people out there really question the basic principle of the process itself. Deontology, utilitarianism, everything at the end of the day is the result of attempts at natural law reasoning. Because the only other major option is divine command theory.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 22, 2013 12:32 pm

          Hopemore,

          Well, you have nicely summarized the Catholic view on natural law……again.
          Look, I was trained in this stuff, so I am well aware that it becomes like the proverbial fly bottle with the scholastic fly buzzing and buzzing. You speak as if recognizing that “there is a law written in the very nature of man” were a consistent category. Do you not see how vast your assumption is here, and why you cannot even recognize an argument from manifest history that does not bolster your own view. It is just Catholic solipsism. In fact most Protestant ideas of about “the law written in the very nature of man” had utterly different contours than Roman Catholic ones. They were never the same. And it is a further relevant fact Protestant sources in the modern era were more closely allied to scientific theorizing which had a very different meaning for “natural” in toto. No real relation to the Thomistic notion at all .

          I know that fans of the Witherspoon Institute are working to get as much info out there to the contrary. But just read Protestant theologies generally, which I have, and you will see otherwise. Of course there are going to be moments of overlap, and why wouldn’t there be??

          Instead of continuing just to see-saw between possible views here, though, I want to try to ground this in history for resolution. Please look into William Vance’s magisterial America’s Rome, Vol. 2, which describes American views related to Rome and Catholicism in American history. What is telling is that Vance makes clear that it was clear from contemporaneous source of late 18thC and early 19thC that Catholic recognized that their own Church’s notions of law were DIFFERENT from the ones that were used in the founding and governance of the early Republic. yet what is even more fascinating is that the way Catholics of the period dealt with this issue is by NOT dealing with it. Their exiistential and literary tactic was to sweep it under the carpet. It only began to change somewhat when the founder of the Paulists got busy, and you can see the hierarchy’s treatment of him as evidence of how well the change went over.

          It is clear that today, at least since the publications of Finnis in the late seventies that there is a different tactic undertaken. Trying to make and use a figure like MLK for those purposes says more about this different cultural tactic now undertaken by Catholic Nautral Law theorists than it does about anything to do with MLK. I also find it indecorous in relation to MLK. Especially since so many of the same people who favor this sort of ideation are, shall we say courteously, the sorts to be living in all white suburbs, and not in the mixed environs of the city.

          As I said, I have no problem with recognizing that MLK was cannily using Catholic Natural Law type notions in that letter. It is a very interesting fact(oid) that he did so. But, again, you and your friends want to pull a rabbit out of a hat in relation to its meaning. The more obvious meaning is one related to MLK leadership needs at that moment. This explanation has the advantage of being consistent with — again! hello!!– MLK’s attraction to Unitarian type thought which has been mostly skeptical or purposefully indifferent to Natural Law type theorizing.

          Not to get too political about, but have you considered a more basic explanation which is actually very flattering to Catholicism, more than the strange idea of MLK as some cryptic pro-Catholic Natural Law fan. Namely that those same Protestant thinkers and communities had been rather blase in many cases about fighting the injustice of segregation and oppression. Often they were much worse, they actually used those tropes to bolster injustice. I believe the basic question in politics is “Where does he go??” That is where can a political person or leader turn to support what he wants to get done. MLK was a brilliant guy, and I think he turned cleverly to a hallowed tradition which he probably heard from the increasing numbers of Cathollics that were showing up to support him. Why is that ALREADY not a good enough admirable moment for the Catholic community vis-a-vis this great man??!!

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 21, 2013 10:31 pm

        Separately Brandon, can I suggest for a lot of you more outre traditional Catholics that you all do some soul searching in light of Dominique Venner’s terrible death in Notre Dame Cathedral. I am no fan of right-wing Catholicism, but it had a few stellar moments, and it deserves better than this horror and tragedy. In paradisum…….

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          May 22, 2013 9:34 am

          As a really perfect example apropos French culture, think of the cultural abyss that separates these two phenomena. Early in the 20th Century right-wing tending Jacques Maritain, famous Catholic exponent of Thomistic thought, enjoyed being a cultural inspiration and influence for a genius like Igor Stravinsky. And in our day, the opposite, an inspiration of cultural horror in Notre Dame.

  21. May 20, 2013 7:19 pm

    Ullalia: However, when we’re talking about sexual desire, we’re talking about a desire that really belongs more properly to the Nature than to the Individual. Sexual desire doesn’t exist for the survival of the individual. Rather, it exists for the propagation of the species, of human nature. It is an expression of the Nature seeking to instantiate itself in new individuals. As such, contraception introduces a conflict between the individual human QUA individual, and the individual human QUA his universal. He’s choosing to put the end of that desire in the particular rather than the universal.

    Yolat (at length): Sexual desire is unique in that it is for the good of the species, in a way that might be opposed to the good of the individual. This is not true of our other appetites.
    But sex…well, reproduction could, in many cases, be for the good of the species IN SPITE of the good of the individual. It is a desire that can cause us…to act AGAINST our own good. Because it isn’t really “our” desire. Sexual desire is almost like we are possessed by a desire of the “Species as a Whole” and it is not for individual survival towards which it is ordered, but towards species survival….

    So the moral question becomes what is the moral way (that is to say, an integrated, holistic, harmonious) way to reconcile or negotiate the “desire of the species” that possesses one in sexual desire, with individual needs?

    So the allowance for NFP would seem to, again, be an attempt…to square the circle according to a “communion” understanding that does not give priority to EITHER nature or the individual, but rather envisions that the individual ideally finds his or her good WITHIN nature’s limitations in an organic way. That the individual not assert an autonomy OVER nature (which, in this theory, contraception would imply) but also not be simply made a drone of nature either, but rather find the harmonization of the two.

    In a world that is less than ideal, all bets are off really. The Church proposes that the better way to “negotiate” still involves, yes, sacrificing some individual fulfillment of desire in order to submit to the order of nature rather than just overriding it. But, of course, there is a price to pay there, and at a certain point I would have to agree that the moral question becomes whether the spiritual or relational harm of THAT sacrifice comes to outweigh the spiritual harm of asserting oneself against nature. I think this sort of casuistry is often ignored by conservative Catholic moralists, who think more in terms of ideals (ideals which aren’t necessarily wrong) than practical moral balances. (all emphasis mine)

    I think Yolat has it about right. The only way I’d tweak it is to argue that “asserting autonomy over nature” is not necessarily immoral. Every bit of human progress in increasing health and longevity, science, and so on has been “asserting autonomy over nature”. I’m not arguing that “progress” is always the best, but it has its points at times, too. Recall also how Victorians opposed anesthesia for women in childbirth on the grounds that it violated pains visited on women by God as punishment for Eve’s sin. In short, “asserting autonomy over nature” was sinful because it violated how God intended things to be—not that much different from some anti-contraceptive arguments.

    I agree that in an ideal world, contraception would not be necessary or used—children would be conceived when appropriate, and people would abstain with no effort otherwise. However, there are a myriad ways in which an ideal world differs from ours. In the world as constituted, it’s hard to see how contraception can be held to be the most sinful, or worst alternative a priori, no matter what the concrete situation. If the Church asserted, “Because we say so,” I could at least respect that. However, I still fail to see how the actual arguments put forth work. Why is it always and a priori immoral to choose for the individual against the collective, or to “assert control over nature? I’m not talking possible bad effects; I mean as a general principle.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 20, 2013 7:47 pm

      Again, you’re equivocating on “nature” here. Man “conquering nature” in the sense of curing disease or having climate control or learning how to build all manner of comforts or entertainment or luxury, is not wrong.

      But that’s not the nature we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about Man asserting his dominion over the elements and brute creation. We’re talking about man asserting his autonomy over his own essence, his own nature. This can only possibly lead to “transhumanism.”

      In other words, it is one thing to exercise our dominion over the elements, even defects in our own bodies, to greater ensure the full blossoming and flourishing and fulfillment of human nature in each individual. It’s quite another to change the very parameters of what human nature is, or to make the individual no longer a subject of it, because that raises questions like “What exactly are we even fulfilling?” and even winds up implying a sort of mass suicide, as if we can reengineer the very ends of desire themselves, we might as well “cure” the individual of his desire to survive and his fear of death, and then all take our pills and die as a way to cease all further suffering.

      If the individual human asserts his autonomy (and the autonomy of his desires) over “humanity” and “its” desires, then it is unclear what fulfillment or happiness would even look like for this individual. If happiness is, in the end, fulfilling the ends of ones nature, it’s unclear how there could be ultimate peace for an individual instantiation which seeks to subvert the desire of his universal within him, or who chooses a violent severance in order to render the desire of the collective within him a merely individual desire.

      • May 21, 2013 8:00 am

        I’m certainly not a transhumanist, nor do I think human nature is infinitely malleable. However, I’m sure the Victorian physicians who opposed anesthesia for childbirth believed it was “changing the very parameters of what human nature is”. On the other hand, isn’t a married person who fights his/her natural desire for his spouse–perhaps the majority of the time, in cases of irregular menses or certain other situations–“asserting his [her] autonomy over ‘humanity’ and its ‘desires'”?

        Discussions that get into theories in which true happiness is “fulfilling the ends of one’s nature” always end up begging the question as to what this nature actually is, and end up saying things like, “But that’s not really, reeeeally human naure,” or “You might think you’re happy and fulfilled, but you not, reeeeally.” I think this assumes way too much, and makes distinctions that are more or less arbitrary. Is it violating our nature to change our genome or upload our minds into computers? Yes. But is contraception in a league with that? I don’t think so.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 22, 2013 3:35 am

          “I’m sure the Victorian physicians who opposed anesthesia for childbirth believed it was ‘changing the very parameters of what human nature is.'”

          But this is silly. Another punishment of the Fall was laboring by the sweat of one’s brow. Did people argue against machines that replaced manual labor?

          Again, we’re simply talking about two different things here. In fact, we’re talking about OPPOSITE things.

          Making GOOD acts EASIER is, in itself, not a bad thing (as long as one considers the effects on the virtue of fortitude or the vice of sloth that this could have, etc etc).

          A drug making it easier to do an EVIL thing, however, would be a problem, even if it eliminated suffering. I remember a quote from an early episode of The Simpsons: “Well, according to Eternity magazine the feeling of guilt has been linked to the neurotransmitter gamephenomene. Dow Chemical is developing a minty gel which will eliminate excess guilt but, unfortunately, it won’t be on the market for another six months.”

          Human nature doesn’t contain a desire to suffer during childbirth. If it did, some part of women would WANT to suffer that way. There would be a desire for it within people. But there’s not. Rather, the way to look at it is this: there’s a strong desire (on the part of the Nature in her) for a mother to give birth IN SPITE of pain or danger (that the Individual would prefer to avoid). But there’s no desire for the pain itself under either aspect.

          So the “analogous” example would actually be this: if, instead of treating the pain in order to allow women to more easily fulfill (in terms of individual comfort) Nature’s overwhelming desire in them to give birth, women instead avoided the pain and inconvenience by simply choosing to overrule Nature’s desire in favor of their own (and there was a way for them not feel any sort of guilt or repercussions for it). Really, abortion (not painkillers) is the analogous example if, perhaps, we threw in that minty guilt-eliminating gel.

          Using technology to eliminate the pain of childbirth (or morning sickness, or any of the physical discomfort or inconvenience associated with pregnancy) is analogous to using technology to create enough prosperity that contraception would never be needed. In other words, it’s changing extrinsic or physical barriers or limits to help the Individual harmonize their individual needs/desires with their Nature’s. No problem there.

          Using technology to allow the Individual to simply disown or dismiss the desires of nature is not ordered towards integration of the two, it’s ordered towards the DISintegration of the two. And if you don’t merely dismiss the desire, but CO-OPT it (so that you still get the pleasure of scratching the itch, but “cheat” Nature out of what it was trying to achieve by having the itch in the first place) then that’s even more morally disordered.

          Again: the human being is under two aspects. He is an individual and has a panoply of desires ordered towards his own good. But he is also an instantiation of a species, and carries within him tendencies which advance the species’s survival even over his own. But both, in the end, are “his,” and to sever one, to compartmentalize the fulfillment of one and prioritize one over the other, is ultimately to not achieve holistic integration within the Self, which is BOTH Individual AND instantiation of the Species.

          Again, this is the “communion” model opposed to both individualism and collectivism. The human person neither exists merely for his own survival/good, but also is not just a drone for the collective.

          A bee or ant is just a drone for the hive, inasmuch as bees and ants mostly can’t even all reproduce. Only the queen has the responsibility for reproduction of the species, the rest of the ants are really nothing more than “cells” in her “body.” Their own survival is meaningless as individuals, they work so that, ultimately, the hive-as-collective can survive and reproduce. A bee that stings you will die as an individual; this only makes evolutionary sense inasmuch as bees are really a hive-organism, and the individual drone wasn’t going to reproduce anyway. There is a heavy emphasis on sacrificing individual members of the species in favor of the survival of the hive, the collective, the species.

          On the other extreme, perhaps, we might say that a tree is an example of individualism (especially if it’s a species that can self-pollinate and isn’t bi-sexual), or at least one of the closer examples in nature. A tree can stand alone. It may deign to give off seeds, but no tree ever dies for its young, and beyond the bare automatic fact of reproducing, trees do not seem to have any organizing instincts built into their life-cycle apart from individual survival. It might be pointed out that this really is still their Nature acting within them, because for trees (where seed-production each year is so straightforward and abundant) a heavy emphasis on individual survival IS also a strategy for the survival of the species. But the point is trees can stand together in a forest (and indeed this is sometimes a natural result of seeds only being able to fall so far from their parents), but they can also stand alone. A forest is the opposite of a hive in this sense. The hive is one organism, really, the individually utterly useless and helpless without it. A forest, however, is a collection of largely autonomous individuals that exist having “parallel” lives rather than any sort of “society” (except perhaps an exchange of pollen, an exchange that may not even be “required” or necessary if it’s a variety that can self-pollinate; the interaction is accidental, not essential).

          If a human is not simply a drone “cell” of the collective, he is also not simply his individuality or particularity. Humanity is a real Nature or essence that exists in each individual and which each individual is an instantiation of. The individual is not to be reduced to his nature or as a mere “part” of the collective Whole (as in bees or the individual cells in our body), but at the same time the human being is not an autonomous whole in himself either. Humanity is not just a collection of autonomous complete or whole individuals like the forest. While we cannot be reduced to our nature and so I do have my self qua individual, we do still have our nature, and so I also have my self qua instantiation of human nature. Human life, rather, is on the model of a “communion.”

          turmarion, you’ve said some things here which indicate that you believe that the only two “consistent” moralities that could be proposed (at least, with procreation as the criterion) would be either allowing contraception and NFP and all manner of infertile sex, or else requiring that each and every sex act actively intend reproduction. But I would suggest that this dichotomy you’ve set up is essentially individualism versus collectivism in terms of how each vision imagines the individual relating to his universal, his species, his collective, his Nature, without considering that the “communion” model is a third-way model that is “neither,” that would neither condone the individual assertion of autonomy over his nature (by choosing to actively subvert its desire) implied by contraception, but which also doesn’t require being a “drone” who lives only to serve the propagation of the species at any cost to the individual

          “On the other hand, isn’t a married person who fights his/her natural desire for his spouse–perhaps the majority of the time, in cases of irregular menses or certain other situations–’asserting his [her] autonomy over “humanity” and its “desires” ‘?”

          Not at all.

          But I’d like to try to unpack what logic has led you to ask this question.

          Again, this seems to assume that the opposite of opposing contraception on the grounds of the autonomy it asserts of the Individual over the Nature…is to assert the absolute dominion or priority of the Nature of the Individual in some sort of totalitarian “collectivist” model whereby the Individual is obliged to march like a slave under the “commands” of the desires of his Nature.

          But that’s silly, to assume the opposite extreme like that. At the end of the day, both desires belong to the Person, to the Self, just under the two aspects: the self as individual, and the self as instantiation of human nature. And just as the appetites within the individual ordered towards the individuals survival can, in fact, be disordered, and Reason needs to assert itself and say “Hey, if you let your desire for eating running wild, this actually WON’T be good for you,” the same thing can be true for the desires of nature within the person. Nature wants sex all the time! But there’s a point where this is not only not good for the individual, but also not good for the species! It doesn’t do the species much good for a mother all alone to have a baby and die and leave the baby to die too. Reason must triumph here too.

          But how does Reason assert itself? What is Virtue here? Is the virtuous man the one who trains his desire (by will, or grace, whatever your approach) to eat moderately? Or is it the one who deals with runaway desire for food by binging and purging? I think it’s quite clear which is virtuous. While the man may have found a technical way to separate desire from its material end (nutrition) in order to let desire run wild, this man is not virtuous, and in fact he is less human, because he has utterly “uncoupled” that desire from Reason or anything intelligible. The desire for food has now become an end in itself, a drug, a self-enclosed appetite whose only end is its own arbitrary and purposeless satisfaction. Rather than being an integrated or holistic character, this Self is coming apart at the seams, is disintegrating into a chaos of meaningless desire.

          But the same question can be asked of sex too. If Reason has determined that sexual desire is actually “too much” to be good (at least in terms of resultant reproduction), is the virtue to arrive at a disciplined sexual desire that moderates itself? Or is it to cut the desire off from its end in order to let it be an end in itself and run wild without any organizing meaning or purpose except what the individual chooses to have it express?

          Of course, this is complicated by the fact that sex might be said to have two ends, though the second is dependent on the first. In addition to the “procreative” there is also the “unitive.” It’s the union of mates, of a reproductive pair, that is being spoken of. But nevertheless, it is indeed imaginable that you find yourself in a situation where Reason has determined that sexual desire is “too much” to be good in terms of reproduction, even while it may be “just right” to be good in terms of bonding the couple. But it must be admitted that SOMETHING is “out of whack” here. The unitive end of sex is directly subsidiary to its procreative purpose; nature causes sex to bond a couple exactly so that they stay together for the children who result from their union. If a couple find themselves in a situation where the bond formed not strong enough to support the children they already have, but also would allegedly not survive another child, this raises questions. What got out of whack such that the bond that nature desired to give them in sexual activity was not “lined up with” the number of children nature desired to give them in sexual activity?

          It wouldn’t seem the solution would be to compartmentalize within the self to try to trick nature into giving more bonding when it also intends to give children (as part of a “package deal.”) Rather, the Church would suggest, the only morally acceptable situation is to seek the bonding when nature is willing to give it without a baby.

          The passions are not rational. A morbidly obese person still hungers for an (at least) caloric sustenance-balance, even though what they NEED for their good is a caloric deficit. But the lower appetites don’t suddenly adjust like that. A well-functioning human being desires a caloric sustenance-balance. So the person’s appetite is actually “healthy” in this sense, because it wants what is morally normative. It’s just that in a situation of morbid obesity, the normative situation is not actually what’s good. This person needs to receive LESS than weight-maintenance in their calories. Yet this CANNOT be considered a normative appetite, because if it were we’d all starve ourselves by not eating enough. And yet the person must resist the normative situation in order to discipline themselves in their current situation.

          Programming our souls, our wills, is sort of like building a well-ordered machine. You might build a machine with a function of hammering nails in. One can imagine what a rightly working machine would look like here: when you’d turn it on, the hammer would slam up and down, and if there were a screw there it would pound it in. We would say the machine is working correctly and in good order if it does this slamming up and down motion correctly and consistently. The machine would be broken if it started shaking side to side, or if the head fell off the hammer, or if it lost force in its pounding, etc. You will note this, however: we would not call the machine “broken” merely because it isn’t, in fact, hammering any real nails. What’s important for an evaluation of “well functioning” is that the machine be “in the habit” of preforming the nail-driving sort or type of act. We wouldn’t evaluate the machine’s function in a consequentialist way, calling it broken if it merely didn’t hammer a nail IN FACT. We also wouldn’t call it broken merely because it was turned off at any given moment (as long as it could be turned back on). The evaluation of its functioning would be whether it was preforming the nail-driving type of action correctly. The sort of action that WOULD successfully drive a nail in IF it were there. If it does that, the machine can be called rightly ordered, rightly functioning. It would be broken, on the other hand if (whether in the presence of a nail or not) the head fell off or it swung side-to-side instead of up-and-down, etc. Well, I’ve been rambling all over the place now, but I think you’d see how this analogy of evaluating brokenness would apply if “the machine” we were talking about was our sexual appetite and its expressions. The Church’s teachings on NFP, contraception, etc are equivalent to saying “If you don’t want to hammer any nails right now, then turn off the machine, or if you can’t turn if off, set it to hammer somewhere where there aren’t any nails. But DON’T solve the dilemma by BREAKING the machine so that it swings side to side (whether nails are present or not).”

