Eden on West

17 01 2011

Sometimes, it’s good just to read some good old fashioned Catholic debate and see if I can read it with a straight face. For that reason, I am thankful that Dawn Eden put her Master’s thesis on-line for the curious to read and contemplate. Since I have never read Christopher West, I won’t go on the war path too much with him here. Since I have read the original Theology of the Body lectures and found them to be impenetrable gunk with the consistency of a marshmallow, I feel I can comment on general tendencies I see both in the polemicizer and the object of her polemic:

1. Repression: I have to go back unwillingly to my studies of Foucault, but I think it goes without saying that West’s characterization of the pre-Vatican II church as sexually repressed is a perfect example of pop-sociology gone wrong. In Foucault, the greatest repression comes not in silence, but precisely in discourse. That is why, for him, the Victorians were far more sexualized than those who came before them. A far more respectful position towards sex is the silence of the taboo. People speak about something to neutralize it, to bring it out into the open. Who knows? Maybe pre-Vatican II Catholics enjoyed sex way more than we do precisely because they didn’t talk about it.

2. The error of “incarnationalism”: In the theology of the body, a view is posited that “the Church knows everything, and the Church knows best”. This view is centered on the idea that the Incarnation made everything an object of direct redemption. Eden accuses West of taking this to an extreme when he says that purity lies not in avoiding the prurient gaze, but in learning to look well, without lust. This is similar to what Marie-Dominique Chenu said about virtue in general: that it is located within the passions, not outside of them. Here there is a sort of two-prong approach: man is the union of body and soul, so the Church has jurisdiction over both body and soul. At the same time, the Church is powerful enough in terms of the workings of grace to have dominion over any drive whatsoever. The Church can even teach authoritatively about the intimate actions of the bedroom. Really, Christoper West is very much in continuity with the theology coming out of Trent and 19th century ultramontanism, at least where the issue of the applicability of Church teaching is concerned.

But there lies the problem, though Eden could never make such a radical critique within the confines of a Catholic institution (at least a “good” one). In my opinion, it is the Jansenists and other hyper-Augustinians who had a realistic view of the role of the passions in human life. It is really their borderline views of the total depravity of human nature that respects the chaos at the heart of human action. Attempts by people like West to candy-coat sexual sin are thus the real mystification in Catholic discourse: an attempt to portray the words spoken and the actions performed as perfectly in sync, which is never the reality. Not even the Church has complete power over the sexual realm: it remains the unspoken ground of our existence that is to be feared and respected. This also impinges upon the hylomorphic view of man as a symphony of body and soul. In reality, man is a rather uneasy détente between what Zizek would call “organs without bodies” and the force of human reason. There is no formula that will automatically bring about the Thomist dream of an integrated human being, even if people proporting to offer just that sell thousands of books.

3. “Plumbing” does not equal personality: Thus, I think it is harmful to attempt to reduce human personality to our reproductive hardware. Another agent of mystification is the obvious one of saying that those things which are “socially constructed” are entirely natural. It is not necessarily the case that having a penis or a vagina locates you within a particular ontological framework within symbolic discourse. Really, then, Catholic ideology’s attempt to classify people in that way is a method to carry on bourgeois social engineering by other means. While in the past, structures of sexism mandated that “a woman’s place is in the home” (or rather, in the place that men aren’t in terms of dominance), now the ideology’s position is that a person will never be fulfilled unless he or she obeys the biological imperatives established by God. A valiant attempt, but far from convincing.

4. The revolution will not be televised, but it may be live-blogged: Eden is most afraid of West’s rhetoric about the theology of the body being “revolutionary”. At this stage of the ideological game, however, I think such a fear borders on the neurotic. Catholic teaching has made peace with change on a number of fronts, whether it be the literal interpretation of Genesis and St. Paul or the structure of entire economies based on usury. To be worried about revolutionary rhetoric in the Church now smacks of “too little, too late”. There are many other visible and important issues on which the Church has already discarded the past or read it out of current discourse altogether. Even our current Pontiff, in his more pensive moments, called Vatican II, “the French Revolution in the Church”. His protests about “continuity” seem a lot like the rhetorical versions of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Which comes to my closing point: is the Catholic Church too obsessed with sex? I think that the overwhelming amount of (useless) discourse produced by the Church has nothing to do with sex. However, the vast majority of (perceived) non-negotiable moral questions has to do with “below-the-belt” issues. Thus, while those who protest that the mainstream media ignores all that is said by the Church concerning environmentalism and social justice, for example, it is the Church itself that feeds the “sex-obsessed” perception by failing to provide definitive moral rhetoric on any moral issue other than those that touch upon human reproduction. The Church is not threatening to excommunicate usurious bankers or officers of the IMF. Clerics do threaten on a regular basis mothers who have abortions in difficult circumstances or politicians who support gay rights. Thus, I have little sympathy for those who think the Church is being slandered. Let the Church posit a more consistent and definitive moral vision complete with punitive measures for actions other than sexually-related ones, and then I will re-evaluate my opinion


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31 03 2011
Chris

“Animals “have” “pain” in some sense, but it is merely a nervous electro-chemical reaction causing certain behavior in a mechanistic way.”

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA0pDYP02oo

Now tell me that there’s no subjectivly experienced pain “qualia” there; tell me that that bear’s writhings are merely mechanistic behaviors caused simply by electro-chemical reactions.

2 03 2011
A Sinner

All sexual sins are grave sins objectively, at least if externally enacted (there can be venial lust internally if not fully entertained). Obviously, however, full knowledge and consent make the question of whether they are subjectively imputed as a personal mortal sin very different. As I said above, one might truly be under a type of duress and like one has to choose the lesser evil and, in conscience, this would then not be a mortal sin. The Catechism even seems to admit this when it says, “To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.”

I don’t think it’s just sexual sins which we have approached in a wrong way, it’s the concept of morality in general. All the other virtues are valuable, ultimately, inasmuch as they enable the maximization of charity. Ultimate moral maturity involves reaching the stage where one no longer has to “balance” values as if they are “competing,” where one can be just and merciful, chaste and sane, etc, where charity, in that sense, can be maximized. But where the Church has been much less clear (perhaps exactly because it is a matter of the internal forum) is in the intermediate stage of moral maturity where people learn to “negotiate” the various values, in practice, in conscience, while also recognizing humbly that the need to compromise is unideal and the result of their own weaknesses.

Perhaps because so much dissent/heresy has been shrouded under the name of “conscience” (which, in reality, can never be used to justify rejecting the teachings in the abstract), it has gotten something of a bad name in conservative Catholic circles. Really, a robust theology of conscience is needed that is actually orthodox rather than a sort of free pass to sin.

1 03 2011
sortacatholic

Sancrucensis: The Church doesn’t simply lay the burden of commandments on people like the Mosaic Law; Her principle function is to give them the grace of God, which as the examples of many saints show, has the power to enable people to live according to His will.

It’s very important to remember than Judaism does not consider the LORD’s covenant with Israel to be “a burden”. A supersessionist straw man detracts from a solid Catholic argument against contraception. The observance of the “Law” is the sanctification of the Jewish people. For example: the commandment to observe kosher dietary laws is not meant to punish Jewish people. Rather, “keeping Kosher” is a way to live the covenant through the very basic and everyday act of self-nourishment. The “law versus grace” hard dichotomy in Romans and Galatians does not necessarily imply that the covenant of Sinai is absolutely reprobate. (Post)modern Christian theology has moved beyond the Reformation-era notion that a demilitarized theological zone exists between the Torah and Pauline thought.

Many rabbis will note that today’s animal husbandry produces pork that is most often free of trichinosis. Shrink-wrapped pork chops at the supermarket are almost always safe to eat. Despite this, Rabbis will only say that the LORD has commanded them not to eat pork. There is no other reason for the prohibition other than the belief that God revealed this instruction to his people at Sinai. In this way, God has set apart his nation Israel and has sanctified their lives.

Perhaps notions of covenant and personal sanctification can also apply to the Catholic question of contraception. Why are Catholics forbidden to use any form of barrier of chemical-hormonal contraception? Well, maybe it’s because the covenant that God made to ta ethne, the “Greeks”, through the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery cannot be understood without this prohibition. Maybe that is all that must be said.

1 03 2011
sortacatholic

A Sinner: A man with a vasectomy is not required to get it reversed. Sterilization and contraception are different (though both are sometimes spoken of under the name “contraception” confusingly).

Ancedotally, priests have encouraged men to have their vas sewn back together. Tubal litigation repair is rarely as successful as reattaching male reproductive plumbing.

1 03 2011
Francesca R

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It’s really not the teaching per se that I disagree with. To change it would be a clear break with Christian tradition. But I wonder if we have not handled this teaching well. For example, it’s always been hard for me to accept the idea that all sexual sins are mortal sins. The ways in which people depart from the ideal are so varied, and done for so many different reasons — but no matter what they are, they all deserve everlasting damnation? Really? I find that so hard to believe. Just one example…time for me to attend to a small child 😉

1 03 2011
A Sinner

I certainly think there is a valid claim in conscience for people who feel they are under a certain type of psychological duress. I have discussed that here:

http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com/2011/02/humility-as-reality.html

The point about abstinence basically driving one crazy is well-taken, and I could definitely see a claim that one feels, essentially, trapped between a rock and a hard place, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” especially if attempts at the fullness of the teachings on chastity are causing one to be demonstrably less charitable, more angry, breaking a marriage, etc. In such a case, I could definitely recognize the claim that one is under a certain type of moral duress and has to, in conscience, choose the lesser evil.

However, conscience claims of duress in practice, don’t at all justify rejecting the teaching in theory. The “correct” response is to act on conscience, yes, when forced to make the choice between two evils, but also to recognize that this “double bind” requiring a conscience-claim is a result of YOUR weaknesses, not conclude that it means the teaching is wrong in general.

Obviously, some people have accepted more children even in destitute situations and somehow made it. More practically, other people have practiced NFP or celibacy without going crazy or ruining their marriage, have found a way to make it work out great.

It may not, currently, for you, psychologically and emotionally. That’s understandable, and you may have a valid claim in conscience to choose the lesser evil for now. But rather than reject the teaching outright, the goal should be to eventually, with God’s grace, become the sort of person/couple who CAN follow the teaching without being forced to sacrifice either chastity for charity or charity for chastity (such people do exist!)

I would be the first to recognize a claim of duress like that, that abstinence as required for NFP might ruin a marriage or have negative psychological effects that make one a worse person, in other areas, in practice. It’s these “unideal” casuistic situations that conscience is for. But that doesn’t mean giving up the ideal or the theoretical teaching either. Because with God’s grace, we can become the sort of people who don’t need to sacrifice one value in favor of another, we can become the sort of people who can choose both at once. God never leaves us in an impossible “double bind” like that forever.

28 02 2011
Francesca R

Well, maybe. Certainly I used to tell other people the exact same thing.

A vague explanation of my situation won’t change anyone’s mind, but here it is in case a real-life scenario adds anything to the discussion: (1) At this point in my life it would be completely insane – by the world’s standards – for me to have any more children. My husband’s job pays very poorly and athough he is searching he has not yet found any better prospects. The area where I live has generous welfare payments for low income families, but is it fair of me to make other taxpayers support my excessive childbearing? I don’t think so. (2) One of my children is a bit off and requires a lot of supervision. He also needs his own room because siblings do not feel safe sharing with him. (3) I do not live anywhere near any relatives who could help me out, nor do I have the money to hire help.

So if I had a big house and lots of money, I would have a baby every other year. But I don’t, so would having lots of babies anyway be a commendable act of trust in God’s providence, or just really stupid? I don’t know, because it seems like the Church tells us it’s OK to use our judgement, but then it also seems that the ideal is not to use your judgement at all but to take crazy risks for the Gospel.

With regard to NFP, my experience of it as a woman is that I cannot have sex during the two-week period in which I experience a gradually increasing desire for sex, ending with about 3 days spent in a fog of overwhelming lust. Meanwhile, my husband and I try to ignore each other as much as possible so we won’t lead each other into temptation. Then the fog suddenly lifts and I think, “Oh yeah, I was reading this book,” or I remember that I can have some fun with my kids, and sex plummets to the bottom of my list of things I’d like to do, at which point I can finally have sex.

In my experience this is much worse than celibacy. Since I share a bed with a man, and sex is still part of my life, what it feels like is celibacy with a lot of extra torture poured on top, like being around food but not being allowed to eat any of it until you’re so starving that your body suppresses your appetite.

Now if everything the Church tells us about sex really is true, my feelings don’t matter. Neither, I guess, does the fact that this kind of abstinence seriously wounded my marriage. But I’ll throw them out there for commentary anyway.

28 02 2011
A Sinner

Oh, come on. The third doesn’t need to be reconciled with the other two. You do have to make a trade-off. If you don’t want kids, learn to deal with the burning passions at least periodically (ie, NFP). If you can’t help but burn, then you’d better accept children. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. The “better to marry than to burn” can ONLY be understood in light of “Yet she shall be saved through childbearing.”

28 02 2011
Francesca R

“How could you possibly believe that people who don’t want children or can’t take care of them should be forced to reproduce with threats of hellfire?”

Having just reread your comment, Alex, I have to retract my statement that I mostly agreed with it, because this really is a misstatement of the Church’s position. Nobody is being forced to reproduce. You’re allowed to stop anytime.

But I agree with some of the spirit of your comment. Although the way in which Catholic moral theologians discuss sex makes sense on one level (it made a lot of sense to me when I was single), it is a cold, clinical approach that is disconnected from reality. And in their attempts to keep our marriage beds pure, Catholic theologians discuss sex with a level of specificity and detail that is unseemly and disturbing (to me at least) for an area of life that is usually thought fit to be veiled and mysterious. There must be a better way to set parameters for good sexual behaviour.

Sorry for my vulgarity above, by the way.

Although I respect the Church’s teaching on sex I am increasingly puzzled by how to reconcile these three concepts:
-Married couples are allowed to limit their family size for serious reasons.
-This can only be done through sexual abstinence.
-Marriage is a remedy for concupiscence (“better to marry than to burn”).

27 02 2011
A Sinner

“In short, when the Church says that contraception is an intrinsic evil, it seems to me this is pretty much saying that nothing could even in theory justify it; which to me is equivalent to saying that the emotions, pleausre, etc. are more or less irrelevant.”

Contraception only makes sense if there is arousal and pleasure involved. Simply not having sex would be a form of “contraception” by your definition. Contraception is preventing the transmission of semen when there IS actual sexual arousal and pleasure going on. It’s separating the actual good while tricking one’s body to one through the sequence corresponding to mating.

If two people were somehow able to copulate “like a handshake” without any passions or pleasures, this would really be no more “having sex” than washing the genitals or a physician inspecting them is masturbation. The moral character of the act comes from either the congruity or incongruity of internal and external, of the objective and subjective goods.

“You make many interesting points, but I think that many Catholics who do oppose contraception might still disagree with some of them; and my experience reading essays by such supporters is that there is no unity of thought, approach, or practical outcomes.”

The practical outcomes implied by my approach are the ones that the Church uses in practices, however (such as not making a man get a vasectomy reversed, counting sex on the pill [but not with a condom] as valid for marital consummation, etc)

“to compel married couples to have children unless they want them and are in a position to provide for them”

They don’t have to have children. In that case, they don’t need to have sex. If people are SOOOO obsessed with sex that they “need” to have it compulsively like that, that they can’t stop without serious psychological detriment…that alone, in itself, is reason enough to be suspicious of whether what they’re doing is really virtuous. A virtuous person might have sex with a spouse, but would also be able to give it up at a moment’s notice, would not be attached to it like that. Anything less strikes me as a serious lack of moral freedom.

27 02 2011
sancrucensis

Alex Anderson, I can see why the Church’s attitude toward contraception should appear wicked to you, but as a member of the “priestly class who will never, themselves, have to raise a child” let me just try to show you how it appears to us. The whole question turns on what Arturo calls the “the error of incarnationalism”, which as far as I can tell simply means believing in the power of Christ. The Church doesn’t simply lay the burden of commandments on people like the Mosaic Law; Her principle function is to give them the grace of God, which as the examples of many saints show, has the power to enable people to live according to His will. In today’s Gospel Our Lord says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” I know lots of married people in whose lives that principle has been proven true. And then again, no one is required to have children; the Church has always taught that however good it may be to have children, it is even better to be celibate “for the sake of the kingdom” partly because this is an even stronger sign of the fact that Christ has power even over “the unspoken ground of our existence that is to be feared and respected”.

Arturo, I’ve just got my hand on the De Koninck texts that you mentioned and have uploaded them to scribd here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49633236/De-Koninck-The-Question-of-Infertility and here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49633230/De-Koninck-Vie-conjugale-et-regulation-des-naissances along with a critique by someone else here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49633232/De-Koninck-The-Question-of-Infertility-Critique-by-Grisez

23 02 2011
Francesca R

And I agree with most of the serious points you were making, except, as I said, the assertion that the Pill is the only reliable means for preventing pregnancy. Any woman who cares about her health should avoid the Pill. And there are other reliable ways of preventing pregnancy. How do you not see the relevance to your comment?

23 02 2011
Alex Anderson

I was attempting to discuss what is, to me at least, a serious issue: the church’s insistence that married couples who do not want or cannot support children must nevertheless produce them in order to satisfy the hair-splitting theology of a priestly class who will never, themselves, have to raise a child. I don’t know what this has to do with “technical virgins” or the sex practices of teenagers, nor do I see what place it has in this discussion.

23 02 2011
Francesca R

I was trying to make my point without bringing the tone of the discussion down but I guess I was too coy…What I meant is that there are many ways of getting your rocks off without conceiving a child. Teenagers routinely employ these techniques with the goal of remaining “technical virgins.” They are 100% guaranteed not to cause pregnancy, do not require you to spend any money, and do not cause healthy systems to malfunction (as the pill does).

23 02 2011
Alex Anderson

Francesca, I don’t rely on my imagination, impoverished or not, in deciding what birth control method to use.

23 02 2011
Francesca R

Alex, I agree with much of what you say, but your assertion that only the pill can “reliably prevent pregnancy” shows that you have a really impoverished imagination.

22 02 2011
Alex Anderson

The arguments here have become quite complex and, in some cases, incomprehensible to me. Reading them has made me feel as if I do not even live in the same physical world as the rest of you. I come from a family of lapsed Catholics and was not brought up in the church myself. The arguments I’ve just read make clear to me why my family left the church.

Neither they (nor I) can understand how such a debate can take place without any mention, even in passing, of the sheer wickedness of insisting that couples who cannot provide for children, or have no interest in or desire to have them, or who know they would not be good parents, MUST nevertheless have them . I simply cannot, try as I might, grasp the hubris involved in denying contraception to poor people who cannot feed or take care of the children they already have. While reading this abstract discussion of good and evil, so very far removed from the realities of most people’s lives (and which seemed to me often comparable to a debate about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin) I could not help thinking of the enormous number of suffering children in this world – a matter which is not at all abstract to me. I can only think their pain is either not an important issue to at least some of the participants here, or is merely accepted as the will of god.

