I. The Charges Against BCPs/barriers and the Internal Logic of NFP
Snuggle Muffin wrote: There is a crucial distinction I?m trying to make between the sexuality (procreative and unitive) of the marriage relationship in general and the sexual act specifically. This distinction is not articulated clearly in the writings you quoted and I think leads to misapplication of the theology, and the likelyhood of Catholics and non-Catholics talking past each other when discussing NFP.
I think you're quite right to isolate this as a cause for confusion.
Snuggle Muffin wrote: So what you?re saying is: "any attempt by humanity to separate the unitive and procreative principles is inherently sinful."
Yes, that's more like what I'm saying. A more specific way to put it is that any sexual act that an individual or a couple has altered so that the unitive and procreative principles are separated is inherently wrong. This would include alterations of the body that made it impossible for sexual intercourse to result in conception.
Snuggle Muffin wrote: I find this to be logically inconsistent: only God can deliberately separate the procreative aspect from the unitive (?prevent conception?) without sinning, but at the same there are ways that people can deliberately prevent conception by removing the procreative from their sexual relationship, without sinning. First people can't do it, but then they can so long as they do it properly.
I think that, again, part of the disagreement is that I see that there can be a moral distinction between committing an action in order to achieve a certain goal and refraining from an action in order to achieve the same basic goal. There is a difference between willing not to have sex at a time when you know conception is likely, and willing to have sex while making it impossible for conception to result. I know this may not seem like a real difference to you; hence, this might be the sticking point. The actions of the couples involved do seem to me to speak different things. With NFP, a couple decides whether their overall sexual relationship will result in children, but they do so through the cycle that God has put into place. With contraception, they decide not just whether to have children (not just whether their overall sexual relationship should result in children at this time) but HOW to change the reproductive system God put into place.
Snuggle Muffin wrote:But NFP does much more than simply allowing sex during an infertile timeof the cycle. Perhaps NFP does not change the procreative nature of the sexual act (no messing with the cycle), but it very much delibereately changes the procreative nature of the sexual relationship. This is where I think FQ is more logically consistent than NFP. NFP does not adequately address what the method "speaks" in the greater context of the marriage relationship.
This is where I think that you are demanding that NFP only theology conform to assumptions that it doesn't actually make. However, I would argue that NFP use actually IS concerned with a couple's overall attitude towards procreation: hence, couples who are avoiding for selfish reasons might be sinning, as might be couples who are completely closed to the idea of having children at some point in their marriage. I do think it speaks positively about fertility in the greater context of the marriage relationship in other ways: for one thing, using NFP can help a woman better tell when to conceive, and it can help her know when she is pregnant, or if she has suffered an early miscarriage. Furthermore, charting can alert woman to health issues that might make conception difficult or might make miscarriages more likely (such as short luteal phases, or inadequate cervical mucus, or a pattern of rare ovulation), and interestingly, correcting such problems may have the double benefit of both making a woman more fertile during her fertile time and lengthening the infertile time: what is good for a couple who has to abstain, in other words, is also good for a couple who is trying to conceive. Using NFP even to avoid actually encourages improving one's reproductive health, rather than damaging it (even temporarily). Using NFP means learning about a woman's reproductive system, and the knowledge can be useful for either conceiving or avoiding. The most extreme view of this benefit is the opinion of one theologian that every married woman should chart her cycles, even if she wasn't actively trying to either conceive or avoid, because God gave her the signs of fertility for a reason and not trying to understand her cycles would mean ignoring his gift! I'm not endorsing that view, but pointing out that NFP use broadly conceives speaks of a respect for and a desire to understand the fertility cycle in a unique way.
More to the point: NFP-only theology doesn't claim that a couple's sexual life as a whole has to be oriented towards procreation at every time in their married life. If this were the case, then women who breastfeed "ecologically" would be sinning if they had sex, because they know that one effect of such breastfeeding is that it makes them less likely to ovulate, and they may in fact desire to space their children apart. Basically, if you assume that respecting the unitive and procreative nature of sex demands that a couple's sexual life as a whole must be directed towards conception at all times throughout a marriage, or that a couple's sexual life as whole for any extended space of time must have the same statistical chances of conception as dose a couple who "does nothing," then NFP-only theology will seem inconsistent. However, NFP--only theology does not make such an assumption.
Snuggle Muffin wrote: NFP actively, purposefully, artificially separates the procreative from the unitive, committing against the marriage relationship the same sin with which it charges BCPs/barriers at the specific sexual act level. NFP is inherently speaking the same thing as BCPs and barriers; what BCPs speak is heard during each sexual act, but the same message is heard from NFP in the marriage relationship as a whole. God?s design of fertility has been deliberately changed/rejected by the will of humanity.
I feel like this is just getting back to what I said in previous posts. A couple may have valid reason to say "we cannot have children now, but we should still enjoy the other benefits of sex." NFP and ABC can both speak that. What NFP does speak that ABC doesn't is this: "I will enjoy the pleasures and unitive properties of sex while it is naturally impossible for you to conceive, but I will not act to remove fertility from our actions at a time when we know you are likely to conceive." The difference is in one case, the couple refrains from a good (sex during a time when conception is likely)-- in another, they interfere with that good, making it something other than what it was meant to be. You would argue, if I am understanding you, that NFP does the same thing because it interferes with the good of procreation in an overall sense: God means for sex to result in children, and using NFP to avoid means a couple has sex but doesn't have children. The assumption here is that God intends for couples to be having children at all times throughout their marriage, so that the only way to respect that intent is not to do anything (even breastfeeding, perhaps) that would lower the chance of conception. FQ supporters may have that view ?that the sexual life of a couple should be oriented towards children at all times-- but NFP only theology does not. It does demand that individual acts be in keeping with the unitive-procreative purpose of sexuality, but it recognizes that there are times when God doesn't want couples' sex lives to result in children.
I'll address some of your other points in a second post. I suspect, though, that we're at an impasse; this is probably the point at which we'll have to agree to disagree. I feel that you are blurring the distinction between ends and means, and that you are trying to make NFP-only theology fit into a framework that it doesn't actually accept, thus claiming it is inconsistent only because you are trying to make it be consistent with a set of propositions different from the ones it actually makes; you feel that the principles it advocates are contradictory because the logical result of some conclusions that it does endorse would be other conclusions that it does not. I would just remind you that just because a proposition CAN lead to a certain conclusion doesn't always mean that it has to! To give an example: in 1 Corinthians, Paul deals with a group of Christians who are asking whether an ascetic life opposed to marriage is better than a healthy sexual life within marriage. Paul agrees with some of their propositions --according to him, it is easier for unmarried men and women to focus on God, and celibacy is a gift from God-- but not with their conclusions. What they are missing is that marriage is also a gift from God, and those with strong desire do better to marry than to be tempted to sin; celibacy is not a gift God gives to everyone. One might think that Paul should discourage marriage because of his principles about the benefits of celibacy, but in fact, he recognizes that practically this isn't possible for everyone, nor is it the will of God for everyone. Likewise, as you suggest, one might think that the Catholic Church should encourage the FQ position because it is most open to life, but this is missing part of the picture. Practically the Church recognizes that having as many children as is possible isn't possible for all couples, and it is not the will of God for all couples (though it might be God's will for some).