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 21, 2013 1:35 pm

        Ulalia,

        I am not going to assert that there is not point to your logic here. But I believe it is reasonably a matter of emphasis, rather than the sort of definitional categories or moral bright line you are suggesting. The very proof of that is that the RC Church actually put a lot of the category in the other. The RC Church has a stellar history of having disapproved of many helpful medical innovations that would help cure disease, or palliate suffering. Those are mostly in the past now, because it would be just too ridiculous. Many of the categories people like you are so sure of, are, from a reasonable historical and moral vantage point, just another example. Again, perhaps not all, and one can debate on that and philosophize. But again it is a matter of emphasis.

        The failure to recognize this in light of your own history, makes people paranoid about history itself. Poor Mitch Pacwa on EWTN, he is in a seemingly paranoid space not in terms of all these debates, and believes, by his own words, that he is living through a situation like Revolutionary Mexico where clerics will be murdered for beliefs on contraception, etc. History is a great equalizer for us all, and also a path of psychological health, which some TV Catholics need to attend to more. Thus, the significance of the discussion we are having.

  22. trellis smith permalink
    May 21, 2013 1:27 am

    The desires of nature does not make sense as nature is not an agent moral or otherwise that causes an action to unfurl. such anthropomorphism of evolutionary processes is extremely problematic other than to explain metaphorically humans’ participation in these processes which is a sum total of individual autonomous actions The moral choices are real and not metaphoric and cannot be made under direction of some instinctive biological imperative some of which would drive us to destruction if not checked by evolving moral systems. Human nature itself is an evolving not static definition and the human in exercising its nature cannot be said to be acting against said nature in any meaningful sense.

    Contraception is a personal choice that has wider ramifications as all personal actions do.
    In recognition of those ramifications personal choices become moral or not to the degree the ramifications are harmful. It is not the assertion of autonomy over nature as already in nature the autonomy exists and exercised even when refraining from an action recognized as harmful even if inherent in the evolution makeup of the human species,
    In short desire is personal and individualistic even our shared inherited instincts are operable only in the particular.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 21, 2013 11:53 am

      Yes, trellis, that’s the “evolutionist” account which goes hand in hand with individualism and transhumanism, etc etc

      Not that the Church’s account requires rejecting the idea of evolution in itself as a description of how we got to where we are biologically. But it also nevertheless believes in a metaphysical human nature that is not merely nominalist, but which is real and which is instantiated in each individual.

      Of course “the Nature” isn’t a Person or a moral agent in itself! But it is inseparably an aspect of each individual. There is you the person qua person, but there is also you the person qua your essence, which is the essence shared with all humanity. In each individual, there are the desires ordered towards that individual’s survival, but there is also the desire ordered towards the further propagation of his universal, of the species.

      The Church would posit that an attempt to reduce the species to a mere collection of ultimately autonomous individuals is AS bad as an attempt to make a unified organism out of the collective, as if the individual “cells” can be sacrificed for the good of the body. The individual who asserts his individual good or desires over those which belong to the species IN him, is as bad as a collective which will toss out individuals for the survival of the Hive (which is not the common good either, exactly because the community is not a person who can have a good apart from the good of its individual members).

      This model is apparently very hard for moderns to understand, who are caught in a dichotomy of individualism versus collectivism, consequentialism versus deontology.

      • trellis smith permalink
        May 22, 2013 2:26 am

        Thank you for your response My ultimate reply is anticipated by Turmarion but in direct and obtuse reply is this:

        Evolution may tell us how we got to this point but we can infer alot from it as to where we are going, First and foremost that reality is not static but a dynamic creation. Understanding creation necessitates knowing how we participate in evolution not only at the primordial level of ” species desire” or instinct but how everything we do, socially and culturally is bound up in our evolutionary arc. , The primordial instincts that foster procreation and defensive behavior remain with us not statically but continue to serve the evolutionary processes we inhabit I don’t see how an “individual who asserts his individual good or desires over those which belong to the species IN himself” can necessarily be acting badly merely because he is acting against or controlling his instinct., usually its considered a good thing to act against ones’ “lower drives”
        It seems to me you are proposing a metaphysic elevating species desires and calling it the common good and while i recognize a person could assert his desires etc to the detriment of others OUTSIDE himself, he cannot intelligibly act against them inside himself as they are not there in any form you clothe it,

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 22, 2013 12:42 pm

          Once again, you seem to be confusing all sorts of categories.

          Acting against (or rather disciplining) ones “lower drives” can indeed be a good thing. But contraception isn’t doing this. Contraception is an attempt to fulfill the desire subjectively while subverting its natural end objectively.

          We’re not talking here about saying “No” to a desire rationally. We’re talking about cutting a desire off from its objective roots, and converting it into some sort of purely subjective thing.

          He IS in this sense acting against himself, because he is introducing a compartmentalization or disintegration into his very self. He is attempting to uncouple himself qua Individual from himself qua Nature. But the only reason he has sexual desire in the first place is because of nature. The desire itself doesn’t do the individual any objective individual good; it’s only intelligible meaning or purpose are found in nature’s intended end.

          Whether you want to frame the desire’s origin in nature from the perspective of Evolution or God or whatever, the fact is that by severing the desire from its objective end, the whole “circuit” is broken.

          Indeed, perhaps a good analogy for human beings is lights on a string of Christmas tree lights, if you see what I mean and have been following my comments re: individual versus collective.

          Lights on a Christmas tree are neither a “forest” of autonomous individuals NOR a “hive.” The relation of each light to the whole is NOT merely as a collection of utterly independent individuals, but each light is also not merely a “part” of some greater whole (like a gear from a machine that makes no sense or use on its own “out of context.”) Rather, a string of Christmas tree lights is a “communion” of lights. Each individual light, yes, has it’s “individual” self and purpose and function in its own glowing, and we could even theoretically imagine just one light plugged in on its own with a battery or a very short cord. But in context, each light, in its individual glowing, is ALSO part of the circuit that allows all the other lights to light up as the electricity comes by, flows THROUGH the individual light, and then is passed on in the circuit to the next one and back around along the electrical gradient. The individuals here don’t exist for the collective, but neither is the collective just accidental to the individuals. Rather, the individual lights all exist for each other, and the common good is the good of each. The lights are not merely means to an end (like other parts of the circuit), are not merely functionalist parts of a whole; each light is an end in itself because the end in question here is glowing! If there were just a circuit with no lights, that would just be a circular wire plugged into the wall purposelessly. But each light IS also circuited into a greater whole, IS a constituent part of the collective, inasmuch as each light (in the very fulfilling of its own end) is also part of the complete circuit as the electricity flows through it to all the others in the series. So it’s an end in itself, but it is also dependent on all the others, and has all the others depending on it. “A Christmas Tree Light” can be abstracted as an individual, we can imagine an individual light whole in itself, but it also cannot be imagined apart from a string of other complete working lights.

          Now, let’s anthropomorphize the lights a little. Let’s say each light has a little more control and free decision-making ability regarding its own use of the electricity as if it weren’t inanimate but rather a type of creature.

          A “collectivist” philosophy for these creatures would probably say something like that the survival of the circuit as a whole takes absolute precedence over individual lights, that the most important thing is to get the electricity through the circuit and back to the other end of the plug, and that if individual bulbs glow or not in the process is accidental, at best a nice side effect. As long as the “string” works, the glowing of any given individual is irrelevant. Of course, a “hive” in the abstract can’t survive without SOME individuals surviving (especially those that exist to reproduce) since the hive is only a collection of individuals, but the point is that any given individual is utterly dispensable in such a view; if the hive would survive best by half the members being killed off, so be it. If the string could only function (in terms of the electrical circuit being complete, maybe lighting just one light) by demanding that all the other lights “circumvent” their electricity “around” their filaments and not light up personally, this would be considered an essential success; “the string” worked (inasmuch as the circuit is still complete and one light is still lit) even at the expense of all the individual lights not glowing. The defenders of this collectivist “political” view would probably say, “Hey, it’s better than the whole string becoming entirely useless and not being able to light anything! Might as well sacrifice 99 to allow the continuation of the 100th, rather than to let all 100 go out in an attempt to sacrifice none.”

          An “individualist” philosophy among our Christmas lights would probably say the opposite. Each light would pursue its OWN end, it’s own glowing, and the collective exists merely as a sort of voluntary cooperative among independent lights. If pressed, the lights vaguely would acknowledge that they don’t get their electricity from themselves, that the electricity only arrives, only makes sense, in the context of being part of a string (and, indeed, the electricity ultimately even comes from outside the string entirely, from the great God-Socket in the wall), but the lights also conveniently let themselves forget this fact and in practice treat the electricity that flows through them as belonging to them as an individual to do with what they want. The lights sometimes pass the electricity on to their friends, when they feel like it. Other times they circumvent it around their filament when it gets too hot and needs a rest. But if a light is feeling like it wants to use its electricity to help it stand out as an individual by creating pretty sparks (it’s purpose in life is to create beauty by glowing after all!) by diverting the electricity away from the circuit and just releasing it into the air…this is considered okay too. However, we would see over time, this leads to the string as a whole becoming dimmed and inconsistent, a collection of lights with some “resting” in the off state, some dim because not enough electricity is getting through, some bright, some sparkling, depending on how each individual has chosen to use “his” electricity to pursue his end in an individualist and independent-minded fashion.

          The communion model, though, is the only thing that leads to true good functioning of both all the individuals (and thus the collective too). It’s true that electricity may be distributed unevenly (maybe not in a real string of lights, but bear with me for the analogy). Maybe some lights find that they receive TOO MUCH electricity for them personally, so much that they’d pop and burn out if they simply let it all flow through them at once. There would be nothing wrong in this case with the light choosing to only let as much electricity flow through him as was needed; after all, not only is this good for him individually, but for the whole string, which depends on him not burning out either. But what should the light do with the “excess” electricity? The only correct answer can be to let it flow through the circuit, “circumventing” his own filament (which is only letting through the smaller, needed amount). But still flowing through the circuit (because maybe lights farther down the chain DO need that much)! What would NOT be a good solution would be for the light to decided “Well, hey, I’ve got this excess rightly that I personally don’t need, so I’m just going to let that ‘spark off.'” (As in the individualist approach). Because sparking off requires breaking the circuit, merely releasing the electricity “to the air.” The individual might find this good fun, “Heck, I already have all the electricity I need right now, and I’ve got this excess, so why not draw a little more attention to MY glowing by doing this pretty sparking thing.” However, the cumulative effect on the circuit as a whole as more and more lights made this choice would be detrimental. The circuit would lose power as electricity was sparked off in this way without going back into the complete circuit. The some lights would start to choose to spark off even when the electricity WASN’T truly excess, would spark INSTEAD of lighting up normally, and without even passing a “normal” amount of electricity on to the next light.

          Now, I’m no electrical engineer, but I took enough physics to know that I’ve taken some serious liberties without how electrical circuits work here; I’ve reified the concept of electrical “energy” and how it relates to a circuit in a cartoonish fashion rather than actually considering voltage, amperage, and ohms, etc, and how they related. But I think my point should be clear enough: the Church acknowledges that there can be an ‘excess’ of sexual desire flowing into the individual (inasmuch as desire is a social reality that we get circuited into as nodes of a social network, as it were). That there can be times when to let it all just “rush through our filaments” and back out into the circuit would cause us to pop and burn out (having 15 kids, say), which would be good neither for us NOR for the circuit as a whole (because once we pop, we can’t channel ANYthing at all). BUT, the Church would say, that does NOT mean that the excess energy is ours to just “spark off” into the air, totally severed from the circuit of life and nature, totally just “released” in a “wasteful” fashion like built up steam pressure. This would be the analogue of contraceptive acts of any sort. Rather, the Church would say, if there is excess then you should let the necessary amount through your filament (saying, having at least 2 or 3 kids) but the excess energy is not just yours to dispose of wastefully, to spark off into the air. Rather, it is still your responsibility to channel the excess energy “around” the filament itself and back into the circuit on the other side. That in you personally it wouldn’t be achieving its end of lighting your filament either way…doesn’t matter, because that energy doesn’t BELONG to you personally, it’s only moving “through” you. Maybe other parts of the network DO need that excess even just to glow normally. “Passing it around the filament and back into the circuit” is equivalent to NFP; it maintains the proper “energy potential” of the gradient as a whole, even if the individual can’t or shouldn’t actualize all of it.

          Of course, our view on money (labor) and the economy would be the same thing. Just because fate gives you an excess of money beyond what is needed to meet your individual needs, doesn’t mean you are then free to squander the rest in a purely luxurious and trivial fashion. Rather, the end of the goods of the earth (or the time and energy and value of our labor) is the sustenance of ALL people. So there is a big difference between giving to charity and spending on luxuries for yourself. In both cases you are spending money in a way that isn’t directed towards your individual needs, but in the former case the “overflow” or surplus isn’t just wasted, shot into space as it were, but is channeled back into the system in a way that allows it to meet its end of providing necessities for other who maybe DON’T have enough value coalescing around their own labor to support themselves.

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 23, 2013 2:50 am

          My experience with Christmas tree lights is that if one goes out the whole chain does no matter how much electricity goes through it. I believe you dismissed the evolutionary aspect that is vital and determinant even at the level of instinctual drives. I don’t see as evident how you attach a fixed end let alone a precise knowable moral objective to an amoral instinct, drive. nature’s desires call it what you will, that one is barely cognizant of and can fundamentally change to adapt to individual choices in response to their environment .
          What you develop is a more sociological grounding in morality and not a biological grounding which i don’t believe you can avoid given the presenting.issues.
          In any event i haven’t the time to answer you in full so must leave you in possession of the field.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 26, 2013 1:38 pm

          Yes, it is a “sociological” grounding? What’s wrong with that? Man is naturally a social animal.

          In truth, the sociological is a good way to look at it. In the past the “excess” of sexual desire was channeled into the celibate life. Not just in Christendom, but in many societies: when the population was big enough to sustain it, the “remainder” of energy and lives went into monasticism. As high as 20% of the population sometimes. The “excess desire” allowed for worship and spirituality to take up the “surplus” and for the Sacred to advance in society.

          Now, however, the “excess” desire is used individually. It’s channeled “back into” marriages through contraception. Or gay men form sexual partnerships instead of becoming monastics. Or kids start having sexual relationships right away rather than discerning vocations, etc. This “individualistic” use of the “excess” sexual desire circuiting around the social network…is a crime against society as a whole, because it is meant to be used for the spiritual good of the collective, rather than for each individual personally.

  23. May 21, 2013 2:38 pm

    “Few people today, Catholics included, ‘think with the Church’ on sexual morality. This is obvious. The more difficult question to answer is why.”

    I think it’s a simple refusal to think with the Church, which in turn is based on a lack of faith. Looking for practical reasons why a teaching should be followed, is like looking for logical reasons why a doctrine should be believed: You can do it, but if it’s the basis for your acceptance or rejection of the teaching, then you lack faith.

    Why people, even Catholics, lack faith, is another question.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 22, 2013 3:16 am

      To paraphrase Nietzseche, A casual stroll through Vox Nova shows that faith does not prove anything.. Your comment seems heretically fideistic.

      • Agellius permalink
        May 22, 2013 12:10 pm

        Trellis:

        I am not a fideist. I don’t deny that God can be known by reason alone. But once you believe in God, and in Christ as God, and in the Church as founded by Christ and authorized to teach in his name — i.e. once you have faith — this is a sufficient premise upon which to establish the truth of the Church’s teachings, so that you don’t need to verify them independently.

        You can try to do so if you want, but the failure of those efforts doesn’t undermine the ground upon which they may be believed by faithful Catholics. The need to seek independent verification of the Church’s teachings in order to continue believing them, implies that the premise of faith is lacking.

      • trellis smith permalink
        May 23, 2013 8:20 pm

        Just tongue in cheek Agellius i’m more of a fideist than you.

  24. Mark VA permalink
    May 21, 2013 3:00 pm

    Mr. David Cruz-Uribe:

    I’m not quite sure what to make of your conclusion that “So I don’t think that things reduce down quite so simply to this schematic.”

    I think the key word here is “simply”, or reading into it some more, perhaps “simplistic”. However, what you and I wrote is factual, with almost no conjecture or extrapolation mixed in. I’m well aware that “blocks” exist throughout the continent of Europe, and that single family homes are beyond the reach of many Europeans (which is a shame, in my opinion).

    I do know that there is, or rather was, a particular ideology behind this type of architecture, and that the blocks themselves carry a message that is squarely aimed at the dignity of the individual person. I do agree with you that a simplistic analysis of this may miss many nuances, yet on the other hand, unnecessary complexity may obscure that which is to be made explicit.

    Perhaps you would care to explain your thinking some more.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 22, 2013 1:05 am

      Mark,

      by “simply” I meant “simplly” as in things do not simplify this easily. Let me try again: you write: “I do know that there is, or rather was, a particular ideology behind this type of architecture, and that the blocks themselves carry a message that is squarely aimed at the dignity of the individual person.” This is the reduction I do not think is quite so simple. If you are pointing to Eastern Europe you must mean real existing communism; in Western Europe these apartment blocks were built under Christian democratic and conservative governments as well as socialist/labor ones. And in the US, they were built under both democratic and republican administrations. If there is an ideological thread uniting all of these governments, I don’t see it.

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 22, 2013 1:58 am

        That’s silly, David. The ideological thread uniting all these governments is the love of Power, and also perhaps “Enlightenment Modernity” broadly conceived. That’s pretty obvious. These things were not built by feudal monarchs. And there’s a reason for it.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
          May 22, 2013 1:11 pm

          Ullalia, revisit Mark’s original comment. As I understood it, he was drawing a direct line from real existing communism (a cumbersome phrase but necessary to distinguish it from various intellectual phantasms of the right and left) and building large-scale apartment blocks. My only point is that this line is not as clear and direct as he is suggesting.

  25. forrest wylie permalink
    May 21, 2013 10:25 pm

    The essay reminds me of something Sun Tzu said in his “The Art of War” , ( paraphrasing ) ;

    If you allow the enemy to pick out the battlefield(s) , and allow the enemy even to pick the strategy and tactics , it is reasonable to assume that you will lose. Indeed, what would be surprising is if you did win .

    It seems to me that the essay assumes a particular context, a particular cosmology, and assumes that particular context is true , and if you try to argue against that context, using that SAME context , then, no, it it wouldn’t surprise me that the counter – argument would fail.

    Very often, I think the very words ‘discussion’ and ‘debate’ should be put into quotation marks, since, I think, very often, any real discussion or debate, any meeting of the minds, between actually different contexts, is in the best case to be narrowly circumscribed , or simply impossible.

    The context, the cosmology , that jumps out at me from this essay is the notion of romantic love . The idea that the fundamental basis of marriage is individual feeling .
    —-Which I happen to reject.

    My first year in college, in my introduction to sociology textbook, and still 20 years later the single detail I probably find most compelling , is that it said , ( paraphrasing ) ;

    Romantic love is an invented idea , and at least as regards its broad and general acceptance and popularity ,it is a recently invented idea.
    If you lived in another culture / society , or had lived in your own culture / society at a different time, you would never fall in love, nor would you expect to do so.

    Naturally, at that time, my first reaction was , ” What the bleep are they talking about ??!
    Are they crazy ?? !

    I have subsequently found though that the book was correct . This is seen in past history where arranged marriage was common , or in the few societies where it still is common. Western contemporary man typically reacts to the notion of arranged marriage with ;

    It seems irrational and unreasonable, it must produce a great preponderance of unhappy pairings, it must be rife with abuse.

    But as far as I can tell , it is none of those things.

    Did you pick your parents ? Did you pick your relatives ? Did you pick your brothers and sisters ? ( In the majority of cases ) Did you pick your children ?
    Now , while , certainly, many people do not get along at all with their families , and are miserable and unhappy with their families , it seems to me just as common that they get along with their families just fine, or get along with their families even better than they do with others, though their feelings or wishes were not consulted , and they had no choice whatever in the selection.

    And so in my own experience I have found this to be true even of non-family friends. More often than not, the best friends I wound up having were the ones who showed up at my door unsolicited. That is, the ones I did NOT pick.
    The friends I would have voluntarily picked out …………ehhhh, it’s been a mixed bag, but tending to the negative outcome.

