On defeated arguments

10 03 2011

Sancrucesis pointed out on this blog a couple of links to Thomist philosopher Charles de Koninck’s interventions to try to make the Catholic Church change its position on artificial contraception before his death in 1965. De Koninck was by no means the most progressivist voice in the Church, and had argued against the growing influence of personalism at the expense of the Thomistic concept of the common good. Why he argued for a change in the Church’s position is for me not as important as how he did it. Unlike most Catholics today, he has very little concern for the human person as taken as a completely separate entity at least in this question. Even here, a sort of argument from “the common good” seems to be primary in de Koninck’s mind.

De Konick argues that one cannot separate the existence of a child from the means by which his existence is maintained. For Aquinas, the mere existence of a child is not the highest good, nor is it a good that can be separated from having the means to educate and raise the child. The “bonum prolis” thus often entails periods of infertility as well as fertility. A woman cannot become pregnant when she is already pregnant, or she cannot become pregnant when she is too old, and so forth. For de Koninck, certain forms of artificial contraception within the marital context could merely be seen as man intervening as an instrumental cause into the work that nature already performs. Just as medicine aides the body’s healing for a certain ailment or brings about a certain salutary effect, so the birth control pill could be seen as intervening into a natural process that already takes place at times without the help of man.

The theologian Germain Grisez rakes de Koninck over the coals over his privately circulated paper. First, he notes that infertility is a privation and not a good in itself. Next, he takes de Koninck to task over failing to assert that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, citing that other works of nature, such as thinning of overpopulated areas through death, are not permissible for man to imitate either. He also considers de Koninck’s appeal to man as an “instrumental cause” akin to Eichmann’s assertion that he was “only following orders” (here we see the classic tactic of “when in doubt, call your opponent a Nazi”, perhaps on a more muted scale). Grisez ends the document by asserting how astoundingly bad he finds de Koninck’s arguments to be.

In my opinion, Grisez’ arguments against de Koninck seem more of a rhetorical mugging than a refutation. For it sort of stands to reason that a human being is not a head of cattle, and that we intervene all the time in the natural process. One of the great weaknesses of the anti-abortion movement in this country is that it decidedly does separate the good of existence from the means by which that existence is maintained and made to prosper. The whole idea that “Providence will provide” is not an operative principle in this day and age, and it has not been for some time. As to the “intrinsically evil” means of regulating birth, de Koninck was sensible enough (at least in this paper it seems) to see that the regulation of the birth of children in any other way was not realistic in the modern context.

To put it bluntly, one cannot enslave man to the rules of his plumbing. Zizek has brought up how foolish it is to oppose so violently experiments into the human genome, cloning, and so on. It is not a matter of if these manipulations will take place, but when. Long ago we abandoned the idea that nature has some sort of iron hold over our destinies; as if the natural law is some sort of fetish that we are afraid to look at sideways. For the vast majority of our lives, the complete opposite is the case. Why then should we be obsessed over what the “cycle of the woman’s body” tells us about God and creation? This seems a battle that was fought and lost a long time ago.

As for those who would have us perform the mandatory auto-da-fé to Humanae Vitae, I recall here the anecdote of the rabbis who in writing down the Talmud argued whether they should include in the text the positions that were later deemed to be erroneous. One rabbi asserted that they should, so that future generations would have them at hand when their time finally comes. In reading de Koninck’s text, I am of the same opinion. I would bet that a hundred years from now, no one will even remember this controversy. Who remembers what Pius X’s Pascendi was about? I think we are dealing with the same laws of history at work. Things are only non-negotiable until they’re not.


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25 02 2016
The Postmodern Morality of the Roman Catholic Contraceptive Ethic | Deus Ex Machina

[…] That said, there is a very good Thomistic argument for contraceptives written by a Roman Catholic theologian here. […]

2 04 2011
Bonum Prolis I: De Koninck and Guy Crouchback « Sancrucensis

[…] a recent discussion involving James Chastek and Arturo Vasquez, I uploaded  some texts of De Koninck’s on birth control. The most interesting paper is […]

12 03 2011
Chris

“fwiw, this is what current Thomists are saying exactly this vis a vis twinning, for the same reason that current medicine plus Thomism does tend to lead towards the ensoulment at conception opinion.”

