My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad

« Unemployed | Main | On NFP, Quickly »

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

thanks for posting on this - I know it probably took a long time to write. I still have lots of questions and misunderstandings but I love to learn about other religions.
Thanks!

I loved this post Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing. Even though I'm not Catholic, I have the very same opinion as yourself on this matter. It may have taken a while for it to mature within myself, but I now "get it".

Arwen,

You have a lot of guts, tackling this subject - and you do a beautiful job of it! Thank you. :-D

Kate

What a post! Wow! And this part--

A perfect thing is a thing which is exactly what it was created to be.

--is exactly what I needed to hear today for entirely different reasons.

Waiting eagerly for the next installment.

Well, I guess I'll be the first.. I understand these teachings -- nothing in this post came as a surprise to me -- but I don't agree. (I can't agree, of course, since you lose me at the "God" part, before you even get to "the purpose of sex" or "no birth control"!)

It's funny about that.. When I was a Catholic, I didn't understand beyond "no birth control," and I disagreed. But I know a lot more about Catholicism now, and although I disagree, I respect these teaching for the reason you said: that they're ordered toward dignity and love. I wish more people, Christian and otherwise, would adopt an attitude toward sexuality that's a bit more like this.

Susan makes a valid point, one I thought of while I was writing, but somehow forgot to touch on.

So I want to add a caveat: I've never met a person who believes in God as loving creator, understands Catholic teaching on sexuality, and yet rejects it.

It's important to say that, because God being creator is the logical prerequisite to him being the creator of all the things we're talking about here. If you don't believe in God, you logically wouldn't believe that it's necessary to order your life to his love. And that's a much bigger discussion, one for another day, perhaps. ;)

I've often had very similar thoughts about my religion's doctrine- that no one who truly understands concepts of Mormonism rejects it. I guess that's the beauty of faith, and having absolute convictions in your beliefs.

Good for you on a thorough and eye-opening post. I look forward to the one on ART. Could you especially address the Catholic view on diagnosis? And if there *are* forms of IF treatment that are endorsed?

Thanks,
-D.

Very well said! Excellent post.

I once dated a nominal Catholic, and before we broke up we had extensive arguments on the subject of the Catholic Church's position on sexuality and the use (or non-use) of birth control. He could accept everything except the proscription against barrier contraception, which he saw as essentially the same as NFP. I tried arguments based on fittingness, perfection, openness, the nature of things, and they all failed, primarily because he rejected the notion of natural law. This ultimately led me to suspect that his belief in and love of God was imperfect, not his grasp of the arguments or of the principles involved.

I forget who made this argument (Christopher West?) but I've always liked the argument that contraception should not be thought of as just another medical advance that we can take advantage of, because medicine's purpose is to fix those natural systems in the human body which are broken, whereas contraception seeks to break an otherwise fully functional natural human system.

hee - i was coming back to post something very similar to your caveat - but you got there first.

Of course, I have my own views on why the Catholic Church has developed these positions - which are very different! Although I am far too lazy to post at such length (and also, my laptop is on the floor cos its internet cable is too short to reach the table, and my back hurts...) I have strong reservations about the prohibitive 'outworkings' of what you have presented as a loving doctrine - that is to say, the practical results are 'no condoms, no BCPs' and I believe that these rules hurt people more than having non-procrative sex would.

Thanks for taking the time to post this, it must have taken ages, and was very interesting to read. I am even more behind the not working thing now!

You said that NFP is different from BC because "the nature of the sexual act itself is not compromised in any way" but isn't NFP still "not giving God his chance to create"? Please explain. I think that I could accept the Catholic church's reasonings against birth control if it were not contradicted by NFP.

hey! I thought that was great! well done!
your sister in Christ, antonia
-x-

lurker - think about it.

If you are having sex without using any form of family planning, some of the time that sex is fertile, some of the time it isn't. In fact, at least 3/4 of the time it isn't. The sex is, well, sex. Your bodies act as they were designed to do - both when the act is fertile, and when it isn't. Your bodies function, your hormones do what they do, and nothing seperates you. Ideally, nothing seperates the spouses emotionally or spiritually either - it is total self gift.

Now, you are not commanded to have sex constantly when you are married. Married people choose to have sex or not have sex at various times for a variety of reasons - fatigue, busyness, illness, lack of privacy, lack of desire, etc etc etc. Many religious traditions, including Judaism, encouraged periodic abstinence for spiritual reasons, and long before the rhythm method, Christian spiritual directors advised times of abstinence to improve marriages, increase temperence and grow in holiness.

Now look at the various forms of bc: condoms, diaphrams, and other barrier methods seperate spouses with a physical barrier and interfere with total self-giving. BC pills, patches, and other hormonal methods alter the woman's bodily hormonal makeup, for goodness sake! Surgical methods actually physically alter one of the spouses, usually the husband. Spermicides introduce a toxin into your system.

NFP, in contrast, does none of these things. No barriers, no hormones, no foreign substances - in fact, NFP sex is exactly like sex-as-it-was-meant-to-be. Because it is sex-as-it-was-meant-to-be. Every day, we make choices to have sex with our spouse or not to. Once you are aware of the signs of fertility, that decision will inevitably take that information into account. Although we are prohibited from altering the sexual act, we are not ever commanded to have sex every time we are capable of it (whatever Monty Python would have you believe). It doesn't break any divine laws to choose not to have sex during this fertile time, so long as you are only postponing parenthood and not rejecting it altogether.

Does that help?

Kate, thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully reply to me.

Arwen said (in regards to bc)

"We take something that should be giving God the chance to create a new person, and we use the parts of it we enjoy, but refuse to give God his chance."

I still believe that NFP does this same thing but I do see how it differs in OTHER ways to different types of BC.

Maybe I'm getting too caught up on just one of the reasons she gave.

Thanks again. As a Christian, I respect all of those who have prayed about this situation and feel that Christ has led them to an answer--whether it's NFP, bc or neither.

Great discussion so far! Lurker, my NFP teaching couple split hairs over using NFP "with contraceptive intent" versus... I forget what the other possibility was. They implied that it's a sin to ever deliberately avoid pregnancy. I'm looking forward to seeing how Arwen answers your question.

Arwen, I wonder if you might explain to our non-Catholic (and inadequately developed Catholic) friends about the rights and responsibilities of conscience at some point? I'm a revert and that was a very important thing for me to realize...

Beautifully written post.

God Bless.

I got pregnant while using a diaphragm. My husband and I aren't Catholic, and we chose to use birth control, but not to use a method that prevents conception and implantation nearly all the time ... we wanted to leave God a wide-ish window of opportunity. Anyway, we're tremendously grateful that God took us up on the offer and gave us our sweet little girl. :)

I understand the NFP-is-different-from-BCP argument, but I am not entirely certain I agree: it seems to me that one has a greater chance of conceiving if one makes love using a barrier during a fertile period than if one avoids sex during that time completely, which in my mind makes the barrier method less prohibitive of conception. But it's a bit of a quibble, really; I know no faithful Catholic would agree with me here (or should, if they're truly following Church teaching), but I think what's at issue is a full acceptance of God's will, whether it's an unexpected and possibly inconvenient pregnancy, or infertility, or a planned conception--more than the methods by which we regulate our sexuality.

I have to amend the above with the statement that I am completely against hormonal contraception and IUDs, both because they make the possibility of conception so much less and because they prevent implantation of otherwise viable embryos. Not giving God much of a chance, that.