    And so it is with arranged marriages. Some do fail —but the failure rate seems to be no worse than the failure rate of pairings using free choice and romantic love as their premise.
    Some arranged marriages are abusive, but the rate of abuse seems no worse than the rates using this modern criteria.

    True, in most cases arranged marriages and the contexts and cosmology underlying them are now past history , the only major society I know of off-hand where it is still common is India , the only societies I know of where it is still the norm are provincial, fringe, minority societies.

    However, a 200 year trend , momentary apparent success , may signify ……………nothing.
    Let’s see what the majority thinks or feels in 500 years , or in 1,000 years.

    So, the Catholic Church is getting clobbered versus the the forces of the sexual revolution general and specific ?

    This assumes the success of the other guys is more than momentary, and assumes that the other guys context or cosmology is basically correct.

    And , as I already indicated , I assume neither.

    • May 22, 2013 10:34 am

      Forrest, I think you make a good point here, and in a way, it’s the same point I’m making. It really comes down to one’s conceptual framework. It’s very easy to do a simple algebraic proof that 1 = 2. To do so, though, you must divide by zero, which is not permitted. However, if someone insisted that it is OK to divide by zero, then there’s no possible way I could prove to him that 1 is in fact not equal to 2. We don’t start from common premises.

      This is what I keep trying to say. The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is perfectly logcial and consistent assuming one makes certain assumptions. That is, one must assume the Scholastic idea of the “moral object”; and that further assumes that that moral object can be known; and that (in essence) assumes the Church is correct in asserting what that moral object is, which further implies certainl things about the areas of Church authority in defining certain aspects of morality. This is the problem with natural law arguments. I’m aware that “nature” in the theological context of Thomist thought and Catholic ethics doesn’t mean what it means in ordinary discourse. The problem is that so many who argue against contraception seem to think that if those who disagree just look at it hard enough, and really, reeeeeally try hard, the Catholic framework will suddenly make perfect sense as the only one that works. But the guy who insists that 1 = 2 would say the same thing–If I really, reeeeeally look at it, it’ll become perfectly clear to me why dividing be zero really does work!

      I, personally, do not think the moral object is an intellectually coherent concept, but that’s a seperate argument. Given that I have a different starting point, it’s inevitable that Ullalia and I (for example) are never going to end up at the same point. If you want to call me invincibly ignorant or philosophically stupid, that’s fine; or if you want to call me a bad-faith reprobate that just refuses to accept something he doesn’t like, that’s fine two (though I think neither of those is true). Just don’t tell me that I must come to the same conclusions though I’m in a different framework–it’s like telling me I ought to be able to drive my car off a cliff and fly, since you fly just fine in your plane!

      BTW, I embrace neither the “romantic love” model nor the traditional teaching on contraception, though I agree with Catholic sexual ethics in about 90% of the cases (e.g. I think marriages as a whole must be “open to life”, and that a couple that decide ahead of time never to have children are violating the purpose of marriage–I just don’t think that spacing of children, etc., must be done only by NFP or the like).

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 22, 2013 1:34 pm

        I’m not sure where you’re getting this “moral object” stuff.

        Once again, you still seem to be divvying things up on consequentialist terms. If you’re a consequentialist, fine, admit that. But Catholic morality is not consequentialist.

        Again, you seem to be insisting that NFP can only ever be logically grouped with contraception (at least, if “procreation” is the criterion for the division). You say this based on basing your divisional logic on the ACTUAL CONSEQUENCES of the act. In other words, you seem to think the only morally relevant way to divide sex acts with reference to procreation is to say “Those that actually lead to (or intend) conception” are in column A and “Those that won’t (or aren’t intended to) lead to conception” are in column B, and that any logically consistent moral system has to allow or condemn those columns as a unit. In other words, would be consistent if they condemned A, or B, or both, or neither, but NOT if they condemn SOME things from B but not others.

        But, like with my hammer-machine example, there is ANOTHER way to evaluate things and divide them with reference to procreation here. Namely, if the right-functioning or well-ordering of the act (in other words, the action which is under the control of the person, the moral agent, in question) has the POTENTIAL to lead to a conception. In this case, NFP would move from column B to column A. To be graphic the act of ejaculating in a vagina (as long as the act doesn’t ALSO include sterilizing said vagina or douching it afterwards).

        That there may be no egg present (maybe even no uterus!) to fertilize is as irrelevant as the presence of a nail to hammer or not in my nail-hammering-machine example. As long as the machine still moves the hammer-head up and slams it down with sufficient force to drive-in a nail IF a nail WERE present, the machine is in itself “working properly” because its potentiality to drive in a nail is intact. The machine’s “habit,” the logic structuring why it is doing what it’s doing, is perfectly intelligible with reference to driving in nails, even if those nails remain currently hypothetical. You could show the machine to someone and say “This is a machine for driving in nails. Is it working properly? Is it doing what it’s supposed to?” and the people would be able to say “Yes” (or no) WITHOUT actually having to test it on an actual nail. They’d be able to tell from the very inner logic of the motions the machine goes through that, yes, this is the sort of machine which is properly doing the sort of thing that could drive in a nail, and thus it is functioning, thus it is not broken, because you COULD take it and and apply it and its exact same motions to a nail and it WOULD work. But whether the machine considered IN ITSELF is “broken” or rather “well-functioning” does not depend on whether it ever ACTUALLY meets a nail in real life. People would be able to see it was “in working order,” ordered towards the driving-in of nails, even if they just watched its motions in a context where there was no nail!

        Now, if we found out that the machine ALSO had some sort of bizarre “phobia” (maybe caused by some sort of “reverse nail magnetism”) that in actuality PREVENTED it from EVER getting near a nail, that caused it to be repulsed by nails (and thus never, even hypothetically, able to hammer a nail) then yes we would call this machine problematic and broken, because it wouldn’t, in fact, retain the internal potential to fulfill its end. However, the fact that the machine in itself is NEUTRAL to the question of whether a nail is present or not, that the machine has no computer chip that only allows it to turn on if a nail IS present…is not a brokenness or failing on the part of the tool. As long as the tool’s motion works IF a nail is present, it doesn’t need to be limited to working ONLY if a nail is present. That would be like calling a refrigerator “broken” if it was still cold even when it contained no food. There’s nothing broken about that: the evaluation of whether a refrigerator is “in good working order” is whether it WOULD keep food cold IF food were placed inside it. We do not say, “I want a refridgerator that doesn’t work UNLESS food is placed inside it” as if the fact that it continues refrigerating even when no food is present is a failing or defect. We evaluate these things as functional based on their POTENTIAL to fulfill their end IF they meet the object on which they are to act.

        Likewise, you might view sex (or the moral habit therefor) as a tool for turning fertility into babies. The tool is “in working order” if it preforms the sort of action that WOULD make a baby IF it encountered fertility, just like we’d call the hammer-machine “fully functional” if it preforms the sort of action that WOULD drive it in IF it encounter a nail. But the fact that the machine hasn’t (or isn’t at the moment) encountering its “matter” doesn’t mean that the machine is “broken” as long as its action, its functionality, still has the potential to do so if it WERE put in that situation.

        • May 22, 2013 7:49 pm

          Ullalia, “moral object” is a Catholic theological term. For an extremely long and equally fruitless discussion on this, see over here, where I had a long, long discussion with the blog owner, A. Sinner. Please note that he’s on your side, and he’s the one making the “moral object” argument.

          Aside from that, he made a similar argument in terms of the teleology and intelligibility of the act. I disagreed with him on that then, and with you on it now, and the tool analogies you’re using don’t seem any more appropriate. .

          We do not say, “I want a refridgerator that doesn’t work UNLESS food is placed inside it” as if the fact that it continues refrigerating even when no food is present is a failing or defect.

          I don’t know–sound like a way to save energy, if the cooling-down process were fast enough when the food was put in. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but tankless water heaters have become popular. They don’t in fact work unless needed. When you turn on the hot water, they have a mechanism that heats the water super-fast. When the water isn’t running, they don’t use energy keeping unused water sitting in a tank warm for hours; they heat the water only when needed.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 23, 2013 12:44 am

          Still, a refrigerator is not in any sense BROKEN if it doesn’t turn off when empty. It may be a way to save energy. So might abstaining entirely from sex if one is attempting not to conceive. But doing a “dry run” (of the right type of act) simply does not have the same problems as contraception. Indeed, it could be argued that (like chewing gum exercises the jaw), such dry runs (ie, natural intercourse in the face of infertility) actually help “exercise” or strengthen the will so that it will be even more in the habit of preforming the correct act when it does come time to face a situation of fertility.

          As for my “tool” analogies, they aren’t really meant to be an argument for the immorality of contraception in themselves. What they are meant to show is that putting NFP in the “other column” from contraception based on the intrinsic internal potential of the type of act chosen…is not logically inconsistent. You may not see why “acts potentially procreative IF fertility were present” should be allowed while the others are condemned, and that’s fine, but the point is that it is at least an internally consistent definition of a category, that can be analogized roughly to how we can still see that a tool is “in working order” even if it is only being “dry run” rather than actually applied to its proper task.

          Again, you may not accept the framework that would explain why the framework is morally relevant. But the distinction of NFP from contraception is not internally inconsistent; NFP sex does obviously have a “hypothetical” relation to procreation that contraceptive sex does not.

    • May 23, 2013 10:09 am

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of romantic love and the purpose of marriage. Many people have pointed out that the sexual desire is actually for the benefit for the species, but that romantic love subverts marriage into a state for the benefit for the individual. Perhaps we need to rethink how we perform Catholic marriage.

      A good model for a more natural form of marriage (in keeping with the purposes of marriage) is found in the popular young adult book The Giver. In The Giver, a person wishing to marry applies to the Community for a spouse, and the spouse is chosen by the Community. The spouses stay together only until their children leave home, and then the spouses separate and live in a home for childless adults. At that point, their marriage is essentially over, because they were married to perform a job. Once that job is over, the marriage is no longer needed by the community.

      While fans of The Giver will note that the spouses did not have their own biological children, it is still readily apparent how this scenario is far more natural (in keeping with the purpose of marriage) then the practice of choosing mates based on romantic attraction for a number of reasons. It’s also good to point out that many Catholic marriages had some of these features in the past. Catholic marriages were arranged by parents, business associates, or foreign diplomats. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for parents to separate and retire to monasteries after their children left home. At that point, the job of parenting was done, and the family unit was no longer needed, either by society or by the Church.

      Perhaps Catholics can, and should, adapt these features of The Giver marriages.

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 23, 2013 2:59 pm

        Once again, this invocation of a dystopia seems to assume that the only alternative to an Individualist model is a Collectivist model, that the only way to oppose a “Subjective Romantic Expression” model of sexuality is to have a “Functionalist” model. The Church, however, does not buy into such dichotomies.

        • May 24, 2013 9:36 am

          You’re assuming that having arranged marriages constitutes a dystopia. Catholics in India, where arranged marriage is practiced, would disagree with you. To them, America with the divorce rates and abandonment of children, no doubt constitutes a dystopia, and no doubt our Christian ancestors (who practiced arranged marriages) would agree.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 3:07 pm

          No, I don’t assume arranged marriages are dystopian. If I knew for sure that the model you proposed wasn’t said in a “Gotcha!” tongue-in-cheek sort of way, I might even agree that it might be a healthier model (if our culture could evolve back to it naturally rather than attempting to impose it by force). But I do assume “The Giver” is a dystopian world, and therefore am suspicious of the motives behind your comparison.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        May 25, 2013 3:34 pm

        I knew nothing of this “The Giver” stuff, and am a bit amazed. It is pure atavism, and based only on the fact of modern people being so unaware what previous atavistic social arrangements were actually like. I don’t know Mr. Emmaus… but I doubt he/she would last two seconds in a social arrangement that had as its a essential feature oppressive coercion for one of the spouses. I am continually amazed by people’s ability to bracket the reality of what things actually felt like in the past. And not only that to bracket what they must actually feel like today for those so oppressed. To me it is an amazing lack of compassion. I sure hope the RC Church gets its act together under Pope Francis, because truly when one reads thoughts like this one might really thing that calling some Catholic “The Taliban” is not a funny exaggeration meant as polemics, but an actually apt description.

  26. May 22, 2013 10:14 am

    Ullalia: But [the idea that anesthetics were wrong because of the curse of Eve] is silly.

    Not to those who proposed the notion.

    Your nail-driving machine analogy fails because during NFP sex, the apparatus certainly isn’t turned off—but it’s not driving nails, either!

    I’m not going to go point-for-point, though, since I don’t have time, and I’m not completely sure I get what you’re saying, or if it’s completely consistent. Consider this:

    If a couple intends to have children, or has them already, assuming they’re able to, then it seems your argument falls apart. If a couple specifically intended never to have children ever, then your argument—that they are erring to the side of individualism without regard for the needs of society—might have some weight. But what if they use contraception for a year or two and then have one or two or three children? What if they start as soon as they’re married, have, say, three children, decide that’s right for them, and then use contraception? What if they use contraception to space out the births of x number of children? They have had children—may several—and have thus fulfilled the needs of society (collective pole); and they have done so in a way that met their needs (individualistic). Why does the means by which they did so matter? In short, the only way your argument holds, it seems, is if one argues that every single sexual act must be potentially fertile (note that I did not say, “open to life”, since what the Church means by that evidently is not synonymous with “capable of conceiving” or “fertile”).

    Let’s think of another case. Jack and Jill get married. Shortly thereafter, she is diagnosed with a condition that makes pregnancy highly likely (let’s say 80%+) to result in death for both her and any potential child. Let’s also assume that she has highly irregular menses, so that NFP is complicated. Must Jack and Jill use NFP despite the great risk? Or must they remain celibate within their marriage? Assuming that NFP is fairly risky, and that conscientiously used contraception (while not having zero risks) is enormously safer, must they forego sexual intimacy for their entire marriage (or at least until menopause)?

    This is the inconsistency: Even the Church admits that not every sexual act need be fertile; but it insists that it may not be made infertile. Any arguments about the collective vs. the individual, etc. seem only to work for a couple that determines never to have children; and I’ll give the Church credit in that it does not give this as the reason—it merely says that contraceptive acts are intrinsicall evil without explaining exactly why.

    One example of just how absurd this gets: I used to have a book of Catholic medical ethics from the 50’s. In the very, very long section on sex and such, it said that while artificial insemination is not acceptable (and I’d actually agree with that), it is OK for the husband and wife to have normal sex at a clinic, then for the wife to immediately have a doctor come in, remove some of the husband’s naturally deposited sperm, and then re-deposit it farther up to increase the odds of conception. That is, artificial insemination isn’t OK, except when, you know, it is, because it’s just–helping–natural insemination. I contend that anyone who can’t see the fatuous, convoluted Pharisaism of such a notion right away either doesn’t understand the situation, or is being totally ideological.

    I’ll close with one more analogy: If I chew sugar-free gum, I am engaging the digestive apparatus (of which the teeth, mouth, and tongue are a part) purely for the pleasure of chewing and tasting. There is no nutrition involved (I don’t swallow gum, and the sweetener has no calories). I have totally divorced the nutritive from the gustatory ends of food. Why am I not committing a mortal sin? What’s the difference? Now if I were Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and my life revolved around chewing gum, then we’ve go an argument. But in moderation, and given that the rest of my diet regimen is healthful and life-giving? What then?

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 22, 2013 1:04 pm

      “Your nail-driving machine analogy fails because during NFP sex, the apparatus certainly isn’t turned off—but it’s not driving nails, either!”

      Why does it have to be doing either? If you read the whole analogy, it covered this. A machine that was properly “hammering” is a well-functioning machine and would not be called “broken” EVEN IF it wasn’t hammering any actual nails at a given moment (or even ever). It wouldn’t have to be turned off. If I turn it on to inspect it, for example, and see that the hammer head is moving up and down with sufficient force to drive in a nail IF there were nail present (there doesn’t actually have to be)…I can conclude that this machine is “working properly.” It is not a “broken” hammer-machine, because it WOULD drive in a nail IF a nail were present. So I could sell this to someone and it would not be a dishonest sale; yes, the machine does the sort of action that will drive in nails! We don’t judge whether a machine is broken or well-ordered based on whether its functionality is ACTUALLY fulfilling the clear purpose of that functionality at any given moment. We judge a machine as well-functioning whose actions have the POTENTIAL to fulfill that purpose if placed in a context needing them.

      As for your chewing gum analogy, that’s silly. If chewing gum was an adequate substitute for actual eating, we wouldn’t have a problem with obesity in this country. People chewing gum are not, as far as I can tell, engaging the EATING appetite: chewing gum doesn’t satisfy HUNGER. So the example is totally unrelated. Someone chewing gum, presumably, is exercising their jaw muscles (but exercising them according to the SORT of motion that is used in chewing food, and thus honing a GOOD and well-ordered habit) and enjoying the sensory experience of taste. Taste, smell, touch, sight, sound…they can all be good in themselves as an experiential knowledge of the world (in this case, of the taste and mouth-feel of the gum). But, again, this is very different from satisfying hunger, which is the drive associated with eating. It’s clearly no substitute for eating, and no one uses it that way (except people who eat compulsively out of an oral fixation, perhaps). Masturbatory/contraceptive sex acts, on the other hand, are taken as a SUBSTITUTE for sex, and involve a misdirection of the self-same desire as (is supposed to) cause one to engage in natural intercourse.

      • May 22, 2013 7:53 pm

        Uh, so you’re not aware that people–including often those on a diet–do in fact chew gum to keep from eating? And you haven’t even addressed the overall context of a marriage and why every act must be “open to life”, even if the couple already has children. I mean, if a Couple has “enough” kids (assuming we have a definition of “enough”) and aren’t going to have any more, why does the means by which they avoid number four (or eight or eleven or whatever) matter? Haven’t they already done their duty to society?

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 23, 2013 1:29 am

          Once again, why the consequentialist framing?

          Catholics are “virtue ethicists.” Being a good person means having the passions rightly ordered, having the will “trained” according to good “habits.”

          A good habit for the appetite of eating, for example, is moderation (it’s always moderation). It is being in the habit of eating enough for ones needs, not so much as to get obese, not so little as to starve.

          What does a good habit for the will look like in regards to the sexual appetite? The answer can only possibly be the “right form” of sex. It’s true, ACTUAL procreation isn’t always necessary or good, so moderation or virtue here also includes being practiced in the ability to abstain (indeed, remember, fasting used to include fasting from the marriage bed too; and that was back when about half the year was fasting days!) But the only possibly good habit to get into as regards sex is having the procreative type.

          It’s like…with sports, let’s say. If a baseball player practices hitting the wrong way over and over again, then when it comes time to actually play the game, his habit (physically) will be to hit the wrong way. You can say “outside the context of the game it doesn’t matter!” but the truth is that what he does “outside the game” forms a habit that then expresses itself when he does play the game.

          Likewise, to return to eating habits, you might say that if a magic pill were invented that could prevented the “nutritive consequences” of eating, then it would be fine if someone wanted to take that pill and eat all day for pleasure. As long as they’re staying healthy, right? But we have to ask: what if the pills stopped being sold? Suddenly, this person has formed their character in such a way that they have a habit of eating all the time, and without their pill that magically erases the natural consequences, they will suddenly get morbidly obese. In a sense, a gluttonous habit is obesity and poor health in potentia within the person’s very character, even if some technology can artificially prevent it from expressing itself externally. They have a fat soul, even if not a fat body.

          But likewise with sex. If someone practices NFP, they are A) practicing a habit of limiting their sexual indulgence and B) practicing the right type of act.

          A ensures that they are responsible and moderate as regards procreation. It’s not enough to just be doing the right sort of act, of course, you have to also be responsible with it. Just like the gluttonous soul who would get fat if his magic “contranutrive” pill were taken away, the soul which is in the habit of practicing sex with a pill or a condom…would find itself disturbed if the pill and condoms suddenly disappeared in the world. Suddenly, undisciplined, it might find that (in spite of the safety net disappearing) the untrained state of its passions lead to it having as much sex as before but (without the contraceptives available) having unwanted pregnancies. The soul that is in the habit of relying on contraceptives is, in that sense, DEPENDENT on them. It hasn’t cultivated real disciplined responsibility arising from within, it has developed a habit of being dependent on an external crutch to eliminate the consequences of desire given free reign. But that free reign builds a habit of expecting continued free reign.

          B, which is really more of the essence of the question, ensures that their inner orientation is well-ordered; even if they never have another baby, having a sexual appetite whose habit is being correctly “pointed at” procreation keeps the person oriented towards the idea of its good.