Let me just say, so there is no mistaking my meaning, that I don’t care what any priest or church or book says to the contrary, I believe it’s barbarous to even attempt to compel married couples to have children unless they want them and are in a position to provide for them – and let us not pretend that any method other than the pill can reliably prevent pregnancy. Listen to what you are saying! How could you possibly believe that people who don’t want children or can’t take care of them should be forced to reproduce with threats of hellfire?

26 01 2011
Francesca R

I agree with you about NFP being a dispensation that could, possibly, be expanded to include barrier methods. I’m not sure about whether condoms are “open like NFP”, though, because if you are very careful about abstaining during the fertile period, your chance of conception is basically nil. Since condoms sometimes fail unexpectedly, they are probably more open.
I don’t expect the Church’s teaching on contraception to change — I just don’t think it could at this point. Does anyone here actually think the teaching could change? However, given our current situation I wouldn’t be surprised if someday a system develops where the teaching is officially upheld but dispensations are widely available. You know, go tell the parish priest your sob story and get permission to use condoms or whatever.

25 01 2011
Turmarion

I’m aware of the Scholastic argument re animals, and while there’s something to it, my intuition is that it falls short. I’d direct you to C. S. Lewis’s discussion of animals in The Problem of Pain. I also think there’s Biblical and Patristic evidence, contra the Scholastics, that killing animals for human needs at all is a concession to the weak sinfulness of fallen man. It’s permissiable until the eschaton (which is why I don’t condemn meat-eaters, one of whom I am), but it is not the ideal, and I think vegetarians give a prophetic sign of the restoration of the cosmos as it was supposed to be.

It’s because mere external events have no moral character, the morality of acts is seated in the relationship in the Will between desire, the good desired, and the pleasure of the good attained.

I’m not sure the Church teaches this, regardless of what it says. When it speaks of intrinsic evils, it means things that by their nature are always and irremediably evil. That would imply that there is, under no conceivable set of circumstances, a relationship of will to desire, good, and pleasure which could make such an act moral; which is not much different from saying that it is about the external act. In short, when the Church says that contraception is an intrinsic evil, it seems to me this is pretty much saying that nothing could even in theory justify it; which to me is equivalent to saying that the emotions, pleausre, etc. are more or less irrelevant.

I also point out again the post I cited wherein the poster came to the opposite conclusion from you, that condoms would be more acceptable than the Pill, since there’s a great chance of conception. You make many interesting points, but I think that many Catholics who do oppose contraception might still disagree with some of them; and my experience reading essays by such supporters is that there is no unity of thought, approach, or practical outcomes. Maybe, as you suggested before, this is OK because the Chuch steps in to teach us when we can’t give a good rationale ourselves; but if the only argument is from authority, it seems to me that that weakens the whole premise.

25 01 2011
sancrucensis

“If there’s a morally significant difference between the two [kinds of sex], tell me what it is. DON’T simply tell me that it should be self-evident, or that it would be self-evident if I had my head screwed on in the appropriately medieval fashion. All too often the claim of “self-evidence” is a quick and easy way of saying, “I have no argument, but if you don’t see it my way, you must be intellectually blind.”

Well, every argument has to be eventually resolved to principles which are not themselves the conclusions of argument – either those principles are self evident (meaning that the follow directly from the meaning of the terms) or they are given in some other way. The point that I was trying to make was not that the perversity of contraception would be self-evident to you if you had your head screwed on-right, but that the arguments against contraception pre-suppose a whole philosophical view of the structure of human acts and what follows from that structure. So, what I was trying to say, was that your demand that someone give you a simple 1-2-3 argument is unrealistic. You see “Woytila’s phenomenological gymnastics” as a hopeless exercise in doing anything to avoid admitting that the Church was wrong, but what if it is an attempt to clear away obstacles to an understanding of the argument contraception that arise from certain habitual patterns of thought in modernity?

You illustrate the problem by writing, “In the analogy you raised, between telling a lie and telling the truth when you know it will not be believed, there’s a perfectly clear morally significant difference: they involve contrary intentions. The former involves the intention to deceive, the latter does not.” Thomistic moral theologians would not have seen the difference between telling a lie and telling the truth when you know it will not be believed, not in the intention but in the object; in fact, most of them hold that it is morally permissible to tell the truth with the intention of deceiving in some cases. And the reason is that they have a different way of thinking about moral acts than you do. Maybe your way is better, but in order to show that you would have to give an account of your whole moral philosophy, rather than merely launching superficial attacks on arguments which you clearly understand differently from those who framed them.

25 01 2011
A Sinner

“what receptivity are you talking about?”

Uh, whether she’s fertile or not, she can still receive semen, obviously.

“After all, if they’re just ‘organic automata,’ then what’s wrong with dogfighting? It’s just organinc Rock’em Sock’em Robots, right? A full account of the ethics of our relationship with animals is far, far beyond the scope of a blog, let alone this thread, but most people instinctively agree that cruelty twoards animals is morally wrong. That seems to imply that they’re not just objects.”

“Animal cruelty” is wrong simply because it has a tendency to make MAN vicious, arouses vicious passions in MAN, and makes him more inclined to be vicious towards other MEN. It’s not because the animal is a Personal Subject. Otherwise, ANY violence towards animals would be wrong (not just recreational for-its-own-sake violence).

Catholic Encyclopedia says as much about the Scholastic position in its article on animal cruelty:

“The scholastic theologians condemn the infliction of needless suffering on animals, chiefly because of the injurious effects on the character of the perpetrator. Thus St. Thomas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles (Book II, 112), after refuting the error that it is not lawful to take the lives of brutes, explains the import of the above-mentioned texts of Scripture. He says that these prohibitions are issued either “lest anyone by exercising cruelty towards brutes may become cruel also towards men; or, because an injury to brutes may result in loss to the owner, or on account of some symbolic signification.” Elsewhere (Summa Theologica I-II:102:6 ad 8um) he states that God’s purpose in recommending kind treatment of the brute creation is to dispose men to pity and tenderness for one another.”

There is also the argument that animals, being a nobler manifestation of God’s creative power than, say, a rock…should dispose us to not destroy their much greater complexity needlessly, but only for supporting human life.

“These quotes from some of your earlier posts illustrate what I mean. I think the problem is your ambivalent use of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ can mean ‘pleasant’ (a good piece of pie) or ‘moral’ (Bob is a good man).”

The Good is, “one of those primary ideas which cannot be strictly defined” but the goodness of pleasure and goodness of morality both ultimately share some one property that makes them both “good.” Good has a particular relation to desire or fulfillment. A good man is one who is fulfilling human nature, just as the goodness of pleasure is the perception that it is fulfilling a desire. The good is that property of things which makes them desirable.

“If I walk out on a beautiful spring day, the sun shining, the birds singing, and experience pleasure, there’s no moral component to it.”

Oh, but here’s where you really diverge from Catholic morality. In Catholic morality, EVERY voluntary human act has a moral character. By choosing the (aesthetic) good (seated in the Reason) of the beauty of a Spring day, you ARE making a moral choice, you are choosing to orient your will towards a good which is a reflection of God’s goodness, and thus orienting your soul towards Him. Yes you are.

“I’m not sure that I’d grant a distinction between the sensation and the ‘qualitative perception of a sensation AS good.'”

Except, as I said, you can contract the same muscles that contract during orgasm…and outside the context of sexual arousal…this same objective experience is not at all the same pleasure. It’s the same sensation, but it isn’t perceived as nearly so good.

“Pleasure and pain are basically non-cognitive. If I am ‘in the moment’ and just experience, there’s just pain or pleasure or neutrality with no qualitative evaluation at all.”

Which is one of the first things that Socrates addresses in the Philebus when refuting what is basically hedonism. He is arguing that mind is good, his opponent that pleasure is the good. And Socrates basically said, “If you experienced pure ‘pleasure’ without recognizing it was pleasure, without remembering your life the moment before, nor being able to anticipate it in the next moment…would this really be good or desirable at all?” The point was that pleasure itself is necessarily grounded in rational consciousness as a subjective phenomenon.

“Green is green,”

Yes, you’re saying that qualia are “intrinsic,” which is one of their defining characteristics, but it doesn’t prove a lack of intentionality in human nature as designed by God.

“and the quale corresponds the greeness of grass, say, by recognition; but there’s no intentionalilty.”

There is, though. Green could never represent, for example, the sound of a bell. Even if you have synesthesia and the sound of a bell causes you to see green…green is still the quale corresponding, intrinsically in human nature, to a COLOR (ie, to that property of a thing which causes it to reflect a certain wavelength of light), not to a sound (ie, a certain frequency of vibration in the air). You just know this intuitively.

Now, you can experience “green” as an illusion, and that’s fine, “green” (unlike “good”) has no particular moral quality. But the illusion is still the illusion of seeing something green. That’s just human nature. Green as a quale corresponds to a certain property of a thing called color, not to any other property. You cannot “interpret” green as indicating naturally the size of something, nor its shape. No, it always means the color of something.

A certain chemical applied to the skin (like vapo-rub) may make the skin feel “cold”…but this is not “just a sensation.” Even though there really isn’t a change in temperature, what you PERCEIVE is still a change in temperature. It’s not that there is just this random subjective experience that happens to correspond to both a low temperature and vapo-rub on the skin, and it’s meaning is totally relative. No, the experience “cold” is intrinsically a temperature-indicating quale…even if other things can “trick” the body into producing it. Unless you want to say that human qualitative experience has no objective “real” meaning. But that’s hardly Catholic.

“In fact, even now, supposing a couple who could physically have intercourse but were unable to feel pleasure in it for some reason, I imagine that your theory would consider intercourse by them immoral, since there was no proper correspondence of pleasure to telos”

But I don’t believe this at all! As I said, what matters is not the pleasure, but the objective Good. As long as they were choosing the objective good, whether they could feel the corresponding pleasure or not…would not matter one bit.

“I can’t see why you bring pleasure into the equation at all.”

Then you don’t understand my argument. It’s because mere external events have no moral character, the morality of acts is seated in the relationship in the Will between desire, the good desired, and the pleasure of the good attained. Pleasure has a moral character because it is the perception of the goodness of something, and morality is the science of goodness.

“If getting nutrition wasn’t the main and usual result of eating, there’d be no drive to eat.”

True, but that still doesn’t mean that the drive seeks nutrition DIRECTLY. Rather it seeks eating. We have that drive, indeed, for the sake of nutrition. But nutrition is not the explicit object which fulfills the drive. It’s a common result OF fulfilling the drive, but the fulfillment of the drive, in itself, is eating.

“If reproduction wasn’t the frequent result of sex, there’d be no drive to sex. Trying to separate out different parts of what is really a single telos is playing with semantics.”

My argument isn’t teleological, though, exactly. It’s based on natural human fulfillment. The reason we have a drive to have sex…is indeed for reproduction. The reason we reproduce…is to create new human beings to glorify God. Ultimately, ever good moral action, and every desire for a good…is traceable back to the Glory of God as its raison d’etre, as its first cause and final end. God is the Good from which all good is derived.

BUT, that doesn’t mean all our desires are “to glorify God” directly and immediately. Desires (in this life, at least) are directed at more mediate goods, and as long as we attain the immediate end of the desire, it’s ultimate connection back to the glory of God is implicit.

As Catholic Encyclopedia says (in its article on Gluttony again, interestingly):
“it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one’s mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God.”

“It’s saying ‘sex must lead to conception to be valid;'”

I never said that, though. I said that semen must be deposited in the vagina for it to be valid. The good that sexual pleasure immediately corresponds to is not reproduction in itself, but rather the depositing/obtaining of semen.

There is a unitive end to sex too, remember. Now, this unitive end has an intrinsic connection to the procreative aspect. People misunderstand here; the unitive end is not merely “sharing pleasure” or some sort of bonding experience. It is quite literally that the couple become “one flesh,” one organism, in the reproductive function. And that occurs, whether actual reproduction follows or not, when semen is deposited in the vagina.

See, for most of our biological functions (digestion, etc) we are “self-contained” creatures. But for the reproductive function…we are not “complete”. Each sex has something the other doesn’t have, and only when the two are combined, only when the two become one organism for the sake of that function…are we “complete” in that sense.

The immediate good of the sex drive then, is not explicitly to reproduce (which is a more remote purpose), but rather to be united in the reproductive type of act. In other words, obtaining from the other what they are lacking in their own body, to literally become one organism in that sense.

A woman does not have semen, she is not “complete” biologically (in terms of that function) without it. The immediate object of her sex drive is, then, to obtain it.

It’s like…if some people had kidneys and some had livers, and to clean our blood we needed to hold hands with someone for 15 minutes everyday so that blood could cross some barrier and go through both the kidneys (of one person) and the liver (of the other). Surely there would be a drive corresponding to fulfilling this need, and surely it would be pleasurable.

And, surely, it would be clearly immoral (to me) to wear a rubber glove to prevent the actual transmission of the blood and merely obtain the pleasure. On the other hand, the good of the biophysical UNION would still truly exist (and thus it would be moral) if the blood was naturally transferred even if it had already been cleaned that day (and, thus, no ACTUAL cleansing resulted from the union). Because the biological union/completion is good in itself. But that union is only REALLY effected by the transfer of blood, just as the union in sex is only really effected by the transfer of semen.

So it’s really more about obtaining all the ingredients than about whether a cake actually gets baked from them. The immediate object of the sex drive is to get all the ingredients FOR the cake. Whether a cake actually results…well, that’s not something we can choose, the body does the baking involuntarily. But if no semen is transferred, then the woman hasn’t gotten anything she lacks, yet obtaining what you lack, uniting biologically with another person that way…is the good that corresponds to sexual pleasure. So without it, what is that pleasure except empty? The choice of our subjective good without a real good?

“but since a woman on the Pill, or a man with a vasectomy, etc. deposit the right stuff in the right place, the sex is still valid; but it’s sinful because there’s no possibility of conception”

But I explained: that’s not why it’s sinful. The sin in these cases is not the sex, which does still involve attaining the true good of “uniting in obtaining from the other what you lack in yourself,” but rather in the initial MUTILATION OF THE BODY, whether sex follows or not.

“I think we’ve said just about all that can be said, and just have some fundamentally different base assumptions.”

Well, I still find myself saying new things in response to your new objections. Yes, we have some different assumptions, and these are fascinating. At the very least, I think I’ve shown that I have an argument that needs to be addressed, that DOES have answers to many of your objections (whether you accept the premises on which those answers are based or not), rather than the whole teaching being “self-evidently” insupportable.

25 01 2011
Turmarion

A. Sinner: I do think animals are basically organic automata, though, because they don’t have a spiritual soul, and thus don’t have subjective consciousness…. [A]nimals don’t subjectively experience anything, they are objects.

Well, I guess we hold some fundamentally incompatible assumptions! I don’t contend that animals have a human-type soul, but I don’t think they’re objects, either. After all, if they’re just “organic automata”, then what’s wrong with dogfighting? It’s just organinc Rock’em Sock’em Robots, right? A full account of the ethics of our relationship with animals is far, far beyond the scope of a blog, let alone this thread, but most people instinctively agree that cruelty twoards animals is morally wrong. That seems to imply that they’re not just objects. I’d also point out that Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:1-3, and Daniel 1:3-16 seem to implicitly indicate that eating meat was not part of God’s original plans, but a concession to fallen humanity.

And now delight: pleasure must correspond to a real good. Pleasure is not an objective sensation, but rather the qualitative perception of a sensation AS good…. Pleasure thus has an intentionality in it, a signifying of a good, much like the quale of green signifies a green thing…. Pleasure/delight/happiness necessarily has a moral character, because it is the perception of something as good.

These quotes from some of your earlier posts illustrate what I mean. I think the problem is your ambivalent use of “good”. “Good” can mean “pleasant” (a good piece of pie) or “moral” (Bob is a good man). If I walk out on a beautiful spring day, the sun shining, the birds singing, and experience pleasure, there’s no moral component to it. In fact, maybe this is the Buddhist in me, but I’m not sure that I’d grant a distinction between the sensation and the “qualitative perception of a sensation AS good”. Pleasure and pain are basically non-cognitive. If I am “in the moment” and just experience, there’s just pain or pleasure or neutrality with no qualitative evaluation at all. As soon as I say, “Gee what a nice day (or piece of pie, or whatever),” it’s no longer pure experience. I’ve introduced self-awareness into it. Now there’s pleasure, and the thinking about pleasure. Thus I’m still unwilling to posit an intentionality to pleasure in the sense in which you seem to be saying. You make my point for me–you say “the quale of green signifies a green thing”; I mean, there’s no intentionality there, either. Green is green, and the quale corresponds the greeness of grass, say, by recognition; but there’s no intentionalilty.

Anyway, the “Tab A fits into slot B” argument at least had the advantage of not bringing pleasure into it at all. It just said that if reproduction isn’t a possible outcome, the act is wrong–pleasure or lack thereof was irrelevant. In fact, even now, supposing a couple who could physically have intercourse but were unable to feel pleasure in it for some reason, I imagine that your theory would consider intercourse by them immoral, since there was no proper correspondence of pleasure to telos; but I don’t think most moral theologians would say that, would they? Certainly, in the old days they wouldn’t. The basic point is that when you try to make pleasure teleological and to distinguish “true” and “false” pleasures, you’re in very murky waters; and except to avoid pure natural law arguments, I can’t see why you bring pleasure into the equation at all.

The drive of hunger is to eat, not “to get nutrition” (which is a possible result OF eating, and the reason we have a drive to eat, but not the object of the drive itself). The drive of libido is to have sex (real sex, per the Church’s definition about semen deposit), not “to generate offspring” (which is a possible result OF sex, and the reason we have a drive to have sex, but not the OBJECT of the drive itself).

See, to me this is rather a bit of obfuscation. It’s like saying I don’t really drive to work to do my job every day, but to be on the premises, since I might go there for some other reason at times. If getting nutrition wasn’t the main and usual result of eating, there’d be no drive to eat. If reproduction wasn’t the frequent result of sex, there’d be no drive to sex. Trying to separate out different parts of what is really a single telos is playing with semantics. This is why I’d disagree with the idea that a couple practicing contraception where semen is deposited is still validly having sex, if one accepts the basic premise of “valid” and “invalid” sex. It’s saying “sex must lead to conception to be valid; but since a woman on the Pill, or a man with a vasectomy, etc. deposit the right stuff in the right place, the sex is still valid; but it’s sinful because there’s no possibility of conception”–I mean, the mind boggles at the mental gymnastics. At least “Tab A into slot B” is logical; and I think a lot of this is an attempt to avoid the logical failures of that argument, which you rightly point out.

They did have really effective contraception, though: oral sex, manual, and (to a lesser extent) coitus interruptus.

Which were widely accepted by the Cathars, who became so numerous that the Church had to put them down by the Albigensian crusade, including such charming events as the bloody massacre of innocent men, women, and children at Montségur, and which gave us the famous quote, “Slay them all; God will know his own!’