I’m not sure it’s worth much. If by ‘soul’ they just mean ‘vegetative soul’, that may very well be (assuming you buy into the De Anima story), but it’s morally insignificant. On the other hand, if they mean ‘rational soul’, that’s supposed to be an immaterial, and thus simple and indivisible, subsistent form.

12 03 2011
Sam Urfer

“Unless it’s possible for one soul to split into several souls”

fwiw, this is what current Thomists are saying exactly this vis a vis twinning, for the same reason that current medicine plus Thomism does tend to lead towards the ensoulment at conception opinion.

12 03 2011
Chris

“Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that ensoulment occurs at conception.”

Unless it’s possible for one soul to split into several souls, then ensoulment can’t occur any earlier than about 2 weeks after conception.

12 03 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Maybe another time.

12 03 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that ensoulment occurs at conception, and it certainly has not been defined or really sustained by tradition. The idea that “we know now what the ancients did not” seems like letting natural science determine a metaphysical question ( a problem with the sloppy pop-hylomorphism that dominates the Church now). And as for Christ, ensoulment did occur at conception in that case, and that was the unanimous opinion of the Fathers and scholastics, but that was a case of “quod licet Iovi non licet bovi”. Again, not convinced that there is such thing as an “abortion pill”, maybe just a particularly nasty form of contraception.

12 03 2011
sortacatholic

Venuleius: (The focus is on the intentions of the users of contracpetion and the sinfulness of not desiring to have children, but the mechanics are to be worked out between the married couple and their priest.)

You’re spot-on about the dearth of pastoral guidance for Catholic spouses. The Nancy Reagan-esque “just say no” mantra and “we’re not going to talk about it” approach has manifestly failed. Pope John Paul II’s use of HV as a litmus test for episcopal appointments both has squelched episcopal discussion on the loosening of the absolute contraceptive ban.

I agree with Venuleius that chemical contraception should be off the table until multiple rigorous scientific investigations prove that the Pill does not produce any more spontaneous abortions than non-contraceptive conception. Certain barrier methods, such as condoms, cannot affect spontaneous abortion. Condoms should receive a qualified permission (indeed, Pope Benedict is moving, albeit very slowly, towards this possibility). Condoms are perhaps the least effective contraceptive device in typical use. The use of such a lossy method provides some protection against conception, but still permits a significant probability of conception. I do not see much of a typical use difference between condoms and NFP. Why, then, the Vatican obsession with NFP when condoms permit the same level of “risk”?

Arturo is quite correct that some form of contraception should be permitted so long as the engaged and married couples affirm the grave sinfulness of abortion. However, given the very poor state of catechesis and pastoral guidance in the postmodern Latin Church, it will be impossible for every Catholic couple to decide a family planning plan with a priest. This, then, might be the greatest barrier for the loosening of the absolute prohibition on any birth control method outside abstinence.

11 03 2011
Francesca R

AV: “The whole idea that “Providence will provide” is not an operative principle in this day and age, and it has not been for some time.”

Could you expand on this?

11 03 2011
rr

I forgot to add one other issue here. While I realize the Catholic Church doesn’t adhere to “sola Scriptura” and that Tradition is important, I find the lack of Scriptural support for the idea that contraception is a grave matter problematic. The story of Onan is about as close as one gets to a Scriptural prohibition of contraception, although read in context even it is shaky at best. Anyway, if one wants to make a case that contraception can be a mortal sin, it seems to me that one would need a bit more from Scripture than Onan.

11 03 2011
Chris

“but in general if you can’t explain why X is moral or immoral in two sentences then you’re wrong, don’t understand the issue, are dissimulating, or some combination of the above.”

That’s exactly right. These “concupiscent” laity can understand easily enough why rape and adultery are wrong without needing a year’s worth of indoctrination at the Angelicum. But when it comes to contraception, all of a sudden we need to probe the mysteries of human action with all the tools of Thomistic-Personalistic-Existential-Pheneomenology in order to get even a hint as to why it’s so gravely disordered.

11 03 2011
Stanislaus

Are you sure about that? I thought that Ann Teresa Tymieniecka had said something similar.