          You might think of someone trained in karate; they will tell you that “they hope they never have to use it” in real life, but the actions they train themselves in, the habits they developed, are the sort ordered towards disabling an aggressor IF they ever had to face an aggressor. They hope they don’t ever have to, but having their inner habits honed and “at the ready” for such a situation nonetheless is actually said to keep them spiritually oriented towards peace and justice because their habit of defense is well-honed. But this well-honing requires actually practicing the actual motions they would use in such a situation; practice that “stops short” of what you’re practicing for, is no practice at all, because it actually then cultivates a habit for stopping short.

          Someone who learns a musical instrument by that very fact develops an appreciation for music that becomes “part of their bones” even if they never, in fact, pick up another instrument (or only practice on the electric guitar WITHOUT the electricity turned on, etc). Their ability is there as a potential within them, and that potential is part of their character forever (indeed, that’s all virtue/habits are: they’re potentials). Someone who practices deliberately the wrong way, on the other hand, will have to live with THAT potential inside them forever.

          I’m using examples here of non-moral habits, but they are exactly analogous to moral habits.

          One thing I’m embarrassed of is my bad handwriting. It’s not that I have a real medical limitation in my hand or anything, it’s just that I picked up a habit of bad handwriting as a kid, was lazy and impatient about practicing good handwriting, and now there is little chance that will change. You might say it “doesn’t matter” because I’m a speedy and accurate typist and texter and the world is moving more and more away from hand-written stuff anyway. And yet, the habit of good-handwriting is an “artistic” (as opposed to moral) virtue, and I do believe I am to some degree aesthetically impoverished by the ill-ordering of the latent habit within me, even if I am called upon to use it only rarely.

          Well, aesthetic impoverishment is one thing and not ultimately a question of man’s essence, his character; that’s a question of talent, not holiness. But if we are talking about a MORAL impoverishment, the distortion of a MORAL habit within a person (ie, a habit relating to the regulation of desire) then this means a real impoverishment in the spiritual realm for this individual. And since all the virtues are “interrelated” (in the sense that the person’s character as a whole is only as strong as its weakest link) a potentially fatal flaw in the working of the inner spiritual machinery of the will and its habits in general…is a potentially fatal flaw in that individual every really achieving a “well honed” soul, filled with the splendor of the potentialities we call virtues.

          NFP simply is an expression of a rightly-ordered and harmonious sexual appetite in a way that contraception is not.

          I say here “expression” because, as I have hinted earlier in the thread, I’m actually more hesitant about the idea that good habits, morally, are formed by “practice.” I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say that someone who IS still dealing with unruly or disordered passions can CAUSE them become ordered by practicing NFP; that may indeed be a sort of cargo-cultism confusing cause and effect (like thinking that suppressing your sneezes will make you healthy). But I WILL confidently say that NFP is what the external expression of a perfectly ordered and harmonious sexuality would look like (even if I’m not sure its practice can CAUSE that order and harmony if it isn’t there somehow already; THAT achievement, I think, can only ever be attributed to grace, not some sort of praxis of will-power).

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 23, 2013 10:26 pm

          I remember seeing carved on the portals of the cathedral of Chartres sculptural depictions of the virtues and vices. The virtues sat on thrones in stoic calm unperturbed in their statism while the vices were pulsating in dynamic actions. One wonders if the virtues occupied more of Bedlam but in straitjackets. It may not always be one man’s vice, another virtue but comprehending what virtue is must take into account what is virtuous in 13th century Rome is different in 21st century London.
          And while virtue ethics is the ethical system of the Church, its applicability in its employment of dogma and natural law speaks to the deontological which is unsurprising given its foundation in the Law, it is substantially expressed in the consequentialist approach that Jesus took much of the time regarding the larger context of the intent of action and the results of the action. He spoke directly to virtue in recognizing it by the fruits it bears. There is a stronger case of subjectivity in ethics, as would be expected in his emphasis on relation in his summary of the law and the golden rule, our prime guide in how we are to judge any ethical system.

    • Jordan permalink
      May 22, 2013 1:07 pm

      re: turmarion [May 22, 2013 10:14 am]:

      I can do better than your example.

      Supposedly, some fertility clinics have been allowing Catholic couples to use a perforated condom to obtain semen samples for testing. The husband is supposed to use the punctured condom during coitus (punctured so that there’s some chance of insemination), and then rush the used condom to the testing center. This entire bizarre circumvention ostensibly prevents the husband from “committing an impure act” at the clinic to procure a sample.

      As Cathleen Kaveny has observed in her Commonweal article Catholic Kosher: Is the Ban on Contraception Just an Identity Marker?, “In treating that prohibition [contraception] as the linchpin of a faithful Catholic life, including faithfulness to divinely ordained gender roles, they are transforming the prohibition into a religious identity marker.” [my addition in brackets]

      The vast majority of my Jewish friends, acquaintances, and relatives are non-observant. One relative even looks forward to the kielbasa at our family get-togethers. Although I don’t know well a Jewish person who keeps kosher meticulously, I do have Jewish friends who have at one point or another attempted a rigorous kashrut. Most drop out after a year or two, usually from the fatigue of dietary vigilance. Marrying a gentile also tends to accelerate non-compliance.

      However, I once worked with a Jewish woman who is strictly kosher and very observant. Unlike my friends who tried kosher for a time, she lives in a predominately Jewish neighborhood. Living with neighbors who are kosher, living close to a kosher butcher etc. eases the many details of kashrut. Kaveny’s point is well taken: perhaps NFP compliance is easier when a couple maintains close contact with a similarly-minded group of couples. Couples who attempt NFP without in person support might be more prone to stopping out of fatigue. I suspect that many Catholic couples have tried some form of NFP, but quit because they could not find compassionate, non-judgmental, and confidential assistance.

      • Kerberos permalink
        May 22, 2013 6:57 pm

        “This entire bizarre circumvention ostensibly prevents the husband from “committing an impure act” at the clinic to procure a sample.”

        ## That is hysterical. It reduces morality to location, distance, direction. Yet the activity is identical. Crucially, intention is not taken into account. Catholic coccyxology is a farce.

        This attention to the velocity & precise route of the icky spermy stuff reminds me of how I learned on CAF (of all places !) that certain activities were OK as long as the member deposited the sperm in the correct lady-part. This is not morality – it’s phallicism. The CC is a fertility cult, celebrating the glory of the Linga & the Yoni. This is nature-worship – not Christianity.

        “I suspect that many Catholic couples have tried some form of NFP, but quit because they could not find compassionate, non-judgmental, and confidential assistance.”

        ## Excellent point. In effect, they could not find a Church, even a “domestic Church” [beautiful phrase BTW] that was acting as a Church. For a Church, the CC combines the worst aspects of corporatism & individualism. Sad :(

    • Thales permalink
      May 22, 2013 9:38 pm

      turmarion,
      One quick comment: I’m no moral theologian, but it’s my understanding that your 50’s medical ethics book is wrong and that your doctor insemination hypothetical is morally impermissible under current Catholic teaching on the subject.

  27. May 22, 2013 2:51 pm

    A thought experiment:
    Should a heterosexual married man anally penetrate his wife? Why or why not?
    Are there any morally relevant differences between this action and what, from a biological point of view, one might simply call “sex.”

    • Jordan permalink
      May 22, 2013 5:34 pm

      re: brettsalkeld [May 22, 2013 2:51 pm]: In my view, anal sex and oral sex are sex even from a biological view, because the acts are often psychologically fulfilling and mutually unitive (e.g. hormonal reactions) when consensually engaged. Human beings are quite flexible when it comes to sexual expression and psychological affectivity.

      Cue Monty Python’s “every sperm is sacred” skit. The Church can’t credibly say that non-coital male ejaculation will lessen the possibility of insemination at a later date, given that a healthy man produces millions of gametes a day. The claim that NFP regulated coitus enhances marital unity has been deeply questioned on this thread. Since TOB is nearly de fide, its presuppositions (including assumptions about the biology of male abstinence) must be nominally obeyed by “good Catholics”.

      Enough comments for me on this thread. I should go to confession and say that I have trouble with Church teaching on contraception. Eh, but then I’d have to also say I’m not married, will never marry, and why. Ugh, another turn around the penitential roundabout. I’m praying for all the married couples. I’m a reprobate. Prayer? No use, that, for me.

      • May 23, 2013 12:10 am

        It seems to me such a definition of “biology” requires a lot of social construction. Not that I am some kind of scientific absolutist, but I do think that, biologically speaking, there are relevant differences here.

    • Thales permalink
      May 22, 2013 9:40 pm

      A thought experiment:
      Can a heterosexual married man anally penetrate his wife, exclusively, and never have normal intercourse? Why or why not?

      • Thales permalink
        May 23, 2013 5:14 pm

        Sorry, Ullalia, I was trying to make a point in response to Brett, which I revisit below in response to turmarion’s point.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 23, 2013 1:43 am

      And now the thread has officially “gone there.” Why must these conversations, which do have so much potential to demonstrate broader moral principles and ideas, always descend to this??

  28. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    May 22, 2013 3:36 pm

    Brett,

    Amazingly this very topic was dealt on Fr. Trigilio’s show called “the Web of Faith”. And I almost fell out of my chair laughing while having some soup and crackers. And of course– as if you need to be told!!– the answer is a big NO from the RC point of view. And the same goes for fellatio. And finishing off, manually. All verboten. Ah the beauties of natural law.

    (Btw, this is why I watch EWTN so much, ’cause I get a lot of chuckles, whereas CNN is nothing but depressing. Also, as to the date of the show, I am picturing in my mind’s eye a much thinner Trigilio speaking the anathema to the web-question, so that is quite a while ago, well, for me too. )

  29. Kerberos permalink
    May 22, 2013 5:57 pm

    “Here’s the situation as I see it. The Church claims there is a causal relationship between 1) contraceptive or same-sex sexual acts and 2) interior wounds and injury to solidarity. If this is true, then one should, conceivably, be able to demonstrate it; i.e., pinpoint the specific wound and show precisely how non-procreative sex and not something else led to it.”

    ## What would count as a demonstration of this ? I think the Church is completely wrong about gay sex – however, ISTM that the only possible demonstration it can provide is a purely intellectual one; more cannot be asked of it than that. But if that is so, that kind of demonstration may have the form of a demonstration, but will be purely intellectual – not personal. People are persons – not intellects. So such a demonstration would be based on less than adequate ideas about what humans are; it would be non-probative.

    BTW – why does the Magisterium have a position on what positions can be adopted for sexual congress ? I’ll bet that no other ideology has dictated what positions Party members are allowed to adopt for that purpose. Aspiring converts need to be warned of how how dictatorial & controlling the CC is. What next – Magisterial direction on what babyfood to buy ? Why not – it would be totally logical to dictate every other aspect of life, including whether to stand or sit to pee, if this can dictated ? The Magisterium needs to get its nose out of people’s bedrooms and underwear :(

  30. Mark VA permalink
    May 22, 2013 9:48 pm

    Ullalia and David Cruz-Uribe:

    I think we are beginning to communicate. I have to agree with Mr. Cruz-Uribe – I was thinking primarily about the regimes of Eastern Europe. The ideological situation of that time (from 1945 to 1989) in Western Europe was not so clear cut – Marxism, socialism, free market, etc. all in the mix.

    However, I think Ullalia has correctly pointed to a common denominator of the blocks, so explicit in Eastern Europe, but less so in its Western parts. I would put it this way: contemplate the architecture itself, for it speaks quite clearly:

    The main characteristic of a block is its uniformity and indistinguishability. The rows and the columns blend into a gray sameness. If we look at this a little more incisively, we may realize the implicit threat to the individual contained in this architecture: an entire row or a column may be removed, yet the block’s appearance will not change appreciably. Its essence will remain. It is the block that is of value here, not this or that particular window, row or column.

    Going further still we may notice the intentional tension the block introduces between the natural need for a family with children, and the physical impossibility to accommodate more than one child (solution to this, of course, exists).

    Contrast this with the architecture of middle Europe’s main squares. Each building is an individual with its own rhythm, personality, and idiosyncrasy. Remove one building, or remove one of its floors, and a loud dissonant note will be introduced.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      May 23, 2013 1:41 am

      “The main characteristic of a block is its uniformity and indistinguishability. The rows and the columns blend into a gray sameness…. It is the block that is of value here, not this or that particular window, row or column.”

      Well, that actually sounds like Mies van der Rohe! :-) And it is worth noting that while “main squares” (the product of 19th century bourgeoisie values) look like this, large parts of Western europe do not. In March I visited a colleague in Munich who owns a flat (not a house!) in an upscale development in the western part of the city. He had to give me careful directions to his building, because it was in the midst of dozens of identical white buildings—the deletion of any one of which would not change the overall appearance of the neighborhood. Now, these buildings are much nicer than Soviet era apartment blocks—modern Germany is much wealthier than postwar Eastern Europe. (And, as an aside, one should consider the economic factors behind the construction of these buildings in the East and not just the ideological ones.)

      My final point, on which we may have to agree to disagree: a lot more went into the design of Eastern european, postwar apartment blocks than the animus of socialist ideology for Catholicism. Europe as a whole has a different esthetic than the US, different expectations about home ownership, and different economic realities. Am I denying that Soviet ideas about “the New Man” played no role? No. My only point at the beginning was to say that your reduction of the design of these blocks to an ideological challenge to the Church was too simple and more nuance was needed.

      • Mark VA permalink
        May 23, 2013 8:19 pm

        Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

        Several points (almost all are nuance free);

        (a) Appreciate the quip about Mies van der Rohe. Having spent some time in his buildings, I feel obliged to say this – the saving grace here is that in contrast to the blocks, his structures are spacious and very livable inside. A socialist exterior, perhaps, but a capitalist, no nonsense “work shop” interior that acknowledges the individual;

        (b) Unless we are thinking of two different things, the main, or market, squares of Europe are not products of “… 19th century bourgeoisie values”. They predate the 19th century by hundreds of years. Perhaps you were thinking of something else;

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_square

        (c) Now, for more substantial points – in a totalitarian state there are no economic factors independent of the ideological factors. All factors (please note that I’m not offering a qualification here) are subordinated to the ruling ideology. This may be difficult to accept or even imagine for those who have never experienced it (and it speaks well of them), nevertheless, it is true;

        (d) As far as the issue of the “animus of socialist ideology for Catholicism” being just one of many such animuses – well, yes and no. The bourgeoisie, intellectual, or artistic classes were not much of a challenge. Easy to isolate, dispossess, intimidate, and blend in – exceptions prove the rule. Incessant talkers. Only the Catholic Church was able to mount a challenge – and win. Perhaps in the future we can revisit this issue thru the pivotal person of Cardinal Wyszynski.

  31. May 23, 2013 8:00 am

    OK, let’s consider the following, which might tie up some threads and bring the discussion back closer to Kyle’s original analogy:

    Jack and Jill get married, fully intending to have children. They do so–they use neither contraception nor NFP, and over the next few years have children. At some point, after consideration, prayer, and consultation with their priest, they determine they have had “enough” children. The exact criteria and number aren’t relevant here–suffice it to say that after x years (two, three, ten) they have had y children (three, six, twelve) and have prayerfully and conscientiously decided that this number is sufficient for them. After the last child, therefore, they have no more children. Now: Why does it matter if they prevent any more children after number three (or four or twelve) by NFP or contraception? Put it another way: In such a case, why would contraception be wrong?

    It can’t be because Jack and Jill are selfish, or anti-child, or anti-natalist in general, or not open to children. They’ve demonstrated otherwise. It can’t be because they’ve swung off to the extreme of individualism and failed to do their duty to society and the species. It can’t be because they’d be separating the unitive and the procreative–they intend for there to be no more procreation. What’s the problem with contraception, then?

    Now, some Catholics take what I’ll call a rigorist view; that is, they’d say that it’s never permissible to definitively rule out children during the wife’s entire fertile span of years, no matter how many children the couple already has. From this perspective, NFP is only for “grave” and temporary situations–e.g., a spouse is hospitalized or loses a job, so the next child has to be postponed until next year. From this perspective, Jack and Jill are sinning even if they use NFP, if the purpose to to definitively rule out children while Jill is still fertile, even if they already have two or ten or twelve chldren. Such a case would be “using NFP contraceptively”.

    Admittedly, the Church documents can be interpreted in such a manner. If this is indeed what is intended, then somebody in the hierarchy needs to make it explicit and then defend that view. However, the teaching that is actuallyl propagated is not rigorist. In short, as it stands now, NFP is taught in such a way that it would be legitimate for Jack and Jill to use it to have no more children after number fill-in-the-blank.

    Now, for Ullalia et. al: Is the rigorist position the right one? If so, then there is a certain logic to saying that contraceptions is always forbidden, as Jack and Jill would be using even NFP sinfullly. If, however, the answer to this question is “no”–if, that is, a couple can morally choose to have no more children after a certain point, then why is contraception then wrong?

    As to the virtue ethics, I tend that way myself. But consider: An athlete keeps in trim for the game: but when he retires, though he still has the same obligation to maintain his body well that anyone else has, he no longer needs to train as he did in his sports days. After Jack and Jill “retire” from having kids, why do they still need to keep “in trim” for reproduction?

    Also, while I am not a consequentialist, I don’t think consequences and concrete situations can be entirely divorced from the issues at hand. Ideally, for example, we’d grow, raise, or hunt our own food–this would be healthier, connect us more to the land and each other, etc. But while we might not consider eating out all the time or eating processed food the best idea in the world, we don’t consider it a mortal sin. Likewise, the ideal way to maintain one’s optimal health and weight is through moderation of diet and exercise. This doesn’t mean that certain medical interventions or artificially made diet foods are sinful, though.

    Let’s bring it back to Kyle’s original query: If Jack and Jill, in my analogy, have had, say, a dozen kids, decide to have no more, and do so by contraception, then in what way can they be said to be damaging themselves, their relationship, or their society? In what way is their exercise of virtue defective? There are obviously real people–e.g. Commoner–who actually are in such situations. If one insists (as I don’t), however gently, that they’re still in the wrong, then one has to assume that their marriage is, in fact damaged and they either don’t realize that (that is, they’re stupid) or do realize it and don’t admit as much (that is, they’re lying). I’m not prepared to call such couples sinners, fools, or liars.

    • Thales permalink
      May 23, 2013 5:12 pm

      turmarion,
      I’m no moral theologian, but it strikes me that you are leaving out one element: the distinction between act and intention. One could have a bad intention while committing normal intercourse (say by, intentionally using your wife as an object or with an improper contraceptive mindset), and a good intention while committing an improper act (say, by euthanizing your parent out of love and compassion). In the Church’s view, a contraceptive sexual is improper due to the nature of the act, regardless of the intention. So, abstaining from sex (eg, a couple using NFP), is different than having contraceptive sex.

      This touches on the hypo that I posed in response to Brett above (sorry, Ullalia — I’m with you, so let’s modify the hypo a little). turmarion, suppose your Jack and Jill have had their X number of children and don’t intend to have any more. Suppose that from that point, they no longer have normal intercourse, but engage in masturbation, and every other sexual act — but never intercourse. Would that be morally permissible? Again, I’m no theologian, and I haven’t thought through everything, but it seems to me that it’s not morally permissible for a man and wife to avoid normal intercourse but to engage in every other sexual behavior.

      • May 23, 2013 10:16 pm

        In the Church’s view, a contraceptive sexual is improper due to the nature of the act, regardless of the intention. (my emphasis)

        Why?

        • Thales permalink
          May 24, 2013 4:40 pm

          I think because the act itself is impossible to be unitive/procreative, regardless of the intention.

      • May 24, 2013 8:10 am

        Suppose that from that point, they no longer have normal intercourse, but engage in masturbation, and every other sexual act — but never intercourse.

        Masturbation is self-directed–not only the procreative, but also the unitive goes out the window. Obviously, since there’d be no mutuality, there’d be no building up and maintenance of the relationship. As to “every other” act–well, that covers a lot of territory, but without getting prurient or explicit, I’d say that as long as such acts are mutual, consensual, lead to the building up and maintenance of the relationship, don’t replace normal intercourse, and don’t become the exclusive focus of the couple’s sex life, then I don’t necessarily see a problem with them (though that would have to be on a case-by-case basis, and we obviously don’t want to discuss specific cases here).