Arwen

Thanks for writing that post. It was very educational. Do you mind if I use parts of it if I find it applicable to any life teen lessons for the Catholic church later? That is a wonderful explanation. I'd like to hear much more. I'm trying to grow in my Catholic faith more.

Arwen -

As I pondered your posting over the last day or so, I thought of this question: What about sex after menapause? I mean, when the opportunity for the creation of life is gone, how does it affect your philosophy on intimacy etc. of sex?

In response to juliejulie, there are two aspects to sexuality - procreative and unitive. The unitive aspect continues even when the procreative is not present. I'm infertile due to surgery, but that doesn't mean my husband and I have stopped having sex because we can't have babies. Same idea for post-menopausal women. In some ways, the unitive should become even stronger because there is true freedom to have sex whenever the couple wishes - more chances for spontaneous intimacy. I think it might be God's way of rewarding long-married couples :)

What a lovely post--so clear, thoughtful, and well and lovingly written. You, yourself are a gift, Arwen.

I just read this post today and just wanted to tell you that you have wonderful timing. Christopher West is actually at my university this weekend giving a "crash course" in the Theology of the Body which I'm enjoying immensely. I look forward to see what else you have to say! :D

If I may respond to In response to juliejulie's post....

the difference between intercourse after the menopause and before the menopause but using contraception is the INTENT of the act.

The morality of an act can not just be judged by its outcome (i.e. that fact that in both those examples conception doesn't happen doesnt make them morally on par).

In the first case conception doesnt occur because God Himself has intended it not to happen by making women infertile after the menopause.
In the second case however, the individual themself has banned God's procreative gift INTENTIONALLY from the love-making act.

Hope that helps..!

Antonia said "In the second case however, the individual themself has banned God's procreative gift INTENTIONALLY from the love-making act." Again, I say that NFP does this SAME thing, so how can one be justified but not the other?

Try this lurker:

NFP avoids a potentially fertile act.

Contraception deliberately sterilizes a potentially fertile act.

Not the same thing at all!

Lurker, what's the difference between an abortion and a miscarriage? After all, they both end up in a dead baby. But they're not the same, are they?

When you begin to understand that, you'll begin to see why NFP and contraception are not the quite the same.

For an action to be morally good, both the ends and the means have to be morally good. St. Paul made that clear to us. The Catholic Church *does not teach* that every married couple must desire as many children as physically possible at all times. It acknowledges that there may be grave reasons (eg. extreme poverty, health issues) why a couple may want to avoid pregnancy at any particular time. This desire to avoid pregnancy in itself is not necessarily evil (although it can be). So trying to avoid pregnancy is not necessarily wrong.

The big trouble comes when we decide *how* we're going to go about avoiding pregnancy (the means). One way to do that is to not have sex at all. God is okay with that. Another way to avoid pregnancy is to contracept a sexual act. God is most definitely *not* okay with that because it perverts a union that is supposed to image the Holy Trinity into something which most definitely doesn't image the Holy Trinity.

In NFP the couple periodically abstains, which is okay, and then when they do have sex, they are not contracepting the act, so the act itself still images the Holy Trinity and is not perverted in some way. Thus, they avoid pregnancy (the ends, which *can* be okay in certain circumstances) and the sexual act isn't deformed into something evil either (so the means are okay).

In order to accept this above argument, you need to accept:

1. That actions can be morally good and morally evil.

2. That for an action to be morally good, both the ends and the means must be morally good.

3. That there can be morally good reasons to avoid getting pregnant at any particular time.

4. That the sexual act is intended to image the loving union of the Holy Trinity, and that contraception perverts this image, thus making it morally evil.

I'm not sure Lurker what your faith background is and which number you have the most trouble accepting. If you let us know, perhaps someone here or myself can elaborate and try to explain it better.

Arwen,

Good post, but just one quibble. You write that NFP is "not birth control". I think you meant that NFP is "not contraception". NFP most certainly is birth control, in that it tries to control births (which can be good or bad depending on the circumstances). It is not a form of artificial birth control, but it is a method of birth control nonetheless. It's best to avoid the use of the word "artificial" altogether when trying to defend the Church's teachings because so many people get confused by it. I think it's best to use the terms NFP vs. contraception, avoiding the terms "artificial" and "birth control" altogether.

Arwen,

Again, great post, but the trouble with the natural law argument that you make is that so few people understand or accept the existence of the natural law. It's also not something that's easy to explain.

I find that if you're speaking with Christians who already accept the Trinity, it's better to explain how the Holy Trinity is the loving union of persons, how human sexuality is supposed to image that loving union, and how contraception perverts that image and turns what is supposed to be holy into something that isn't holy.

If we can present sexual union as something that's supposed to be super-holy and nearly divine then we might be able to provoke the children of the sexual revolution to jealousy.

May I suggest that it's really easy (and not particularly fair or useful) to say "no who really understands this disagrees with it"? In practice this dictum can preclude discussion, by saying "if you don't agree with me, it's because you understand me/the Church/this point imperfectly". There's no listening involved in such a claim. If you don't believe anyone could have a valid point to make in dissention, that's one thing, but you really can't claim to be having a discussion. That's only preaching to the choir.

Hmm. Interesting point, "different Ellen" (if I may call you that - I have an Ellen of my own to worry about :)). However, the phrase can be used a couple of ways. One is in the context of discussing personal preferences, e.g. "Nobody who really understands Frank Lloyd Wright will fail to appreciate him." The implication is that if you fail to appreciate him, then it's your problem, not Frank's. This, indeed, would shut down discussion. However, when the phrase is applied to some objective reality, the result is different, e.g. "Nobody who really understands the importance of changing the oil in their car will fail to do it." Someone *might* dispute that, but you would expect to see them taking the bus a lot.

Most moderns consider issues of sexuality and reproduction to lie in the arena of personal preference, like taste in architecture. Arwen is not modern. She is a classically trained theologian (:)), and thinks of these matters as questions of objective reality. As such, it seems that she is more interested in disseminating the truth about these realities than necessarily encouraging discussion for discussion's sake. This does not, however, negate your point. If someone did think that changing oil was a question of preference, for their own sake you might wish to encourage some discussion, if only to help them see the truth of the matter.

Prince,
I suppose that's exactly my point - that passionately held beliefs about the world are not points of debate. You seem to be saying the same thing - that if you don't acknowledge the objective reality of what is being said, if you don't agree, then you're just not getting it. You're saying that reality makes discussion irrelevant. I say again that's not a useful way of explaining a teaching. Isn't the point of teaching to promote understanding? Otherwise, why bother to explain something that just needs to be taken on faith? What's the point of exegesis at all?
I'm not actually quibbling with the content of the post itself, which I think is a fine explaination of Church teaching, but with the style in which it is framed. Specifically, the post begins this way:

I have never met a single person who can accurately describe the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality and who, in spite of this, believes it to be wrong.

All I wanted to say was that I don't think anyone could come up with an argument that would satisfy a true believer to explain why the Church's teaching on sexuality could be wrong. Understanding is equated with belief. I just don't think it's necessary to put the discussion on this footing. I do think it's possible to understand an idea (or truth, or objective reality) intellectually and not agree with it. I remember reading another poster above who made the same comment about Mormonism being believed in by all who understand it fully. Do you not think it's possible to intellectually understand the tenets of both Catholicism and Mormonism? They're not the same, obviously. One cannot believe in both. While I find that the Church rarely does itself the justice of explaining these teachings, and they're very much worth explaining, I don't see how it serves the position itself to begin explaining with the underlying supposition that you have to believe it to understand it. I know that's sort of the reverse of the way you were saying it, but I think in practice it can amount to the same thing.
Sorry, not trying to do anything more than argue about the proper way to argue. ;) And sure, you can call me different Ellen - there's another one who posts here, too, so I'm trying not to cause confusion.