11 03 2011
synLeszkax

From what I know, today in Russia, anticonception and abortion are legal and easily available but.. But the Putin government is furthering a policy in which women, who abort are viewed as being unpatriotic and shunned by the community. Putin is set on rebuilding Russia’s military glory, so he needs soldiers. The ban on anticonception and abortion serves one goal, putting all the theological and medical reasons aside, serves the prosperity of the commonwealth. I expect the Moscow Patriarchate to become more stringent against abortion because of great Russia campaign.

11 03 2011
Francesca R

Lotar, high five! I had three kids in less than 5 years too, on a tight budget with no relatives around to help. I used to defend the Church’s teaching on contraception wholeheartedly because it looked so good on paper, but its fruits were not good in my marriage. For one thing, when you end each day with a pounding headache from the constant din of children’s voices (usually all going at the same time) what you need is consolation, not asceticism.

A Sinner’s speculations about how often a Christian married couple should be having sex are bizarre. Contraception, for normal people, is not about being able to have sex every day, it’s about being able to have it when you need it. “When you need it” depends on physical and emotional factors that don’t necessarily fit in with the NFP calendar. In my case they only overlap a tiny bit with the NFP infertile period, as I pointed out in Eden on West.

11 03 2011
synLeszkax

The Polish female who was not a philosopher but a psychiatrist. Her name is Wanda Półtawska. She is known for her long time friendship with the Pope, before his election, Karol Wojtyła. She was a survived through Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp. After the war, she finished medical studies and became a psychiatrist. Karol Wojtyła was her spiritual father from 1947 to his death. She wrote him letters day after day for many years, sharing with him her pains and emotions. In 1962, she was diagnosed with a tumour. Karol Wojtyła in this intention sent a letter to Padre Pio asking him to pray for her healing. A few days later, the tumour had disappeared. She was for many years professor at the Pontifical Theological Academy where she lectured pastoral medicine. She is considered the mind behind the theology of the body. Avid opponent of anticonception.

11 03 2011
C. Wingate

We followed the old mid-century Anglican rule and used contraception for a few years, until we thought we had our ducks in a row (which in retrospect turned out not to be quite the case, but anyway). We were regular as clockwork, so probably a “natural” method would have worked, but you know, calendars aren’t natural, and thermometers aren’t natural, and really abstinence, when it isn’t being caused by too many children baying at the bedroom door, isn’t really natural either. So we had a son, and then a very early miscarriage, and then a daughter, and then a second son, a “defective son”, but we didn’t abort him. After that we didn’t dare to have another kid, but by that time the baying at the door mentioned above made that avoidance easy.

All the airy-fairy talk around contraception is just a waste of time. My very Catholic doctor has ten children, ON PURPOSE, (#9 was a surprise, so they had #10 to keep him company), and even he threw in the towel after the last one. and yes, I’ll go with D: sex is bleeping hard to figure out.

11 03 2011
M.Z.

Perhaps. My experience is that simplifications are more prone to error than complexity.

As I get older I care less about the topic. The church already bills me for getting my children the Sacraments. I’m doubtful they are going to help with the financial black hole more children would undoubtedly bring. We don’t use contraceptives, but I can’t manage to care anymore if anyone else does.

11 03 2011
Francesca R

I concur.

11 03 2011
Turmarion

rr: Ultimately, the moral distinction between preventing pregnancy with a pill, condom or calendar is simply lost on most people, especially lay people. Either the leadership of the RCC is simply wrong on this issue, or they have utterly failed to explain their teaching in a comprehensible way to the laity.

Exactly. I’ve said this before, but if you “utterly fail to explain” a teaching after forty-plus years, then you probably are wrong. Hard cases exist, but in general if you can’t explain why X is moral or immoral in two sentences then you’re wrong, don’t understand the issue, are dissimulating, or some combination of the above. With regard to moral teachings, if you can’t KISS (keep it simple, stupid), you can’t expect to have people follow you, or believe that you’re right.

11 03 2011
rr

I can understand and sympathize with the idea that a “contraceptive mentality” that completely divorces sex from procreation is a bad thing and leads to numerous problems, including greater sexual immorality. However, contraception and a “contraceptive mentality” don’t necessarily go hand and hand, especially if one considers the number of happily married Christian couples with several children who have used contraception to help plan their family size and space births. Also, one can use NFP and have a “contraceptive mentality” as well.