        I guess there are two questions left unanswered here: 1. Why is the nature of contraception intrinsically wrong? I get accused of being a consequentialist, but if one divorces consequences totally from the matter, it becomes very confusing. In effect, one ends up saying that one has to order one’s desire rationally towards the kind of act that is fertile while performing an act that is not, in fact, fertile. One intends to have sex in such a way as not to have a child while wanting to have the kind of sex that could lead to a child. It’s just incoherent.

        2. Why does every single sex act in the context of a relationship have to be “open to life”?

        Once more, it seems that there is simply no damage to the relationship, society, or the world that comes from the contraceptive sex in the scenario outline. This puts opponents in the position of arguing that the damage is invisible, in that it’s in the interior disposition of the each of the spouses. But then when actual people who really are in such situations say, “But it hasn’t changed our dispositions, and our relationship is great”: or even worse, if someone like Commoner says it’s improved their marriage; then that more or less destroys the narrative. This forces the opponent of contraception to argue ignorance (“You just don’t get it–if you reeeeally understood, you’d see you are damaging yourselves even if you don’t think so now!”) or bad faith (“You know in your heart you’re wrong and just don’t want to admit it!”). Neither of these strikes me as very charitable, let alone correct.

        • Thorp permalink
          May 24, 2013 2:42 pm

          “One intends to have sex in such a way as not to have a child while wanting to have the kind of sex that could lead to a child. It’s just incoherent.”

          Not “in such a way,” but in such circumstances. “In such a way” would imply something internal to the logic of the action you are causing actively. Circumstances are external.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 3:20 pm

          Once again, turmarion, this is consequentialism.

          Their marriage specifically may be improved even, etc. But in the process they have made their soul more “contingent” than “eternal,” because the habits they have adopted are not habits that could be recommended universally (or we’d have no children). We could not put that “program” of sexual desire into any human brain interchangeably throughout history, because it is a program that in many cases is dysfunctional.

          Sex on NFP, on the other hand, is unproblematic. We COULD wish that SORT of sex to be the ONLY type that would ever occur, without contradiction. You CANNOT wish for contraception to be the only type that would ever occur without contradiction.

          Study the definition of virtue that Aquinas gives:

          http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2055.htm#article4

          An important part here is the part about “can never be misused.” A true habit of chastity (or any virtue) is universalizable to all relevant situations. Contraception, clearly, is not so universalizable.

          Say what you will about how the individual conscience must negotiate in concrete situations between competing values (all of which I’d very much agree with). The fact remains that contraceptive sex simply cannot be morally normative, because if it were there would be no reproduction.

        • Thales permalink
          May 24, 2013 4:54 pm

          turmarion,

          To your first paragraph: obviously, masturbation is not unitive. But I think the point is that, from the Church’s perspective, every other non-normal-intercourse act is also non-unitive, even if they are mutual, between two consenting adults, etc.. (And if you say that other non-normal-intercourse acts are unitive between two people, then you are using a different definition of “unitive” then how the Church normally defines it.) Normal intercourse is unitive in a way that no other mutual non-intercourse sexual act can be.

          It’s interesting that you see some kind of distinction between normal intercourse and every other sexual act — since you say that the “others” shouldn’t replace normal intercourse, and shouldn’t become the exclusive focus of the couple’s sex life. Doesn’t that show there is a distinction between the two groups of acts?

          (Before we talk about normal intercourse contraceptive acts, I’m wondering whether you agree that there is a distinction between normal intercourse and the other non-intercourse sexual acts. I think recognizing that distinction is necessary before considering the contraception question.)

          As for question 2: Not to dismiss Commoner’s or others experiences, but I know people who personally believe a contraceptive lifestyle caused discord in their marriage, all the way to divorce, and in one case, the suicide of their son. But set that aside, because I have no doubt that Commoner and others honestly believe that contraception has improved their marriage. This is why I introduced the idea of knowing an atheist or knowing a lapsed Catholic who are honestly content and honestly believe that they are happier and more joyful as an atheist/lapsed Catholic who doesn’t partake of sacramental grace. How do we respond to such people? I don’t think we want to say “well, I guess maybe the Church is wrong, and it doesn’t really matter if you are a Catholic receiving the sacraments.” And I agree it would be uncharitable to argue ignorance ““You just don’t get it–if you reeeeally understood, you’d see you are damaging yourselves even if you don’t think so now!”) or bad faith (“You know in your heart you’re wrong and just don’t want to admit it!”). I think the better response is to humbly suggest that there is another option that would bring greater peace and joy than they might previously realize.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 23, 2013 5:24 pm

      “Now, for Ullalia et. al: Is the rigorist position the right one? If so, then there is a certain logic to saying that contraceptions is always forbidden, as Jack and Jill would be using even NFP sinfullly. If, however, the answer to this question is ‘no’–if, that is, a couple can morally choose to have no more children after a certain point, then why is contraception then wrong?”

      No, the rigorist position is not the right one, and implies a “functionalist”/collectivist understanding of sexuality that is just as bad as the individualist account.

      Once again, your question is pure consequentialism. It basically says: as long as the same number of children are being born, who cares how! There are orgasms-without-babies happening either way!

      But the WAY it happens is very different as regards the INTERNAL virtue/habits of the individuals in question. Once again: contraceptive acts don’t require any abstinence or regulation of desire that NFP does; in fact, they give it free reign in “twisted” form.

      “As to the virtue ethics, I tend that way myself. But consider: An athlete keeps in trim for the game: but when he retires, though he still has the same obligation to maintain his body well that anyone else has, he no longer needs to train as he did in his sports days. After Jack and Jill ‘retire’ from having kids, why do they still need to keep ‘in trim’ for reproduction?”

      Ah, well here’s the thing about Catholic virtue ethics: it believes that the virtuous man is, in some sense, Eternal Man. Indeed, that’s the thing about achieved virtue bringing eternal life.

      By “eternal man” I mean this: the virtues are habits, are potentialities, in such a way that you should theoretically be able to put the virtuous soul interchangeably into any body throughout history and have it be just as functional.

      Of course, that’s only my analogy, there’s no real idea of soul switching. But it is a bit “deontological” in that way. Not in the sense of duty, but in the sense that virtue does have a bit of a “categorical imperative”: the rightly-ordered soul is a soul that we could wish anyone to have in terms of its character, it’s regulation of desire. I’m obviously not talking about non-moral things here (we need a diversity of careers, temperaments, etc).

      A couple whose habitual sex act is contraceptive may be fine in their circumstances. But what if you abstract that set of habits, that spiritual “program,” and were to put it into other situations throughout history or hypothetically? Using that “categorical imperative,” could we wish that everyone’s habit regarding sexuality be contraceptive? No. If this were the case, mankind would die out. On the other hand, we COULD consistently wish that everyone’s habitual sexual practice be NFP sex.

      You can look at anything this way. We cannot wish that everyone’s habitual sex be homosexual or masturbation. We cannot wish that everyone’s habitual sex be extra-marital. Sure, it might work for someone who is not married, but put that same “program” in a person who IS married, and suddenly you have an adulterer.

      In order to be a true virtue, a habit must be universalizable and not “contingent” like that. NFP is a universalizable habit at least theoretically in the abstract. Contraception is not.

      Of course, you might bring up celibacy, but I would point out that celibacy is a “radical” option in Catholic theology. It is NOT in fact, about the right-ordering of the sexual appetite or habit. It’s about the total SUBLIMATION of it that assumes an “eschatological” context (that is to say, the life of heaven where there will be no more sex or mating), which is something of an entirely different order and not analyzable according to the same framework.

      A rightly-ordered soul is not just a soul that “works” in the conditions it finds itself in, it is a soul that “works” in ALL possible conditions. Only such a man truly, ultimately, has peace, because he is not dependent on any external conditions for his happiness.

      “This doesn’t mean that certain medical interventions or artificially made diet foods are sinful, though.”

      The sin in this case would be the original gluttony that got the person fat in the first place.

      • May 23, 2013 10:17 pm

        But the WAY it happens is very different as regards the INTERNAL virtue/habits of the individuals in question.

        Well, in this case, I disagree.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 11:52 am

          Disagree how, exactly?

          You disagree that a habit of doing the right sort of act timed/spaced responsibly is different from a habit of the wrong sort of act given free reign?

          It seems to me that someone choosing to play the piano during the day while no ones home (in order to not wake them or disturb them) is just obviously acquiring a different habit than someone who takes up painting so that noise isn’t an issue, period.

          You might think either is okay, but the painter is definitely NOT habituating themselves into piano playing.

      • May 24, 2013 8:20 am

        I guess I’d add that while I am a virtue ethicist, I think virtue ethics is a relatively dull instrument. It can tell us the types of virtues we must exercise to be good people; but it doesn’t give us answers to specific questions, by and large.

        That is, we should be prudent, temperate, brave, and just; but that doesn’t cover specific cases–it may be a matter of prudence and temperance not to have more children than one can support, and not to want to have sex all the time to the exclusion of all else; but that doesn’t tell us whether contraception is wrong or not. There are people who think it’s not who are nevertheless virtue ethicists.

        I think virtue ethics is overall the best ethical system, but I don’t think any ethical system can stand alone. You have to have some deontology (duties), prescriptions (“thou shalts” or “thou shalt nots”), and such. After all, the virtue ethics of Classical Antiquity didn’t get in the way of slavery or few rights for women. Unless you bring in some idea that slavery is morally wrong, for example, you’re not going to be able to oppose it solely on the basis of virtue ethics (Aristotle, the granddaddy of virtue ethics, thought some were naturally fit to be slaves, in fact).

        Thus, I contend that in your arguments, and arguments like them that I’ve heard elsewhere, you’re smuggling in a prescription (“thou shalt not contracept”) or an ethical judgement (“contraception is intrinsically wrong) that can’t be derived from virtue ethics as such, and then trying to argue that the can be so derived. If you want to go with the prescription or the judgement, fine–defend that. But I don’t think you can get it from virtue ethics.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 2:01 pm

          I can get it if we understand “virtue” to mean a universalizable set of habits. We could wish everyone’s sex to be non-contraceptive (assuming the frequency was tempered responsibly). We couldn’t wish everyone’s sex to be contraceptive. Therefore, it is impossible for contraception to be morally normative.

  32. Commoner permalink
    May 23, 2013 9:42 am

    Ullalia: “But I WILL confidently say that NFP is what the external expression of a perfectly ordered and harmonious sexuality would look like”

    I am not a philosopher and tend to be far more interested in how real people really live in the real world. But I do enjoy reading philosophical arguments here, and having attended one of those very small, very orthodox Catholic colleges that required the study of Aristotle, Thomas, and others, I can at least understand a bit of the conversation.

    This statement regarding NFP being the external expression of what a perfectly ordered and harmonious sexuality would like just makes no sense to my real-life experience of it. Perhaps this simply reflects how imperfect I am, but if I imagine some sort of utopia in which everything is in order, NFP would not be part of it. Moreover, I don’t think the Church has ever taught that NFP was the ideal couples should be living their sexual lives by. It is more of an unfortunate reality that needs to be practiced at times due to the fact most of us can’t handle the number of children Mother Nature would hand to us otherwise.

    From a female perspective (and although I certainly can’t speak for everybody, I can say I’ve talked to enough other women to know my experience is not completely bizarre), there is a difference in lovemaking during times of fertility. A very big difference, and it’s not about the orgasm or even genital pleasure (although these aspects are nice and all); it’s about the psychological, spiritual, and emotional bonding, which is much, much stronger for me during times of fertility. So much of Catholic teaching on sexuality seems focused on the orgasm, and–at least for the male–making sure it only happens when the tab is in the right slot. But from a female perspective, the sexual experience is generally not always about the orgasm. Most women don’t experience that during every single act of intercourse. Some women never experience it at all during intercourse. So an orgasm/genital-pleasure focus on lovemaking doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I suppose it can be argued that this is a result of the fall, but I’m perfectly happy with my experience of sexual intercourse with my husband and have no need for it to be orgasmic all the time. It’s just not what it is about for me. If I had to choose between not making love during the fertile time and having orgasms or making love during the fertile time but never having an orgasm ever again, I would choose lovemaking during fertility over the orgasm, hands-down. (Let me hasten to say that I am really glad this is not a choice I have to make!)

    That being said, this idea of NFP reflecting some sort of perfect harmony makes no sense ot my real-life experience. We had 10 pregnancies in 10 years resulting in 4 miscarriages and 6 children. This was while trying to practice NFP (we are one of the hard cases, as people like to call couples like us—we worked with various NFP practitioners who were generally a mystified by our charts as we were). It was the very real deterioration of my health that led to my husband’s decision to have a vasectomy. I feel fairly confident that had I not been so sick, we would have kept having children due to my very-difficult-to-read fertility signs. We are not saints, and and 15-20 years of abstinence until menopause just wasn’t going to work for us.

    So it was serious illness that pushed us to sterilization, but the secondary benefit of actually being able to make love to my husband when it feels so spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically wonderful–without having to pay the price of my health deteriorating due to constant pregnany/breastfeeding/exhaustion–has been a real gift. Again, maybe all of this is due to fallen human nature, but this is where I live, in the real world. I suppose it could be argued that female sexual experience is unimportant to the harmony of the act, but good luck selling that to the masses.

    I get what you are saying about being the in the practice of self-control, but in my experience, there is so much of that already built into our real lives that needing NFP to practice self-control doesn’t resonate. We are what I consider pretty normal people–we love being intimate with each other, but our sexual appetites hardly dictate our lives. How could they, with six children, jobs, travel, illness, and all the other everyday stressors of real life? Constantly having to abstain from making love to my husband during the times it felt the most emotionally and spiritually bonding was not a good thing for our relationship. We survived it, just like we have survived many other trials and stressors, and I have no doubt it has made us stronger and more appreciative of what we now have, but just like all of the other struggles–financial, health, etc–that we have ever been through, I’m really relieved not to have to experience that deprivation any longer.

    If there is such a thing as sexual intimacy in heaven (highly doubt it), I certainly hope it’s not expressed in the context of NFP. From a female perspective of the sexual experience, that would be far more like purgatory than paradise.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 23, 2013 3:19 pm

      “This statement regarding NFP being the external expression of what a perfectly ordered and harmonious sexuality would like just makes no sense to my real-life experience of it.”

      Well, I mean no offense by this, but that makes perfect sense to me. I mean, unless you’re a Saint. I’ve said multiple times, I believe that even if an NFP style discipline is what a perfectly ordered sexual appetite would look like, it does not follow that using NFP will CAUSE you to arrive at such an appetite. Indeed, if imposed unnaturally “by force” it might well do more harm than good.

      “if I imagine some sort of utopia in which everything is in order, NFP would not be part of it. Moreover, I don’t think the Church has ever taught that NFP was the ideal couples should be living their sexual lives by. It is more of an unfortunate reality that needs to be practiced at times due to the fact most of us can’t handle the number of children Mother Nature would hand to us otherwise.”

      The sexual appetite needs moderation like any other. I do not think a utopia would involve people simply having sex indiscriminately and then taking as many babies as that produced. Ascesis would not be absent from utopia. It would have to involve a balanced diet, perhaps a cycle of fasting and feasting. And it would have to involve sexual appetites being submitted to Reason. This does NOT mean some sort of “functionalist” account whereby sex would be purely a duty, anymore than we eat only with some functionalist nutritive account in mind. What it does mean is harmony and balance.

      “it’s about the psychological, spiritual, and emotional bonding, which is much, much stronger for me during times of fertility.”

      One would assume because that bonding is meant to bond the parents of the children conceived during such times. It’s not supposed to just be currency for the erotic exchanges of adult romance.

      “Again, maybe all of this is due to fallen human nature, but this is where I live, in the real world.”

      So do I. I’ve emphasized constantly on this thread that I do not believe in imposing an artificial facade of harmony over passions that it doesn’t actually reflect. That’s just, in some ways, “keeping up appearances” and an act of Pelagian pride.

      Admitting your own weakness and surrendering to grace and being willing to “negotiate” morally is almost certainly a big step forward spiritually.

      What I think we need to be careful about though is, in realizing that we (no one) can fulfill the Law, deciding that means the Law doesn’t exist, or that we need to replace it simply with an easier, somewhat more lenient Law.

      The order of Grace doesn’t abolish the Law, and it certainly doesn’t replace it simply with some new easier Law, but it radically changes our understanding of our relationship to Law.

      Recognizing that we can only go forward in our very brokenness is one thing. Deciding that “Nope, this isn’t actually brokenness at all!” on the other hand, closes oneself off to the opportunity for grace that brokenness affords.

      • May 24, 2013 8:27 am

        Ascesis would not be absent from utopia.

        Strongly disagreed. If all of humanity’s urges, desires, needs, etc. were in perfect harmony within the person and in respect to the environment, the word “ascesis” wouldn’t even have any meaning. A person would eat when he was hungry, but he would be hungry only at the appropriate time and for the right things. Giving up junk food or fasting would not even be possible, since one wouldn’t want to eat junk food and wouldn’t want to eat at all if not hungry. Not eating what you don’t want isn’t giving it up; and not eating if you’re not hungry isn’t fasting. Ditto for all other physiological drives. “Ascesis” means “training”–your body, mind, appetites, and reason aren’t where they should be, so they need to be trained or disciplined. In Utopia, everything is where it should be–so what’s to train?

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 3:36 pm

          Ah what a sad notion of ascesis you have!

          If you look into Eastern sources, they often emphasize how “Even in paradise, God commanded Man to fast” of a sort (ie, “Don’t eat of the fruit of that tree,” and the fact that they were vegetarian) and that ascesis would be PART of the life of Paradise, not separate from it.

          Indeed, I believe the right view is that ascesis was always the intended path from Eden to the New Jerusalem, from the state of original innocence to the state of glory/divinization/theosis (as they are two different things; one is of the order of [unfallen] nature, but the other is of the supernatural order of grace; unfallen man did not yet possess the Beatific Vision, etc).

          You, on the other hand, seem to simply be describing a world without freedom!

          How corrupt your views on desire have made your mind!

    • Jordan permalink
      May 23, 2013 4:54 pm

      Ullalia [May 23, 2013 3:19 pm]: So do I. I’ve emphasized constantly on this thread that I do not believe in imposing an artificial facade of harmony over passions that it doesn’t actually reflect. That’s just, in some ways, “keeping up appearances” and an act of Pelagian pride.

      And yet, you have not listened to Commoners experience at all! Instead, you repeat the same shopworn arguments in favor of NFP over and over again. You decry pelagian behavior, only to construct hypothetical theoretical castles of moral theology without any reference to human experiences. Is not the advancement of a nigh unachievable chastity, even with feigned compassion for human weakness, a pelagianist attitude?

      And it would have to involve sexual appetites being submitted to Reason.

      The behavior of the self-styled “Catholic orthodox” often makes me wonder if Martin Luther was right after all with regard to human cooperation in grace through reason. For Luther, as simul iustus et peccator, the baptized are still inherently unable to rationally moderate their appetite for pride and works-righteousness. All the Lutheran can do, then, is throw himself before God’s grace and beg God’s mercy for human trust in works-righteousness rather than an unreserved faith in him.

      No, I do not believe this. I do believe that we are fully washed of original sin in baptism and fully die in Christ rather than have our sins imputed to him. The baptized retain reason, even if it is often abused. Even so, cooperation with grace in the sacraments is both grave and fragile in human existence. After reading this thread, I am convinced that the root of concupiscence is prurient obsession about other persons’ sexual sin and the projection of one’s sexual fears onto those who do not achieve a self-imposed but also self-abusive lofty mark.

      God is impressed with “Bless me Father”, not boasting of how many children one has fathered.

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 23, 2013 6:06 pm

        I’m actually very partial to Luther here actually, which is why your characterization of me is so unjust.

        If you think the right thing to do in the face of humanity’s inability to fulfill the Law is to deny the Law, I’m afraid we simply disagree in methodology here.

        In defending the moral teachings here, I am not, as I’ve tried to explain, advocating that anyone should “try to implement” them. I do not understand moral statements to be prescriptive.

        The accusation of having “feigned” compassion is a grave calumny.

        • May 24, 2013 8:36 am

          I do not understand moral statements to be prescriptive.

          As I said above, I don’t see how any moral system can avoid prescriptions. In a highly abstract way, for example, one might say that murder results from a disharmony of reason and desire on some level, and that rather than avoiding killing per se, we ought to train ourselves in virtues so that it never comes to that. Outside of Utopia, though, I think even the hardest core virute ethicists would agree that prescriptions such as “Thou shalt not kill,” are not a bad idea!