Anyway, I think we’re about to the point that we’ve fruitlessly beaten this horse to death. I have a couple of other comments that I’ll put in another post later, for the sake of length, more as an impetus to consideration rather than formal arguments; but I think we’ve said just about all that can be said, and just have some fundamentally different base assumptions.

PS: Note this at the bottom of the thread from Henry Karlson, with my emphasis added: “’ve told people many times, NFP can only be understood as a kind of dispensation, because it runs counter to the normal rules. But if you approve this dispensation, I think others could exist (not for the pill, but for condoms, especially since condoms can be said to be open like NFP[!!!], and women get pregnant using them).” See–proponents of Church teaching can’t even come to the same metaphysical conclusions! You say the Pill is in a sense, “valid” or “OK”, and Mr. Karlson says the exact opposite!

25 01 2011
Henry Karlson

I’ve told people many times, NFP can only be understood as a kind of dispensation, because it runs counter to the normal rules. But if you approve this dispensation, I think others could exist (not for the pill, but for condoms, especially since condoms can be said to be open like NFP, and women get pregnant using them).

I did think Bernard Haring actually wrote some good things about the problems of NFP mentality — he wasn’t denying it could be used, but he also saw its potential for causing harm.

25 01 2011
Noone

The “being receptive” thing confounds me. If the woman avoids sex when fertile and only has it when infertile, what receptivity are you talking about?

25 01 2011
Sam Urfer

I gotta agree, the justification for NFP seems pretty thin to me, though I have not studied it (nor do I particularly care to do so).

25 01 2011
Sam Urfer

Actually, Josef Pieper says in his essay on Temperance that avowed virginity outside the context of specifically Christian revelation is not virtuous, and probably even vicious.

25 01 2011
A Sinner

As I explained, sex on the Pill is still “real” sex. The sin in the Pill is in the mutilation, not the sex. A man with a vasectomy is not required to get it reversed. Sterilization and contraception are different (though both are sometimes spoken of under the name “contraception” confusingly).

The fulfillment of the sex drive is (for men) depositing semen and (for women) being receptive. Just as the fulfillment of hunger is eating, and thirst is drinking.

Now, the REASON there are drives with these objects is, of course, for reproduction, nutrition, and hydration. But this is different than saying that reproduction, nutrition, and hydration are the objects of these drives. They are the reasons FOR the drives, and potentially result from their fulfillment, but they are not, in themselves, the object of desire.

This is evident from the fact that pleasure results from the act of eating, not from the “nutrition” (which follows for hours afterward). And the pleasure in sex does not correspond to reproduction (which may not happen at all, or fertilization may happen hours later), but rather from (for the man) ejaculating and (for the woman) being receptive (phrased passively, you’ll note: “being receptive” rather than “receiving”…a woman’s orgasm does not correspond only to the moment of deposit, like a man’s, but rather to the state of receptivity proximately before and even after the deposit itself).

The drive of hunger is to eat, not “to get nutrition” (which is a possible result OF eating, and the reason we have a drive to eat, but not the object of the drive itself). The drive of libido is to have sex (real sex, per the Church’s definition about semen deposit), not “to generate offspring” (which is a possible result OF sex, and the reason we have a drive to have sex, but not the OBJECT of the drive itself).

25 01 2011
A Sinner

“By your definition, a dog doesn’t feel ‘pleasure’ at all, since it is not a sapient being; and yet this veers perilously close to Descartes’s view of animals as mere automatons that only seem to feel pain when you vivisect them.”

I do think animals are basically organic automata, though, because they don’t have a spiritual soul, and thus don’t have subjective consciousness. I know this is rather Cartesian, but I don’t see why, in this case, that is “perilous.” There is no objective way to prove subjectivity; even for other humans I take it somewhat “on faith” (maybe you’re all “philosophical zombies”) though find it likely due to my recognition of our common nature.

Animals “have” “pain” in some sense, but it is merely a nervous electro-chemical reaction causing certain behavior in a mechanistic way.

I wouldn’t eat meat if I didn’t believe this were true. And I probably couldn’t live knowing animals are out there killing each other, suffering in the cold, starving. That it happens to humans is bad enough, but at least we could imagine someday alleviating it for all humans. But if we had to for all animals?? No, animals don’t subjectively experience anything, they are objects.

Infants DO, though, because they are human.

“I know that Augustine, Jerome, and others specifically condemned the ‘rhythm’ method.”

Sure, but they do not constitute “the Church” and seem to have hated sex in general.

It’s also possible that they were talking about sex during menstruation (I’m not sure they knew other periods were infertile, as that sort of infertility is quite invisible…the existence of the egg was not known until recently) and, though THEY may have explained the prohibition as based on infertility…I think there were other “purity” factors which went into the taboo against sex during menstruation. But a taboo is not a moral teaching of The Church.

“If it can be shown that most Fathers before Aquinas were opposed to any non-contraceptive sex”

Some people here certainly seem to WANT that to be the case. And some of the more repressed Fathers certainly had an almost equivalent position. But was it “most”??

“People do things they know full well are wrong, and that they actually understand to be detrimental to them all the time.”

But people are always choosing some good or apparent good. The will cannot choose evil. It might accept evil it knows accompanies the good or apparent good, but it is never choosing the evil for it’s own sake, only for the sake of the apparent good. I don’t think Socrates would seriously deny this. You mischaracterize him there.

”If people really, really understood that X is not real pleasure, why, they’d fall right in line!”

And now you mischaracterize me. I think people choose false pleasure knowing it is false all the time. I do, just as Romans 7:19 says. But it is no doubt false.

It wouldn’t be a sin if there wasn’t full knowledge; then choosing even a false pleasure would not disorient the will (because the object it would think it was choosing would be real good). It’s only when it knowingly chooses a good that it knows is merely apparent…that it has turned itself away from The Good, from the actual and objective good, and curved in on itself towards pure solipsistic subjectivism. But people make that choice knowingly all the time, that’s the definition of sin!

“By trying to ground your argument in pleasure, you are in effect (if not in intent) ceding your ground, saying, ‘Yeah, it is about pleasure, after all.’ Then you turn around and try to argue, in effect, ‘But if only you really, really understood, you’d see what what you call ‘pleasure’ really isn’t!'”

But I’m not saying that, then you totally misunderstand me.

I’m saying it’s NOT supposed to be about pleasure (which is, in itself, subjective). I’m saying it’s supposed to be about actual transcendent human goods, actual fulfillment of natural human drives/faculties. And that the choice of the mere subjective experience of pleasure turns one away from the objective Good in towards ones own subjectivity. Choosing the experience of attaining a good, without attaining that good.

But it’s about the Good, not pleasure. Pleasure is merely (or supposed to be) the experience of attaining a good. But you can have the subjective experience without having the real good, and that is the solipsistic danger of masturbatory acts.

“I’m not sure the masses would have had some kind of instinctive aversion to it because of their differing worldviews.”

They did have really effective contraception, though: oral sex, manual, and (to a lesser extent) coitus interruptus.

Contraception is not a “technological” phenomenon.

And I certainly had a natural aversion to such things (and a feeling they made the good life totally subjective/meaningless) even BEFORE embracing the Faith. In fact, the fact that only the Church really hung onto these teachings in an internally consistent way is one of the things that caused me to give it a second look.

25 01 2011
A Sinner

“marriage is a contract between two people for the exclusive use of each other’s genitals.”

Isn’t it, though? “Marriage is that individual union through which man and woman by their reciprocal rights form one principle of generation” (whether actual generation results or not).

25 01 2011
Chris

“Well, it’s not exactly a counter-example if the teaching of the Church WOULD forbid it. It may be one for you, but not for the internal consistency of the Church’s teachings.”

Internal coherence doesn’t amount to truth. Sure, the Church could say that using such a thing would be wrong too, just like a moral relativist, to remain consistent, could say that the Holocaust wasn’t objectively wrong, but they’d both be mistaken.

“Though, even then I’m not sure the analogy is perfect. Taking something that prevents the absorbing of nutrients may be equivalent to the Pill, but not to a condom. In other words, to Sterilization, but not Contraception.”

I think you’re using the word “contraception” in a rather peculiar way. The Pill is a form of contraception, last time I checked. It’s something that artificially prevents the sex act from resulting in conception. There are many ways to do that, but they’re all forms of contraception. And it’s not the method by which you do this that the Church condemns, it’s any artificial intervention to prevent sex from resulting in pregnancy. My question is why is it OK to bring about the same result, and *intend* to bring about the same result, “naturally” with NFP but not “artificially” whether with a condom, Pill, etc.

“The sin in your example would be taking the “non-absorption pill” in the first place. That mutilation (however temporary) to your digestive track. Whether you ate broccoli afterward OR NOT. The eating in itself, though, might still be “valid” eating inasmuch as you are chewing and swallowing real food.”

By calling it “mutilation” you’re insinuating a negative value judgment. Why should such a thing be considered mutilation to begin with?

“Because…if you could take a pill to prevent absorbing the nutrients, surely you could also just take a pill to suppress the desire.”

That just doesn’t follow, and I only have to stipulate that in the possible world under consideration, the latter “desire-suppression” pill simply doesn’t exist.

25 01 2011
Chris

“Similarly, a couple can have intercourse for pleasure (within marriage), not necessarily with the explicit goal of procreation, but they have to accept the potential pregnancy that might result.”

Why? You’re simply assuming what’s been at issue all along, namely that “openness to procreation” must, for whatever mysterious reason, accompany each sex act. But (a) why should anyone accept that? and (b) how does that not rule out NFP as immoral too? If my spouse and I know that she’s not fertile, and have sex precisely because she’s not fertile and so there simply is no potential pregnancy that may result, then we’re in direct violation of your dictum. The only difference between that and using the Pill is that the Pill artificially induces her being infertile. Apparently artificial is equivalent to bad, although I fail to see how the use of a technology like a thermometer to determine fertile and infertile times is any less artificial.

25 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

This is what struck me about reading theology of the body: real mind-blowing sex is the gift of oneself to the Other, etc. Levinas run through a twelve step program, available on the supermarket checkout stand…

I always like to nickname it: “the quest for the Catholic tantra”. But in Hindu tantra, you should be able to have sex covered in dung and lying in a pool of urine.

Personally, I would like to play around with Kant’s definition of marriage, the one that freaked out Hegel, when he said that marriage is a contract between two people for the exclusive use of each other’s genitals. There, bourgeois morality taken to its logical conclusion.

25 01 2011
James K.

Sorry; I hadn’t clinked on Mr. Urfer’s link until after I posted.

25 01 2011
James K.

Many have made food analogies above but (unless I missed it) no one has made the following argument. I first saw this argument made by Malcolm Muggeridge, if I recall correctly, although I doubt he originated it.

The argument is that contraception is comparable to bulimia or to Roman-era vomitoriums. People want the pleasure of the act without the consequences. A person can eat primarily for pleasure (within reasonable, non-gluttonous limits), not necessarily because he is desperately hungry or needs nutrients, but he has to accept the weight gain it causes, not try to vomit it back up. Similarly, a couple can have intercourse for pleasure (within marriage), not necessarily with the explicit goal of procreation, but they have to accept the potential pregnancy that might result.

Yes, this analogy is still not perfect (if taken literally it would mean that virginity is anorexia or malnutrition – an analogy once actually made by Alex Comfort), but think there is a lot to it.

25 01 2011
Turmarion

A. Sinner: Pleasure is not a sensation. Pleasure or enjoyment is the qualitative perception of something as good (including sensations) in the subjective consciousness.

I don’t think I agree with this. An infant will seek out a sweet taste and spit out a bitter one. He/she has no qualitative perception of “good” or “bad” (or any other abstraction) yet; nevertheless, most people would say that the infant experiences pleasure and pain. Ditto, for that matter, animals. By your definition, a dog doesn’t feel “pleasure” at all, since it is not a sapient being; and yet this veers perilously close to Descartes’s view of animals as mere automatons that only seem to feel pain when you vivisect them.

[The ancients] didn’t really know there were infertile days before that.

I don’t think the ancients were that stupid!

Besides, there is pretty much direct proof against your assertion in this article of the Summa….

I wasn’t talking about Aquinas specifically–I know that Augustine, Jerome, and others specifically condemned the “rhythm” method. As I said, there are plenty of quotes, but I don’t have time to source them right now. Maybe during spring vacation.

[The Fathers] never said [NFP and sex in infertile or elderly marriages] were equivalent, though.

Not in so many words, but the praxis often presupposes the unstated assumptions. Much was still not understood about sex, and I think many of the Fathers didn’t want to dwell on it more than necessary; thus they didn’t spell it out completely. Still, it seems to me that the equivalence, though unstated, is there. I might also point out that the Summa was not originally accepted in the Church–Aquinas’ books were burned in Paris. If it can be shown that most Fathers before Aquinas were opposed to any non-contraceptive sex, and that this view gradually changed in light of Scholasticism, then the case could be made that there was indeed a change in doctrine–not just my assumption.

Still, I’m not claiming individual theologians always got the rationale behind the teaching correct. That’s why we have Revelation to guide us too, rather than having to figure it all out on our own.

Right here is the nub of it. One can easily explain to a non-Catholic, or non-Christian, or even an atheist, why murder, theft, lying, rape, etc. are morally wrong. For almost anything, one really good explanation is much better than many debatable ones. If the issue is clear and beyond debate, one simple, clear explanation does it.

On the other hand, an issue with lots of conflicting arguments on both sides, none of which seems to be a knock-down one, none of which seems to sway the other side, would seem ipso facto to be at the very least morally murky. But then to say, in effect, that this is OK because Revelation takes care of it for us seems to me to dismiss too easily human intellect and understanding. To make an argument based on raw authority gives up any pretense of rationality or congruence with human experience.

I’m not denying that the Church has teaching authority; I’m saying that I don’t think the ban on birth control has been taught infallibly; that any kind of non “because we say so” argument has been really effectively made; and that throughout history the Church, or at least all too many of Her spokesmen, has used the “because we say so” argument for all kinds of things that we (and even the Church) retrospectively reject. Thus, on the basis of good argument, to say nothing of trying to appeal to those of good will who don’t accept the Church’s authority, this is not the basis on which to assert a teaching.

I guess in concluding there are two main problems I see with your course of argument here. Though I haven’t read the Philebus, from what you describe of it, it seems to me that it (and your argument) exhibit what I consider to be Socrates’ worst mistake–the conflation of knowledge with morality. Socrates had a strong tendency to say, “Well, no human would deliberately do something harmful to himself; and doing wrong always is ultimately detrimental to oneself; therefore, the wrongdoer must not really, really understand that he’s doing wrong. So we fix wrongdoing by getting people to understand how things are, and then they’ll never want to do wrong.” In short, morality is a matter of knowedge.

I think it is obvious that this is an incredibly mistaken understanding of human nature. People do things they know full well are wrong, and that they actually understand to be detrimental to them all the time. A trivial example is a recent study showing that smokers, confronted with information about cancer, seemed to smoke more. See also in this regard this and this.

The point is that when you argue about “true” and “false” pleasures, you’re doing the same thing–“If people really, really understood that X is not real pleasure, why, they’d fall right in line!” Good luck with that! For greater psychological realism, I prefer Romans 7:19 ff.

Second, in essence you’ve given up the game by even arguing on the basis of pleasure (real or otherwise) to begin with. You’re fighting the battle on the home ground of hedonism, which is as effective as throwing B’rer Rabbit into the briar patch.

To elaborate: A hedonist says, “If it feels good, do it.” He may allow for a hierarchy of pleasures (as does Mill in his famous quote about Socrates and the pig), or that some pleasures must be suppressed for the greater good (e.g. the pleasure a psychopath takes in murder); but he still basically says that pleasure is the ultimate goal. By trying to ground your argument in pleasure, you are in effect (if not in intent) ceding your ground, saying, “Yeah, it is about pleasure, after all.” Then you turn around and try to argue, in effect, “But if only you really, really understood, you’d see what what you call “pleasure” really isn’t!” I trust the futility of this tack for a hedonist (or even a lot of non-hedonists) is obvious.

At least the old “this tab goes into that slot, and was obviously made to do so” argument is clear and doesn’t equivocate on what the terms mean. It’s also easily refuted, as we both agree, but at least it’s straightforward. Again, any type of argument of the type your making that psychologizes or subjectivizes the issue (which I imagine you’d deny that you’re doing, but it looks like that to me) is doomed to fail in arguing for the immorality in all objective circumstances of any given act, for obvious reasons.

I guess I look at it like this: If the Church wants to put out an encyclical making the teaching on contraception explicitly infallible and say, “Case closed–Roma locuta, finitum est,” or even short of that, it just starts saying, “Contraception is wrong because we say so,” I think that’d be a terrible form of catechesis, but at least it wouldn’t waste time wading through deep, murky philosophical and ethical waters. On the other hand, if it wants to argue the issue on grounds that are intelligible to modern man, then I think it hasn’t succeeded yet. In regard to which, I’m kind of with Arturo here in terms of arguing that it’s all a matter of some kind of disease of modern man’s way of thinking. Had really effective birth control been available in the Middle Ages, I’m not sure the masses would have had some kind of instinctive aversion to it because of their differing worldviews. On the other hand, I think it would be equally easy to argue against murder or theft to an ancient, a Medieval, or a modern. Each age has its own virtues and vices, but to say that teaching X is fairly self-evident, consistently taught, and unchanging, as well as being fundamental to valid ethics; and yet at the very same time to argue that it’s now unintelligible to modern men because of their defective worldview seems to relativize all of morality. I mean, eternal verities, by definition, ought to be recognizable as such, well, eternally right?

Anyway, as I said, I doubt either of us is going to convince the other, and I don’t doubt your good faith (as I hope you don’t doubt mine), but I must still disagree.

24 01 2011
Sam Urfer

In the Summa article you quote, however, you do gloss over the Biblical aspect of St. Thomas’ argument. You might want to reexamine your reading.

24 01 2011
A Sinner

Well, but I’d be totally willing to admit this!!

You act as if that makes the reasoning behind the “talking myself out of things” somehow faulty or suspect.

But “if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

If I’m going to die for Faith in Jesus Christ, yeah, I’m probably going to be mentally reassuring myself in my head, as I march out onto the scaffold, that why I’m letting myself be martyred is real and sensible. Because there will be a lot of doubt, of course, in such a situation. But Faith is a choice, and Reason is supposed to be there to take us to its doorstep, to strengthen our resolve.

In reality, my conscience has always felt that the Church’s teachings on these matters are correct (and that was true before I embraced religion). The “talking myself into it” dynamic is just, in a sense, to “explain” these inklings of conscience to myself, and to preserve myself from the smug (though ultimately wrong) arguments of those who would so flippantly dismiss the Church’s teachings (very tempting in the world today).

But I don’t see what’s wrong with any of that. You act as if we are all in bad faith for it. I’ll readily admit the psychological dynamic you are talking about, but I totally disagree with that interpretation of it.