Ultimately, the moral distinction between preventing pregnancy with a pill, condom or calendar is simply lost on most people, especially lay people. Either the leadership of the RCC is simply wrong on this issue, or they have utterly failed to explain their teaching in a comprehensible way to the laity. The result is predictable, most Catholic couples in the Western world use contraception. Protestantism is a mess and leaves much to be desired at times. But for all that I admire about the Catholic Church, issues such as this remind me in part why I haven’t swam the Tiber.

11 03 2011
Venuleius

Lotar,

Oh NFP is absolutely wonderful–for getting pregnant. My wife and I used it out of the gate and our first son was born just a few weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary. The next one showed up 16 months later. But, because of his prolonged nursing I suppose, the third boy didn’t come strolling in until 2 years after that.

And, on a side note, in my experience the most rabid supporters of the “no contraception” movement on the Internet–whether Catholic or Orthodox–tend to be unmarried and obviously under-sexed or married with a pile of children and 100% bitter that everytime their wife gives it up (say, once or twice a year) they have to change dirty diapers 9 months later.

11 03 2011
Turmarion

High five to sortacatholic–well-put. Another high five to Venuleius, who describes the Orthodox view nicely. I’m not going to wade back into this morass, having beaten in pretty much to death on the “Eden on West” thread, but I think the comparison between East and West is revealing. The Western church always had a bad tendency, inherited from the Romans, of wanting to define everything to the nth degree in the most legalistic way possible. That, coupled with infallibility, makes it impossible for the Church to change (or, rather to do so openly and then admit it’s happened) even when altered circumstances or such makes existing dogma untenable.

Thus, it tends to turn around, whistle, and walk down the street, hoping no one notices that there’s been massive change (as with Pascendi; or to make super-complex, tendentious arguments that black is in fact white and that change has not occurred even though it has; or, in the case of sex, to double down and damn everyone who thinks differently, since unlike all the other cases, sex is–well, sex.

I might point out that Aidan Nichols, in his excellent Rome and the Eastern Churches, points out that Greek of that era didn’t even have a word for “infallibility” in the sense the West uses. Our Greek brethren may have been on to something.

11 03 2011
Lotar

My wife and I have never used contraception. Two kids in three years later we tried NFP – now it is going to be 3 kids in less than 5 years. Fuck it. We’re going to contracept for now on, and after the next one I’ll go get clipped.

It’s nice and all to wax poetically about unreasonable family ideals, but after having multiple little devils running around, all too close in age, you find out why 99.9% of people use birth control.

…and I am sorry, but there is nothing else that “bonds” like sex.

10 03 2011
Arturo Vasquez

This conversation reminds me of what a female Polish philosopher said when a certain Wojtyla began to write down his thoughts about the importance of the orgasm in sexual intercourse: it’s clear that the author has never had sex in his life, and has no idea what he is talking about.

As for the amount of “unitive sex” in a woman’s menstrual cycle, many of us not on the pill have been surprised to have our almost certain ideas shattered about that sort of thing by little bundles of joy that cry in the night and dirty their diapers. If a man and woman live together not on the pill, they are going to have a baby. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but they will. And sometimes it happens even on the pill. Maybe a Catholic couple could be asked if they would abort their child if the pill failed. If they say “no” and would have the kid anyway, isn’t that being “open to life”? What more does the clergy want?

Seriously, guys, get a freakin’ life. Maybe you sinners need to sin more in order to get some actual wisdom in these matters, instead of torturing us with your long combox defenses of one position or another.

Anyone else is free to comment if it is relevant to the points of the original post.

10 03 2011
Chris

“Where are women’s comments? Wives? Married men?”

They’re too busy enjoying contraceptive sex to bother with this sort of nonsense. They’re only too happy to leave it to the celibate men to continue to cobble up reasons for why they shouldn’t, and go on ignoring them.

10 03 2011
A Sinner

“There’s a lot more to sex than the pleasure of orgasm.”

Yes and no. Orgasm is the pleasure uniquely connatural to mating.

I wouldn’t deny that it exists, of course, but I think the “emotional” facet of sex is either obtainable in other ways (there’s more than one way to get oxytocin and bond), or else is reducible to cultural or psychological construction. Those constructions may be incredibly complex, but I think they are ultimately deconstructable in a way the connection between orgasm and sex is not in human nature.