          In fact, when you speak of fulfilling or denying the Law (capitalized, no less!), you are, in fact, bringing prescription into it! This is my exact point, which you’ve made for me: ultimately, the ban on contraception can be defended only on the grounds that it is morally wrong as a result of positive Divine command, and not by arguing from first principles. The problem there is that Scripture does not in fact say, “Thou shalt not contracept.” Thus one either has to argue that such a ban is, in fact, part of Revelation–which is fiendishly difficult to do (I’d say impossible); or try to argue from first principles while denying that one is sliding certain assumptions in at the same time.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 3:53 pm

          “As I said above, I don’t see how any moral system can avoid prescriptions.”

          Well, fine, there is one tautological prescription of a sort I guess: namely, “Grow in virtue!” But that’s hardly a prescription so much as an orientation that, itself, only grace will provide.

          “I think even the hardest core virute ethicists would agree that prescriptions such as ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ are not a bad idea!”

          Again, I’d distinguish between virtue/morals and ethics. One is internal, the other is related to an external justice.

          Certainly, the State or society (or the individual or even the society internalized AS guilt or fear or whatever) should stop people, coercively, from murder.

          That’s different than a declaration that murder could NEVER be a choice that caused growth in virtue or wisdom for the individual.

          I read something like “The Cider House Rules,” for example, and I can see how there may be “learning” towards virtue even in the choice to have or preform an abortion. That, for the individual and their growth in maturity and their learning how to “negotiate” in life, it might be a right path.

          But mind you, if I had the power, I’d still STOP it from happening, of course, to save the baby’s life, and also would even support a regime where to some degree the State was involved in stopping it (or a guilt or aversion socialized into the individual psyches, etc).

          I have no doubt that sometimes it could be the virtue-expanding choice for the individual; it’s just that the State or Society has to worry about all people, not just the individual. So while killing might individually serve the abortionist’s or mother’s growth in virtue in some imaginable case, and so we can have a certain sympathy for something like the situation presented in “The Cider House Rules” and some idea of a nobility involved in the choices there, the act also obviously takes away the child’s chance for ANY further growth in ANYTHING, and so an external imposition stopping it (whether it’s the police, or just internalized guilt) is to be supported. We can’t allow individuals pursuing virtue to prevent OTHER individuals from pursuing virtue in the process.

          Society or the state has to “referee” the playing field, because otherwise people seeking their OWN growth in virtue could harm others. Yes, virtue ethics is completely “learn from your mistakes,” as it were, but that doesn’t mean external parties have to let other people hurt us (or innocents) in order to let all mistakes happen for potentially learning from. If your mistake would hurt other people, you might still learn from it and so grow in wisdom, but that doesn’t mean that the person or society has to LET you go through with it. Indeed, they’re probably going to try to stop you, and rightly so. This is an “external” imposition, as your own internal growth towards virtue, free of the constraint (whether actual or as an internalized guilt/fear/worry), might still be inclined to do it. But it’s a sensible one!

          “In fact, when you speak of fulfilling or denying the Law (capitalized, no less!), you are, in fact, bringing prescription into it!”

          Not at all. I think the Law is descriptive, not prescriptive: it tells you what a good person looks like, it doesn’t tell you how to become a good person (which only grace can do, not will of any sort). In fact, trying to “fulfill the Law” is cargo-cultism, it would be like thinking you could get healthy by working to successfully suppress all your symptoms; a description of what good health looks like is not an instruction on how to get healthy.

      • May 23, 2013 10:25 pm

        Jordan, I pretty much agree with you here and in your other posts. I’d only add this: If you look at Ullalia’s arguments (and if you go to the link I posted above, to a previous and similar argument I had on another blog), her arguments (and those of my interlocutor at said link) are very, very long and rather abstract. Now I don’t wish to dis the whole philosophical field of ethics, nor do I want to say that there are no hard case in ethics that require careful thought. Nevertheless, on broad issues, I think that if you can’t make your case in two or three paragraphs, you ought to reconsider your perspective. It doesn’t take complicated arguments and deep philosophy to explain why murder, theft, lying, and suchlike are morally wrong. On the other hand, faced with counterarguments, supporters of the Church’s teaching on contraception can’t seem to make a clear, logical, and concise argument in support of their views. That’s not necessarily a counterargument against the Church’s teaching; but it is very suggestive.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 11:58 am

          The “categorical imperative”/universalizability of habits idea isn’t that long.

          I’d also say that part of the problem is that our society uses an intentionalist/consequentialist framework already. In a society that already had the right framework overall it would be more obvious.

          Also, ethics will always be more straightforward than morals. Demonstrating that something violates rights or causes harm is of course easier than the question of what is virtuous, because virtue is a broader vision of what constitutes human excellence internally than merely “an it harm none.”

      • Jordan permalink
        May 24, 2013 10:30 am

        Ullalia [May 23, 2013 6:06 pm]: The accusation of having “feigned” compassion is a grave calumny.

        “Grave calumny” is a touch on the histrionic side. I must apologize, however, for characterizing your position as drained of compassion. I cannot know truly know any person’s empathy towards others.

        If you think the right thing to do in the face of humanity’s inability to fulfill the Law is to deny the Law, I’m afraid we simply disagree in methodology here.

        I am Catholic precisely because of the doctrine of cooperation with grace. Catholics are bound to “The Law”, or moral-ethical precepts, not out of a compulsory obligation of regeneration, but rather because God creates in those who cooperate with his grace a conviction that an ethical-moral life can be striven for only with God’s infinite strength.

        God the Son eternally governs his creation (ὁ παντοκράτωρ), but he is also superabundant mercy foremost in the Atonement and as explained through popular didactic imagery such as the Sacred Heart. Discussions of very complicated ethical-moral questions such as NFP must not only include God in majesty, but also God the crucified Son who, as Pope Francis has emphatically reminded us, has died for all persons. If God’s inexhaustible grace and mercy shines even on those who reject him outright, then certainly his grace shines on those who have difficulty with the precepts of “The Law”. Should we not then follow our Lord and show heartfelt mercy to those (i.e. all of us) who struggle to fulfill Legal precepts? Endless abstract arguments inappropriately objectify the frailty of individual human situations.

        A distillation of the Law from Lawgiver results in a grossly distorted God who must also be equally merciful.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 4:04 pm

          Once again, Jordan, I would nowhere condemn those who can’t fulfill the Law, for one because I believe no one can unless God gives it to them, and two because I believe attempts to fulfill the Law that involve an artificial imposition of willpower against the person’s real inclination…is not even effective, and in fact is grave hubris and Phariseeism.

          That’s different than denying that the Law exists!

          It’s one thing to say “I have a disease that nothing I can do will cure. If it is cured, it will take a miracle. Until then, I have this cough. And attempts to stop coughing don’t actually cure the disease, they just suppress the symptoms for a while (but trying that even caused me to break a rib once! So I won’t be trying THAT anymore!)”

          It’s quite another to say, “Well, the fact that I can’t stop coughing and there is no obvious cure must mean that this endless coughing IS in fact healthy and normal. I’ve gotten used to it and so it causes me no particular distress anymore, so I’ll assert that it’s just a neutral variation of the normative picture of human health!”

        • Jordan permalink
          May 25, 2013 10:31 am

          Ullalia [May 24, 2013 4:04 pm]: Once again, Jordan, I would nowhere condemn those who can’t fulfill the Law

          Well understood. I respect your theological persuasion. Indeed, as I have said, I have struggled with the question of grace and works-righteousness for many years.

          All of us bear crosses. Even so, God also offers every Christian sufficient grace to live with privation. Sufficient grace to bear the Law in infirmity does not exist in a binary state against antinomianism, as if either theological stance were a position on a light-switch. Per your first example, artificial forms of contraception might well temper the cough temporarily, but represent an improper moral relationship between Christians and the Law (though, as a Catholic, I cannot agree that human beings are absolutely deponent before grace). Your second example suggests antinominanism, so far as the person who accepts the cough as a normative state of human existence implicitly desires that God nevertheless graces what is morally not acceptable.

          Since I believe that the baptized retain a distorted reason, Christians are able to turn themselves towards grace and seek God’s favor. This turn towards grace is a medial space on the spectrum between a Law-slavery and antinomianism. I do not see an argument for this medial space of “God recognition” in your posts, from either a Catholic or Protestant standpoint.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 26, 2013 11:59 am

          “God also offers every Christian sufficient grace to live with privation. Sufficient grace to bear the Law in infirmity”

          Sufficient grace is NOT the same as efficacious grace, however. Therein lies the mystery of iniquity.

          “Per your first example, artificial forms of contraception might well temper the cough temporarily”

          In my first example, contraception IS the “cough,” the manifestation of inner fallen fragmentation or human brokenness, so I’m not sure where you’re going with this or how you read it.

          “Your second example suggests antinominanism, so far as the person who accepts the cough as a normative state of human existence implicitly desires that God nevertheless graces what is morally not acceptable.”

          Well, again, not sure how you’re reading the analogy. In the second case, they’re deciding that it IS morally acceptable.

          Desiring that God grace what is outside the Law is fine; “where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” Grace only ever graces weakness, not strength. Deciding that there is no need for grace because there simply is no sin there in the first place…is a very different matter.

          “Christians are able to turn themselves towards grace and seek God’s favor.”

          The problem with your soteriology here, is that Catholics are required to also call this turning itself a grace. It is de fide dogma: “There is a supernatural intervention of God in the faculties of the soul, which PREcedes the free act of the will,” besides just the one coinciding with it.

          And it is likewise taught, “Man of himself cannot acquire any positive disposition for grace.”

  33. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    May 23, 2013 3:12 pm

    Ullalia,

    having read your extensive comments, I have a question: how you would you respond to this quote from St. John Chrysostom, which I posted last year:

    There are two reasons for which marriage was established …to cause the man to be satisfied with one single wife and to give him children, but it is the first which is the most important…As for reproduction, marriage does not necessarily include this…the proof is to be found in the many marriages for which having children is not possible. This is why the primary reason for marriage is to regulate the sexual life, especially now that the human race has already populated the whole world.

    Others are, of course, welcome to chime in. I have been pondering this quote since I found it.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 23, 2013 3:25 pm

      Indeed, John Chrysostom seems to be saying exactly what I’ve been saying: forming virtuous habits is about regulation of concupiscence. Especially since people only need 2 or 3 kids to keep a stable population, marriage is in large part an “outlet” for keeping the habits “exercised” in proper working order, just like a gym exists to exercise our body now that we aren’t on the savanna hunting big game or doing manual labor; just because the reason our body needs physical exertion for us to be balanced and happy has disappeared, doesn’t mean that fulfillment doesn’t still require keeping that virtue “exercised” properly.

      • May 24, 2013 8:40 am

        But using your analogy, gyms are sinful: we don’t have to kill animals on the savanna, but we should run along plains and cast spears, because the form of the exercise (something that could kill an animal for food) has to be maintained as something towards which it is ordered, even if in practice we’re not actually killing an animal for food in a given case! This is exactly analogous to NFP arguments!

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 24, 2013 4:18 pm

          When invoking analogies you have to maintain the same form in the “translation.” In this case what you say is not “exactly” analogous.

          Human beings have muscles that need to be exercised by a certain amount of certain motions.

          Yes, originally, the reason for this is because these motions would have been used in the context of actually useful labor, hunting, etc etc.

          But in a gym they are still the SAME motions, you’re still bringing the muscles through the same range of motion, albeit in an “abstracted” context.

          These exercises still prepare the muscles in such a way that this practice COULD then be “applied” to a situation like big game hunting, because the muscles are being exercised through their proper ranger of motion.

          Just like a person who lifts weights has kept their muscles in a “habit” of resistance that will allow the person to lift boxes, or push a car, or whatever other “real world” function to which they want to apply the habit they’ve gained exercising the muscle “in isolation.”

          The savannah and the animal are part of the CONTEXT, the CIRCUMSTANCES. They are not part of the “internal” nature of a particular muscle’s range of motion itself, which is necessary for the human being’s health even “in a vacuum,” even totally abstracted from any context.

          In the analogy, the animal and the savannah and the spear would all be equivalent to fertility.

          The point is that human fulfillment internally still requires going through the same TYPE of motions even when the external circumstances which “explain” them are not present. If I exercise my muscles, even if no spear is present, you’d better believe that if I WERE holding a spear, I’d be able to throw it better! Just like natural sex is the sort that would work if fertility WERE present.

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 24, 2013 5:58 pm

          don’t forget to add a paleolithic diet!!

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 25, 2013 2:40 am

      St. John Chrysostomm, in regulation of sexuality was referring to the counsel of St, Paul regarding fornication, not the menstrual cycle and more important understood in plain terms grounded in observation that the esse of marriage was unitive from which came the bene esse of procreation.

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 26, 2013 12:02 pm

        The notion that sexuality needs “regulation” at all apart from procreation implies that the desire itself, as an internal state in the soul of the person, can be either well-ordered or disregulated even APART from any question of “consequences.” What, then, constitutes the organizing “logic” of what constitutes sexual desire (even apart from consequences) as being well-ordered within a person or not? He doesn’t answer that in this quote, beyond saying that marriage as an institution helps assure that regulation.

        • trellis smith permalink
          May 27, 2013 7:51 am

          And why would he look for an organizing logic of desire where rationality usually fails? The sexual ordering John Chyrsostom makes clear is that of the procreative impulse for a man to spread his seed far and wide. Loving reciprocity is what orders desire. The desire as an internal state will regulate itself within the marital relationship bestowed each upon the other which no man and no doctrine of the church can put asunder. The” natural law” is not the idol to which these unions should be sacrificed.

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 29, 2013 3:08 am

          I’m not sure I entirely understand what you’re saying. According to your moral system, if actual procreation doesn’t happen…why does desire need ANY “regulation” at all? As long as there is no external harm, why can’t desire be given free reign?

  34. Commoner permalink
    May 24, 2013 4:52 pm

    I don’t offend easily at all, Ullalia, especially when the statement is true: I am not a saint. I do strive to live a decent Catholic life, but in a most imperfect way.

    My attitude is honestly that I just don’t know if the Church is right about this one. The teaching did not make a lot of sense in my own life. But I am not prepared to say that doesn’t mean the teaching is valid or right. My overall attitude is, “Okay, if the Church says it, I’ll accept it must be truth”, even if that truth was just inchoherent in my own life. But if I die and find out the Church was way off on this one, I won’t exactly be surprised. I can’t help but be honest about it. Jesus knows what I really feel and believe in my own heart, so there is no use pretending.

    I don’t have the attitude that the Law should just thrown out because I found it too hard; I just have the attitude that this is one law that made no sense in the reality of my life. Now that I don’t really have a dog in the fight, I am much more at peace about the whole issue, but I do think my experience matters in so far as the finding answers to the original question.

    For me, I needed to be convinced that our using contraception actually hurt Jesus. I just couldn’t believe that in my heart and found none of the arguments convincing. Continuing to produce children as my physical and mental health deteriorated (which clearly was having a very negative effect on our family’s wellbeing) seemed far more likely to hurt Christ. Remember, I was one of those for whom NFP really wasn’t working due to the fact that my fertility signs were nearly impossible to figure out, even for very experienced NFP practitioners. Add to that very irregular cycles during that period of my life, and what you end up with is a lot of pregnancy during very bad circumstances that were negatively affecting our family.

    This is not to excuse us. I accept that the Church teaches we committed a grave sin, even though it didn’t feel at all like one (I do objectively feel sterilization is wrong as it mutilates a healthy party of the body, but it was either continue to watch my body deteriorate to the great detriment of our family, or take a risk with his health to protect mine. I never would have asked him to do it and am continually grateful he was willing to make that kind of sacrifice for me). But I hope that fear of burning in hell was enough to make the priest’s absolution valid. We were completely honest with him about everything.

    I consider us pretty average people just trying to get by in life. Personally, I believe a lot of the angst over this NFP/contraception issue here in the US is a result of being relatively prosperous and having the time on our hands to worry about it. I would imagine that most women and/or couples living in the slums of the world watching their children go hungry at night and get sucked into gangs and prostitution as they get older probably don’t get too bent out of shape about doing whatever they need to do not to have 6,8.10, or 12 kids in these situations. When your back is against the wall, most people are going to do what it takes to survive the best way they can in the here and now and pray God will forgive them for not being able to live the perfect lives of saints.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 25, 2013 1:15 pm

      Well I don’t see anything wrong here at all. I mean, you say you admit sterilization is objectively wrong, went to confession, etc. That all seems fine. In fact, such a negotiation may be best for many people: “Fine, have a one-time vasectomy” after which there is no moral obligation to have it reversed. Yeah, mutilation is still sinful (I’d point out, contraceptives all create some sort of “temporary” mutilation too, inasmuch as they create effects that are not right-functioning in the body and which would be considered diseased if they happened unintentionally). But, you have confession, and you work forward from there. The Eastern churches sort of treat sin this way. They’d point out that killing in self-defense is still in some sense a manifestation of human sinfulness or the fallenness of the world, for example, because obviously the whole situation is screwed up in such a case. So people who do it still do a sort of penance, but at the same time no one is denying that it is the better path, possibly, compared to letting aggressors get away with hurting your family, etc.

  35. May 25, 2013 1:42 pm

    Thales: In the Church’s view, a contraceptive sexual is improper due to the nature of the act, regardless of the intention. (my emphasis)

    Me: Why?

    May 24, 2013 4:40 pm
    Thales: I think because the act itself is impossible to be unitive/procreative, regardless of the intention.

    OK, right here is the problem in a nutshell. If the act is intrinsically wrong, then the intention doesn’t matter. Of course, intention alone doesn’t make an act moral—we all know the paving material of the road to Hell. Obviously, consequences alone aren’t enough, either—we all know about “ends justifying the means”. So far, so good.

    The problem is, if it’s not the intention or the consequence, what makes an act moral? One could say, “God’s commands.” However, that removes any basis for discussion with atheists; and even theists have many different views about what, exactly, God does command. So what do you do?

    I would say it’s sort of a big-picture, context situation. One wants to achieve the right goal (consequence) for the right reason (intention) by the right means (moral actions). If one has developed the habit of doing this, he is virtuous (virtue ethics). If one were to ask, what are the right means, I’d say those that as far as possible avoid harm to others (which is why it’s not moral to steal to get money even for a good cause) or oneself (which is why drug abuse is wrong even if one contends it doesn’t affect anyone else) and while promoting one’s integrity of mind, spirit, and body. Obviously there are complexities (punishing a criminal may involve harm to him, for example, in order to promote the greater good of society, and may also help him, in the long run, reform), but that’s my general view.

    Now the Church adds the so-called “moral object”, which is said to be something intrinsic to the act itself, which is neither an intention nor a consequence (but which, confusingly, is sometimes said to be the same as an intention or consequence in certain cases), and which relates the telos of the act to Reason. This is what I hold to be unintelligible, and to require a prior agreement with the system. In short, contraception, by this view, is wrong not because of the intention, nor because of the consequence; and in the case of a happy, fulfilled couple using it, it’s still wrong. It is wrong intrinsically. “Intrinsic” essentially means “because it is that way.” An electron has a negative charge because that’s what an electron is–a negatively charged particle. Essentially, regardless of intention or consequence, contraception is wrong because it is. Now yes, there’s the thing about its coherence in terms of the congruence of its telos to Reason, but without intending to be rude, that sounds like sophistic mumbo-jumbo to me. If one buys into that model to begin with—and historically, not even all Christian moral philosophers have done so—then it works. Otherwise, it seems like morality by fiat—it’s this way no matter what the intention, consequence, context, or needs of concrete couples are. We might be merciful to those who can’t accept this, but it is what it is and can never be moral, period.

    Now I don’t necessarily expect agreement on this; but I hope this makes it clear where I’m coming from.

    Ullalia: [The ] marriage [of a couple using contraception] specifically may be improved even, etc. But in the process they have made their soul more “contingent” than “eternal,” because the habits they have adopted are not habits that could be recommended universally (or we’d have no children). .

    See, this is an example. You’re extending “consequences” to the context of the entire marriage, even if the couple have a whole bunch of children and have been open to life, done their duty to God and society, etc. If you want to call overall context of a couple’s married life, intentions, decisions, and life choices “consequences”, then yes, I’m a consequentialist. To me, though, that’s a really odd definition of “consequence”. As to “making one’s soul more ‘contingent’,” etc., that strikes me as more sophistry that doesn’t really mean anything that you can pin down. Once more, I get the spiel that it’s not the intention, or the consequences, or the context, or the needs (not wants!) of the couple, but some ineffable spiritual interior state that no one can seem to define, but which I am apparently a moral blackguard and renegade for failing to recognize! BTW, my view does not flunk the Categorical Imperative. I’m not saying everyone ought to have no children at all—just that there’s no problem if everyone regulates the number of children, and if they do so by contraception. Everyone, could, in theory, have sub-replacement levels of children by using NFP, after all. Thus, there’s no reason that contraception could be any less “morally normative” than NFP.