I need to add an apology, Arwen - there's nothing at wrong with you saying you haven't met anyone who understood the Church's teaching and disagreed with it. You certainly couldn't help that one way or another. I'm just talking about the idea of there being such a person. Perhaps the difference here, too, is between comprehension and understanding?

Thanks for your post. As a "new" Catholic (not "cradle" like my husband), it was quite insightful for me. I try to live my life in accordance with the dictates of my faith, but I admit I probably subconsciously operate under a curious voodoo mix of Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist beliefs.

That said, I still don't regret making the decision to pursue ART. I don't mean to sound flippant, but if I have to spend a few extra thousand years in purgatory making up for it, then it was still all worth it for my baby boy. My little one was very much conceived in love, fearfully and wonderfully made, and known by God long before he was knitted in my womb.

True story....

After a successful failure (long story) at our local clinic, my husband and I decided to use a clinic in Morristown, NJ. However, the process meant starting the drugs down here in NC. Once it was time for retrieval, we made the trek up to NJ to spend about 10 days there.

After retrieval, we checked out of the hotel for two days to save money by staying with my relatives in Harrisburg, PA. On the afternoon we were very anxiously awaiting the news of whether or not we had any eggs that fertilized, we spent the day at the farm of a favorite aunt and uncle, who were completely unaware of the real reason we were "up North."

My aunt had mentioned quite a while back that she had some things of my much beloved late grandmother to give me. Since we were there, she decided to go ahead and give it to me rather than mail it. Most of it was just sweetly sentimental junk, but one item really grabbed my attention. It was a plain silver necklace with a glass bubble pendant. Inside the pendant was a tiny seed.

My aunt casually asked if I knew the story behind the seed in the necklace. Of course I knew about "having faith the size of a mustard seed" as I had turned to the Bible many times during our struggle. It was one of the verses that had given me a lot of comfort and guidance.

So I broke down a little bit and revealed that of all the days I needed a reminder of having faith, today was that day. For me, it was a simple message from God, and fully believing in the communion of saints, a message from my grandmother as well.

Within the hour, we had the wonderful news that we had four embryos.

Fast forward to our return to Morristown a day later. On transfer day, a Saturday, we were down to two embryos, which were placed inside my uterus.

On Sunday morning, we attended church before leaving Morristown (one located right beside a very lovely Catholic college - St. Elizabeth, if memory serves). As is my usual practice, I looked at the readings for the day while we were waiting on Mass to start. Imagine my amazement to see that the Gospel reading for the day was Luke 17, which included the verse:

"The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to (this) mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."

Now what were the chances? Think of all the possible readings from the Sunday cycle! I turned to my husband with tears in my eyes and pointed to the reading. It's a moment I don't think either of us will ever forget.

To this day, I still carry my grandmother's necklace in my diaper bag and touch it from time to time as a tangible reminder of faith, hope and ultimately, love.

JJE - if it is not presumptuous to ask, what happened to the other embryos?

I don't mind sharing. For whatever reason, the other two embryos didn't continue dividing during those three days (and only one of the two made it in my womb). If they had, we would have gone back and done a frozen cycle in the near future. It was extremely disappointing.

FWIW, we wouldn't have "disposed/destroyed/granted to research/etc." any remaining embryos. We would have continued transferring them in the hopes of having more children. I know it sounds odd, but I was grateful that I wasn't a superproducer of eggs.

I have a pretty long backstory - my first IVF resulted in twins, but my ovaries were severely infected and I almost died...the end result was that I lost one of my ovaries and the pregnancy. Devastating. My second attempt was a frozen cycle with two embryos left over from our first attempt - but sadly, it didn't work. Then we opted to look to NJ as the promised land based on my husband's coworker who had success there.

I jokingly refer to myself as the One-Ovaried Wonder...

A fascinating discussion! Thanks for taking the time to post this! I just want to pick up on some themes discussed here.
1. The Catholic Church teaches that NFP may be used when there is a "grave" moral reason. The church (and I) leave the definition of grave to the consciences of the couple. Each couple must keep in mind that is they are called not only to procreate, but to educate the children that they procreate. That being said, I do believe that couples label themselves as "NFP couples", since this reflects the disposition towards using NFP regardless of whether or not there is a grave reason to do so. Rather, couples should only consider using NFP if the situation and their consciences dictate that they need to wait on having another child.
2. It is most important to never put economic concerns over spiritual ones. The spirtual realm always has primacy over temporal affairs. While economic concerns over bringing a child into the world should not be ignored, they are not the first things that should be considered when deciding whether or not to have a child.
3. I would refrain from using the term "birth control", as people who claim to use birth control are neither for birth, or control. A better term to use is birth prevention (nod to Fulton Sheen).
4. This is a bit unrelated, but I thought it might be appropriate to share. A theologian I know by the name of Dr. John Bequette recently brought up a very good argument against those who say that they use birth control because they couldn't bring a child into a world rife with poverty and/or into a situation where a family isn't exactly rich. Bequette observed that the poverty excuse is not an excuse for the realm of reproductive affairs, rather it is a problem in the social justice realm, which must not be ignored. This jives with comments Benedict XVI has made recently. That is we must work to ensure that society and government pass laws which make it easier for parents to raise a large family.Pro-life/family believers should not ignore the fight for enacting social justice initiatives, as victories in this arena (which might be easy victories) might set the tone for society to re-think some of its approaches towards reproductive issues.
5. Lastly, if you have 20 minutes, check out Fulton Sheen's talk entitled "birth prevention" for a better understanding of the subject at hand. http://www.bishop-sheen.org/Talks.html (its talk number 38)

JJE - I've taken your latest comment down for now. I wanted to email you and explain why, but you've never provided a valid email address here. I think you deserve an explanation, so if you'd like one, email me and I'll write you back. Thanks!

Mariano,

I would consider my husband and I to be an "NFP couple" just as my parents were an "NFP couple" although to my knowledge they only used NFP to delay conception for one (short) period of time in all the time they've been teaching NFP. My husband and I are using NFP to postpone conception at this time, for a variety of reasons which I think would meet most people's approval, but I object to the idea (which I have occasionally encountered) that a couple should not learn fertility signs until they find themselves in that serious situation, for a few reasons.

1) That belays an attitude that assumes NFP will and can only be used for postponing conception, whereas Arwen and others could tell you that it is often used to increase chances of conceiving.
2) A couple with a serious reason to avoid conception is often not in the ideal situation for learning to read fertility signs! If I hadn't charted before my marriage, I'd be lost now, as it is, it is still difficult to relearn my signs now that I am nursing. The more cycles you have charted, the more effective the method can be, for avoiding or seeking out conception.

I really urge Catholics not to put off learning about NFP!

Kate

Wow - I've never had a comment deleted before! I've always thought of myself as a rather vanilla commenter, mostly because I rarely post on the blogs I read and when I do, I consider it important to be respectful and non-confrontational. I'm trying to imagine what I said that came across as offensive in some way. It was just a throwaway comment I thought was kinda cute. If it was indeed offensive, I certainly apologize.

I haven't provided my e-mail simply because I hate set-ups where your e-mail is visible to everyone. I have no problem providing it to the blogger, but I'd prefer not to engage in correspondance with everyone else. I was otherwise very open and honest with all the other details I provided.

That said, I think I'd rather not know why you deleted my comment. I'll trust your judgement and let it go.