As for what you say about unitive and procreative purposes, I’d agree, with qualification. The unity is only ever through the reproductive system (ie, whether pregnancy results or not, the one-flesh union is specifically the union of the two “halves” of the reproductive system “cooperating” at least in the exchange of semen), and procreation should only ever take place in this union of the mother and father.

Does that mean that mating must always result in conception? No, the physical union is a good enough in itself, at least in an individual case considered abstractly. However, at the same time, a month’s worth of daily sexual pleasure…does naturally correspond to the good of pregnancy. If one is choosing a lesser good, one should also limit subjective perception OF good (ie, pleasure)

As for how much, the “proportions” seem to be suggested by the normal cycle; there is a certain amount of sex “built in” naturally that is only going to be unitive. Something like 2-3 weeks worth.

Going beyond that amount, I would argue, to an amount of sexual pleasure naturally only corresponding to inevitable pregnancy…is disordered and lust no matter how the infertility is caused. A pregnant couple or naturally infertile couple should also abstain a certain amount, like a week a month maybe, ascetically speaking, even though they can’t get pregnant during that period. Any given act during those states might not be wrong, but cumulatively there might be a problem if they do not “fast” enough.

10 03 2011
sortacatholic

A Sinner: There is a difference, of course, between A) eating when you have a disease that prevents full absorption of fat, B) deliberately infecting oneself with that disease in order to be able to eat more without consequences, and C) putting a rubber sack in your stomach to catch all the food you eat and then removing it through one end or the other.

Then there’s D), sex is just fscking hard for everyone to figure out.

There’s a lot more to sex than the pleasure of orgasm. It’s ridiculous to whittle human sexuality, perhaps the most complex emotion and activity known to human beings, down to an appetitive state. If, in the eyes of Grisez and many other Catholics, contraceptive sex is an abandonment of sanctified self-control to base desires, then speaking of human sexuality as a mere appetite is also extremely deprecatory.

de Koninck’s paper recognizes two points that are often utterly lacking in post-HV discourse on contraception. First, he notes that human marital sexuality is intrinsically linked with the well being of children. It is honorable, even necessary, to consider how many children one can realistically support. Second, he recognizes that the unity and procreation are on a spectrum, and not present in equal proportion in every sexual act. Isn’t it okay if a couple just wants to screw tonight? Per Grisez, perhaps not — the mere desire to just have sex for almost no procreative reason violates this notion that sex somehow has to fit perfect Thomistic metrics. Sex never does. Why should it?

The only reason why popes today can’t go back on HV is precedent. Paul VI passed the buck simply because he didn’t want to contradict the AAS. The clarity, reason, and humanity of de Koninck’s memorandum cannot survive in the sexual blindness of a world dominated by celibate men. Where are women’s comments? Wives? Married men? It’s a curiosity and shame that HV “dissent” has also been limited to men, with the only prominent women’s voices belonging to those women who merely parrot the doctrinal line.

10 03 2011
A Sinner

Sorry for three posts in a row, but I just thought of a hypothetical example that, for example, I don’t think the hierarchy really has considered.

Let’s say there is a couple who try to use NFP, but their cycle is just too irregular. They’d use one of those almost completely accurate Indicator gadgets once they’re invented…but for now, though a couple who don’t want to get pregnant (let’s assume it’s not for “selfish” reasons) should theoretically be able to have sex like 2-3 weeks a month…they in practice end up limited to much less than that because of the irregularity.

So, they take the Pill to guarantee infertility (“guarantee” at least as much as NFP) during the periods when they are having sex, but then STILL abstain, as if they were doing NFP, for a week and a half or something, and hold themselves to that discipline, as if that period WERE fertile.