    As to ascesis, I stand by what I said. If I made a robot that used solar power, but designed it so that it was also able to use coal (which is less efficient and more polluting), and programmed it so that it could use either but would have to struggle—to practice ascesis—in order to use the right power source in the right contexts (e.g. coal a night), that would be rather stupid design. Any engineer worth his salt would design it to run a certain way automatically. You seem to suggest that God made humans to like meat, but wanted them to overcome that to be vegetarians in the Garden. That would imply God’s a shoddy engineer. Lions eat meat, period; deer eat plants, period; omnivores like an opossum eat different things, according to what’s available, without feeling guilt about it or practicing ascesis. That humans, unlike opossums, are intelligent, have free will, and are fallen, is evident. However, to assume that God would create us to need to practice ascesis in the perfect state, seems to me rather odd.

    How corrupt your views on desire have made your mind!

    Perhaps, though I don’t think so. It seems to me that defenders of the teaching against contraception do an awful lot of mental gymnastics and sophistry, but I assume they are arguing in good faith according to their lights, even if I disagree with them. It would be nice, once in a while, to be the recipient of the same assumption of good faith.

    Thales: And if you say that other non-normal-intercourse acts are unitive between two people, then you are using a different definition of “unitive” then how the Church normally defines it.
    Guilty as charged. Consider this, from here, which I think is representative of the Church’s thought, my emphasis:

    This moral object of the sexual act is often misrepresented. It is not mere physical union. A handshake or a hug has a mere physical union, but not the unitive meaning. Unnatural sexual acts, such as homosexual sex, have a certain physical union, but they do not have the unitive meaning. Neither is the unitive meaning equivalent to sexual pleasure, nor shared sexual pleasure. None of these things are the unitive meaning.
    The unitive meaning is a specific type of physical union, the sexual union of a man and a woman in natural intercourse. This type of sexual act is in harmony with, and ordered toward, the other meanings: marital and procreative.

    Thus, no matter that an “unnatural” act may have “a certain physical union”, no matter the “shared sexual pleasure”, no matter the emotional intimacy (which is conspicuous by its absence in this account, I note), to be “unitive”, the sexual act must be “in harmony with, and ordered towards the marital and procreative” meanings. Even the “marital meaning” is defined as “[O]nly present when the natural sexual act occurs between a man and a woman married to each other.”

    In my mind, for any talk of marital intimacy and emotional needs (which are actually absent from the linked article), the unitive and marital ends of marriage are conflated into the procreative. In short, this also strikes me as essentially sophistry designed to make it look as if sex isn’t just about procreation except that it is. For those who are interested, an article dealing with some of these issues can be found here

    Having said that, I would agree that there is a certain difference between intercourse and other sexual acts a couple might perform with each other. Biologically, mentally, and emotionally, intercourse, even when non-procreative, meets needs in us that the other acts can’t. That doesn’t mean the other acts necessarily are intrinsically evil or sinful. Analogously, there’s a difference between chewing gum and eating. However, that doesn’t make chewing gum sinful of itself, as long as one has a healthy diet and doesn’t have a Violet Beauregard-like obsession with it.
    I think the better response [to an atheist or to a Catholic who disagrees with the Church on contraception] is to humbly suggest that there is another option that would bring greater peace and joy than they might previously realize.
    If one is going to promote NFP, then I’d agree with you here regarding the approach. However, there are some couples who, like Commoner, have had negative experiences, have not experienced “greater peace and joy”, and who still keep up with NFP (unlike Commoner) because they believe it’s the right thing to do. That is, they grit their teeth and do what they believe to be the moral thing, and to follow Church teaching despite their experience. I think we always need to remember that Jesus told us to “take up the Cross”, and never claimed we’d necessarily have “greater peace and joy” in this world. Doing the right thing does not necessarily bring happiness, and I think we need to be honest about that. Of course, one doesn’t say we ought not to try to do the right thing because it might be hard—we just have to be honest that it might indeed be hard. That’s not why I have a problem with contraception, BTW. There are things I think are moral that in my weakness I fail to do. That’s not the problem with morality; it’s a problem with me. The teaching on contraception just seems intellectually incoherent and inconsistent unless one makes certain assumptions that I’m not prepared to make (that’s a long story in itself, but I won’t get into that).

    I think at this point I’m going to hang it up—I think I’ve said about all that can be said on the topic. I greatly disagree with you, Thales and Ullalia, but as I said, I assume you’re arguing in good faith. Commoner, thank you for your insightful comments from the perspective of one who’s actually lived these issues and seen the real-life effects from inside. As for me, I do not claim to be a saint by a long shot, but I do the best I can; and if I’m wrong, I sincerely hope that God will enlighten me and forgive any errors on my part.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 26, 2013 1:20 pm

      “I would say it’s sort of a big-picture, context situation. One wants to achieve the right goal (consequence) for the right reason (intention) by the right means (moral actions).”

      Correct, I believe the Church would say all three are part of a moral act too. However, as you seemingly point out right here, “right means” is a third factor, a category of its own, even apart from any consideration of right intention and good consequences.

      “If one were to ask, what are the right means, I’d say those that as far as possible avoid harm to others (which is why it’s not moral to steal to get money even for a good cause) or oneself (which is why drug abuse is wrong even if one contends it doesn’t affect anyone else) and while promoting one’s integrity of mind, spirit, and body.”

      The question of “harming others” is just a consequence though, so it can’t be part of the definition of “moral action” or “right means.”

      The integrity thing could be moreso, I think you’re onto something there. While you could call things that threaten that an “internal consequence” maybe, generally when we speak of consequences of acts we mean external consequences.

      However, this is exactly what the Church would argue about contraception: that it introduces a dis-integration or compartmentalization between mind, spirit, body, whereas as NFP seeks the same consequences but in a manner that relies on harmonizing them.

      “Now the Church adds the so-called ‘moral object’, which is said to be something intrinsic to the act itself, which is neither an intention nor a consequence (but which, confusingly, is sometimes said to be the same as an intention or consequence in certain cases), and which relates the telos of the act to Reason.”

      What you’re describing doesn’t seem to be an extra factor to your system, it seems to be that third factor of “right means” (especially relative to your “inner integrity” criterion).

      “This is what I hold to be unintelligible, and to require a prior agreement with the system.”

      Well, intentionalism or consequentialism ALSO require a “prior agreement with the system” inasmuch as you have to admit (as not all systems do!) that intent or consequence matter when it comes to the morality of a choice. All systems have axioms.

      It is not, however, the sort of sheer arbitrary divine command you’re portraying it as either, though. Yes, you have to accept a model whereby conformity of an act with Reason as regards telos or inherent values is morally relevant, where choices are evaluated using that criterion by the intelligibility of SORTS of acts when considered even abstracted from context (the “categorical imperative” type thing, etc).

      But once you do accept that mode of analysis, the NFP/contraception distinction logically follows FROM it. It does not constitute, within the system, an axiom in itself (which is what it has often sounded like you are saying in this thread), but rather follows with perfect logic from axioms “higher up” in the chain of reasoning, more GENERAL principles of how this reasoning should take place when considering categories of actions.

      Yes, of course you have to accept THOSE axioms to arrive at the distinction, but that’s true in ANY system that you’ll be accepting some axioms. The point is, that distinction (NFP versus contraception) is NOT simply posited as axiomatic in itself, a question begged, but rather follows from broader principles regarding what makes an act good in its own internal spiritual logic.

      You may reject those broader principles and that’s fine, but don’t accuse the Church of begging the question here as regards the distinction. You can reject the system or its axioms, yes, but it becomes a sort of intellectual calumny to not only disagree with the system, but to accuse the Church of question-begging or circular as regards her own system’s conclusions, as that’s simply demonstrably untrue.

      “In short, contraception, by this view, is wrong not because of the intention, nor because of the consequence”

      Not as regards external consequences, at least, correct.

      “and in the case of a happy, fulfilled couple using it, it’s still wrong.”

      Well, again, this relies on assuming a subjectivist definition of “fulfilled.” If you define “fulfilled” as relative to an internal state of how choices are coherent with Reason and with the various values they include or exclude and the universalizability of the habits in a person’s soul, etc etc, they may not be fulfilled at all. Or they may be fulfilled in their own one contingent historical context, but the Christian notion of salvation (as I’ve discussed) requires a soul that would be fulfilled in ANY context you could place it in.

      “It is wrong intrinsically. ‘Intrinsic’ essentially means ‘because it is that way.'”

      No. Intrinsic means that what’s wrong with it resides NOT in something external to the sort of act (as intentions or external consequences/results would be), but with a problem in the very inner-logic or intelligibility of the type of act itself, considered even when abstracted from context (as regards intention and external consequences).

      This doesn’t just mean “because it just is” though, as if types of acts are irreducible black boxes that cannot be analyzed any further apart from externals. Rather, we can interrogate a type of act “internally” with regards to certain criteria (a good place to start is asking the act to “explain itself” as regards its desirability) and then judging the internal logic of the concept relative to certain general principles.

      The question of a type of act’s intrinsic immorality not just a question-begging axiom in itself, as you’re portraying it, but rather is always the specific result of an analysis that invokes more general principles and axioms that do NOT include (in this question begging fashion your accusing it of) the foregone conclusion that the type of act is wrong. If it’s wrong, it’s not “just because,” but based on being improperly ordered with regards to the values at stake and how we believe morality IN GENERAL should approach ANY situation involving the various values potentially within an act.

      “Now yes, there’s the thing about its coherence in terms of the congruence of its telos to Reason, but without intending to be rude, that sounds like sophistic mumbo-jumbo to me.”

      Ah, so now you DO admit that it’s more than just “because it is” but then dismiss that “why” as “sophistic mumbo-jumbo.”

      But whyso? If a system analyzes virtue with respect to Reason like this, then of course it makes sense.

      So the real question becomes why reject such a system but then so flippantly accept consequences as “obviously” relevant to moral reasoning?

      The only explanation, as far as I can tell, is because our society puts a heavy emphasis on consequentialist analysis, so you find no reason to defend it, whereas our modern individualism treats the question of the INNER logic or coherence or integration of the soul as a “black box” which we aren’t allowed to judge or make objective pronouncements on, and so (from this subjective framework your attitudes implicitly assume) the analysis is “sophistic.”

      Even though, it is exactly this question of INNER logic which is really the most spiritually important.

      “Otherwise, it seems like morality by fiat—it’s this way no matter what the intention, consequence, context, or needs of concrete couples are. We might be merciful to those who can’t accept this, but it is what it is and can never be moral, period.”

      Yes, again, your whole objection here seems itself to be based on ALREADY accepting an inherently modern and individualistic notion of what “morality” even is, which basically says that “Unless we can posit some external harm to the rights of others or some social cost, the inner logic of what’s going on in the consciences of other people is something we can’t and shouldn’t even talk about, and about which we can make no categorical or objective declarations, because that’s inherently subjective territory anyway.”

      The Church, however, believes that Reason unites humanity even in our inner life, even in the most “private” inner sanctuary of our soul, and that this Reason forms the basis for allowing OBJECTIVE analysis, OBjective statements, to be made even in that realm, even that in that territory.

      “See, this is an example. You’re extending ‘consequences’ to the context of the entire marriage, even if the couple have a whole bunch of children and have been open to life, done their duty to God and society, etc. If you want to call overall context of a couple’s married life, intentions, decisions, and life choices ‘consequences,’ then yes, I’m a consequentialist.”

      Well, yes. You’re basically saying that “as long as it’s all the same results” in the end (in terms of number of children, mostly) that the individual character of each act or the methodology leading to that result doesn’t matter (as long as there is no palpable external harm to anyone).

      “As to ‘making one’s soul more “contingent”,’ etc., that strikes me as more sophistry that doesn’t really mean anything that you can pin down.”

      It does mean something though!

      Take the virtue of fortitude for instance. You might claim that cowardice is no sin because it doesn’t hurt anyone as long as you avoid any situations where you will have any moral obligation to be brave.

      However, that’s not how the Christian vision views virtue. The Christian may never face martyrdom, but that doesn’t mean the Christian can say, “Well, then it doesn’t matter whether I COULD face martyrdom or not.” No, the Christian soul is one who (as regards the virtue of fortitude) COULD face martyrdom even if they never have to. If you lack teh bravery to die for the Faith, then you are going to Hell, even if in life you lived comfortably smack dab in the middle of Christendom and never had to face even the thought that you might be martyred. Because your comfort or happiness or fulfillment here is totally contingent or dependent on your historical/material situation.

      Let’s take some liberties with reality and imagine for a minute that the way the universe works is that God calls a guardian angel before His throne and tells the angel “You will soon be assigned your very own human being.” The angel then gets to go to the “soul store” and pick out which set of habits, which Will, which virtues, which “program” will be inserted into the body the angel will be given charge of. The angel doesn’t know where on earth or when in history their charge will live.

      So, when shopping for the “program” of Will that will be given to the human, what will the angel look for? If you were told you were going to be reincarnated in an unknown place and at an unknown time, and had a choice to pick your “suite” of habits/virtues beforehand, surely you would pick the most “timeless” non-contingent set, the ones that would work in ANY situation, which would be of eternal value, which were so generally (as opposed to specifically) ordered towards human excellence and fulfillment they would work in any situation. As regards the regulation of the sexual appetite, “open to life sex” fits this description and is adaptable to any situation. “Contraception” does not.

      “BTW, my view does not flunk the Categorical Imperative. I’m not saying everyone ought to have no children at all—just that there’s no problem if everyone regulates the number of children, and if they do so by contraception. Everyone, could, in theory, have sub-replacement levels of children by using NFP, after all. Thus, there’s no reason that contraception could be any less ‘morally normative’ than NFP.”

      Once again, this seems to be a “fundamental option” sort of opinion. That each and every act is irrelevant in itself as long as the “overall” result is the same.

      The Church, however, has rejected “fundamental option” type reasoning exactly because the moral life is only the collection of individual choices. There is no “meta-choice” which involves a choice in favor of a certain arrangement of choices or preponderance of choices. Rather, there is only ever each individual choice.

      By your logic, why do we even need to say that anyone has any obligation to have children (obviously, the Church doesn’t; as it allows celibates, etc)? If something isn’t an obligation, it simply isn’t an obligation. Likewise, if each and every act does not have to be open to life, then theoretically NONE could be too, because there is no “threshhold.”

      It is a “collective action problem” as it were. If you say something like “It doesn’t matter whether any given individual pays his taxes, therefore skipping your taxes is not intrinsically wrong,” then everyone will say, “Well, I don’t have to, other people will.” The only way to solve this is to enforce it on everyone at all times, even though individually any given case doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Does my $1000 make a big difference? No, but it’s a disaster if everyone reasons this way, therefore you do have to have to consider things from a “categorical imperative” sort of way, “What if everyone did this??”

      But it’s likewise true with each individual choice in a given life; if you say, “Well, any given year you don’t have to pay your taxes, because it will even out over the course of your life hopefully,” then you have the same problem. Everyone will decide “This year I don’t have to.” But if you don’t have to “this year,” then next year you don’t either, because next year is “this year” soon enough.

      Basically, moral principles don’t work if you try to excuse the individual person or individual case in favor of the “cumulative” effect, because the cumulative effect is only ever the result of the individual effects. If contraception isn’t wrong if you do it 5% of the time, it can’t be wrong if you do it 100% of the time either, because the locus of moral analysis can only be each individual choice. And at what point in this “cumulative” analysis does the choice shift from being good to bad? You might look at the overall pattern and say it turned out bad…but how? How did 5000 choices that, considered individually, were EACH non-controversial…become an “ALL” that IS controversial??

      There’s simply no analytically coherent way to say that.

      “You seem to suggest that God made humans to like meat, but wanted them to overcome that to be vegetarians in the Garden. That would imply God’s a shoddy engineer.”

      My goodness this is presumptuous. For one, it assumes something very utilitarian about God’s ends in creating human beings. His very end may have been “To create a creature that practices ascesis”! I’m being quite serious here, that’s what the East especially would say, that God created us to practice self-mastery and internal discipline more and more in a process of theosis.

      Now, the difference between us and Paradise is that in Paradise the ball was already in our hands and the “practice” was to “not drop it” whereas now in the fallen world the practice involves “picking it back up” as regards concupiscence.

      But even the Saint with perfectly regulated desires cannot just rest on his laurels as if things are on cruise control. Just because they were created with a healthy body (or soul) doesn’t mean that the discipline of MAINTENANCE wouldn’t have been an essential part of their life. And maintenance of spiritual health for human beings means the “exercise” of ascesis.

      “Perhaps, though I don’t think so. It seems to me that defenders of the teaching against contraception do an awful lot of mental gymnastics and sophistry, but I assume they are arguing in good faith according to their lights, even if I disagree with them. It would be nice, once in a while, to be the recipient of the same assumption of good faith.”

      I assume good faith. But I also assume a framework severely warped by modern culture in its axioms, and putting a “faith” in those axioms as if they self-evidently require no further justification while giving the “less popular” opinion the burden of proof, even though THAT method of assigning the burden of proof itself has no justification.

      “In my mind, for any talk of marital intimacy and emotional needs (which are actually absent from the linked article), the unitive and marital ends of marriage are conflated into the procreative. In short, this also strikes me as essentially sophistry designed to make it look as if sex isn’t just about procreation except that it is.”

      I don’t think it’s saying that. It’s saying that the “union” in question is the procreative union. Two halves are making a whole only in that situation. Simply jamming two adjacent things together isn’t always combing two halves into a whole, because for their to be a unity, a Whole, there has to be some organic definition of wholeness, of WHAT exactly it is a Whole of. If I stick a light-bulb into a dish of ice cream, I haven’t combined two halves into a whole, I’ve just juxtaposed two things, because the “light-bulb in a dish of ice cream” isn’t anything more than the sum of its two parts. If I screw a light-bulb into a socket, however, then I have combined two halves to make a whole, because there is an organic unity, the two things have created an item which (whether in actuality, or just potential; you will note this remains true even if the device is turned OFF) is actually “more than the sum of its parts” inasmuch as it has (potentially) emergent properties and functions that neither half would have on its own.

      The stomach and esophagus and intestines unite to form an organic whole of digestion. This is a real union. Stapling a lung to a kidney, on the other hand, isn’t uniting anything, merely juxtaposing.

      “Analogously, there’s a difference between chewing gum and eating. However, that doesn’t make chewing gum sinful of itself, as long as one has a healthy diet and doesn’t have a Violet Beauregard-like obsession with it.”

      Once again, if it were shown that someone was satisfying hunger by gum chewing, I’d think it would be sinful, because if everyone did that people might never eat, or at the very least it would be impossible to condemn the “overall” fact of replacing eating with gum chewing if each individual act of doing so was in itself fine. An act can’t become bad only as part of a pattern in hindsight (or else we wouldn’t be able to choose in the present!) As it stands, I know of no one who has ever starved to death because gum was an adequate substitute for eating.

      • May 26, 2013 6:03 pm

        Ullalia: You may reject those broader principles and that’s fine, but don’t accuse the Church of begging the question here as regards the distinction.

        But a few paragraphs above, you said this, my emphasis:

        Yes, you have to accept a model whereby conformity of an act with Reason as regards telos or inherent values is morally relevant, where choices are evaluated using that criterion by the intelligibility of SORTS of acts when considered even abstracted from context (the “categorical imperative” type thing, etc). But once you do accept that mode of analysis, the NFP/contraception distinction logically follows FROM it.

        You are admitting that the “NFP/contraception distinction” logically follows from the reason/telos mode of analysis if one accepts it. I don’t. It’s like I said way up-thread: If on accepts that it’s OK to divide by zero, then (and only) then, it follows by ironclad, inexorable, perfectly valid logic that 1 = 2. However, if I reject division by zero, the whole proof fails. Same thing here: I reject the basis of argument here, so the Church’s argument fails. It also tends to become a circular argument (that is, begging the question) in that proponents argue for the reason/telos model on the grounds that procreation must be inherent in the meaning of intercourse for that intercourse to be valid; but that doesn’t follow unless you accept the reason/telos model in the first place. See?