24 01 2011
A Sinner

“Physiologically, pleasure is pleasure.”

Pleasure isn’t physiological, for starters. The sensation perceived AS pleasurable is physiological, but the perception of this sensation AS a GOOD sensation (ie, pleasure) is something in subjective consciousness, not objective physiology.

“Rather than saying that a glutton or a sadist or a fill-in-the-blank isn’t really experiencing pleasure, say that he’s experiencing immoral pleasure.”

The terminology may not be the clearest in a modern culture which has reduced pleasure to just this sort of solipsism, but saying “immoral pleasure” would be misleading as it implies that the pleasure is an objective good in itself and that the problem is merely that it is taken in some other bad act (which must, separately be shown to be bad).

But the concept of “false pleasures” is that the nature of certain pleasures is disordered in themselves. That pleasure is relative, and that these pleasures actually imply an evil.

“In effect, you’re smuggling in a hidden value judgment and presenting it as part of the nature of the act you’re discussing.”

This all gets discussed in The Philebus. It’s not that pleasures, as qualia, don’t ultimately have some uniting property that is in all of them and makes them all pleasures. It’s that some pleasures rely on pain, if that makes sense.

Like the poison ivy example, which I take from David A. Reidy. Scratching is only satisfying because of the itch. Satisfaction relies on a “pain,” on the alleviation of a desire or urge. But in the case of poison ivy, you shouldn’t scratch. Scratching makes it worse. It can spread the itch and make it more intense, and doesn’t actually remove the irritant (as “real” itching & scratching is intended to encourage). Of course, the increased intensity of the itch makes the scratching all the more satisfying (the more intense the pain/desire, the more satisfying the pleasure/apparent fulfillment), which only makes the itch worse, to the point that victims of poison ivy can spread it all over their bodies and scratch themselves bloody and get blood poisoning.

Again, unless we are precise with our definitions, we can understand nothing. Pleasure is not a sensation. Pleasure or enjoyment is the qualitative perception of something as good (including sensations) in the subjective consciousness. Good attained (or apparently attained).

Likewise, desire is the perception of a good NOT attained. Pleasure, then, is always the perception of desire fulfilled.

As Socrates says in the Philebus, desire is the perception of the disruption of the harmony of nature (through some lack of a good) and pleasure is the perception of its restoration (through attaining the good). Desire stirred up unnecessarily merely for the satisfaction of satisfying it, or pleasure experienced when the lack of which it represents the fulfillment is NOT really fulfilled…are “false” and immoral because of it, because they by nature actually involve choosing pain/unfulfillment/the bad.

“but it is well-known that almost uniformly before maybe the 18th or 19th Century the Church taught that even sex during a woman’s infertile days was morally impermissible.”

They didn’t really know there were infertile days before that. Besides, there is pretty much direct proof against your assertion in this article of the Summa:
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5064.htm#article3

Wherein it concludes that it IS okay for a couple to have sex during “unnatural menses.” Ironically, the reason he says it is okay…is because during this sort of menstruation, conception CANNOT take place.

It forbids sex during “natural menses” not because the woman is infertile, but because she IS fertile during that time! And they believed, based on the medicine of the time, that children conceived during this period would be deformed (and therefore, it was an act of violence against the potentially resulting offspring).

We now know that, of course, this thing about deformity isn’t true (and that, generally, a woman isn’t fertile during menstruation), so by their own logic, sex WOULD be allowed during “natural menses” as during “unnatural.” And this was written in the 1200’s!!

I’m not saying for sure that certain theologians or even Vatican congregations didnt try to argue otherwise at some point, but it was certainly never “Church teaching” and the Summa itself explicitly allows for sex during “unnatural menses” exactly because they ARE infertile (and forbids them during natural menses only because of that mistaken belief about deformed offspring resulting).

“the Church has radically changed while strenuously denying that it has or even can change. Thus, the Fathers would have agreed with Chris in not seeing a difference between NFP or sex between an infertile or elderly couple, on the one hand, and contraception on the other (which is in part why they also discouraged remarriage for widows and widowers).”

They never said they were equivalent, though. The elderly may have been “encouraged” not to marry, but it was still allowed. And the Summa (though later than the Patristic age, of course) allows for sex among the elderly even though he admits they are infertile, and (as I showed above) that sex was allowed during unnatural menses (ie, a flow resulting from illness) exactly because the woman WAS infertile during this period. There was likewise never a prohibition of sex during pregnancy.

If the Church “changed its teachings”…this change happened by the late Middle Ages already. But I’m not sure it really did. I think that is simply something you ASSUME to be true, even though the objective evidence (in a source as well-known as the Summa for crying out loud!) shows that this manifestly ISNT the case. Why the intellectual dishonesty like that?

“Much teaching (especially of the penitential manual variety) tended to see even reproductive sex as venially sinful, tolerated only for the sake of producing children. This, too, would pretty much demolish the argument based on pleasure, which on this view isn’t even relevant.”

Venially, but not mortally; so clearly they’re talking about a different sin.

If there is a sin in some marital intercourse (and surely a married couples can be lustful and have disordered passions like any) it is in the stoking of the passions through the indulgence of carnal concupiscence, not in the false pleasure. The former would only be venial, the latter would be mortal, by nature.

Still, I’m not claiming individual theologians always got the rationale behind the teaching correct. That’s why we have Revelation to guide us too, rather than having to figure it all out on our own.

“A couple can be ‘contracepting’ while using NFP if they are not open to life. Also, a couple cannot use NFP just to ‘space children.’ That is not a grave reason.”

Well, there are different opinions on what justifies. But, certainly, a couple (married or not) can have a “contraceptive mindset” even if their sex is objectively mechanically correct. And that’s true even if the sex WAS taking place on the fertile day! Lust can exist in the inner passions even when everything objective and external is “correct”…

“If you read Augustine’s Confessions, he actually makes the same logical argument against drama as a false pleasure that I did, saying that he got caught up in the lives and loves of imaginary characters rather than attending to real life.”

There is no doubt that this can happen. If someone takes pleasure in drama or a movie AS IF it were real life, this is like entering the Matrix. However, with healthy boundaries, with a healthy understanding of sitting in a theater watching a play (or daydreaming, etc) as PART OF your real life (as opposed to a separate reality), then there is a good to witnessing such events and processing such ideas that is perfectly real and the enjoyment of which is perfectly natural. The problem comes when the pleasure corresponding to the REALITY of an event…is taken in merely the fantasy of an event. But this is rare. Surely, thinking about how nice it would be to win the lottery…rarely reaches the level of delight which would correspond to if I thought I REALLY won the lottery. The reality of things adds a pleasure all its own, and this pleasure is rarely gotten from things which we know aren’t real (except in cases of delusion and self-deception…which clearly ARE a moral problem).

24 01 2011
A Sinner

Well, it’s not exactly a counter-example if the teaching of the Church WOULD forbid it. It may be one for you, but not for the internal consistency of the Church’s teachings.

Though, even then I’m not sure the analogy is perfect. Taking something that prevents the absorbing of nutrients may be equivalent to the Pill, but not to a condom. In other words, to Sterilization, but not Contraception.

The sin in your example would be taking the “non-absorption pill” in the first place. That mutilation (however temporary) to your digestive track. Whether you ate broccoli afterward OR NOT. The eating in itself, though, might still be “valid” eating inasmuch as you are chewing and swallowing real food.

Because…if you could take a pill to prevent absorbing the nutrients, surely you could also just take a pill to suppress the desire. This is one of the reasons that contraception and stuff are disordered in our technological world especially.

People might argue, “Well, we don’t need to be having so many kids, but this desire is still there, nagging, and needs some outlet.” But not really: if we can technologically frustrate the consequences, we could simply cut the whole thing off at the root and chemically suppress the desire instead. Even in a pre-technology world…that’s what asceticism was designed to do.

But no, people WANT the desire (which is, in the Platonic sense, “pain”…desire is the perception of a lack, which is evil) just so that they can have the satisfaction of fulfilling it. Talk about a self-enclosed circle of subjective “good”! It’s like…rubbing poison ivy on oneself to get an itch deliberately just so you can scratch it! Even though, in this case, scratching doesn’t actually alleviate the problem that the itch indicates (in fact, it can make it worse).

What kind of life is that for a human being??

24 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

What you touch upon here is really my point: I am not saying that the Church doesn’t know what it’s talking about, and thus everything is permissible. I am saying that the Church doesn’t know what it is talking about, though it feigns knowing something about it, therefore even less is permissible. But at the same time, the sky is not going to fall, sodomy isn’t going to become mandatory, dogs won’t mate with cats, etc. There is some sort of obsessive-compulsive tendency of many Catholics talking about sex, as if they are trying to talk themselves out of something, as if they fear they will have been losing out all this time if they were wrong, and therefore Father HAS TO BE RIGHT. Trust me, real life isn’t like that.

24 01 2011
Chris

Perhaps, but that’s a secondary issue. My main purpose was to present it as a counterexample to the general claim, ‘Acts must never exclude their natural end.’

24 01 2011
Turmarion

All I’d say is the following:

1. The distinction between “false” and “real” pleasures, IMO, is a mis-step on the part of Plato and much later, Scholasticism (though I’m not sure that it’s really as characteristic of the former as of the latter. Physiologically, pleasure is pleasure. When you talk about “false” and “real” pleasures, you’re trying to derive an “ought” from an “is”, which as Hume pointed out, is impermissible. In effect, you’re smuggling in a hidden value judgment and presenting it as part of the nature of the act you’re discussing. It’s better, I think, to speak of “permissible” and “impermissible”, or “moral” and “immoral” pleasures. Rather than saying that a glutton or a sadist or a fill-in-the-blank isn’t really experiencing pleasure, say that he’s experiencing immoral pleasure.

Of course, the issue then becomes to defend the reason one gives for saying certain pleasures are moral or not; and that is more rigorous than denying that they’re pleasures at all.

2. I don’t have the time to do the research and source it all, but it is well-known that almost uniformly before maybe the 18th or 19th Century the Church taught that even sex during a woman’s infertile days was morally impermissible. They would have seen NFP as equally as bad as contraception, since it, too, seeks sexual pleasure with no possibility of offspring. This is a perfect example of the kind of thing Arturo talks about often, where the Church has radically changed while strenuously denying that it has or even can change. Thus, the Fathers would have agreed with Chris in not seeing a difference between NFP or sex between an infertile or elderly couple, on the one hand, and contraception on the other (which is in part why they also discouraged remarriage for widows and widowers).

3. Much teaching (especially of the penitential manual variety) tended to see even reproductive sex as venially sinful, tolerated only for the sake of producing children. This, too, would pretty much demolish the argument based on pleasure, which on this view isn’t even relevant.

4. Regarding the ultimate logic of NFP, I once again refer to this essay, which is truly fascinating. Money quote: “A couple can be ‘contracepting’ while using NFP if they are not open to life. Also, a couple cannot use NFP just to “space children.” That is not a grave reason.”

5. If you read Augustine’s Confessions, he actually makes the same logical argument against drama as a false pleasure that I did, saying that he got caught up in the lives and loves of imaginary characters rather than attending to real life. I might point out that until the current century the Church forbade clerics from attending drama, and frowned on it for the laity, too. It seems that when you start down the road of true/false pleasure, this must logically result.

Finally, I doubt the two sides are going to convince each other or stop talking past each other. I think a nuanced case for contraception for married couples can be made without endorsing libertinism, casual sex, and all the other negative results of the so-called sexual revolution. Some think not. I think we have to respect each other and to assume each other’s good faith, while disagreeing over the substance. In the end, we’ll find out one way or the other.

24 01 2011
Sam Urfer

Though, I gotta say, some of the creepy stuff from West & company has a similar flavor.

24 01 2011
Sam Urfer

Your analogy to “the Pill” doesn’t really work, as far as I can see. I think a better analogy would be to draw on this sketch from a time when Saturday Night Live had half a brain (not what they were going for, but it seems relevant): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLre-ZYMIEg

If “the Pill” is problematic, it is for similar reasons as Bulimia and Anorexia.

24 01 2011
Chris

A Sinner:
“Excluding the nutritive end from eating IS wrong. Catholic Encyclopedia on Gluttony says:

“It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions.”

So this IS the position of the Church. I don’t know why you’re speaking as if it isn’t.”

Me:
I never spoke as if it weren’t the position of the Church. I spoke as if it’s wrong, which I think it is. Unfortunately, in this case you’re quite right that there are no real-world examples of things we can eat that don’t have at least some minimal level of nutritional value (although your claim that the mere intake of calories in and of itself involves nutrition seems mistaken; nutrition involves the synthesis of nutrients into bodily tissue and so on, whereas caloric intake just provides energy (I’m not a biologist so I don’t know the details). So even a twinkie probably has something in it that the body can use to sustain itself. But let’s imagine a scenario in which scientists invent a pill that, when taken with food, prevents the body from absorbing the nutrients that are contained in that food. Such a pill doesn’t exist, but surely there’s some logically possible world in which it does.

Now, let’s say I have a condition due to which my body produces too much iron, and so I have to be careful of my iron intake. But I just loooooove the taste of broccoli, which is naturally high in iron. Now that this new pill is out, I can eat broccoli to my heart’s content, because I can take the pill and prevent my body from absorbing the nutrients in the broccoli, which would in turn prevent hemochromatosis. Would it be wrong for me to take this pill? The Church apparently thinks so, because I would be “excluding the nutritive end from eating.” Well, I’m afraid I just don’t see it that way.

The analogy with “the Pill” should be obvious enough.

24 01 2011
Chris

“You, Chris, seem to think it is obvious that having sex when you know you are infertile is the same kind of thing as having sex after artificially rendering oneself infertile, but maybe that isn’t self-evident at all.”

As I said above, I may *seem* to think that, but whether I do or not is quite irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the burden of proof lies on you to point out the morally significant difference between the two. Here’s my argument:

1. Sex during “naturally” infertile times (between spouses) with the intention (a) of enjoying sex while (b) avoiding getting pregnant is morally permissible.
2. There’s no morally significant difference between (i) sex during “naturally” infertile times (between spouses) with the intention (a) of enjoying sex while (b) avoiding getting pregnant and (ii) sex during artificially induced infertile times (between spouses) with the intention (a) of enjoying sex while (b) avoiding getting pregnant.
3. Therefore, sex during artificially induced infertile times (between spouses) with the intention (a) of enjoying sex while (b) avoiding getting pregnant is morally permissible.

Now, those who endorse NFP (which, as far as I’m aware, includes the Church) accept (1), and so the only way to avoid arriving at the conclusion is to deny (2), and the only way to do that is to specify just what the morally relevant difference is between (i) and (ii). The issue has nothing whatsoever to do with what’s “obvious” or “self-evident.” The issue is whether or not premise (2) is true or false. It seems to me true. If I’m mistaken, tell me why. Don’t just say that if I had the appropriate pre-cartesian worldview I would see why. It’s not that easy (or, for that matter, that complicated. It’s a simple matter of pointing out the morally relevant difference between the two kinds of action.
2.

24 01 2011
Chris

Correction: those two definitions should read …

x is a good pleasure iff for some state of affairs p and some person s, p is good and x is identical with s’s taking pleasure in p.
x is a bad pleasure iff for some state of affairs q and some person s, q is bad and x is identical with s’s taking pleasure in q.

24 01 2011
Chris

‘True’ and ‘false’ are predicates that attach to statements. I don’t know what it means to speak of a “true pleasure” or a “false pleasure.” ‘That So-and-so is experiencing pleasure is true’, or ‘that So-and-so is experiencing pleasure is false’ are meaningful statements, But until you provide a definition of ‘true pleasure’ and ‘false pleasure’ …
x is a true pleasure iff … ?
x is a false pleasure iff … ?
then I have no idea what you’re talking about. However, I can make sense of ‘good pleasure’ and ‘bad pleasure’:

x is a good pleasure iff for some state of affairs p, some person s takes pleasure in p and p is good.
x is a bad pleasure iff for some state of affairs q, some person s takes pleasure in q and q is bad.

For example, if I take pleasure in someone’s undeserved suffering, I would say that’s a bad pleasure.

Now, if you want to say that the pleasure taken in contraceptive sex is a bad pleasure (instead of a “false pleasure,” whatever that means), I can make sense of that, only you need to argue first that the state of affairs of two people engaged in contraceptive sex is a bad state of affairs. Just to assume that it is, i.e., to simply assume that pleasure taken in contraceptive sex is a bad pleasure, is simply to beg the question.

24 01 2011
Chris

“You, Chris, seem to think it is obvious that having sex when you know you are infertile is the same kind of thing as having sex after artificially rendering oneself infertile, but maybe that isn’t self-evident at all. To Aquinas it certainly wasn’t. It seemed evident to him that there is the same kind of difference between those two cases as there is between telling a lie and telling the truth when you know it will not be believed. But to show why there is this difference between what seems self-evident to the modern mind and to the pre-modern mind, and why the pre-modern mind had it right, takes a lot of words, and that is why Pope John Paul II (for example) goes on for hundreds of pages on these things.”

I’m afraid how things seem isn’t necessarily how things are, and this is a case in point. I don’t recall ever having said in the course of this discussion that anything is either obvious or self-evident. What I’ve done, repeatedly, is ask for arguments. In fact, I see no morally significant difference between sex during “naturally” infertile times with the intention to (a) enjoy sex while (b) avoiding getting pregnant, and sex during artificially induced infertile times with the intention to (a) enjoy sex while (b) avoiding getting pregnant. If the latter is morally permissible, then so too should the former be, on the general principle that if there’s no morally significant difference between X and Y, then X is morally permissible iff Y is morally permissible. Now, if there’s a morally significant difference between the two, tell me what it is. DON’T simply tell me that it should be self-evident, or that it would be self-evident if I had my head screwed on in the appropriately medieval fashion. All too often the claim of “self-evidence” is a quick and easy way of saying, “I have no argument, but if you don’t see it my way, you must be intellectually blind.”

In the analogy you raised, between telling a lie and telling the truth when you know it will not be believed, there’s a perfectly clear morally significant difference: they involve contrary intentions. The former involves the intention to deceive, the latter does not. But in the cases I brought up, the intentions are identical. So again, I ask, what’s the morally significant difference between the two that accounts for the purported fact that one is morally permissible and the other not?

23 01 2011
A Sinner

But I’d think that if, say, modern notions of sexual morality are the result of the underlying economic structure of society then this would be: a) all the more proof against the evil of the current economic structure, and b) all the more reason to personally follow “medieval” (or whenever) sexual morality in order to defy the current system, to at least not surrender to it mentally. There is a reciprocal relation between attitudes and the economy, I think, it is not all just the inevitable playing out of technological progress making different production possible making philosophy different. Philosophy can have some effect BACK on the system, of course (though maybe not as much as we’d like), and so there is a reason to fight against the modern morality which is both caused by and sustains the current system/structure.

23 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

“It seems to me that you, Arturo, should be truer to your materialist principles on this point: you should be more sensitive to the way philosophical principles are realized in the ‘material relations of social life’.”