In this case, though I could still see an argument based on the mutilation that maybe there was some venial sin. But, for the most part, it seems like they are still abstaining, are still not taking “too much” pleasure, are not taking the amount of pleasure that would only correspond to inevitable pregnancy. Yes, they have made themselves totally infertile, but they’re doing it only because they have no better way to either regularize their cycle or determine infertility with 100% accuracy. If they COULD just make 2 weeks infertile (instead of the whole time), they WOULD. And they’re still limiting themselves to those two weeks either way. They are still being ascetic about it. In such a case, I’d think it could be argued that the Pill was simply a way to make the cycle more predictable, and that the fact that the “fertile” period of the cycle is also being occluded by infertility a proportionate side effect (as long as they still abstain during that period)…

10 03 2011
A Sinner

I’ll add this:

Part if the problem with having ones cake and eating it too (or, perhaps, eating ones cake but not getting fat) can be demonstrated by the consideration that trying to eliminate the consequences is attacking the problem from only one possible direction. Saying “I don’t want to limit my partaking, but if I don’t I get fat (or pregnant)” and then deciding to solve the conundrum by attacking the second clause…leaves out the possibility of attacking the first. Namely, making it so that one positively wants to abstain. As the spiritual problem in all this really isn’t about the consequences, it’s about the “I don’t want to limit myself.”

Christian asceticism would favor dealing with the inordinate desire rather than the consequences, of course. But even without spiritual effort (the ideal), it could be done medically if necessary. In other words, why solve the “problem” by making oneself sterile by pill? A pill could just as easily eliminate or lessen sexual DESIRE in the first place for a couple, hypothetically. Wanting to maintain the intensity of desire, while eliminating the consequences thus seems highly concupiscent.

So, for the eating analogy, an appetite suppressant pill or surgery is one thing, to bring desire back into line with what is truly good for the body (doing it ascetically is better, of course, but there may be real medical necessity). Wanting to maintain the intensity of the appetite, however (for the purpose of keeping the subjective pleasure of its satisfaction), yet eliminating the objective natural result implied by that much…is to simply enable concupiscence.

Deliberately infecting oneself with the disease to avoid the effects of eating highly suggests a gluttonous mindset exactly because the goal of harming ones body in this way is to cure the medical problem of obesity without having to abstain at all. To enable the pleasure of eating an obesity-causing amount, without limiting the amount or at least facing the natural consequences of such an amount.

Eating with such a disease is not wrong, of course, but one should still be moderate with the eating, should still eat what is necessary to survive and be healthy. Even if someone has the disease naturally, and so doesn’t get fat no matter how much they eat, they can still be eating too much, still be too attached to eating. Even if you CAN eat an obesity-causing amount, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

The Orthodox fasts (that included abstinence from the marriage bed) imply this is as true for trying to remove lust from sex as it is for removing gluttony from eating.

A naturally infertile couple having sex isn’t wrong in any given instance. But I’d argue that it would be spiritually helpful, necessary really, for them (to avoid lust WITHIN their marriage) to abstain from sex for periods of time, as Paul seems to advocate for all couples, and as the NFP methods naturally have “built in” to them. So couples who don’t want to (or can’t) get pregnant, or who already are pregnant…should still be abstaining at least as much as the NFP requires. They shouldn’t be doing it 365 out of 365 days a year.

There are two ends to sex, of course, the unitive and the procreative, and not every sex act (though it still must be the “real” natural sex act) must lead to procreation. The pleasure of SOME sex can correspond to the unitive good. But the cumulative “amount” of pleasure of sex every day for a month…corresponds naturally only to the good of pregnancy inevitably resulting. If a couple doesn’t want THAT good, only wants the unitive good (or even if they only CAN have that good) then the amount of pleasure (in the form of frequency) must be moderated to a lesser amount.

Because it is morally disordering to “say” (in ones subjective experience of goods; ie, pleasures) that the unitive aspect of sex 30 days in a row is AS good as sex for a month resulting in pregnancy. It’s not as good. There is a distinct good that it is lacking, and the highest pleasure should only correspond to the highest good. “Stealing” it in conjunction with lesser goods…cheapens all the greater goods by acknowledging in them no proper pleasure unique to them.

Taking advantage of their pathology to have a pregnancy-causing amount of sex, just without the pregnancy, seems as lustful as eating an obesity-causing amount of food, even without the obesity, is gluttonous. Just as it is morally disordering to experience eating a superfluous amount of food (that would in most cases cause obesity) as being as good or better than the natural healthy amount need to survive (even if you yourself are able to eat that much without getting fat), that by nature causes a gluttonous appetitive habit, and does nothing to fight concupiscence, but in fact makes it worse.

10 03 2011
A Sinner

“Chemical contraceptive methods will probably always be condemned (and rightly so) since they can act as an abortifacient.”