        If you define “fulfilled” as relative to an internal state of how choices are coherent with Reason and with the various values they include or exclude and the universalizability of the habits in a person’s soul, etc etc, they may not be fulfilled at all.

        Well, see, this is what I said in talking to Thales. You’re saying that no matter how successful the couple’s marriage is, no matter how good and loving they are to their children, no matter how unselfish to each other, no matter how blissfully happy they feel, no matter how close they may feel to God in their spiritual life, they are objectively not, in fact, fulfilled. This gets back to what I said to Thales (and in which he agreed with me, to an extent): this is essentially imputing either ignorance (they can’t see how unfulfilled they really are) or malice (they selfishly refuse to face the true nature of their acts) to the couple. I.e., they’re ignorant or stupid or hypocrites or in bad faith or some combination of the above. If that’s what you’re saying, you’re entitled to your opinion; but I obviously disagree, and consider that a rather uncharitable view.

        Ah, so now you DO admit that it’s more than just “because it is” but then dismiss that “why” as “sophistic mumbo-jumbo.”

        You misunderstand me: it is the very insistence on the “congruence of telos to Reason” that I contend is put forth as a “because it is”, since this is a moral postulate that can’t be demonstrated. It’s a fiat—you either accept it or not, but you can’t derive it.

        You’re basically saying that “as long as it’s all the same results” in the end (in terms of number of children, mostly) that the individual character of each act or the methodology leading to that result doesn’t matter (as long as there is no palpable external harm to anyone).

        Not in general, actually—what I deny is that the individual character of contraceptive sex acts have the cumulative “evil” character you assert.

        If you were told you were going to be reincarnated in an unknown place and at an unknown time, and had a choice to pick your “suite” of habits/virtues beforehand, surely you would pick the most “timeless” non-contingent set, the ones that would work in ANY situation, which would be of eternal value, which were so generally (as opposed to specifically) ordered towards human excellence and fulfillment they would work in any situation.

        Totally agreed. I deny, though, that you can get to “no contraception” from this.

        By your logic, why do we even need to say that anyone has any obligation to have children (obviously, the Church doesn’t; as it allows celibates, etc)?

        You can’t say a priori that any specific individual has an obligation to have children, any more than you can say any specific individual has an obligation to be a priest. Some people have to have children to maintain the species, and some have to become priests to maintain the Church and the Sacraments; but whether any individual has either obligation depends on the individual’s circumstances and context.

        [God’s] very end may have been “To create a creature that practices ascesis”!

        That’s possible, though neither of us knows or can prove (or disprove) that. All I can say is that if that’s true, then with all due creaturely submission and reverence for the Divine, and keeping in mind His seeming tolerance for His creatures arguing with him (e.g. Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, etc.), I have to say that’s a pretty bizarre way to create a cosmos and a life form, and I take issue with it!

        • Ullalia permalink
          May 29, 2013 4:08 am

          “You are admitting that the ‘NFP/contraception distinction’ logically follows from the reason/telos mode of analysis if one accepts it. I don’t.”

          And that’s “fine.” It isn’t Catholic moral reasoning, then! But you’re free to do so.

          However, what it often seemed like you were doing in this thread was insisting that the NFP/Contraception distinction is incoherent period, even WITHIN the Church’s own broader logic. That such a distinction not derivable consistently from ANY broader axioms, at least not unless you made that very distinction an axiom in itself (which would imply mere Divine Command arbitrariness). That the Church was dishonest or logically inconsistent for insisting that it was the RESULT of a logical reasoning from first principles, rather than included as an unprovable axiom from the start (ie, question-begging).

          You’re free to disagree with the Church regarding moral analysis based on a reason/telos/internal intelligibility set of criteria for virtue. I wonder in what sense you’re a Catholic then, given that this notion of virtue, in one form or another, is essential to our whole soteriology and theological-anthropology (and thus the whole logic behind the faith as a spiritual praxis). But you’re certainly free to hold different axioms, reach different conclusions, etc etc

          What you are not free to do is to accuse the Church of INTERNAL inconsistency (or deus-ex-machina Question Begging to create consistency, which is almost the same thing) when that simply isn’t true.

          “It also tends to become a circular argument (that is, begging the question) in that proponents argue for the reason/telos model on the grounds that procreation must be inherent in the meaning of intercourse for that intercourse to be valid; but that doesn’t follow unless you accept the reason/telos model in the first place. See?”

          I think, out there in the wilds of the internet, you probably see amateur apologists seeking out (or “figuring out”) the reason/telos model as a “backsplanation” for their need to defend the contraception/NFP distinction in order to defend magisterial authority, yes. If your argument for the relevance of the reason/telos model invokes that distinction in order to prove why we need to consider reason/telos when determining the meaning of morality/virtue…then obviously that assumes in a circular way that you already agree with one or the other.

          But that’s merely bad apologetics. Just because the order of causation when it comes to the adopting of that system by individual people may start with accepting something by authority first and then coming to understand the “why” to defend it later because of that…doesn’t mean that the reason/telos model is LOGICALLY dependent on “needing” procreation to be the “structuring logic” of sex acts.

          And it doesn’t mean it is historically dependent either. As a matter of the history of theology, the reason/telos idea of internal virtue and right-ordering of the passions has a much more complicated provenance than just needing to back-engineer a philosophy that condemns what the Church wanted to condemn while leaving in place what we wanted to not.

          “Well, see, this is what I said in talking to Thales. You’re saying that no matter how successful the couple’s marriage is, no matter how good and loving they are to their children, no matter how unselfish to each other, no matter how blissfully happy they feel, no matter how close they may feel to God in their spiritual life, they are objectively not, in fact, fulfilled.”

          Yes, only subjectively so. But when you die, none of that matters. When you die, you don’t have your wife, don’t have your children, don’t have your brain, don’t have your happy feelings, don’t have your memories, don’t have any of those contingencies. You are left contextless, a “bare naked soul.” Only habits of Eternal worth, therefore, not contingent, matter.

          “This gets back to what I said to Thales (and in which he agreed with me, to an extent): this is essentially imputing either ignorance (they can’t see how unfulfilled they really are) or malice (they selfishly refuse to face the true nature of their acts) to the couple. I.e., they’re ignorant or stupid or hypocrites or in bad faith or some combination of the above. If that’s what you’re saying, you’re entitled to your opinion; but I obviously disagree, and consider that a rather uncharitable view.”

          Of course they’re ignorant, but that’s not uncharitable. We all only have immediate knowledge of our immediate contingent context. We are all ignorant of the infinite “hypothetical lives” or contexts we could lead or could have led. Of course they are ignorant of anything other than their own subjective context. It’s not really their fault, that’s the nature of particularity.

          But, at the same time, that’s the sort of subjectivism that Christianity exists to free us from. But I wouldn’t attribute bad will unless they’ve known otherwise and choose to crawl back into The Cave nonetheless.

          “You misunderstand me: it is the very insistence on the ‘congruence of telos to Reason’ that I contend is put forth as a ‘because it is,’ since this is a moral postulate that can’t be demonstrated. It’s a fiat—you either accept it or not, but you can’t derive it.”

          No, it’s even further derivable from the idea of Eternity, of virtue being a habit of choices which could be evaluated in a vacuum according to that “categorical imperative” (“Could we wish this act universalized to everyone?”)

          Yes, eventually, you reach first principles, like the idea that to be a good/fulfilled/essentially-happy person is to have habits of choices that are uncontingent (though one can also approach this through the question of what “freedom” means and the notion of freedom from any external dependence for essential happiness).

          But yes, there are always axioms. I just think the things that Church considers axiomatic are a lot “higher up” a chain of logic than you’re giving it credit for.

          “Not in general, actually—what I deny is that the individual character of contraceptive sex acts have the cumulative ‘evil’ character you assert.”

          ??? They clearly would: if every sex act were a contraceptive sex act, this would clearly not work, we couldn’t wish that or it would be species-suicide.

          However, if ANY GIVEN act of contraception is non-controversial…then how does one arrive at such a negative consequence from what is merely a series of individually non-controversial acts? There is a gap in the moral evaluation here; all zeros and positive numbers…cannot equal a negative number.

          That’s the problem here; you wind up having to say that a massive preventable evil could (at least hypothetically) result from a series of individually moral or non-controversial choices. But if it doesn’t matter for “any given” act, then can’t suddenly create an imperative on a COLLECTION of acts, because the collection of acts is only made up of individual acts.

          It’s like telling a group of kids in a room, “Any given individual is not obligated to volunteer for this unpleasant task, but at least five of you DO have to volunteer.” Leaving this “unspecified” 5…doesn’t work, practically. If there is no obligation on any given individual, then the group as a whole won’t field five “democratically,” because each individual (free from obligation) won’t go. So it will come down to a coercion in the end anyway, to a statement that certain individuals ARE in fact obligated to go.

          You can’t put some sort of moral imperative on “humanity as a whole” to make sure some percentage of sex acts ARE procreative, because “humanity as a whole” isn’t an agent. Then it would only ever come down to requiring CERTAIN individuals to procreate (like in the “kids volunteering example.”) But that’s impossible to make as a general principle (because you’d have to ask “Who?” and actually pick people and somehow enforce it) and so the moral principle itself in this case has to be formulated in a “deontological” way in order to be valid as a universal principle.

          “Totally agreed. I deny, though, that you can get to ‘no contraception’ from this.”

          But contraception cannot work in any situation. It might in some, but it is NOT “universalizable” according to a “categorical imperative” type analysis like above.

          “You can’t say a priori that any specific individual has an obligation to have children, any more than you can say any specific individual has an obligation to be a priest. Some people have to have children to maintain the species, and some have to become priests to maintain the Church and the Sacraments; but whether any individual has either obligation depends on the individual’s circumstances and context.”

          And what the Church teaches is that people called to be priests have an obligation to pursue a vocation they discern, and that married couples have an obligation to discern how many children is responsible for them, yes.

          But that doesn’t mean that, once they’ve had enough (or if they need to space children) they can adopt a “contingent” habit as opposed to one that is “universal/eternal,” because that would be internally warping, and represent cultivating an individualism that is unacceptable.

          Even if you’ve done your duty to the species, you must still maintain solidarity WITH the species by preserving the universalizable sort of habit. Because when you die, your soul is not going to be in any contingent context anymore, it will only be evaluable independent from circumstances.

          For some reason the first thing that comes to mind, for me, is the use of the catafalque at requiem masses where the dead is not actually present. Sure, there is no actual casket there to bless, but they bless this “mock casket” so that this dead person can have the SAME funeral rites as everyone else in terms of the motions gone-through. Or I think of a blind kid in class when the teacher tells everyone to cover their eyes so that they can play heads-up/seven-up. Sure, he’s already blind, why put his head on the desk and close his eyes?? And yet I’d assert he really SHOULD do so even though it is superfluous, just to be a good sport and a team player. It would seem almost anti-social to me if he didn’t.

  36. May 26, 2013 2:01 pm

    Church teaching on contraception doesn’t derive from an ethical system. It can’t be proven from natural law. I hate how a-theological the contraception presentation/discussion has been.

    It’s a tragedy that theologians have used natural law to keep sex out of theology. But Ratzinger has explicitly said that the sexual domain is a theological domain.

    There’s a lot of merit to virtue ethics, but it’s pretty far from the theological basis of the Church’s position on this matter. In my opinion, the whole matter would be much more comprehensible if theologians and philosophers started treating marital sexual matters theologically. The proper context of marital sexuality is the sacrament of marriage, not natural law.

    But we barely even treat marriage as a sacrament. We talk about it’s ‘natural end’ it’s natural purpose as an institution etc. etc. But that’s not the typological perspective that St. Paul proposes in Ephesians 5.

    I believe that that approach could illuminate the Church’s position much better than any natural argument ever could.

    After all, sex being a procreative ‘type’ of thing is very relevant to its being a unitive type of thing.

    But what makes that connection clear is not so much natural laws (‘unity’ is not the natural end of any natural process), but something more like ‘unitive laws’ which are more likely to be found in language and liturgy rather than nature.

    Natural law can’t demonstrate much about language, symbolism, ritual, etc.

    That was the real value, IMO, to JPII’s Theology of the Body. It returned the matter to rich biblical ground. That’s worth imitating in talking about sexual matters. It’s more revealing and more relevant.

    At least to the participants of the sacrament.

    • Ullalia permalink
      May 26, 2013 5:56 pm

      Except not all marriages are sacramental. Many (those between the non-baptized) are natural. ToTB will be the death of morality for exactly this reason; you can talk about what symbols make a valid sacrament. You can’t turn “correct symbolism” into a proscriptive morality.

    • May 26, 2013 6:13 pm

      I agree with you here in that I’d respect the Church’s position more if it would, as you suggest, just assert it and leave all the other stuff out. I still disagree with it, but that would be more coherent. As to the Theology of the Body, I’ve had discussions with people who strongly disagreed with me on contraception (that is, they took the Church’s view) while agreeing with me that the Theology of the Body is at best highly questionable. YMMV, but that’s how I see it.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      May 26, 2013 11:48 pm

      Brian,

      That’s the right direction for catholics. It’s religious belief. Period. Right on.

      • Ullalia permalink
        May 29, 2013 4:29 am

        So are “natural law” arguments, in the end. The difference people seem to see is in the political side of things. I think someone said this already.

        People for some reason seem to think that leaving a moral belief as ultimately admitted to be arbitrary or historically contingent, like the matter of the Sacraments, or perhaps comparable to the “inscrutable” precepts of the Mosaic Law (kosher, etc) would be “fine” or non-controversial. (Though I’d ask, then, why Catholics who disagree that contraception is condemned by the Eternal Law shouldn’t at least still feel obligated to keep it as a sort of “discipline,” like fasting or priestly celibacy, that they may think CAN change, but which HASN’T yet and so is currently binding.)

        At least, this seems much less controversial than making the claim that it is a universal morality derivable from human nature (and, objectively at least, binding all people and not just members of the Church). The concern here, the different attitudes towards the two sides of that potential distinction, seems to be political. People seem to think (rightly or wrongly) that by framing a moral claim as one of logical necessity and universality, this in turn involves an “imposition” on others who disagree, and so a political ideology. The attitude is something like, “Well, as long as it’s a private religious discipline for adherents, whatever. But if they try to bring it into the public square, that’s bad!” Of course, public laws ALL reflect SOME sort of moral presumption about human life (or a compromise among various).

        I think it’s not bad. It’s how democracy works. The ideas come out into the public square, so you fight them in the public square. Such a proportion of people come out against contraception, such a proportion comes out in favor, we all go vote our conscience, that’s fair play! Likewise fair is for each side to try to proselytize each other (and undecideds), at least using honest means. What is not fair, I’d argue, is framing arguments against the other side’s position in the form of something like “They shouldn’t even have the right to think they can implement this on the rest of us!” That’s wrong. A side does have the right to think that, and indeed to try! What the other side should do, then, is fight back and resist the imposition. But NOT by suggesting that the other side had no right to even try, NOT by trying to keep the question out of the public square entirely. That’s not fair. Fighting something IN the public square is fine, trying to eliminate it’s presence from said square entirely is not. It’s one thing to honestly and cleanly “out vote” an idea that at least has a seat at the table. It’s quite another to try to “fight dirty” by delegitimizing an idea to the point of taking away its seat at said table entirely. It’s one thing to argue against an idea that is “on the table” for the public to consider and vote up or down. It’s quite another to try to remove it from consideration entirely.

    • trellis smith permalink
      May 29, 2013 2:40 am

      The right direction perhaps, but i’ll heed Joyce’s warning that “there is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being.”
      Of the variety of aspects possible for a theology of the body every textual choice and phenomenological reflection of JP2 has been selected as a defense of Humanae Vitae. It fails by the same reductionism. Despite the mystery of the body and its sexual passions that pervades our personalities as well as our creative and mystical impulses, sexuality is nothing more than for the transmission of life, Somewhat inevitably it smacks of the same biologism of Natural Law. JP2’s TOB doesn’t even speak to the bodies of gays or single people supposedly outside the orbit of permissable sexual bodily expression nor even to the infirm and mangled cut off from it, all to whom a true TOB would speak. At least with NL one can get to the point that Ben Franklin did when attempting humility, found it impossible and gave up on the idea,
      I hardly think I am the only one befuddled, as Kyle’s telling and beautiful Michelangelo illustrates. that surrounded by the eroticism of ancient and renaissance Rome that they come off as amateurs.

      • TurvsyTopsy permalink
        June 1, 2013 10:23 pm

        It’s only a “mystery” if you choose to deliberately obfuscate its meaning. All the cultures of the world have realized that it’s “about” procreation, not this strange idea of “expression” that seems to have taken hold in our culture. Sexual desire exists for breeding, that’s clear enough. This idea that it functions as some sort of social grooming apart from mating is just a perversion of reality, the creation of a culture strung out on its own endorphines.

        • trellis smith permalink
          June 5, 2013 12:18 am

          Well you can have a sacramental view of sex or a adopt more mechanistic functional mode buying into the dichotomy of a disembodied spirituality or a dispirited hedonism,
          The evidence I see in scripture and in my life points more to the sacramental view of sex with such simple glimpses as the grace of falling in love to ” with my body I thee worship.” Can an integrated sexuality be separate from sensuality and from all our senses and our senses from the arts? Sexuality permeates our creation and creating in the most expansive sense..”Cultures strung out on endorphins” could describe any golden age from the Classical period of the Greeks, the building of the cathedrals,the high Renaissance or the last century in dance. Such perversions of reality may elucidate more meaning and be a more heighten level of existence or a transcendent phase than such a literalist puritanical stance that would have human kindness let alone the art of love bogged down to the mere function of breeding.

        • Poppy permalink
          June 14, 2013 10:24 pm

          Ah a confusion of love and sexual activity, trellis. Brilliant.

  37. Jordan permalink
    June 1, 2013 8:56 pm

    Ullalia, in closing I would encourage you to write down your thoughts systematically and perhaps publish your theisis as a journal article or even, perhaps after some time, as a monogram. Your placement of NFP within a Platonic framework is startling and will disturb more than a few monsignori at San’Uffizio and beyond. Indeed, your thesis will create an even greater impact if you are not Catholic. I am sure you will be quite successful.

  38. trellis smith permalink
    June 2, 2013 12:21 am

    May 29, 2013 3:08 am Ullalia wrote:
    “I’m not sure I entirely understand what you’re saying. According to your moral system, if actual procreation doesn’t happen…why does desire need ANY “regulation” at all? As long as there is no external harm, why can’t desire be given free reign?”

    Surely you know the weaknesses and drawbacks of virtue ethics. Have you ever thought that perhaps Aristotle was a pompous ass whose universal virtues were self serving or that the moralistic saints are rather dull and one note caricatures compared to the “excessive” saints, the true heros of the faith like St. Francis or Mother Teresa. Yes I know they were virtuous but that was not what ordered or motivated them. Love was the order and motivation and loving reciprocity the ethical system they employed par excellence. They loved wastefully.
    The regulation of desire is the loving consensual reciprocity between the lovers. passions ebb and flow and by nature are self limiting. We need no more than the golden rule to ground sexuality ethically. All other argumentation veers off to reductionism, biologism or fallacies of logic ( question begging, reductio ad absurdum)
    The telos of sexuality is creation of which procreation is the most biologically concrete but even there another form of creation,recreation is its means. Why would one suppose that God is so grim that he doesn’t want you to have fun? or even worse God wants the realness of human touch to be banished from whole sectors of society based on nothing more than some moral stoic abstraction that has little basis in reality and none in love.
    Any understanding of the cosmos reflects the pervasive ongoing evolving nature of creation. We are told that this creation is good yet It appears this creation is far from moral. Natural selection favors the strong over the weak but ultimately yet may favor the altruistic cooperation necessary for survival, Humans are ordained to participate in this creation in a powerful way as co creators that makes us tremble and yet which offers some hope that informs us along the assurances of faith. The environmental degradation has awoken a collective world consciousness that is forcing practical arrangements beyond the scope of our theologies. The Church should be at the forefront,and is in fact no way lacking in the thinkers and theologians ready to chart new directions mined from a rich and holistic tradition. Instead the response of its leaders has been that of a sclerotic, reactionary and fearful censor and nowhere is this more apparent than in the exhortations of sexual moral theology. By all accounts scientific and religious what is needed is an epistemic humility that guides the pilgrim people on earth and restrains us, not a fear that refrains us from participating in creation. And all of us in every aspect, condition and time of our lives are called by the Holy Spirit within us to renew the face of the earth.

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