Well, comrade, it really depends on how you see ideology emerging in history. If you are a Weberian or a vulgar bourgeois idealist, you would very much pay attention to how philosophical principles are realized in social life, but since I have temptations of a vulgar materialist (having read Engels’ Anti-Duhring late at night as a teenager), it is very much an issue of ideology emerging out of concrete economic relations as its superstructure. Descartes didn’t create the cotton gin, the steam engine, or representative democracy; he is a response to the concrete material relations that made these things emerge. Descartes is a response to the emergence of generalized commodity production; he didn’t make it. If his ideology makes sense to us, it is because it is useful in the context of a set of economic relations that constantly displaces religious and metaphysical thinking as not being “practical”.

On the other hand, according to Raya Dunayevskaya, Lenin’s real breakthrough after the 1905 Revolution was the realization that the vanguard party’s ideological influence would have to preced the material conditions for revolution. That is why he ended up studying Hegel’s Science of Logic. It is not a one way street, but one cannot simply pull one’s romanticist readings of medieval philosophy out of thin air and determine that William of Ockham created gay marriage and the Xbox 360.

23 01 2011
A Sinner

“The philosophical principles embodied in modern social life may seem like self evident truisms to us, but one only has to read the ancients and the medievals to see that they certainly didn’t seem self evident to them.”

THIS!

“You, Chris, seem to think it is obvious that having sex when you know you are infertile is the same kind of thing as having sex after artificially rendering oneself infertile, but maybe that isn’t self-evident at all.”

The “lie” vs. “a truth you know won’t be believed” example is good! Though I emphasized the distinction between methods which contracept vs those which sterilize (both wrong, but for somewhat different reasons), because I actually would admit that, in itself, the sex is objectively the same in either case.

Just like a statement may be a lie in one instance, a truth in another, and a “truth you know won’t be believed” in another, it really is the context which reveals what is good and what is bad in these cases, morally speaking.

23 01 2011
sancrucensis

Coming back to this thread after a week, it seems to me that how it has unfolded supports the point I was originally trying to make about ancient vs. modern habits of thought. It seems to me that you, Arturo, should be truer to your materialist principles on this point: you should be more sensitive to the way philosophical principles are realized in the “material relations of social life”. The nominalist substitution of arbitrary power for goodness and truth, anthropocentrically transformed by Descartes, is the implicit principle concretely embodied in the two headed monster of industrial capitalism and social-contract democracy. The philosophical principles embodied in modern social life may seem like self evident truisms to us, but one only has to read the ancients and the medievals to see that they certainly didn’t seem self evident to them.

I think the debate between “A Sinner” and Chris is a really good illustration of why such arguments tend to be so fruitless. You say, Chris, that ordinary speakers of English would define “sex” differently from the way the Church does. Well yeah, that’s the problem; the whole question has to do with the nature of human acts and thus of human nature. You, Chris, seem to think it is obvious that having sex when you know you are infertile is the same kind of thing as having sex after artificially rendering oneself infertile, but maybe that isn’t self-evident at all. To Aquinas it certainly wasn’t. It seemed evident to him that there is the same kind of difference between those two cases as there is between telling a lie and telling the truth when you know it will not be believed. But to show why there is this difference between what seems self-evident to the modern mind and to the pre-modern mind, and why the pre-modern mind had it right, takes a lot of words, and that is why Pope John Paul II (for example) goes on for hundreds of pages on these things.

23 01 2011
A Sinner

“The Church may say that, but ordinary speakers of English wouldn’t.”

Maybe not, but their definitions aren’t exactly precise, are they? There is really no way to make categorical sense of the various actions without the Church’s definition.

I think, on the one hand, most people WOULD admit that there is something “special” about sex that ends with semen deposited in the vagina. That this act stands in a category all its own because it is the reproductive type of act, it is the act by which reproduction results (even if not always).

On the other hand, we have these other activities that involve stimulation of the genitals and orgasm. But what essential feature categorically distinguishes this when a person does it to himself with his hand…as opposed to when someone does it to another person or with another person’s body? Merely the involvement of the other actor, it seems.

So we might have three categories: solo masturbation, partnered-genital-acts that are NOT the reproductive type of act, and the reproductive act (sex properly so called, by the church’s definitions).

Pop culture might call BOTH the latter two categories “sex”…but not unambiguously. For example, would a handjob be “sex”? If not, what’s distinguishing it from vaginal-without-deposit-of-semen? You might say “penetration”…but that’s an accidental distinction (especially when a barrier is involved), it’s merely a different positioning of matter/body parts.

There is nothing about that difference which categorically distinguishes it as a moral object. Whereas the relationship of semen-depositing to reproduction does make it a different “type” of act from other acts of genital stimulation (mutual or not), and this is something I think many people would admit upon consideration.

“that would only rule out ‘sex’ with a condom or a barrier as being sex, or coitus interruptus. Sex using the pill would still be sex, since semen is deposited in the vagina, just during an artificially induced infertile period.”

Yes, it is. You are right, sex on the Pill is objectively the same as sex during the infertile period (or with an infertile woman). As such, the Church recognizes it as “valid” sex, assuming semen is deposited.

For example, all other things (like the question of intent) being equal, sex on the Pill still fulfills the requirements for consummating a marriage, for example, that sex with a condom or coitus interruptus do NOT. Many people don’t know this, but it’s true.

The 1985 Commentary on the Code of Canon Law by the Canon Law Society of America says: “The consultors who discussed the canons favored the notion that natural sexual intercourse constituted consummation and that the use of contraceptives did not prevent true completion of the act as long as the device did not interfere with the physical act of intercourse.” In other words, as long as semen was still deposited in a receptive vagina (ie, as long as the method wasn’t condom, diaphragm, or withdrawal).

This is why a man who has had a vasectomy or a woman who has had her tubes tied does NOT need to have the procedure reversed after confession in order to resume normal marital relations.

“Which begs the obvious question: why is it OK to have sex at times when the woman is known to be infertile, with the undeniable intention NOT to get pregnant (as NFP allows), yet wrong to have sex during artificially induced infertile times?”

Well, it’s NOT necessarily wrong to have sex during artificially induced infertile times, as long as the natural sex act is still completed (ie, seed is deposited).

As I pointed out above, a man who has a vasectomy is not required to get it reversed in order to resume normal marital intercourse. Yet his infertility is artificially produced.

The Church has spoken confusingly on the matter, I think, but a clear moral distinction is made between “contraception” on the one hand and what we might call “sterilization” on the other.

“Sterilization,” either permanent (a hysterectomy), reversible (a vasectomy), or temporary (like the Pill). Is not the same as contraception which prevents the depositing of semen, because the sex is still the same type of act. So, for example, it counts for validly consummating a marriage, and it is not required to be reversed in order to resume normal marital intercourse.

That doesn’t mean sterilization is okay. It’s still a sin, but the sin lies in the initial MUTILATION of the body, whether sex takes place afterward OR NOT. This is the opposite of contraception, where the sin is in the sex specifically, not the method in itself (for example, there’s no sin in just randomly putting on a condom, nor even in starting sex with it on; the sin is if it prevents deposit).

So, for example, when a man gets a vasectomy…the sin is mutilating his body by getting the vasectomy in the first place, but NOT the sex that follows after that (which is still valid and natural). Likewise, the sin in the Pill involves deliberately making oneself barren, but not necessarily the sex that follows this act. Of course, the intent could still be totally lustful and mentally equivalent to contraception, and one suspects this is often the case…

It should be pointed out that, while contraception is never justified, is wrong as a moral object in itself…mutilation admits of proportionate medical justifications. So, for example, a woman having a hysterectomy just to become infertile is clearly sinning. But not one who has it removed for cancer. A woman who takes the Pill just for the sake of consequence-less sex is clearly sinning, but one who takes it for acne or to regulate menses is NOT (and may still have sex while on it).

This answers any questions about infertility. Infertile couples are fine. Infertility is different from the impediment of impotence; a man who wasnt able to produce even any semen (fertile or not) would be considered impotent rather than infertile, and he wouldn’t be allowed to have sex under Catholic thought.

“Rather than an extended treatise, what’s needed is quite straightforward: what ‘wrong-making property’ does contraceptive sex have?”

Being a “false pleasure”!! A concept laid out (though not necessarily in the context of sex) by Socrates in Plato’s “The Philebus.” I’m not saying this explication of “false pleasures” is the last word on the question morally, but it does provide an interesting starting point for showing that the Church’s thoughts on the matter are not novel or an attempt to justify teachings after-the-fact. There is a tradition of moral aversion to false pleasures going back at least to Plato.

I have explained how it is a false pleasure already (basically, it’s the pleasure OF sex without actual sex; the perception of fulfilling sexual desire without actually obtaining the object the drive really desires) and answered all alleged “counter-examples” thrown at me so far.

But, go read The Philebus first…

23 01 2011
Chris

“Well, one, the Church would say that contraceptive sex is NOT sex. That depositing semen in the vagina is essential to sex, is the defining feature actually. I mean, how else do we define “sex” as different from just masturbation? Merely the involvement of a mutual masturbator??”

The Church may say that, but ordinary speakers of English wouldn’t. And let’s say that’s correct (it isn’t, but let’s say it is); that would only rule out “sex” with a condom or a barrier as being sex, or coitus interruptus. Sex using the pill would still be sex, since semen is deposited in the vagina, just during an artificially induced infertile period. Which begs the obvious question: why is it OK to have sex at times when the woman is known to be infertile, with the undeniable intention NOT to get pregnant (as NFP allows), yet wrong to have sex during artificially induced infertile times?

Furthermore, if you want to say that contraceptive sex is just “mutual masturbation,” then couples who suffer infertility naturally yet continue to have sex are just engaged in mutual masturbation too (as if that would be such a terrible thing anyway, but leave that aside).

Rather than an extended treatise, what’s needed is quite straightforward: what “wrong-making property” does contraceptive sex have? In other words, for what value of X is the following argument …

1. Actions that exhibit X are morally wrong.
2. Contraceptive sex exhibits X.
3. Therefore, contraceptive sex is morally wrong.

… do we get two true premises? As far as I’m aware, any suggestion has always resulted in (1) being open to definitive counterexample, and everything you’ve said so far is no exception.

23 01 2011
A Sinner

Tumarion, you seem set in your conclusion that “there’s just no coherent argument to be made.” Nevertheless, for the good of others who may read, I will say that none of your objections are unexpected and that the school of thought from which I argue from has answers for all of them.

First off, I would not concede that the pleasure of chewing gum is the same as the pleasure of “eating.” Certainly, few view it as an acceptable substitute. Otherwise we’d have solved the obesity crisis: just create really realistically flavored gums! Or just tell people to chew food and then spit it out.

But it doesn’t work that way. The eating drive has a visceral pleasure/satisfaction corresponding to the eating event as a whole (including swallowing) that I do not think is reducible to flavor in itself nor the mere sensations of chewing and swallowing in themselves.

Part of the confusion here may be resulting from confusing the pleasure of eating with the enjoyment of the experience of the various sensory phenomena which go along with eating. You might be inclined to identify the two as equivalent at first, but this becomes demonstrably untrue when you start to actually think about them.

An important distinction we must make is that there is, in experience itself, an aesthetic/experiential good (and thus pleasure/enjoyment). Conscious experience has a good all its own (in fact, this is the good corresponding to the rational faculty), and thus a pleasure all its own.

The sensation of taste, in itself, is not equivalent to “the pleasure of eating”…nor even the perception of taste, aesthetically, as “good.” Mere flavor is not equivalent to the pleasure of eating, even if the flavor is a good flavor. Taste is simply a sense that gives us information about the properties (in this case, chemical) of objects. I can taste a penny and say it is metallic, for example. In itself, taste is simply an information-gathering faculty like any sense. Same thing with the perception of chewing, as mere tactile sensory information.

Chewing gum and perceiving that it has a taste is perfectly natural. Taste is a sense that detects certain chemical properties of objects, and gum has those properties. And if the flavor it detects is good aesthetically (ie, if an aesthetic/sensory pleasure is taken in the experience of that flavor) this is just the same as sight detecting that there are beautiful shapes and colors in the photograph of a flower and enjoying it for them.

So the pleasure taken in chewing gum is not the pleasure taken in eating. Neither would the mere sensation of smooth muscle contractions in the genitals be, in themselves, the pleasure of sex, nor even the perception of the mere tactile experience of them as good AS a sensory perception. In fact, obviously, one can deliberately flex one’s pubococcygeus muscle (as happens involuntarily during orgasm)…and this is self-evidently NOT the same as orgasm, even if one takes a certain enjoyment in the experience as a tactile sensory perception. But no one would claim it was orgasm.

Orgasm is NOT the pleasure of the mere tactile experience in sex. Otherwise rubbing my nerve-ending-rich fingertips or lips would be orgasmic. No, the tactile sensation in sex would be, in itself, quite boring: just friction and motion, basically, possibly heat and moisture. These things are not, in themselves, what people are enjoying about sex acts.

No, orgasm is a pleasure superadded to this in human nature corresponding to the goodness of the event of (in men) depositing semen and (in women) of being receptive (which is why male orgasm occurs at the moment of ejaculation, but female orgasms can occur proximately before or after). The body (and thus brain, and thus conscious subject) is “told” when this event occurs by certain tactile sensory information (which can be tricked!), but the pleasure (the qualia of goodness in the soul) naturally (and rather obviously) corresponds to this real event rather than to the those tactile experiences in themselves.

Chewing gum is not a good example. But if I were to do something like fill my esophagus with a rubber sheath, chew and eat food, swallow…and then, at the end, remove the sheath filled with chewed food (maybe it even expands into the stomach for a time to create a “full” feeling)…this would undoubtedly be unnatural and sinful, and everyone could see how it was the decadent divorce of human subjectivity from the objective reality it is supposed to be rooted in, the solipsistic determination of ones own personal Good that is not the Good.

“However, I don’t think there’s any really intellectually consistent way to maintain that sex is a more or less positive good for married couples while condemning all forms of contraception tout court under any conceivable circumstance as intrinsically evil. There’s just no coherent argument to be made.”

Well, one, the Church would say that contraceptive sex is NOT sex. That depositing semen in the vagina is essential to sex, is the defining feature actually. I mean, how else do we define “sex” as different from just masturbation? Merely the involvement of a mutual masturbator??

So, still, you have the problem here of experiencing the pleasure OF sex…without sex. (Sterilizing methods, as opposed to contraceptive methods, like the Pill…may actually leave the sex “valid,” but then they constitute a mutilation of the body, so no good either).

“I think this is mistaken–at very least it’s certainly not self-evident”

Socrates and Plato would disagree. See the concept of “false pleasure” in the Philebus. That whole Dialogue is extremely relevant to this entire discussion and re-centering the question of (sexual) morality IN the soul of the human subject as opposed to all these “external”/physicalist arguments that have been floating around.

“and I think if one teases out the full implications of it, it makes sinful not only chewing gum, but a whole host of other things that are usually considered intrinsically harmless, or at least neutral. You use the Matrix analogy of reveling in illusion for pleasure’s sake, but this takes it way too far. I mean, to some extent don’t we do the same when we read a book or watch a movie or recite a poem?”

Not at all. The pleasure corresponding to watching a movie corresponds to a real good. As discussed above, rational/aesthetic/experiential pleasure or enjoyment is not separable from the experience itself. There is a pleasure in reading a book that is proper to processing those ideas. There is a goodness to the beauty of a tree whether the tree is visible in front of us, in a photograph, in memory, or in a dream.

There is no “mismatch” in any of these cases.

As another article I’ve found perhaps explains better:
“It is often said that there are two types of pleasure: first, a specific type of sensation, such as the taste of an apple, or the euphoric sensation produced by a drug; second, an aspect of an activity of which one is conscious, such as the pleasure in playing tennis (not a specific sensation, but the enjoyment or satisfaction of the game as a whole). Clearly, in this second sense of “pleasure” it is impossible literally to choose the activity for the sake of the pleasure. “To play tennis for the sake of the pleasure it produces,” (in this sense) is actually just to play tennis for its own sake. However, there is also a third type of pleasure. While playing tennis, one has the experience or consciousness of playing tennis, and one enjoys this experience. That experience can, of course, be artificially produced. One can have the experience of playing tennis without actually doing so. Of course, not all experiences are artificially produced. Still, the experience of an activity is (or can be) distinct from the activity itself, and so it is possible to pursue the activity for the sake of the experience. So, “pleasure” may refer either to: 1.) a sensation, 2.) an aspect of an activity (of which one is conscious), or 3.) the experience of an activity, whether one is actually engaging in the activity or not.”

“Artificially produced” may refer to virtual reality, for example. And virtual tennis wouldn’t be wrong, because the experience of playing tennis IS good (as a rational good) whether actual tennis is played or not, because the good corresponds to the mental processes involved, which exist whether you’re playing real tennis OR virtual tennis. Even the virtual experience of a heightened heart-rate or sweating (which wouldn’t really be happening to the body plugged into the virtual reality) wouldn’t be wrong as mere experiences of those sensory phenomena (even if they were virtually induced sensory phenomena).

MOST of our desire is “rational” in this sense. Involves the good of experience (which is the fulfillment of the Intellect), which is ultimately mental. But the pleasures of the lower faculties do NOT correspond to purely the experiential/aesthetic good of the phenomena in question. Orgasm does not signify “the goodness of THE EXPERIENCE OF having sex” (which, as I described above, would be merely the rather boring experiences of friction and motion, heat and moisture, physical exertion). But no, it signifies the goodness of sex. Real sex.

There is also, I suppose, a slight experiential/aesthetic pleasure of sex in itself, and of eating…but I doubt anyone would find them all that good without the visceral pleasure of sex and eating as complete goods. Both are, without their connatural pleasures, just rather awkward rather than all that rewarding. Chewing (and even swallowing) gum is not considered a substitute for eating, and going through the motions of sex without any passion or genital pleasure…would be as satisfying as sticking one’s finger in someone’s ear.

19 01 2011
A Sinner

I’m not sure how true this is, though. First just because knowledge of how the cycle worked didn’t really exist much before that. I know wikipedia isn’t necessarily trustworthy, and could have been infiltrated by conservative “thermometer squad” meddlers, but surely these facts can be easily checked:

“Documented attempts to prevent pregnancy by practicing periodic abstinence do not appear again until the mid-19th century, when various calendar-based methods were developed “by a few secular thinkers.” The Roman Catholic Church’s first recorded official statement on periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy is from 1853, where a ruling of the church’s Sacred Penitentiary addressed the topic of periodic abstinence to avoid pregnancy. Distributed to confessors, the ruling stated that couples who had, on their own, begun the practice of periodic abstinence—especially if they had “legitimate reasons”—were not sinning by doing so.

In 1880, the Sacred Penitentiary reaffirmed the 1853 ruling, and went slightly further. It suggested that, in cases where the couple was already practicing artificial birth control, and could not be dissuaded to cease attempting birth regulation, the confessor might morally teach them of periodic abstinence.”