As a longtime reader, fellow infertile and fellow Catholic (albeit obviously not your textbook variety), I decided to comment because I thought I would add an interesting wrinkle to your discussion. Perhaps it was a little insensitive of me. I don't know.

Sooo with that I'll slip back into lurkerdom (I know - I'm ridiculously longwinded for someone who rarely comments on blogs), but please know I enjoy your blog and you are in my prayers.

("Yes, Annelle, I pray! Well, I do! There, I said it,
I hope you're satisfied." - Sorry, can't help myself! Today is such a nasty, rainy day, I think I'm going to spend it watching movies.)

Kate,

To clarify my statement, I never said a couple shouldn't learn NFP. My statement had to do with one's actions, not whether you learned the NFP method or not. Thanks for bringing up the subject. I, too, think that is important that couples learn NFP, simply to better understand the biology of sex.
Secondly, I don't think its my place to judge what a couple has discerned as a "grave" reason to use NFP. That is between the couple and God. I think it is sad that many Christians, go around as if they were the fertility police.
Thanks again to Arwen for providing a forum for this discussion!
J.D. Aquila

Kate,

To clarify my statement, I never said a couple shouldn't learn NFP. My statement had to do with one's actions, not whether you learned the NFP method or not. Thanks for bringing up the subject. I, too, think that is important that couples learn NFP, simply to better understand the biology of sex.
Secondly, I don't think its my place to judge what a couple has discerned as a "grave" reason to use NFP. That is between the couple and God. I think it is sad that many Christians, go around as if they were the fertility police.
Thanks again to Arwen for providing a forum for this discussion!
J.D. Aquila

Kate,

To clarify my statement, I never said a couple shouldn't learn NFP. My statement had to do with one's actions, not whether you learned the NFP method or not. Thanks for bringing up the subject. I, too, think that is important that couples learn NFP, simply to better understand the biology of sex.
Secondly, I don't think its my place to judge what a couple has discerned as a "grave" reason to use NFP. That is between the couple and God. I think it is sad that many Christians, go around as if they were the fertility police.
Thanks again to Arwen for providing a forum for this discussion!
J.D. Aquila

Can we talk about grave? Do couples really need grave reasons? It's my understanding that CCC and HV say "serious" and "just" (don't know which is which) in qualifying the needed reasons. Perhaps I should just look it up but I'd love to see this addressed here.

Kate,

To clarify my statement, I never said a couple shouldn't learn NFP. My statement had to do with one's actions, not whether you learned the NFP method or not. Thanks for bringing up the subject. I, too, think that is important that couples learn NFP, simply to better understand the biology of sex.
Secondly, I don't think its my place to judge what a couple has discerned as a "grave" reason to use NFP. That is between the couple and God. I think it is sad that many Christians, go around as if they were the fertility police.
Thanks again to Arwen for providing a forum for this discussion!
J.D. Aquila

JJE, your comment wasn't offensive at all! I took it down because I wanted to respond to it myself, and because the response is pretty complicated, I can't do that right away. I didn't want things to erupt into a free-for-all discussion of ends justifying means and all that, when there are some specific points I'd like to make first. I think I understand why you said what you said; I think a lot of people would agree with you, and I want to give it the attention it deserves. That's all, I promise.

NFP discussers: this articleis a great resource on NFP and includes citations of the pertinent Vatican sources.

(Jamie, you're right. It is "just reason.")

Just wanted to point out that my husband and I (Arwen's parents) consider ourselves an "NFP couple" -- with 24 years of charts to prove it -- even though we have NEVER chosen to avoid a pregnancy. I have fairly odd cycles, I was 30 when we got married, we knew we wanted a lot of children, and it just seemed to make sense to know what was going on. It helped me when I knew that I had double ovulated two weeks apart, and that one of the kids was due two weeks later than predicted. (I was exactly right!) I still chart even though I'm almost at menopause, because it gives me some indication of what's going on as things get more sporadic.

First of all, I am hesitant to enter into a "discussion" where it's already assumed I just don't get it if I dare to disagree (a pretty self-serving disclaimer to start out with, I might add), but I think there have always been problems with the licitness of NFP as opposed to other methods of birth control.

It's not that I don't understand and don't essentially agree with Catholic church teaching on human sexuality, although I am not Catholic.

It's that I don't get the leap from that teaching to the approval of NFP at all.

The approval of NFP, which absolutely separates the procreative from the unitive in the sexual act, implies that separating the two is okay. Now, I know all the usual arguments, but they're not logical.

If one is using a man-made method which relies on recent technology and understanding of physiology to wilfully avoid fertile periods so that one can enjoy the physical benefits of sexual intercourse, how is one not deliberately thwarting the will of God? How is one not intentionally planning to have sex while at the same time intentionally planning to avoid pregnancy with a 99% guarantee of success?

I can't get past this at all. I know that there are Catholics who believe that not having intercourse during the fertile periods means they're not separating the two because they're not enjoying sex and avoiding pregnancy while they're fertile, but the truth -- the facts -- the reality -- is that these same Catholics are seeking to enjoy physical pleasure while doing their utmost to avoid a pregnancy.

What you're essentially saying is that the method of NFP itself lends some kind of mystical aspect to the notion of birth control (and NFP is very much birth control even though you assert that it is not) that renders it acceptable in God's eyes, even if the intent is to avoid pregnancy so you can by a sexier car or a bigger house or, heck, more crystal meth.

Intent is key here. A couple that welcomes life, yet who has a serious reason to postpone pregnancy, and that uses a diaphragm, for example, doesn't differ from an NFP user in intent. And, as someone has already pointed out, they're actually more "open" to conception given the respective failure rates of the two methods.

I realize you're allowing your personal beliefs to fill in the logical gaps here, which is okay, but then I think it's only fair for you to accept that those of us who disagree with the logic aren't lacking in understanding of the Church's teaching on sexuality and marriage.

The other big question that comes up, for me, anyway, is why NFP all of a sudden has this quasi-holy status when it's really a relative newcomer on the block in its present form -- what, in other words, does this say to couples of previoius generations who didn't have the luxury of a Church-sanctioned 99% effective method of birth control at their disposal?

Personally, I think a more honest and logical conclusion to the Church's teaching is the misconception that "birth control isn't allowed". I think once you've allowed couples to actively seek out sexual pleasure while also actively seeking to avoid pregnancy, you've pretty much tossed "God's will" to the wayside.

For me, either all BC is acceptable, and the "licitness" thereof is determined by intent, or no BC is acceptable because determining to work around God's will is illicit in and of itself.

Just some thoughts from someone who understands more than you might think, even though I disagree with the Church's take on birth control.

"even though another child might not be what they want, it could be exactly what they need."

I am one of "those" Catholics who chose to use birth control. I am also one of "those" Catholics who got pregnant anyway!

In fact, I know of at least three children who were "gifts from God." Whenever I look at my daughter, I always remember "Man proposes, God disposes!" :)

Hi Joanna,

I have spent some time thinking and reading about this in recent years, and so I hope I can shed some light...

You said
"but the truth -- the facts -- the reality -- is that these same Catholics are seeking to enjoy physical pleasure while doing their utmost to avoid a pregnancy."


One major aspect that you have failed to take into consideration is biology....which is God-instated.

In every menstrual cycle a woman goes through a period of a few days when she is BIOLOGICALLY fertile, and then a few weeks when she is biologically INfertile and it is a physical impossibility for her to conceive.

This natural cycle of fertility and infertility within each mentural cycle is not artificial, but rather entirely normal and natural, and thus God-instated.