Hmm. You here this from the amateur inquisitors, but it isn’t really true, as I’ve explained here, and as many Pro-Life Catholic physicians (even though they oppose contraception and sterilization morally) have also concluded:

http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com/2010/04/jumping-to-conclusions.html

The alleged abortifacient effect of the Pill is, basically, that a freak ovulation on the Pill could result in a conception that would not implant because the endometrium would not be ready.

However, the exact SAME result could occur on NFP if there were a freak ovulation during the infertile period. And yet, no one is saying that “risking it” like that by having sex during the infertile periods is wrong, because the risk is so small, and the fact of the hostile endometrium, even if caused by human agency, is morally separate from the question of having sex in such a situation. If a risk is acceptable, the action in itself remains acceptable regardless of whether the existence of the risk was caused by sin or not.

Infertility on the Pill cannot be considered any different, objectively, than other forms of infertility, especially pathological ones. If sex during those sorts of infertility is still valid, sex on the Pill is too.

It seems the sin, then, is not in the sex itself in cases of sterilization, but in the mutilation of causing the infertility in the first place. The sex, however, is itself still “valid.” At least that would seem to be the conclusion that can be drawn from things like the canon courts treating sex on the Pill as valid for marital consummation in a way that condoms are not, or the fact that men with vasectomies aren’t required to get them reversed to resume marital intercourse.

“As for condoms, we’re already seeing a drift toward their toleration”

Hardly. We’re seeing an admission (always obvious to me at least) that they may be the lesser evil in some cases where the couple REFUSES to abstain (like with STDs). But calling something a lesser evil isn’t the same as approving it, especially when there is a method for avoiding BOTH (namely, abstaining).

But subjective conscience-claims of having to take non-ideal routes and negotiate morality (ala the lesser evil) because one is under a certain sort of duress, “trapped between a rock and a hard place” where one value is going to have to “give” in favor of another, while potentially valid in the internal forum, do not eliminate the objective moral standard, nor the obligation to try to remove oneself from the situation of duress.

“But given the general way of Orthodoxy, the whole matter will probably have passed by and we’ll have those 99.9% accurate patches in place before anything resembling an authoritative statement on contraception generally is issued.”

I’d think given such a totally-accurate indicator, the Orthodox would be inclined to take an NFP view, given the importance of Fasting in the Orthodox tradition.

NFP is basically a sort of “diet” or schedule of Fasting. It’s not that you don’t eat ever, but if you want to lose weight, you limit your eating. Avoiding consequences without abstinence, however, seems spiritually unhealthy in the long run.

There is a difference, of course, between A) eating when you have a disease that prevents full absorption of fat, B) deliberately infecting oneself with that disease in order to be able to eat more without consequences, and C) putting a rubber sack in your stomach to catch all the food you eat and then removing it through one end or the other.

I don’t think anyone can argue with A as long as one is not otherwise gluttonous (one can always still be too attached to the pleasures of eating); but true valid eating still occurs, even if the nutrition is greatly reduced, the digestive system is still engaged. In Case B, deliberately infecting oneself that a disease to enable weight-loss without dieting is a sin of harm against one’s own body, and suggests a likely gluttonous mindset (is one so attached to the pleasures of eating that dieting is really that hard?), but all other things being equal, in itself the eating must be otherwise remain okay (because the objective situation is exactly the same as A, how the disease was acquired doesn’t change that). But Case C is gluttonous intrinsically because no true eating really occurs, the digestive system is not even truly engaged (though you “steal” the pleasure OF engaging it).

10 03 2011
Venuleius

I generally agree with Tom and I would use the (disparate and uneven) position(s) of the Orthodox Church as a good example. Arguably, no local church has ever said that contraception is “a-ok.” To the best of my knowledge, only the always-fragile Orthodox Church in the America and the politically powerful Moscow Patriarchate have said anything about contraception and their statements are ambiguous. (The focus is on the intentions of the users of contracpetion and the sinfulness of not desiring to have children, but the mechanics are to be worked out between the married couple and their priest.) Arguably the Orthodox Church has never “approved” contraception in the way the Anglicans have, but it hasn’t damned the practice to hell, either. It’s been striving for a nuanced view, though that striving has been–to put it mildly–clumsy thus far. But given the general way of Orthodoxy, the whole matter will probably have passed by and we’ll have those 99.9% accurate patches in place before anything resembling an authoritative statement on contraception generally is issued.