Of course, this was all handled by the Sacred Penitentiary, which sounds like what Arturo is hinting at: that even we accept the teachings on sex, they shouldn’t have ever been publicized so much, especially questions WITHIN marriage. People can talk about it privately with their priests if they have qualms.

Of course, the cats out of the bag now. The teachings WERE publicized, and now people have questions and it’s a matter of public discourse, for better or worse…

19 01 2011
sortacatholic

First off, Mr. Peters is probably of Irish extraction. Give him a break — his forebears were liturgically Catholic but theologically puritan Calvinist. Cut ’em some slack. Folkways often last well beyond their original source.

I can’t believe that laypersons would have the gall to second-guess episcopal policy. Their vision is also extremely Latin-centric, as you well note. They’d do well to spend some time in a Orthodox parish rather than perpetuate a sexual dysfunction. Maybe they’d notice that a married priest’s life is hard but rewarding. Eww — that icky sex is there. Better get to that confessional booth to wipe the miasma off.

Sigh. The clerical sexual dysfunction and violence will never end so long as uptight laity like these nurse neuroses.

19 01 2011
Turmarion

I heartily second!

19 01 2011
Turmarion

The people worried about diaconal sex are crazy; but in fairness, I’ve been Catholic for nearly twenty-one years, and have confessed to dozens of priests, such confessions all too often being about a larger number and greater variety of sexual sins than I care to remember, and I’ve never experienced priests in the confessional as “peeping Toms” who “have to know about it, how often, what sort, what occasions it, with whom.” The closest to this would be the regular discussions, at one time in my life, with my long-term spiritual director about a very damaging relationship in much the same way that one would talk to a therapist. Nothing about it was in the least voyeuristic, and the initiative for details in the seeking of counsel was mine.

Most other times that I’ve confessed sexual sins, there was no pressing for details, or even discussion of the issue, at all, except in the general terms of avoiding occasions of sin. The sole exception was a priest who described masturbation as “playing chess with the Devil” (!), but that was one isolated incident of weirdness in twenty-plus years.

Yes, there may be priests who are neurotic voyeurs in the confessional; but aside from the one exception above, I’ve never met any of them.

19 01 2011
Turmarion

A. Sinner, I wrote on the fly–I admit the Coke analogy is flawed. Sugar-free chewing gum is a better example. Consider: it engages the pleasure of chewing and tasting, while having no food or nutritive value at all–not even the minute amount of carbohydrates in sugared gum. Chewing sugar-free gum (and, really, for all intents and purposes, any gum, though I specify sugar-free to emphasize the lack of nutritional telos) is purely an act of pleasure.

Now, I doubt that most people would consider this complete lack of connatural goods thus to make chewing gum sinful–let alone mortally sinful, which if the analogy with contraceptive sex holds, it should be. Excessive gum chewing, maybe (see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for details); and if one chewed gum in preference to eating at all, it would be not only sinful but fatal, as one would die of self-starvation. But a stick of Extra now and then?

In fact, this is an excellent analogy to the report of the majority of bishops to Pope Paul VI. If one chews gum occasionally for, say, helping one to stop smoking or to assuage hunger for a those on a diet; or even now and then just for the enjoyment of it; while maintaining a normal, nutritious, and healthy diet, said chewing shouldn’t be a moral issue.

Likewise, for a married couple whose marriage as whole is truly open to life (and I don’t mean a bogus “maybe we’ll have kids (but probably won’t” type of deal) and who have non-contraceptive sex frequently towards that end, then I don’t see how contraception used to maintain the appropriate family size given the couple’s specific needs, where such contraception is just one facet of the couple’s sex lives, is immoral.

The only alternative that is really logically consistent is to say that every sexual act must be open to life; which, despite attempts to argue otherwise, means that sex between infertile or elderly couples is ipso facto sinful; which must mean by exact analogy that chewing gum is sinful. And really, to be totally logical, this crowds out even the “unitive goal” of marriage. The Church never even promoted use of infertile periods <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_family_planning#Pre-20th_century"until 1858 and most of the Church Fathers spoke against sex for any reason than for procreation (including periodic abstinence. Over here is a well-made article that draws out the true logic of the statements that NFP is only for “grave” reasons.

The point of which is A. For the Church to sanction and promote NFP is a contradiction of most teaching until the century before last, and B. even if one accepts NFP, its logic is not congruent with the super-sex-positive, Hot Catholic Sex® propaganda currently endorsed by the Church.

Now I’m not promoting the contraceptive culture we have these days; I actually think Humanae Vitae made some good points; and I think Arturo has a point in describing sex as “real world, dirty, bloody sex” in which it is “perhaps the case that in practice even sex between married couples is at least a venial sin in most cases.” However, I don’t think there’s any really intellectually consistent way to maintain that sex is a more or less positive good for married couples while condemning all forms of contraception tout court under any conceivable circumstance as intrinsically evil. There’s just no coherent argument to be made.

Anyway, to get to the nub of your argument:

I said that pleasure (which is nothing more than subjective perception OF a good) must be accompanied by the good of which it is a perception.

I think this is mistaken–at very least it’s certainly not self-evident–and I think if one teases out the full implications of it, it makes sinful not only chewing gum, but a whole host of other things that are usually considered intrinsically harmless, or at least neutral. You use the Matrix analogy of reveling in illusion for pleasure’s sake, but this takes it way too far. I mean, to some extent don’t we do the same when we read a book or watch a movie or recite a poem? Enjoying moderate pleasures for pleasure’s sake every now and again in an ordinate way is not an weak-willed capitulation to the evil regime of the Lie!

19 01 2011
Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

“I am talking about real world, dirty, bloody sex. It is perhaps the case that in practice even sex between married couples is at least a venial sin in most cases. Should that somehow stop people from having sex (“better death than sin”)? What are you people, neurotic nine year old boys being teased in a school yard? Life ain’t like what you read in the Catholic Girl’s Guide (published 1910). Whatever path you choose, be a fucking adult about it, and not some pious sniveling schoolmarm or nosy sacristan who has nothing good to say about the rest of humanity.”

Damn, this is why I won’t stop reading this blog. (Granted, my comment adds nothing to this e-conversation, but so be it.)

18 01 2011
Duncan

All I have to say is thanks once again Arturo. Constantly entertained and provoked to thought by your words. Where else on the internet could I find a former Trotskyite with Jansenist sympathies shedding the light of Foucault on an angsty intra-Catholic debate?
It’s certainly better than the boring mainstream Catholic discourse.

18 01 2011
Francesca R

Having recently fallen off the NFP wagon after several years of marriage, I am following this discussion with interest. I came to basically the same conclusion about the nature of sex as Arturo, and decided I was fooling myself if I thought I could do better in that department than most of the people who have ever lived, after which I found I was able to love my husband and be nice to my children.

18 01 2011
Stanislaus

These people confuse me. When it comes to the development of doctrine(e.g. the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, Adoration of the Sacrament outside of the Mass, Papal Infallibility, Communion on the tongue replacing communion on the hand, etc.) many of these same people would probably say that these were the result of a greater understanding attained by the church over time. How is this case different? By accepting the eastern church’s decision not to enforce continence on married clergy, the western church has admitted that this requirement is not absolute, so it’s all a mater of legality.
Don’t they have anything better to do that wondering about if their deacon is having sex with his wife or not? Isn’t there something very voyeuristic about all of this? Even priests in a confessional can be like peeping toms, if people are doing anything sexual they have to know about it, how often, what sort, what occasions it, with whom.

18 01 2011
Henry Karlson

The oy vey is also in the way some people are defending the craziness. Read Vermont Crank’s reply to me on page 10 of comments. The documentation is not what they say at all. All one has to do is open the Bible to see discussion of bishops with wives, nothing about sex in them. Nor other early documents. These people just don’t get it.

18 01 2011
Sam Urfer

This, quite literally, made me laugh out loud. Thank you, Arturo.

I think Aquinas agreed with you on the venial sin angle, and the whole NFP variety of methods were forbidden before the mid-20th century for that matter.

18 01 2011
Sam Urfer

Oy vey, what a load of crock.

18 01 2011
Ector de Maris

That example has that tone of “Teacher, you forgot to assign us homework.” Sanctimonious busybodies.

18 01 2011
A Sinner

“It is perhaps the case that in practice even sex between married couples is at least a venial sin in most cases.”

Augustine seemed to think that any sex involving “carnal concupiscence,” which is to say arousal needing a more or less “involuntary” stimulus as opposed to being deliberately “willed”…was at least a venial sin. Certainly, I could see the argument that this at least fetishizes the other person. At that point, though, it would mean only Sts Anne and Joachim weren’t venially sinning even in marital sex…

18 01 2011
Henry Karlson

I think an example of all the sexual politics is the new initiative of some of the “right” to demand married deacons to entirely abstain from sex (as well as married clergy, when they exist).

http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=12987 is the example. Talk about a farce!

18 01 2011
Chris

It is gross. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to conflate “gross” and “wrong” (or, if you prefer, “sinful”). It’s the result of evolution and natural selection, and all this business of trying to elevate it to some kind of quasi-sacrament is hogwash.

18 01 2011
Ector de Maris

This way of thinking seems more in line with the Church Fathers. They thought sex was gross and, IMHO, would think NFP is double gross.

18 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Going over my replies and original post, I don’t recall ever saying the Church is wrong on artificial contraception. To tell the truth, I don’t recall ever saying anything about gay sex being equal to heterosexual sex, etc. I am just not interested in making those sorts of statements, maybe partially because I “don’t trust myself” on these issues, but primarily because I find sex a boring topic in and of itself. I have this nagging suspicion that the rhetorical hardline taken by prelates stems from their being deprived of jouissance – a last gasp of the symbolically castrated ( I am messing with Lacanian terminology here) in which they sort of think: “fine, you can have sex, but you have to have it OUR WAY”. Some would say that this is an exaggeration, but as I have said in the past, any of us now married couples who have been threatened with NFP classes prior to getting married see the rather ominous shadow of this ideology. It is not that pervasive by any means, but when it comes to brass tacks, they will drill it into your head, and make you pay for it to boot. Gotta love the Catholic Church.

No, the only theological viewpoint that I think is viable is to say that sex is a problematic, if not to say dirty, business. I am not talking about the cute, pious, ideal sex of the NFP militants. I am talking about real world, dirty, bloody sex. It is perhaps the case that in practice even sex between married couples is at least a venial sin in most cases. Should that somehow stop people from having sex (“better death than sin”)? What are you people, neurotic nine year old boys being teased in a school yard? Life ain’t like what you read in the Catholic Girl’s Guide (published 1910). Whatever path you choose, be a fucking adult about it, and not some pious sniveling schoolmarm or nosy sacristan who has nothing good to say about the rest of humanity.

18 01 2011
A Sinner

I will also add that the question of morality, like anything, may be largely “semantic.” Arguing over what is moral, what is good or bad, is in the end arguing over a word.

In this sense, “It’s bad because the Church says so,” IS an argument IF one accepts that “bad” means “certain things the Church groups under that header.”

Of course, no one says that. We try to start from some other, more universally agreed on definitions of “good” and “bad” and show how things fit those definitions or not.

But then, there is still room for debate. If the TOTB crowd defines “good” as “the correct signification” and bad as “improper signification” according to their own definitions, that may all be internally consistent.

Other people seem to have a definition of “good person” as merely one who doesn’t wrong anyone else’s rights. Others of us, though, believe their are virtues other than just Justice and vices other than just injustice.

The New Advent article on “the good” links the concept to desire. The good is that property apprehended in a thing which renders it desirable, which inclines the human will towards it.

These are all sort of random thoughts, but my point is that any discussion of what is good or bad, of morality…should start with everyone agreeing on what “morality” is before setting out.

I think that, given the Church’s understanding of morality, it’s quite clear that contraception, etc are immoral. The problem convincing people is that the Church starts out assuming everyone agrees on the nature of “the moral”…and then shows how contraception isn’t according to the Catholic understanding of what “moral” means in a human, but the truth is…most people do not have that same understanding of what constitutes human goodness (they have, frankly, vaguer and less consistent understandings).

18 01 2011
sortacatholic

Will: Really, sortacatholic, why not be an Anglican? Women priests, openly gay priests and bishops, and open acceptance of what you call “queer laity.” Why not just leave the RCC alone?

First off, you can’t hear my intonation. Not everything I write is supposed to be taken seriously. I included the reference to a heartbreaking fast food meal to lighten things up a bit. Chill dude!

I’m a chaste gay man. I know, that’s an oxymoron. I’m a “chaste person afflicted with deep-seated homosexual tendencies”. A monosyllabic word is that much easier to say. I do my best to live up to the Church’s teachings. I could care less for the disgusting clerical sexual hypocrisy. I still get treated like crap for being honest about my sexuality and confronting clergy that abuse gay and lesbian people from the pulpit. The Catholic gender system requires the rhetorical sacrifice of sexually active or abstinent gay people in order to protect procreation. So long as I’m being verbally abused, I might as well just dish the inadequacies of Church gender issues.

I know two women Anglican priests in my professional life. They’re both excellent preachers, brilliant academics, and forthright about contemporary issues in Christianity. If their denomination allows women’s ordination, fine. None of my business. I am not concerned about ordination issues in Catholicism. What bothers me is the misogynistic Catholic carping about women in other Christian ministries. Where’s the conservative Catholic respect for human dignity? Scratch that — gender cohesion trumps the human dignity of those who disagree with the Catholic position..

The Church’s gendered Maginot Line will eventually fail to guard against the dissolution of gender relationships. As evidenced by the posts here, plausible doubts about NFP practice represent a metaphorical Belgium for those who continually probe the inadequacies of Catholic sexual ethics.

Also, dismissive quips aren’t arguments. Good luck wrestling with your sexual demons. Maybe you’ll eventually learn to screw it all and join in constructive arguments.

18 01 2011
A Sinner

Chris and Turmarion,

Excluding the nutritive end from eating IS wrong. Catholic Encyclopedia on Gluttony says:

“It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions.”

So this IS the position of the Church. I don’t know why you’re speaking as if it isn’t.

However, I would make a distinction between food and nutrition too. Whether nutrition actually comes from the eating of food is beyond the control of our will (just as whether reproduction results from the depositing of semen in the vagina is beyond our control).

The pleasure of eating does not correspond to nutrition in se, but to the nutritive TYPE of act, to the consumption of real food (just as the pleasure of sex does not correspond to reproduction itself, but to the reproductive TYPE of act). Of course, the reason human consciousness is made to perceive the consumption of real food as pleasurable is undoubtedly for the sake of nutrition, but strictly speaking the good the pleasure corresponds to is the consumption itself, not the nutrition (which follows later in time anyway, just as reproduction follows the act later as well [ie, it takes a while for conception to take place]). Pleasures, like all qualia, correspond in time to the reality, the good, they represent.

Still, it is much harder to not eat “real” food than it is to not have real sex. You say a twinkie has no nutritional value, but it certainly provides calories! Energy is nutrition, and certainly enough to justify it.

Diet Coke (someone brought up later), is not a good example either. Diet Coke is a drink answering the drive of thirst, it’s purpose is hydration, and Diet Coke does indeed still provide plenty of water content even without calories. That it is sweetened without adding any doesn’t change the fact that it still is hydrating. When drinking Diet Coke, there is a TRUE quenching of thirst, not merely the illusion of thirst being quenched. You truly do get hydrated from it.

But to plug into a virtual reality machine, for example, and have the brain stimulated such that it simulated the experience of eating, the satisfaction and pleasure of eating, without actual eating…would definitely be a sin! As Catholic Encyclopedia said. Diet Coke still hydrates and so is justified by that, but if you were to just sit there and eat spoonfuls of aspertame for the pleasure of its sweetness…yes, this would be the sin of gluttony, no matter how little or much you ate!

The Church is trying to save us from “the Matrix,” from “the experience machine.” And it doesn’t have to be an actual machine of course. Our own bodies or brains can be “hacked” (including by drugs) to provide the qualitative experiences OF goods…without the actual goods. The argument from the nature of pleasure is not psychologizing, it’s merely returning the foundation of morality to the human subject rather than external events or objects. It is the internal ordering of the human soul which makes things morally good or bad. But this does not amount to subjectivism, in fact the whole point is to keep us rooted in objective good rather than the solipsism of illusory goods.

Pleasure is not a “feeling.” Pleasures are qualia, conscious qualitative perceptions, corresponding to the goodness of things, just like wetness is the quale corresponding to touching a liquid of a certain viscosity. To induce the feeling of wetness without touching liquid is an illusion. But whereas an illusion of wetness is harmless, an illusion of Good has an obvious moral quality, as it involves the turning of the will away from the Good towards…nothing. Involves turning in on oneself, away from objective good towards one owns subjective experiences OF (apparent) good. You might as well just plug into the Matrix right now if that’s how you want to live.

So you also misrepresent my argument slightly, I believe. I didn’t say an act must be accompanied by all its connatural goods. I said that pleasure (which is nothing more than subjective perception OF a good) must be accompanied by the good of which it is a perception. Sexual pleasure is physical and centered on the genitals, and the good (likewise physical and centered on the genitals) is procreation. Orgasmic pleasure is the quale corresponding to the goodness of procreation. To conjure up qualia corresponding to a Good, without the actual objective Good…is to choose illusion over reality.

It takes a lot of words to say this only because there is so much confusion today surrounding it. In reality it’s as simple as: experiences OF good have to correspond to real goods, pleasure should not be conjured up separate from what it is the pleasure OF.

18 01 2011
Will

“That’s about the same as arguing:

‘If you’re not willing to act and think as daddy says you should, then why not just join another family?’”

This completely misses (and proves) my point. Not to strain the father/daughter metaphor beyond its usefulness, but here’a better explanation. The father doesn’t forbid his daughter from taking the car out of a malformed megalomania. Rather, he foresees possible harm and, as the parent, has the responsibility of protecting the child. Your suggestion that my points are analogous to asking the daughter to join another family misses the point entirely. If the daughter objectively understands that living in the household of the family necessarily renders the family’s prerogative more important than her own, then she will yield to the parents even if that goes against her desires. No false rationalization/justification of wanting to drive at night will serve as an objective reason why the parents should allow this to happen. If the daughter had the intellectual and emotional maturity to understand this point, she would not protest. But in fact, as we all know, the way the circumstances play out here, the daughter will typically whine vehemently, declare that it’s her right to do as she pleases and that she has complete control of her life. Of course, she will ignore the fact that the family pays the bills, gives her support, backs her in life, feeds her, gives her domicile, and protects her. Thus the daughter is fully analogous to the progressive Catholic: give me mass, give me a congregation, give me stained glass, give me incense, give me the mystique of choir music and worship, but do not tell me what to do. That would be untenable. Obviously, the parents/Church must tolerate the dissonance of this arrangement for a while. Both parent and Church are forgiving. But if it continues unabated and unaltered such a psychology will not stand. My stance is not like asking the girl to join another family. Rather, it’s like saying, “If you don’t see that the family/Church has your best interest in mind, and that the family prerogative is superior to your own, then you have no position from which you can call yourself a member of the family.” Catholics, like unruly family members, can ostracize themselves. It’s just the honest ones who see the logic of their statements and actually decide to leave.