Therefore, there are times during a woman's menstural cycle when God has NOT intended for pregnancy to occur even if intercourse takes
place....that is the way HE made it.

On the contrary, having sex during a woman's fertile time WILL result in pregnancy....that is the way He made it.

Therefore, there is a cosmic difference between working WITH something God has instated, and working AGAINST it.

Yes, Catholics may be seeking to enjoy physical pleasure while doing their utmost to avoid a pregnancy, but with NFP they are doing that by cooperating WITH God...and not separating what He Himself has joined (procreation & babies) and so mis-using something He has given.


Hope that makes sense

If you'll indulge me in a little self-defense: I went back and reread my own post to verify, and sure enough, I didn't say that there is no one who understands and dares to disagree. I said that I've never met anyone who understands and disagrees. Maybe you think that's a distinction without a difference, but I was very careful to say it that way so people would understand that I wasn't saying it's impossible for someone to understand and disagree, just that no one I've met in real life understands and disagrees.

Arwen, I think the disclaimer itself sets people on the defensive, especially since it's not really necessary to the rest of your post. The implication is that only those who understand will agree with you, but those who disagree are incapable of understanding. It's one of those things, like saying "I don't mean to be offensive, but...". It's going to set people's teeth on edge from the beginning, especially if they disagree.

Antonia:

I'm familiar with the menstrual/fertility cycle. I have five children. Five adult children, actually. ;~)

I think the problem with your rationalization is that you're omitting the importance of intent. In their hearts and in their minds, the couple has already agreed to deliberately avoid the fertile period, and to do so with the aid of a highly-researched and tested system that relies on the accuracy of delicately calibrated instruments. The couple has made a decision to go out of their way to discover when the woman is fertile and to prevent any sperm coming near her eggs during that period, yet they still want to enjoy the physical aspects of the act God intended for procreation.

It's still stacking the deck in favor of your wishes and against God's.

I believe it's perfectly moral for couples to determine the spacing and number of their children, as long as they're keeping God's intended design in mind and as long as they're being mindful of what is and isn't a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. I believe the unitive aspect is equally important to the procreative, and may even be more important during certain circumstances, just as the procreative may be more important to a young couple desperate to conceive (we've all heard funny stories of couples doing all kinds of silly things just to get the timing right, and all that).

But then why NFP over a diaphragm? What of military couples who may see each other once every few months and who aren't in a position to conceive? These are people who may need the unitive aspect more than anyone, yet may not have the kind of time needed to work around her menstrual cycle. Are they to be denied marital love?

I think my biggest problem with the rationalizations I'm seeing is that they all boil down to an acceptance of something merely because you belong to a particular religion and are not based on reason or logic.

Either one is open to procreation based on God's design, or one works to sidestep God's design while enjoying certain benefits of that design. All this "well, we're not having sex during the fertile period" doesn't fly. That's the whole point -- you're supposed to be having sex during the fertile period according to the design. That's why women are designed to feel more desire during this period.

So, for me, it still remains an all or nothing proposition -- either any birth control is wrong, or planning one's family is acceptable, and the intent behind that plan is more important than the method.

Joanna, I'm in the precise position you use as an example -- my husband is an Air Force pilot, and we see each other just a few days a month. We happened to have done our pre-cana with a military chaplain, and the requisite NFP lecture (given by, I was sorry to note, a couple who didn't understand the method at all, and had five children conceived supposedly while avoiding) struck me as terribly unrealistic in light of the fact that all of the couples around the table would very rarely be seeing each other. Might it have addressed the difficulties of practicing NFP under those circumstances? No, it didn't. Not one bit. I don't have a problem using birth control, and admit that I am not the most devout of Catholics (we currently feel much more comfortable in Episcopal churches, after some exploration following our wedding), so this didn't pose a practical problem for us. However, I am very familiar with NFP and FAM and respect those who do opt to practice NFP under such unusual circumstances, and believe the church should give them as many tools as it can to be successful. I think the church was really leaving them in a lurch without addressing the inherant struggles they would face -- in opting not to abstain during a fertile time that just so happens to be the few days you'll see each other for weeks or months, you risk having a child under extremely fractured family circumstances (I, for one, did not marry the love of my life so I could be a single parent), given the current state of world affairs. It is difficult enough to have any semblance of a normal life under this type of schedule, anyhow, without worrying where in your cycle you might happen to be when you finally get to see each other. Neither of us is comfortable having a baby in a situation where my husband is deployed about 80% of the year -- the irony, then, of being asked to practice NFP is rather painful, putting people such as ourselves into quite a bind, especially given that these schedules could continue for years. I know we're talking about a very small percentage of Catholic couples, but nonetheless, I think the church has a responsibility to address the often difficult issues that arise out of situations like these, if it wants to maintain its relevance and importance to those people. Arwen, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Joanna,

I think what you're missing is the sacredness of the sex act - something I tried to express in my earlier explanation. There are really two things, somewhat seperate, that have to be taken into account.

1) Intent. It is wrong to intend never to conceive a child, and it is wrong to avoid conception for frivolous or selfish reasons. There is nothing wrong with intending to space your children for their benefit or for the betterment of your family. This intent is a matter for discernment, and shouldn't be judged by outsiders, but examined frequently by the couple.

2) Method. Some methods of acheiving the valid spacing mentioned earlier are illicit - in fact, most are, because they alter the nature and meaning of the marital act itself. These things seperate the procreative and unitive functions, by changing the act (sometimes by changing the act-ors). Whether or not the woman is fertile at this point is irrelevant - that is in God's hands. After all, we are not obligated to have sex every time we are fertile, nor are we prohibited from sex every time we are infertile (good thing too, since the infertile time outweighs the fertile)!

The important distinction here is that the unity of the procreative and unitive aspects is a feature of the act, not the actors....it's (primarily) a matter of action, not of intent. Intent plays a different role - you must be open to life in general, but you are not required to always seek out conception in every specific circumstance.

I understand that this gets confusing when people talk about how NFP is licit because it is 'open to life' or 'open to God's will'. It is true, few methods of bc are completely fool-proof, and thus, in a way, could be called 'open to life' and 'open to God's will'. God can and will bring about conception against any obstacle - remember the virgin birth?

But when the Church speaks about 'openness to life' and 'unity of the procreative and unitive' there's something more than intent - something, dare I say it, ontological at stake here. And here I stop, and leave the rest of the explaining to the experts (unlike Arwen, I only studied history in college.)

could some one explain to me how using a barrier method enhances the unitive aspects of the marital act? I don't get that argument, I don't understand it at all.

It's still stacking the deck in favor of your wishes and against God's.

Joanna, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. If God had wished every marital act to be fertile, he would have made wives fertile every day of the year.

He didn't.

He intends us to enjoy sex at certain times without pregnancy being possible. He also has not designed a woman to go into "heat" to overcome our reason and force us to have sex when we're fertile.

I'm going to guess that you don't have sex with your husband every day. I'm also going to guess (maybe wrongly) that you don't have sex with your husband every time he wants to. He also may decline sex when you want it, so there is a myriad of reasons that one does not have sex (I also hazars a guess that there are many more reasons not to have sex than *to* have it :))

So having sex during the infertile periods is using the tools of creation as God designed them. Slipping on a condom during a fertile period is not using the tools of creation as God designed them.

I explained to my daughter:

The sperm has no soul. The egg has no soul. When they come together, there's a soul. Now, there isn't some mystical assembly line of souls dropping onto babies as they are conceived. God touches you *during the act*, and ensouls your child. Using artificial contraception is like slapping God's hand and saying "don't touch!".