I don’t think it’s just a matter of credibility that will keep the Catholic Church from kicking open the floodgates to contraception. Call me naive, but I have seen little-to-no evidence that the Catholic Church’s position is motivated by anything other than a sincere interpretation of its Tradition coupled with a healthy application of Thomistic philosophy. But there can be nuances added to that interperpretation. Chemical contraceptive methods will probably always be condemned (and rightly so) since they can act as an abortifacient. As for condoms, we’re already seeing a drift toward their toleration, though I imagine that it will be a toleration much like the Orthodox toleration: it’s “ok” for married couples to space their children, but they must always be open to the possibility of children and never adopt an attitude against that possibility.

10 03 2011
TomC

From a purely realpoltik perspective, I don’t think the Church will ever fundamentally change or abandon its established position on contraception. To do so would only further undermine its credibility. Instead, I think you are more likely to see a recognition of human weakness. The pressures of modernity make the temptation to contracept almost irresistible for many. Under these circumstances, the use of contraceptives would be reduced to a venial sin, rather than a mortal sin. I think you see this line of thinking in the Pope’s recent controversial comments on the subject.

Whatever the difficulties of the Church’s teaching on contraception, to change it along the lines proposed by Koninck would open a real can of worms.

10 03 2011
sortacatholic

A Sinner: Much more likely is that a simple device or patch will be invented that tells whether a woman is fertile with 99.9% accuracy, and at that point things become easy enough.

Perhaps. Let’s also take into account that the sexual experiences of women are different for every woman. Neither de Koninck or Grisez take into account a woman’s sexual experience and the way in which this might also influence a Thomistic discussion of artificial contraception. I’m not a Thomist, so I can’t make an cogent argument for or against contraception under de Koninck’s or Grisez’s theses. Even so, any discussion of contraception must take into account the possibility that a woman might find sex uncomfortable or undesirable during the “natural infertile periods” of NFP-style abstinence. When human sexuality is reduced to a boys’ club argument, women become marginalized entirely. I’d like to see a Thomist oppose modern magisterial anti-contraceptive statements from a woman’s standpoint.

10 03 2011
A Sinner

I think the argument about “instrumental cause” might imply that methods like the Pill should be morally distinguished from methods like a condom or sodomy. Indeed, in practice, the Church already makes this distinction between “sterilizing” methods, and “contraceptive” methods strictly so-called; in the former case the sin seems to be the sterilization itself, whether sex takes place or not, in the latter it is the very fact of how it interferes with the completion of true sex. A man with a vasectomy isn’t required to get it reversed, for example, and the canon courts seem to treat sex on the pill as valid for consummation of marriage in a way that with a condom would not be.

However, it’s a big leap from that conclusion, making that distinction, to saying any of this is okay or morally good. Is causing perpetual infertility chemically really acceptable just to have infertile sex without having to abstain at all? It seems like an unnecessary mutilation to me. Cutting off ones legs to avoid gangrene is one thing. Cutting off ones legs so that one can safely do some sport…is quite another.

As I’ve said before, I could see the argument (assuming the distinction between sterlization and contraception) that given the temporary and reversible nature of the Pill, and it’s cumulative nature, that it may only be a venial sin of mutilation, and that the Church may figure that out in considering the distinction that can be made between contraception and sterilization. But no sin at all? I don’t see that.

Much more likely is that a simple device or patch will be invented that tells whether a woman is fertile with 99.9% accuracy, and at that point things become easy enough.

One cannot enslave man to sheer biology. We’re allowed to shave, for example, take medicine, exercise, eat well (or poorly), fix our eyesight, even (some would say) get tattoos or piercings or minor cosmetic surgery (including circumcision) etc that doesn’t interfere with any bodily function.

One can, however, expect a binding of subjective good to its corresponding objective good, and can also say that mutilation of a bodily function for recreational purposes is not allowed (though, depending on how minor it is, it may only be a venial sin). Eating a lot when you have some parasite that doesn’t allow you to absorb as much fat is one thing. Deliberately seeking out such a parasite…quite another.

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