Really, sortacatholic, why not be an Anglican? Women priests, openly gay priests and bishops, and open acceptance of what you call “queer laity.” Why not just leave the RCC alone?

18 01 2011
turmarion

The standard answer would probably be that since concupiscence is a disharmony between the lower urges and passions and the rational soul, resulting from Original Sin, and since animals are not held to have a rational soul, they could not have concupiscence (or for that matter, sin, Original or otherwise).

However, that bonobos (for example) do it for fun does further undermine any kind of natural law arguments against various human sexual behaviors.

18 01 2011
Leah

Is there really that big of a difference between the average American pewsitter in an Anglican parish and a Catholic parish? I’m not trying to be impertinent, but it seems to me that outside of church nerds like ourselves and consciously counter-cultural conservatrads, there probably isn’t that big a different between the beliefs and behaviors of John Smith who goes to Sacred Heart and John Smith who goes to All Souls Episcopal.

Also, since we’re on the subject of prurient interests, I was wondering if the fact that higher mammals (e.g., chimps, bonobos, dolphins) have recreational sex like humans means that they suffer from anything like concupiscence.

18 01 2011
sortacatholic

Turmarion: You could with perfect logic and consistency apply the same argument in showing why drinking Diet Coke is sinful–the pleasure is not ordered towards the telos of nutrition.

True that. Diet Coke is a non-food. Still, it’s liquid, ingestible, and goes great with a Hardee’s Texas Toast Bacon Cheese Thickburger. (I’m on a diet. I need to save the calories some way 😉 No endorsement implied.

Seriously, the Christopher West spin on HV/TOTB is Diet Coke masquerading as Coke Classic. West’s system promises a “normal” (21st century contraceptive) marital experience without the sacrifice of a ultramontanist procreative framework at the same time. Arturo and the comboxers have all touched on this in one way or another.

What’s missing here is an evaluation of the codependency between the Church’s maze of interlinked gender images and West’s slant on NFP. Roman Christianity is heavily invested in metaphorical gendered descriptions of persons and rituals. We Roman Catholics are taught that Christ and his clergy are “married” to the Church. Nuns maintain a spousal relationship with Jesus Christ. HV, then, attempts to preserve literal procreative and sacramental unions in order to protect the metaphorical gendered links that create figurative bonds between sacraments and sacramental actors. Paradoxically, gay men are “dalit and brahmin” at once — both ostracized to protect the gendered linkage and welcomed, indeed historically encouraged, to join the celibate priestly caste. The interminable tension between the gay man and the Church provides both an external and internal counterbalance to the gendered theological-ritual universe.

West’s asymptotic interpretation of HV — get as close as possible to contraceptive sex without “artificial” contraception — exemplifies ultramontanism not in its legalism. Rather, West’s methods reflect ultramontanism and “orthodoxy” because they preserve the minimal marital expression necessary to reinforce gender signification. Conservative Catholic magazines that throw a grand mal whenever a province or state passes same-sex marriage legislation are often eager proponents of NFP. These magazines condemn queers and exaggerate marriage in a (vain) attempt to maintain ecclesiastical gendered linkages.

The dissolution of the Church’s gender linkage might yield the “disastrous effects” of women in orders, the treatment of queer laity as human beings, and (gasp!) an acknowledgement that the church relies on gay men to run the joint. NFP, even functionally contraceptive NFP, plasters over deep fissures in ecclesial bedrock.

17 01 2011
turmarion

Btw, I just have to add, re Arturo’s quote “obedezco, pero no cumplo“: ¡Excelente! ¡Me gusta mucho! I’m going to remember that one!

17 01 2011
turmarion

Will: You might like for the Church to remain passive and quiet with regard to sexuality, but our culture doesn’t play by those rules. It actively solicits opinions on sexuality. Note the behavior of any knee-jerk progressive: if you don’t actively and vocally support gay marriage, abortion, etc. you are a barbarian.

I don’t think Arturo has ever claimed to be a progressive (or anything else, specifically), nor have I noticed him agitating for gay marriage, abortion, etc. I think he’s making the (in my opinion valid) observations that 1. The contemporary Church is in many ways fixated on sexual issues; 2. This is at the expense of equally serious issues that magically get ignored; 3. Such issues have become the litmus test of a certain strain of conservative Catholicism, particularly in the US, to the exclusion of almost everything else; and 4. Such issues haven’t even been defended or presented in an intellectually coherent manner.

Regarding 4, I have to enthusiastically second Chris’s response to sancrucensis, above–I was going to post the Gestapo analogy, but he beat me to it. Kudos!

Will: If you feel that you are, correctly, in a position to call a facet of the Church ridiculous, by what logic do you feel justified in staying within its membership?

Once more, Chris, you’ve stolen my thunder, but it’s perfect:

That’s about the same as arguing: “If you’re not willing to act and think as daddy says you should, then why not just join another family?”

Exactly! The Church is the Body of Christ, for Pete’s sake, not a mere organization. I’m not saying there’s never a reason to leave (or to be excommunicated), but it’s never a blithe thing. You don’t leave your family if it they do act like jerks a lot, and you don’t cut off your hand because you’ve got dry skin!

Will: And why not “Take it or leave it?” How else does the Church separate the wheat from the chaff?

If you read the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Matthew 13:24-30, I think it’s clear that separating the wheat from the chaff is exactly not the Church’s business. God will take care of it at the end of time. Pending the eschaton, we just gotta make do!

17 01 2011
Chris

That’s about the same as arguing:

“If you’re not willing to act and think as daddy says you should, then why not just join another family?”

Maybe because these “cafeteria Catholics” experience a bond to something deeper than “the Magisterium,” namely the Orbis Terrarum.

17 01 2011
Will

Mr. Vasquez,

One need not respond in the manner you describe. I highly respect many of the points that you articulate on your site, but respectfully disagree with some of your ideas. I agree with you that some of the Church’s policies, as they’re pronounced in some contexts, can induce harmful pathologies. But what of it? Most of cultural expression is reflective of a pathological problem that most people don’t want to address. Normative sexuality is just as pathological; it’s just ubiquitous and thus it’s harder to delineate where it’s problems lie. Our culture has a litmus test when it comes to sexuality. You might like for the Church to remain passive and quiet with regard to sexuality, but our culture doesn’t play by those rules. It actively solicits opinions on sexuality. Note the behavior of any knee-jerk progressive: if you don’t actively and vocally support gay marriage, abortion, etc. you are a barbarian. It such a cultural climate, it’s not surprise that the Church’s position comes across as reactive. It continues to hold a position on sexuality that no one believes. Of course it’s going to the unpopular.

My position is not either/or the way you frame it. I could just as easily caricature your position as one of “having your cake and eating it too.” If you feel that you are, correctly, in a position to call a facet of the Church ridiculous, by what logic do you feel justified in staying within its membership? You could just as easily study and observe the elements of Catholicism that tickle your fancy from a different communion. The Anglicans have for years maintained the disingenuous style of worship without actually inculcating the lifestyle (how’s that for pathological?).

And why not “Take it or leave it?” How else does the Church separate the wheat from the chaff?

17 01 2011
Chris

“It is perverse to act while directly frustrating the natural end of that act. (Eg. It is perverse to use words to tell something contrary to what one thinks, since words are naturally ordered to signifying what one thinks).”

In which case, it’s perverse to tell the Gestapo, “No, I’m not hiding any Jews in my attic,” when in fact you are.

In which case (apropos of my previous example), it’s perverse to eat a twinkie, since the natural end of eating is nutrition and twinkies are nutritionally worthless.

“The reproductive act is naturally ordered to reproduction.

Contraception directly frustrates reproduction.

Contraception is perverse”

In which case, it’s perverse for infertile couples to have sex.

Then again, perhaps I’m just too “post-Cartesian” to feel the force of this argument.

17 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

“People are people; they’re going to screw around. Now let’s have our incense and sit in the pew while the Church has a Don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”

Sounds good to me.

Why is it that modern people are so inclined to an “either / or” approach. If you don’t fawn over every ideological sneeze from the Vatican, you are a bloody Protestant…

Yawn.

Here’s my position: sex is a problematic act. It’s best to be left to one’s conscience and the guidance of the a confessor if one is so inclined. To make a public statement about sexual morality in our atmosphere is problematic. I have the attitude of the Spanish colonies: “obedezco, pero no cumplo”: I obey, I just don’t carry out. I don’t question the authority of those who decree things, but when they say ridiculous things, I call them ridiculous, and no cyber-Inquisition is going to shut me up, because they simply don’t have the authority.

But seriously, this “take it or leave it” bravado is so damn tiresome. The people who exercise it don’t believe it, really, so neither do I.

17 01 2011
KarlH

sancrucensis:

“It is perverse to act while directly frustrating the natural end of that act”

Herein lies the issue and the initial assumption of the Thomists. Is man supposed to conform to a pre-determined mold of behavior that can only perform such and such certain acts or is man a mixture of will of diverse passions that can participate in the Good in multivarious fashions while staying true to the idea of man?

17 01 2011
Will

TSO,

Such a response has all the logic of teenager stomping her feet in response to her father forbidding her to take the car out after dark. What does it mean, really, to even suggest that I want to jettison reason? Let’s turn this around: by what “reason” can one show that contraception is “right,” that it appears to follow any mode of logic that is tenable to a Christian? Can you avoid the solipsism of simply declaring, “People are people; they’re going to screw around. Now let’s have our incense and sit in the pew while the Church has a Don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” Can one really present a reasonable defense of normative sexuality, that doesn’t devolve into a self-indulgent form of protracted amelioration, without sacrificing the very idea of reason itself?

17 01 2011
The Singular Observer

Will – so, in other words, to hear is to obey. Reason is for the birds.

Good luck, sir.

17 01 2011
sancrucensis

To be frank, most people in Aquinas’ day did not have a “hylomorphic and teleological view of nature”. Maybe not, but they had enough of a sense of the natural to see that there is more to reproductive acts than “slot A goes into tab B”.

17 01 2011
Will

Question: if one is so disenchanted with the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception, and its concomitant explications (e.g. TOTB), then why not just join the Anglican Church? It seems to me that many on this forum are attracted to some nebulous feeling of revery for Catholicism but are not intellectually honest enough to admit that they just don’t want to live by its strictures. People are intent upon ignoring positions of authority vis-à-vis ethical stances. But, really, how is your theological epistemology any better than that of Protestants, who put every individual Christian’s purview above any system of authority that would putatively mediate the Divine’s message for the world. The reason so many don’t go to the Anglican Church is that in TAC you really see what happens when an ecclesiological body relinquishes its position of authority for the status quo of cultural sexual norms. The result is a defunct, vacuous entity that most intellectually honest people would never mistake for authentic Christianity. It is just simply the case that if you start believing you are above the RCC, then you have no right to be within its membership. Become a Protestant, a virtuous pagan, a progressive universalist, or whatever. Just don’t bitch about the Church doing what it is supposed to be doing. Otherwise, it comes across as an inverted, more cultured form of Cafeteria Catholicism. I don’t mean for these comments to be inflammatory, but can those commenting here give me one reason to even continue talking about the RCC if all you plan to do is complain? The door is open for you to leave, but perhaps it’s just too much to admit that in looking into the abyss, the abyss looks back with all its groundlessness.

17 01 2011
sancrucensis

On the contrary, it speaks very well for that camp.

17 01 2011
sancrucensis

It is perverse to act while directly frustrating the natural end of that act. (Eg. It is perverse to use words to tell something contrary to what one thinks, since words are naturally ordered to signifying what one thinks).

The reproductive act is naturally ordered to reproduction.

Contraception directly frustrates reproduction.

Contraception is perverse

17 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I have always been skeptical of these “back in the day, people had real knowledge… now we have lost it”. True, there are instances where I myself fell into this trap, but my more materialist inclinations led me to be suspicious of this type of rhetoric. To be frank, most people in Aquinas’ day did not have a “hylomorphic and teleological view of nature”: most were too busy slathering their huts with cow dung. When we speak in grandiose terms about massive epistemological shifts, we forget how few people were actually involved.

The other issue is that if such viewpoints are so obvious, why are they so unstable? For all of our attempts to create a “freeze frame” image of what a particular epoch thought, there are too many cases of heterogenous thought to settle on an accurate portrait. Heck, if the medievals could not settle on the idea of “what is being?”, seeing as they were a relatively homogenous caste of celibate European males, what makes one think that an answer is going to come out of our late capitalist, global society.

It all smacks of “if you thought like me, you would know I am right”. This gets into my parallel argument as to how Catholic morality has in the past couple of generations passed from questions of sin to questions of pathology: if you sin, there is something wrong with your very being. The same can be said of those who claim that Cartesianism is the cause of all ills. But Descartes was a good Catholic, as was William of Ockham, and so forth. That sort of Maritain-inspired cartoon character portrayal of the decline of Catholic thought carries little weight with me.

17 01 2011
Chris

And as an aside: it doesn’t speak well for the anti-contraception camp that, in order to understand their arguments, one’s mind must be firmly ensconced in the middle ages.

17 01 2011
Chris

sancrucensis: The problem is not that there are no good arguments against contraception (there are hundreds of pages of them).

Then please present one.

17 01 2011
sancrucensis

The problem is not that there are no good arguments against contraception (there are hundreds of pages of them), nor that the Church’s presentation of those arguments is especially bad, the problem is that there are special obstacles to people understanding those arguments. The biggest obstacle is the loss of a hylomorphic and teleological view of nature that set in with Bacon, Descartes and the “scientific revolution”; a loss which is not based on any rational argument, but on the deliberate choice to only consider those aspects of nature which are relevant to our power over it. As Aristotle says, “The effect which lectures produce on a hearer depends on his habits; for we demand the language we are accustomed to, and that which is different from this seems not in keeping but somewhat unintelligible and foreign because of its unwontedness. For it is the customary that is intelligible.” Trying to convince the typical contemporary child of this age that contraception is wrong is like trying to convince an American that democracy is a bad form of government; it doesn’t matter how good your arguments are, you just get blank stares.

17 01 2011
Jason

Sex is overrated.

17 01 2011
Chris

The closest thing to an argument I can find in all that is the following:

1. It’s morally wrong to take pleasure in any act unless the act is accompanied by all of its connatural goods.
2. One of the connatural goods of sex is procreation.
3. Contraceptive sex involves taking pleasure in a sexual act apart from one of the connatural goods of sex.
4. Therefore, taking pleasure in contraceptive sex is morally wrong.

Unfortunately, premise (1) is simply false. One of the connatural goods of eating is nutrition. So from (1) it would follow that taking pleasure in eating something that has no nutritional value is morally wrong. Hence, if premise (1) is true, eating and enjoying a twinkie would be morally wrong. Therefore, etc.

Now, it may very well be immoral to eat a steady diet of twinkies, just as it may very well be immoral to always engage in contraceptive sex. But that’s not the Church’s position, which is that it always seriously wrong EVER to engage in contraceptive sex. So I’m still looking for an argument as to why that should be.

17 01 2011
KarlH

I think always worrying about the usefulness of an act is disastrous. When one plays as a child, you’re not worrying about whether or not it’s directed to some great and final end. Because of this, it’s directed towards a most excellent end: the simple act of play lifts your spirits, it’s beauty for the sake of beauty, it’s an expression of one’s most deep desires because you’re unrestrained. It’s an outpouring of self.

17 01 2011
KarlH

Turmarion:

I’m not sure you recognize my avatar, but it’s a portrait of the fairy tale writer/poet/minister George MacDonald. He was raised in the Church of Scotland, but when double predestination was explain to him as a child he burst into tears. He later became a Congregationalist minister and a universalist (though he was eventually fired for being one).

Anyway, Chesterton accused him in his Autobiography for carrying over his Calvinism to his universalism. I think this is a fair charge, but not a terrible thing.

“Did he not foil and slay evil by letting all the waves and billows of its horrid sea break upon him, go over him, and die without rebound—spend their rage, fall defeated, and cease? Verily, he made atonement!”

I can’t remember which of his sermons it was, but he speaks of the happiest inhabitants of Heaven as those who would descend to their brothers and sisters to encourage them towards repentance.

17 01 2011
Turmarion

A. Sinner, I read your blog regularly (though I’ve not yet commented there) and I like it. I think you have a lot of good ideas, and you obviously give serious and careful thought to the issues of contemporary Catholicism. I do find that I have to disagree with you in some areas, though.

Are people really that lazy or embarrassed that they can’t not take communion or mention one more thing in confession?

Call me a cynic, but, yeah.

Seeing all these “adaptive” or expressive uses of the body makes any argument based on the alleged teleology of certain body parts very hard indeed.

This exactly nails why natural law fails as an argument. More subtly, it is often forgotten that the Church claims the right and ability to definitively interpret natural law. This, of course, gives the game away. I mean, the concept of natural law is that some things are more or less obviously right or wrong to any normal human, without needing to be explained–e.g., you don’t have to tell why murder is wrong, since it’s obviously wrong. But then, the Church, seeing that not everyone does interpret less obvious issues in accordance with Church teaching, then says, “Well, we can interpret natural law, and only we can do it right.” This, of course, comes back to “because I say so”, which obviates the purpose of natural law to begin with, and doesn’t convince anyone who doesn’t accept the Church’s authority already.

I think you are also right in showing how TOTB just doesn’t hold together.

Having said all this, I really don’t see how your proposal re pleasure does any better. You could with perfect logic and consistency apply the same argument in showing why drinking Diet Coke is sinful–the pleasure is not ordered towards the telos of nutrition. And to say “If it were possible for two people to have contraceptive “sex” dispassionately as if it were merely like shaking hands or a hug…I think that would be fine, morally,” while setting forth the ideas on pleasure, seems to me to be making much the same psychologizing argument that TOTB fails on. I mean, if you’re going to uphold any kind of objective morality, then how one feels about it can’t be relevant, right? But if you take feelings out of the equation, your whole argument collapses (not that I’m sure it stands, anyway), right?

I’d close with three points. One, I don’t think it’s fair to say that everyone who disagrees with the teaching on contraception is self-righteously trying to maintain his self-image. Many mature, responsible Catholics who in no way disagree with the Church’s sexual teachings overall simply and in good faith do not find the Church’s teachings on contraception compelling. Maybe they’re wrong; but it’s possible to be wrong in good faith, contrary to what the Church has often indicated.

Two, I think there’s a lot of subtle dishonesty in how the teaching is presented. The whole Hot Catholic Sex® thing, the rhapsodizing about how NFP couples have better relationships, etc., strikes me as propaganda. There are plenty of NFP couples (some I’ve known personally and some through reading their writings) who say that’s it’s damn hard, often unfulfilling, and that it just doesn’t always work, anyway. Some commit to it doggedly out of obedience, and some throw in the towel. This strikes me as more honest, at least.