Well, Tony, my husband passed away in 1987, so, no, I don't have sex with my husband at all anymore.

There is a huge difference between a husband and wife making love during the course of a month without consciously planning their love-making around her fertile period and a husband and wife making love only if and when the conditions that jibe with their personal wishes (yes to orgasm, no to babies) are met.

I don't think anyone can speak to the sacredness or unity of anyone else's intimate life based merely on the method of birth control they choose to use. Besides the absolute tastelessness of such speculation, it is not something for you to know. That is between a man and wife and God and no other person. I find such commentary utterly disgusting and not something decent people engage in. If the only way for Catholics to find meaning in their own marriages is to deride the love and unity of other people's marriages, well, then, I think that kind of behavior speaks for itself.

Again, it is exactly this kind of commentary that implies that Catholics believe NFP in and of itself is a sacred or holy thing. It's not. It's merely a method of charting one's fertility via the use of thermometers and cervical mucous consistancy (and there are methods that chart components of saliva, and other things, but bascially the method relies on the kind of careful monitoring of symptoms that was impossible not so very long ago, but is now available due to the same science and technology that brought us the pill and other hormonal methods of birth control).

The goodness or sinfulness of NFP or any other method of birth control lies in the intent of the couple using it. NFP in and of itself is morally neutral.

If the idea of using a diaphragm is repellant to a couple, they don't have to use one, but for a third party to imply that the use of one somehow makes their marriage something less or their love something less is a despicable thing to say.

There are many bad marriages in which the couples are using the method they're told they must use by the Catholic church. NFP doesn't in and of itself make for a closer, more fulfilling, more loving marriage. People who have used NFP for decades have marriages that end in divorce or in which one or both spouses are unfaithful, or marriages that are bitter and stifling.

Obviously, there is no point in "discussing" this with people who are acting from blind belief and because they're told they must do something by the Catholic church. I should have followed my initial instinct and heeded the disclaimer.

And lest you all smugly tell each other that I'm angry because deep down I know my marriage was something less than yours, my husband and I never used any method of birth control, including NFP. I'm angry because of the presumption that NFP use alone is the only thing that makes a marriage real and deep and sustaining. That is not for you to speculate on. If you enjoy that sort of cheap entertainment, I suggest you invest in a subscription to the National Enquirer instead of taking what is precious to other people and dragging it through your muck.

Joanna,

I'm not sure I understand. You state that "the goodness or sinfulness of NFP or any other method of birth control lies in the intent of the couple using it." We have tried to explain to you that Catholic teaching is concerned with the act itself and its ontological meaning (beyond intent). You're basically repeating yourself, and at this point so are we. I'm confused - are you repeating yourself because you don't understand the opposing position and want clarification, or because you simply disagree?

You imply that it is we who hold the Church's position to be reasonable who are unthinking. But I can say that I understand your argument and find it internally consistent, but disagree because I believe that there is an ontological meaning to action, and that the marital act itself has a meaning which can be violated by the addition of barriers or the alteration of the actors by hormones or surgery. I think I understand your position - an ethic based entirely on intention is simple enough - but so far I haven't seen evidence that you understand mine.

You obviously don't believe that actiosn have a meaning in and of themselves, and so you disagree with me. But...I can't tell whether you disagree because you understand my argument and don't agree with one of the premises, or whether you disagree simply because you don't understand it and don't like the conclusions.

So, perhaps it would be helpful and give this discussion some closure if you would try to express what you think we are saying (as generously as you are able) and indicate where you think the fallacy is, rather than repeat the same misconception about intent over and over again.

Thanks for your patience.

Kate

Kate, I do indeed understand what you're saying. What I don't buy into is the rationalization that NFP, as an action in and of itself, is any less creating a barrier between a) husband and wife and b) a married couple and God.

We are not mindless beings, or at least we were never intended to be. All actions begin in the mind. The thinking process is part of the action. We're not inert until we actually expend calories in physical movement.

Intent is an action. Mental processes are actions.

Intending to go out of one's way to work towards avoiding conception is no more or less creating a barrier than using a diaphragm.

I do indeed believe that actions have deeper meaning than the physical movement itself. I do believe that there is more to marital intimacy than merely orgasms and babies. I do believe that what passes between a man and a woman is a reflection of the love between God and man. And I also believe that there is nothing about the action of NFP that makes it any less a wilfull attempt to enjoy the pleasurable and unitive aspects of sexual intercourse without risking the consequences and responsibility of bringing another life into the world. The only thing that makes this acceptable is the intent behind the action. The action of NFP, the action of sex, the action of using a diaphragm can all be used for wrong and damaging purposes.

It there is a problem here, it's because you're not explaining yourself very well at all. You seem to enjoy throwing the word "ontological" around a lot, but you have yet to state the specifications in this context.

You seem to have memorized all the right things you've been told you should say to those who dare to disagree with your belief about NFP without fully understanding them yourself, and you have just fallen into exactly the same kind of thinking Arwen's insulting and self-serving disclaimer set up from the start by insisting that I'm not agreeing because I don't understand.

What you can't deal with is that I fully understand what you're saying and I disagree. If the only way you can deal with the fact that I believe you are tampering with the sex act and its intended purpose by using NFP just as much as if you were using a diaphragm is to keep repeating over and over to yourself that I don't understand, then so be it. That's your loss, not mine.

If the Pope said tomorrow that the pill was sanctioned by the Church, you'd all be on it before the sun set. That's the truth behind your belief. It only goes as far as following the rules and justifying them afterwards with flawed rationalizations and pretzel logic.


Wow, this conversation has certainly been off and running since I checked it last.

A few quick observations/comments:

1) JJE's last post sounded kind of hurt. Arwen, I'm sure you're planning to take that into account when responding to her (if further email communication is going to take place). :)

2) The last few posts are a bit Joanna-versus-the-Catholics-ish. It seems to me that Joanna does indeed understand the Catholic position, and simply disagrees with it, for the reasons she has stated, while the Catholic contingent is duty-bound by their respect for and adherence to Church teaching NOT to change their position. It's an impasse. So ... perhaps more explaining to Joanna will only breed more anger? Not trying to shut down discussion (heavens, no--this isn't even my blog!), just trying to distinguish between discussion and argument.

3) It's important to note that, while Catholics rely on Sacred Tradition (as articulated in the Catechism) as much as on Sacred Scripture for guidance, Protestants and Jews rely mainly on the Bible/Torah. Biblical teaching on birth control is inconclusive; the only scriptures that could be construed to address it are the Levitical purity teachings (which merely prohibit sex during a woman's period and unclean times) and the story of Judah's sons, who spill their semen on the ground during sex rather than impregnate their brother's widow Tamar. God responds rather firmly, but from a contextual standpoint we see that the main descendant of Tamar's eventual union with her father-in-law is Jesus Christ. We don't hear about God striking dead every Hebrew man who practiced birth control by withdrawal, just the ones who were standing in the way of the Messiah's birth.

Oh, I forgot one, for Christians: St. Paul's New Testament teaching that husbands and wives may only deprive each other of sex for a time to devote themselves to prayer, but must come back together before long.

So, anyway: there's no Scriptural indication that birth control, whether natural or artificial, is wrong from either a unitive or a procreative standpoint. The Catholic perspective is entirely extra-Scriptural. This must be noted because it’s a huge barrier in Catholic-non-Catholic dialogue on this subject. I would argue--perhaps others would disagree--that there is no way to prove that NFP-with-the-intent-of-preventing-conception is any different from using a barrier method, based on logic alone. Those of you who have taken on Joanna's comments have seen that, as has Joanna. At some point, personal belief is going to come into play. And then the basis of that belief, whether sola Scriptura or otherwise, becomes part of the argument as well.

Jordana sais: "Biblical teaching on birth control is inconclusive"

(i'm assuming you mean artificial birth control)


You may want to have a quick look at this site (which is one among many) giving extremly adequate evidence of the scriptural indication that contraception is not part of God's plan


http://www.scripturecatholic.com/contraception.html

Without responding to anything else in this discussion, I would like to point out that the statement that there is a definite time when a woman is absolutely infertile (expressed in several of the comments) is incorrect. Although a woman is generally not able to conceive during her period because of the fact that her uterine lining has sloughed off, there are plenty of women who HAVE conceived at that time.

I think it's salient to note this fact during a discussion of NFP because several of the above posters have stated (and I am paraphrasing here) that because God has given women a period of "natural infertility," NFP is somehow different than birth control. I agree, at least in part, with Joanna because I don't really see a difference between using a barrier method of BC and NFP when the ultimate goal of both methods is to avoid pregnancy for whatever reason.

I understand that hormonal BC is another bag entirely, but I would suggest that the women who believe that this type of BC allows an egg to be fertilized but then doesn't allow it to implant do some research on the subject. My understanding of hormonal BC is that it prevents ovulation, thus there is no egg at all to be fertilized. Human error (ie, taking the pill at the wrong time, forgetting the pill, etc) contributes to ovulation that can then result in pregnancy -- which is what accounts for the 1% failure rate of hormonal birth control.

Ariella,

On the BC pill - it's not eitehr or (does it prevent ovulation or does it prevent implantation). It's both and.

It is Joanna's continued insistence that the faithful Catholics posting here are mere parrots lacking understanding that leads me to conclude that she cannot see the internal consistency in the Catholic position. I'm willing to make a compromise though - If she'll admit that a thinking person can see a real difference between NFP and contraceptives, and stop intimating that I am not thinking, I'm willing to stop saying that she simply doesn't understand nor want to understand.

Capische?

If I was talking (or acting) out of blind obedience, I would say so. After all, I hold the doctrine of the Trinity out of blind obedience. Still don't understand that one, probably never will. In contrast, I do understand the teachings on sexuality, and havee observed their truth in their effects on my own life.

Joanna,
I enjoy watching the reactions of people who falling short on their arguments resort to ad hominem (that's Latin, you know).

I'm not going to apologize for mentioning your husband, since I had no clue about the situation. Sometimes we have to use examples.

If you don't get the difference between ABC, and NFP, I'm going to assume that you really understand the difference, but it just isn't meaningful in your world view. That's ok, too. Takes all kinds.

But I think our particular "dialogue" is over. It's been fun.

Ariella,

As a 4th year medical student who has studied both human reproduction and the female menstrual cycle in a great amount of biochemical and epidemiological detail I can say, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of time during a woman's menstrual cycle she IS completely INFERTILE.

Woman only ovulate ONCE during a menstrual cycle, and much research evidence has conclusively proven that the egg is only fertilizable for a maximum period of about 12hours (recent evidence even suggests this may be more around 8 hours).

However, there are 2 other important issues which further complicate matters..

a- Sperm can survive inside a woman's body for a maximum of about 6 days

b- Prospectively, a woman can never be 100% sure exactly what day she is about to ovulate (unles you are tracking serum hormone profiles).

I agree that there may be some women who have concieved during their menstrual cycle (although I debate with your use of the word 'many'), but on closer inspection I am almost certain that you'd find that the women who did conceive had quite long periods of blood loss, and concieved during the last day(s) of their period.
(The hormone changes that induce ovulation are actually inhibited during the start of the period).


After a woman has ovulated she is, beyond any doubt, entirely infertile and it is a biological impossibility for her to concieve.

ps-

As another poster said, the hormones in the
BC pill have 2 modes of functioning:

- preventing ovulation

- preventing implantation


if it doesnt managed to prevent ovulation (about 3 - 20% of the time, depending on the studies you read) then it will prevent implantation of the developing embryo. It is well know for this abortifacient mode of action.

Kate, it's hardly a continued insistance when I only implied it once, and even then only after your continued implication that I didn't understand the Catholic church's teaching on human sexuality, which I stated I agreed with but didn't agree with the leap from that teaching to the teaching on the difference between NFP and other methods of family planning. Had this "discussion" not started out with an implied ad hominem directed towards anyone who might not disagree, perhaps my tone would be a little more "generous". As it is now, my tone is a reflection of the generosity with which anyone who held a differing view was greeted with from the start.

Tony, I understand what Latin is. It's also a little strange that you have decided to chastise me for supposed ad hominem attacks with a post that consists of nothing but direct ad hominems. Like you say, it takes all kinds.

Again, the continued refusal to provide arguments that refute mine and the continued assumption that if I refuse to capitulate it's because I'm ignorant, badly educated and misled can only mean that you don't really understand what it is you're arguing and that the main basis for your belief that NFP is not separating the procreative and unitive aspects of sexual intercourse is merely a rule you're following because of the religion you belong to.

The truth is that your arguments don't hold up outside your particular belief system. NFP is licit and other methods illicit merely because that's what the rules are. There's no real thought going on here. There's just a lot of repetitive parroting of "what the church says".

Either marital relations are a reflection of God's relationship with man or they're not. If they are, and if marital relations are part of a grander design, then one either doesn't interfere with them or one is allowed to separate the various aspects for the overall greater good of a long term marriage. How that is accomplished doesn't make doing that right or wrong.

I'm still having a hard time seeing how you can assert on the one hand that marital love should be a reflection of God's love, should be entirely selfless and self-giving, and then say it's okay to (very roughly) be entirely selfless and self-giving two weeks on and then not be entirely selfless and self-giving the other two weeks with the specific purpose of avoiding creating another human being. How is this a reflection of God's love?

There's a lot of talk about natural fertility cycles and how NFP uses those naturally infertile times, but that's stretching the truth. The truth is that, during the course of a marriage and during the course of a normal, healthy sexual relationship, couples will automatically have relations during both periods and will naturally be allowed to enjoy a majority of sexual relations without incurring a pregnancy. But once a couple deliberately uses science and technology to fine-tune avoiding those naturally fertile periods, the natural design has been manipulated and the will of the individual supercedes the will of God.

I personally believe that it is moral and responsible to avoid pregnancy if there is a serious enough reason to do so, and I believe those reasons are personal, not anyone else's business, and aren't limited to a pre-determined list derived by any other person or organization. I believe that once one has agreed that it is licit to manipulate the design for the greater good, there is no moral difference between NFP and a barrier method. The morality lies in the intent.

Now if someone wants to refute that with reason and logic rather than just telling me I don't understand because people who really understand will agree all the time and that NFP is moral because the church says so, have at it.

Until then, I refuse to be condescended to by a pack of little girls who really haven't had a lot of experience with a long term marriage or multiple pregnancies. I've always said it's funny how this generation gushes so over NFP but you never heard Catholics gushing over the beauty of the church's teaching on human sexuality until they had a sanctioned method that was equally as effective as the pill. Where are the women who will sing the praises of the old rhythm method, or no method at all? The only women you'll hear doing that are Protestant women, not Catholics. There are far more Protestant women who are willing to truly accept God's will in this area of their lives than Catholics, as a matter of fact.