In this same vein, and more subtly, it’s interesting how easily missed ore statements by the Church extolling NFP that say that it may be used when couples need to limit their family size “for serious reasons”. NFP supporters will say that the Church really doesn’t teach that couples should be poppin’ out the bairns as often as possible, but when Church documents can’t even push NFP without the sniffing and disdainful tone that implies that most couples who want to limit births are lax half-heathen libertines who aren’t seeerious about their parental responsibilities–well, is it any wonder people can’t buy into this?

Finally, I would actually agree that in some ways widespread contraception has had deleterious effects on society; as did the pre-contraceptive milieu; as does almost anything human. In practice, I still think that the majority of the bishops who advised Paul VI were right that while marriages as a whole should be open to life, it is not necessary that each use of marriage (you gotta love it–the pop NFP crowd pushes the hot sex thing, and the actual documents call it a “use” of marriage! How romantic!) must be.

Btw, regarding what you said: “[M]aybe the “secret” conclusion of that sort of system [double predestination] is Universalism.” This interested me because if you read the books by Presbyterian minister Robert Short, who has written as series of meditations using the Peanuts characters to make spiritual points, he is a hardcore determinist who denies free will; but then he defends universalism on the grounds that it is the only viewpoint, given strict determinism, that doesn’t make God into a monster. I don’t know that Calvin himself would have seen it that way, but I’d say it’s the only way to preserve such a God as merciful and loving.

17 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Such verbosity and rhetorical gymnastics seem to betray the fact that not much metaphysical currency is earned from the fact that slot A goes into tab B. One must make up for it in sheer force of words, mostly to convince oneself of the position being argued.

I read somewhere that the Thomist philosopher Charles de Koninck was an advocate for a change in the Church’s position on artificial contraception. It would be interesting to find his arguments concerning this matter.

17 01 2011
A Sinner

Why is Natural Law theory out? I think the problem that “natural law” explanations have often faced (more in modern times than traditionally, frankly) is that people have tended (lately) to EXTERNALIZE the idea or to mistakenly understand it as referring to the external. As if it were really just all about which tab goes in which slot (as Arturo is fond of saying). As if we were bound to use certain physical parts in certain ways, according to “God’s purpose.” The Church has indeed done a terrible job with explanation here.

Obviously, that sort of idea falls apart as soon as you realize that we can use our hands to juggle (for the good of entertainment or physical exercise) or for sign language or that we adapt the use of the ears for jewelry or the mouth to fog our glasses to clean them (or our nose to hold our glasses!) The examples could go on and on (and often are thrown at the Church by opponents). Seeing all these “adaptive” or expressive uses of the body makes any argument based on the alleged teleology of certain body parts very hard indeed. If two people exchanging saliva as a culturally conditioned sign of affection isn’t unnatural and against the purposes of the mouth, why should contraceptive sex be wrong?!

The “best” alternative to come along after such natural law arguments, then, is TOTB’s “symbolic” framework based on the claim that the body has a “language” that is innate and on “significance” of it all which, as Arturo says, is rather unconvincing and requires a lot of mental gymnastics. If even spoken or signed language is ultimately “arbitrary”…why is only one type of sex as “expressive” correct? In fact, conceding to the modern sentimentalist notion that sex is essentially “expressive” seems dangerous to me (because admitting “expression” is a valid justification for sex seems to open the door for all sorts of expressions).

I’m not saying that there isn’t, on some level, a basic human psychological understanding of significance in sex that there isn’t in other acts. TOTB does have some human insights (which are rather intuitive to me anyway) like that an anonymous hook-up is “a lie” inasmuch as it is “saying” something like “I love you forever” (and is enjoyable for that very reason) but then really isn’t. But, still, while claims about “innate signifigance” may have a big grain of psychological truth like that at their core…they really become very shaky when you try to make specific “syntactical” rules out of them or base morality on participation in some sort of universal participation in “symbolic discourse.” In the end, who’s to say what external actions have to “mean”? Well, JPII tried, and it wasn’t terribly satisfactory.

No. I think, as Karl says, any sensible morality has to to be a virtue-ethics sort of thing, about how actions orient the soul towards the good (though there is definitely immorality beyond just things that “negatively affect others”; there can be disorder in the privacy of one’s own soul that never harms anyone else).

It is Natural Law, but Natural Law has to be understood as about the INTERNAL ordering of the faculties of the soul, not about mere external physical matter or body parts. The argument must be about the Will and the Reason, about the relationship of Desire and Delight, to the Good. That’s the only convincing way, for me at least.

So for me, the best argument against artificial contraception, then, is simply the rather obvious fact that an inborn sexual desire exists in human nature, that it must be ordered towards a good (all desires are ordered towards an at least apparent good), that the object of the sexual drive is rather obviously procreation (the fruit of which is reproduction, though the fruit need not always follow inasmuch as it is not the direct object of the desire).

Just like the object of hunger is food (the fruit of which is nutrition), the object of thirst is drink (the fruit of which is hydration) etc etc.

So that’s the desire end of things. And now delight: pleasure must correspond to a real good. Pleasure is not an objective sensation, but rather the qualitative perception of a sensation AS good. As an article I read once says, “the feeling of pleasure is the perceiving of an apparent good. Pleasure thus has an intentionality in it, a signifying of a good, much like the quale of green signifies a green thing. Pleasure, like any other mental representation, derives its significance from what it represents. The good of pleasure thus derives from it being a representation, a perceiving, of something good.”

So again, it’s not about external body parts. If it were possible for two people to have contraceptive “sex” dispassionately as if it were merely like shaking hands or a hug, merely to “express” affection, without arousing the sex drive or that specifically genital pleasure…I think that would be fine, morally. But the fact is…you can’t. Stimulation of the genitals, for the most part, always arouses that drive and causes that pleasure. And that’s certainly WHY most people are doing it; inasmuch as they are trying to “express” something through sex, the desire and delight are considered essential to that expression.

Sexual morality, then, is about desire for a good and perception OF a good in the soul. Pleasure/delight/happiness necessarily has a moral character, because it is the perception of something as good. And morality is the science of what is good, and orienting the soul towards the good.

And there is only one good that is connatural to sexual pleasure. Without that good…sexual pleasure just becomes an illusion. The perception OF a good without its actual corresponding good. Unlike external signifiers, we cannot claim that sexual pleasure represents another good than the good it naturally corresponds to anymore than we choose to make the quale green represent something other than that light of a certain wavelength is entering our eyes.

Of course, people might claim that they are using that pleasure to “express” love for their partner (or just for a good time), but to me that seems to be instrumentalizing one desire (“tricking” oneself into the conscious experience OF the good of procreation without ACTUALLY obtaining that good) to fulfill another, which also implies an alienation of the body (or at least sexuality), a disintegration within the person. At the very least, it’s the choice to obtain the perception OF a good without the actual good, which certainly seems morally disordered to me.

Of course, we can “trick” ourselves into the experience of green too. We can manipulate the brain into providing our soul with the conscious experience “green” without any green light actually entering our eyes, through taking certain drugs (or merely rubbing our eyes really hard a certain way). This green is also an illusion, but illusory color isn’t a moral problem: morality has nothing to do with “green,” but everything to do with “good.”

17 01 2011
A Sinner

As I said, I believe gambling was never condemned in itself as morally wrong, just forbidden as extremely morally dangerous. Usury remains forbidden, though the Church has gone silent, but I believe this has been a huge mistake. Then again, I say that as someone sympathetic to the ideas of Social Credit when it comes to monetary policy. Having a money-market IS unnatural and thus leads to problems. The means of exchange shouldn’t be the object of exchange In itself!

17 01 2011
A Sinner

Well, there were canons against it. First for all, then only for the clergy, and finally even those were loosened. Undoubtedly, it a practice that can lead to much wastefulness and vice. But forbidding it as an ancillary discipline is different, ultimately, than condemning it as in-itself wrong or unnatural (as usury was, and is, condemned). By all means, bring back the canons against gambling! But their gradual loosening is not exactly the same as a change in a moral teaching.

17 01 2011
KarlH

I think the issue of all discourse about this issue is that both sides are speaking of ideals…the ideal man has sex with an ideal woman in the most ideal manner for the ideal purpose of reproduction. But ideals aren’t stable—they may come from the mind of God, but the man who has been realized (i.e., exists in time) operates is affected by and works with the various arising conditions of Life. The Form of man does not have sex, it must be remembered. Man as an Idea of God doesn’t DO anything. As an embodied being, man experiences and is affected by the arising conditions of corporeality. There isn’t a stable way to have sex because there is the opportunity for diversity/multivarious sub-creative expressions of the fact. What matters is that various actions are aimed towards some good. It’s not so much about conforming to a pre-established mold for man’s behavior so much as not doing actions/having impure thoughts that negatively affect others.

I don’t really know what this means about the ideal. But it is only with this sort of thinking, a virtue-ethics approach to thinking, that dialogue is possible. If TOTB is simply correct because the Church says it is so then there can be no dialogue.

And the Church changes its stance on things all the time. It changed it with gambling, it changed it with usury and used equivocation and hand-waving to pretend they didn’t change anything, etc. We must really focus on what does not change, what is stable outside of the arising phenomena of different approaches towards the Good (culture, which is fashion—not a bad thing on its own right but certainly nothing that one can cling to—thus there is no Romantic ideal to return to).

17 01 2011
Chris

A Sinner: “In terms of being right in the essential moral teachings themselves, I think the Church has won.”

Can you give me a single argument, not based on authority, that (say) artificial contraception is morally wrong? The issue isn’t that people are “just going to do it anyway.” The issue is that those who speak on behalf those “essential moral teachings” have utterly failed to give a rationally convincing argument for them. They know the conclusion they want, but they can’t come up with the premises to yield that conclusion. Natural Law theory is out, Woytila’s phenomenological gymnastics are hopeless, so what’s left? Nothing, and the man on the street sees it for what it is: the Church doing anything it can to avoid admitting it was wrong.

17 01 2011
KarlH

Heh, here’s another earlier prohibition that was thrown away/is good fuel against the tradfads: gambling. Nearly universally condemned by the magisterium for centuries…

17 01 2011
A Sinner

“the Church has lost the battle on sexuality”

In what sense, though? In terms of being right in the essential moral teachings themselves, I think the Church has won.

In terms of actually getting people to follow those teachings…well, they always lost that battle. Most people were never following morality perfectly. But some were (and are). And the ones who weren’t…well, we’re a church that forgives sinners for a reason.

In terms of “convincing” people that they’re right (even if they don’t necessarily follow them)…does that even matter on a practical level? If people are going to do it either way, why do we care if they believe what they’re doing is wrong or not? Isn’t it even, in some ways, morally safer for them not to believe it (and thus not have full knowledge in terms of culpability?)

Of course, the same question could be asked to the sinners: if you’re going to do it either way, why NOT believe it’s wrong? You don’t actually have to not do it, just hold a theoretical proposition about it! Is it really that hard?

Just one more thing to mention in confession, and abstaining from communion until you do so, those are the only practical effects such a belief needs to have (again, it doesn’t even have to mean actually not doing it!) Are people really that lazy or embarrassed that they can’t not take communion or mention one more thing in confession?

So as someone who does believe and TRY to follow those teachings…I have to say that what concerns me most about the current situation is NOT that people are contracepting or fornicating or whatever. Big deal, that’s been happening all through history. But, rather, the self-righteousness in needing to insist that these things are GOOD (or at least okay) in order to maintain people’s own self-image as “good people” essentially deserving of heaven. None of us are.

There is a much more serious question of pride here than just the unchastity. Saying, “I know it’s wrong but…I’ll worry about that later” as I think most Catholics did (and sincerely meant both halves) through history is one thing and, if someone said that, I wouldn’t brow-beat them anymore about it, they’re near to the kingdom at that point, frankly!

But the inability of modern man to bear that sort of cognitive dissonance is profoundly disturbing. Perhaps it comes from the counter-reformation project (well, it was always a project of the rigorists throughout history) to wipe that out, to actually get most people to believe things were wrong and then ACT on that in the present moment.

If people become socialized to believe they must be good, then if they can’t follow the teachings (“can’t” is a strange word, though; it’s really not that hard to avoid sex objectively, of course. But without social and psychological pressure…most people can’t do or not-do anything) or if, rather, there is a path of less resistance, less dissonance…then it’s easier to alter the ideal of “good person” than to admit that one fails to meet that ideal in a grave way.

But I think crafting one’s own Good is A LOT more serious than just being bad (but admitting it).

“Finally I agree 100% with Arturo that I’ll give all this a hearing when the Church starts excommunicating usurers. Not holding my breath, though….”

We’ll see where the economic “crisis” goes. Usury is still wrong, and the exploitation inherent in private bankers loaning money into existence and then demanding back more than they create…cannot be borne forever. The Church’s silence and complacency on this matter (though it hasn’t actually changed the substance of the teaching, just sort of stopped talking about it) may well be remembered as a great negligence someday. But, all that said, I’m not holding my breath either.

“Even the ‘freedom of abandonment before divine sovereignty,’ IMO, doesn’t make it OK that God arbitrarily damns people from all eternity.”

I don’t hold to those Calvinistic ideas, but I will say…maybe the “secret” conclusion of that sort of system is Universalism. That God “arbitrarily” saves and damns…but then, surprise surprise, saves ALL, “beyond their control, just because.” Perhaps that is the ultimate result of the psychological breakdown over the obsession with election that sortacatholic describes under such a system. And for that (ie, a soft Universalism) I actually have a lot more sympathy.

17 01 2011
Turmarion

Excellent post. To me, TOTB for the most part isn’t even readable. It is also evidence, really, that the Church has lost the battle on sexuality. If you can’t tell people in short, clear statements why they should or shouldn’t do something, then either you don’t understand the issue (and thus can’t state it clearly); or you’re in bad faith (you know you’re losing or don’t even believe in it yourself, but think that enough obfuscation and erudition will make it OK); or you’re deluding yourself (“If we just find the right way of explaining it, why everyone will just fall right in line!). In JP II’s case, I think he was sincere, so it was a mixture of not understanding and delusion.

In any case, whatever one thinks of the old-fashioned ways, at least “If you sleep around/get it on before marriage/beat off/boff a lover on the side/etc. etc. etc. YOU’RE GONNA GO TO HELL!!!” has a certain beautiful simplicity and clarity to it and makes no grandiose pretensions or capitulation to modernity. Certainly it lacks the two-faced insincerity of the pop version of TOTB, to wit, “Hey, not only is sex OK now, it’s TERRIFIC, and that’s ’cause God made it so! So if you want to have hot, fulfilling monkey sex that’s even MORE terrific, you just gotta toss out the Pills, the rubbers, and stuff, ’cause sex is hotter God’s way!” As I’ve said here before I know at least one couple whose marriage ultimately failed not solely but significantly because one of the partners bought into this stuff.

Really, I think a lot of the sex-positive stuff is a really bad turn for the Church. I think a lot of old stuff involving minute analysis of just what extent of sinfulness is involved in each step of anything approaching sex was cracked; and the old tendency to view sex, in the words of the old joke, as “horrible, dirty, filthy, and something you save for the one you love” as sick. Certainly when I was young and didn’t know anything firsthand about sex, I thought Christianity in general was in the grip of life-denying prudes. Now, older, sadder, a little wiser, and with much more firsthand knowledge of eros, I think the older view may have had something to it. Yes, demonizing of and obsession with sex is bad; but acting as if it’s an unmitigated good, without a real dark and destructive aspect, especially in light of fallen nature; and painting the Church’s teaching as a baptized version of The Joy of Sex is maybe an even worse error.

In any case, the genie is out of the bottle and long gone for parts unknown. When even Catholics pretty much order the sexual lives, for better or worse, according to their own lights and prevailing norms, no amount of peddling officially approved Hot Catholic Sex® is going to change peoples’ minds, hearts, or behaviors.

sortacatholic, I admit that I’ve been re-thinking aspects of Jansenism based on some of the discussions here, and you make some interesting points. Nevertheless, I cannot accept double predestination of Calvinist, Jansenistic, or any other stripe. To me it makes God an arbitrary tyrant who damns some and saves some, in both cases completely beyond their control, just because. I’m not saying that you’re going that far; but I personally can’t see the attraction to or have any sympathy for that aspect of it. Even the “freedom of abandonment before divine sovereignty”, IMO, doesn’t make it OK that God arbitrarily damns people from all eternity. I would say broadly, though, that the Augustinian view of sexuality gets it better than the Thomist.

Finally I agree 100% with Arturo that I’ll give all this a hearing when the Church starts excommunicating usurers. Not holding my breath, though….

17 01 2011
sortacatholic

Your analysis of Foucault is quite right. Humanae Vitae created an answer to the non-issue nemesis of “sexual revolution”. What revolution? Mistress and wife openly grieved at a men’s funerals, men and women slept with servants and slaves, “sodomy”, Sade’s kinky liminal fantasies, all of this occurred under the aegis of Tridentine culture! I sometimes wonder if Montini was really born in the valleys of Flanders or on a bog in rural Ireland. Why the heck would an Italian (of all cultures!) delude himself into thinking that sexuality could be systematized, dichotomized, circumcribed, and delivered to a laity that had eaten all the quinces off of the edenic Tree eons ago?

I partially agree that the total depravity better reflects the pageant of human sexuality than the strained and often unachievable cooperation with grace offered through Thomistic sexual idealism. For many years I have been attracted to total depravity because through this doctrine we, elect and reprobate, are in bondage to the atoning sacrifice both on Calvary and at Mass. The priest cannot refuse to offer the sacrifice of the altar because he is merely the depraved but intermediate instrument of the preordained work of salvation in the world. Similarly, every depraved layman can only fall before the sovereign Victim in complete abandon. If I am elect, I am moved by prevenient grace towards a anticipation of salvation. If I am reprobate, I am nevertheless a slave to God’s omnipotence. No one knows either way. In theoretical Jansenism, the basal vigor of sexuality continues unabated not because of the causal web of human sin but because of the grand algorithm of creation.

Hyper-Augustinian theologies such as strict Jansenism and hard TULIP softened over time because the moral rigor of those who sought proof of their election “broke” Foucault’s paradoxical observation on sexual discourse. The fear of sexuality entwined with the search for election eventually warped the unvarnished sexual reality that dances behind a pure total depravity. The “orthodox” (Thomistic) view of sexuality has prevailed in Catholicism because human beings generally need idealized sexual-moral metrics to gauge their sexual behavior. The bitter aftertaste of Jansenism is not the freedom of abandonment before divine sovereignty and the hope of prevenient grace, but the vain desire to prove to the all-Sovereign the election that can never be proved.

Perhaps HV, TOTB, and West’s penny tracts are over-reactions to the sexual rigidity of the Jansenistic quest for an assurance of election. Now, some have been oversold on the notion that “salvation of all men” must include a sexual satisfaction that conforms to ideals that were always meant to be ideals anyway.

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