I am not going to comment on the difference between Contraception and NFP because after the first 8 posts it got rather repetitive (on both sides) although I will say that I agree that there is a difference, only nothing I could add to the argument would be anything new. I'm going to comment on this instead: Arwen said: "Find a Catholic who really understands the Church’s teaching on sexuality and lives her life in accordance with it, and you won’t find her complaining about how she’d love to be able to use birth control. She knows that marital love that doesn’t allow procreation is impoverished, less than what it’s meant to be. She knows that when she abandons herself in the sexual union for the sake of her love for God and her husband, she’s doing something that makes every aspect of her life better. Fuller. More perfect. You might feel sorry for her when you see her in the grocery store with her eight children, but I promise you that if she understands and has assented, she’s not feeling sorry for herself."
I have four children. Some lady at a soccer game came right out and told me "I'm sorry. (for you)" I replied just as quickly, "I'm not." I am currently expecting a fifth child, not exactly planned for, I'm almost certain that like Arwen's mother, I double ovulated and didn't catch the second one. (I'll comment on her comment after). I happen to have a husband who was baptised Catholic but if anything is totally anti-catholic. As long as NFP was "working" he was willing to go along with it. Now he wants a permanent solution. How can I say this without getting into details? Let's just say that Christopher West so wonderfully describes the act of total gift to each other in his book Good News for Marriage, and reading it just made me realize that I could never have that, not unless my husband suddenly converts, not even while (imperfectly) using NFP, because my fertility is rejected. In other words, I don't have a problem with using NFP to space pregnancies (although continued exclusive breastfeeding will also do that with most women, old testament women breastfed their babies for 3 years and women in Africa who still do most often remain infertile for almost that time, although there are always exceptions and the breastfeeding has to be EXCLUSIVE, just thought I'd mention this other, natural, and very profitable (for the child) option to NFP which I am sure most women used to know about before the advent of nurse-maids and artificial milk etc.), however I do have a problem with NFP being used, only as long as it "works" and if not then we'll have to get a permanent solution to the "problem". After this long-winded commentary all I really want to say is that the woman faced with either the possibility (if she gets pregnant again) or the eventuality (now that she has gotten pregnant again) of the prospect of no longer living in accordance with the Church's teaching on sexuality also "knows that marital love that doesn’t allow procreation is impoverished, less than what it’s meant to be. She knows that when she abandons herself in the sexual union for the sake of her love for God and her husband, she’s doing something that makes every aspect of her life better. Fuller. More perfect." Maybe she knows it even better. Sometimes you don't know what you have until it is gone. (And yes, you may all feel sorry for me, :) )
Now for double-ovulation and irregular cycles. I have an irregular cycle, so as Arwen's mother says so well, it can be important to practice NFP just so that your (all-knowing, self-proclaimed god) gynecologist (no offense to the good doctors out there, and I HAVE met some) can't tell you that you are due 3 or 4 weeks before you really are and induce you unnecessarily and put you on horrible pitocin and etc, etc,... That's another story. (I'm going with a mid-wife this time)
Oh, and Antonia, I liked your comment on the biology of woman. I saw a special on Discovery (TV) all about conception and it went into detail about all the adversity the sperm goes through to actually reach the egg, and in the end I think they said it was something like a 30% chance only of pregnancy even when a woman is fertile. Can you elaborate at all on that?
Just another observation I have made recently, even among those who aren't religious and don't believe that contraception is wrong I have noticed that the more NATURAL (NFP is very natural) and relaxed a couple tends to be, the less complications made in life, the less "consumerist" one is, the more open to life people are. When childbirth and childrearing are actually made to be PLEASANT things, (look up attachment parenting on the internet for more detail) then people naturally want more of them. I agree heartily that governments need to make laws that will facilitate having larger families. We need more support groups, more family specials (that aren't limited to 2 adults and 2 children, grrrr,... my pet peeve.) Sorry Arwen, to go on about large families on your infertility site, but it DOES have something to do with NFP after all. There, I think I'm done.
By the way, why can't we delete or edit our own posts when we discover a flagrant mistake or decide oops maybe we've said too much? I re-read my posts a couple of times before hitting post now. I'm hoping I don't discover something now...

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to comment on this thread anymore, but things have gotten to the point where I'm stepping back in temporarily.

First of all, Joanna, in your first comment here you accused me of being self-serving and assuming you don't get it if you dare to disagree. I clarified that such a thing was not my intent at all. Insulting my readers would be a dumb thing to do even if I ever wanted to insult anyone, which I don't. You responded that the disclaimer sets people on the defensive whether I intended it to or not, which is fine. But then you continued to treat my disclaimer as if it were a personal slap in the face, including referring to it as "insulting" and "self-serving" and claiming that "this 'discussion' started out with an implied ad hominem." In other words, even though I clarified it carefully, you continue to insist that you know more about my statement and its intent than I do. You have insulted me and you have insulted all who participate here by implying that it is not a real discussion, as if your own personal definition of "discussion" were somehow the defining one. If this discussion does not meet your standards, why do you continue to participate in it so vehemently?

To everyone who noticed that my argument is based on my faith and is not really attackable from a purely philosophical point of view: you're right. That's what the disclaimer was meant to convey. I'm not saying you're stupid if you disagree, just that we're probably not working from the same presuppositions. (That's what the second disclaimer, up near the top of the comments section, is meant to convey.) That doesn't mean I don't appreciate you - two of my truest friends in the world agree with me on almost nothing, and yet I love them no less - it simply means that my point of view is going to be hard to refute because it is based on my faith, which is why I clarified that my post was meant to be an explanation, not an argument.

I can't agree with Joanna that the Catholics here are blind believers in something that we don't understand, but I will allow that it is certainly true that our assent to Church teaching on the subject precedes our understanding. We began by knowing enough about God to believe in his existence and to believe that the Catholic Church has been entrusted with his revelation, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to understand that revelation. The understanding that we seek (and never attain in full while we live on earth) gives us the ability to assent more fully. (I also want to point out that if we pursue understanding with complete intellectual honesty, we are also given the opportunity to discover if the things to which we have assented are not true.)

So Joanna is correct when she asserts that I fill in the gaps in my argument with my faith. After all, my assent is complete but my understanding is not. I, of course, believe that my lack of understanding makes the truth no less complete, but one who has not made the same assent might not see it that way.

However, Joanna, I suggest that you are guilty of the same offense of which you accuse us, in a worse way. We continue to cling to a truth which we don't understand completely, but it is a truth that we believe God has given us. You may believe that is blindness if you wish. You, on the other hand, cling to a truth that is of your own making, so that on several occasions your response to another statement has been simply "I refuse to believe that." Doing that is your prerogative, of course, but please do not pretend that you are the only person thinking clearly, when you obviously come into this with many presuppositions of your own.

We have explained that NFP can be allowable (note I did not say that it is always allowable) because it does not change the sexual act itself. You refuse to believe that avoiding the sexual act at various times is any different that obstructing it during its performance. That is fine; refusal to believe it is your right. However, do not pretend that because you refuse to believe it, we have failed to understand it. We understand it. Your lack of understanding subtracts nothing from our understanding.

As you already consider me to be insulting and self-serving, I am not afraid to make the following statement: this discussion is hijacking my blog. This is my own little corner of the Internet, and it is a good place. I would like it to stay that way. Therefore, any comments that continue the Joanna vs. NFP Defenders theme will be taken down immediately. I'm going to leave the comments open in case anyone wants to talk about anything else, but please, please keep it civil.

You are all free to send me personal hate mail, but I don't promise to respond.

Oh, and one last thing - anyone who thinks that NFP use is purely selfish has never been through a Phase II abstinence period. :)

The comments to this entry are closed.