Theology and NFP (Natural Family Planning)

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TheMouse

Theology and NFP (Natural Family Planning)

Postby TheMouse » Sun Oct 17, 2004 9:49 pm

Snuggle Muffin wrote:Thanks for the thoughful replies, TheMouse and mrcheevus! Here's basically where I stand in our two discussoins.... TheMouse: I'm still hung up on (1) the theology behind NFP, esp. regarding its historical development (2) what i see as logical inconsistencies between the theological/moral claims of NFP and the method.


I don't know if this is worth pursuing, since there've been other threads on NFP (which, as I said, I haven't followed very well, so I don't know to what degree I might be repeating myself), and this thread isn't actually ABOUT NFP so much as it is about a different argument, but I'm curious as to what you mean here. Part why I ask is that some of your remarks in your last post to me didn't seem to be aimed at NFP as it is taught by Catholic theology today so much as they were aimed at Augustinian views of sexuality. I guess I'm wondering a couple of things:

1) how you would summarize or describe the theology behind NFP says, and what your sources are for that? That is, is your understanding formed primarily by dialogue with other Catholics, or by reading stuff on the subject, and if the latter, what "stuff"?

2) A. how you see Augustinianism influencing modern thought on NFP
B. Specifically, how you see Augustinian influences influencing or interacting with the personalistic/phenomenological philosophy behind the body of work generally called "Theology of the Body." (Bear in mind that I am not a philosopher and can only make the broadest generalizations about personalism, so the point might be moot. I thought it was worth asking anyway.)

Or, feel free to drop the subject. Like I said, I know it's been done to death here already, and I'm not trying to change your mind on this matter; I have gotten very cynical about the possibility of convincing anyone of anything through internet message boards, and prefer to focus on "understanding" other positions rather than tempting to change them.

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Mon Oct 18, 2004 9:33 am

TheMouse - most of what I understand of NFP comes from the previously mentioed discussion on TMB with the Couple-to-Couple League teacher, a friend of mine who went Catholic when he married into a staunch Catholic family, and 'protestant' works like Open Embrace that draw heavily on those theologies. Though i should mention that your posts are pretty helpful too! I realize that at the popular level, much of the explanation, intention, and application of NFP gets changed from how it is formally (officially?) meant to be. I wasn't trying to start on the NFP (usually I try to leave it alone unless someone comes out and accuses me of something ). We hashed out quite a bit in previous threads - ending up disagreeing over God's expectations for how we steward our reproductive gift. I never got an answer b/c he got kicked off TMB (for stuff unrelated to our discussion). I can PM you our final post if you want to see where we left off. I liked talking with him b/c he really seemed to know his stuff... I get the same vibes from you. Of course, if you aren't going to accuse me of various evils (sin, lack of faith, rejecting my spouse, rejecting God's gifts, selfishness, inferiour sexual experience, etc) b/c I use bc, then I won't feel much of a desire to chew through it again.

Re: the Augustinian/Hellenistic philosophy/early church father's influence manifested through NFP - there are many things in NFP that I believe reflect these influences (and I don't think this is just a RCC thing... all share this heritage). Just off the top of my head:
- primarily allegorical interpretation of SoS
- emphasis on and preoccupation with procreation that is out of proportion, I think.
- emphasis spiritualizing the material, de-emphasizing the material (even that spiritual vs. material/flesh distinction is Greek)
- that despite the finely tuned nuances that speak so highly of sex, the same old messages are still perpetuated... sex isn't good in and of itself, it's good b/c of procreation and the 'unitive aspect.' Procreation 'saves' sex. I realize these things are explicitly denied and the arguments are highly nuanced, but at the end of the day procreation and spiritual metaphor is over-emphasized and the pleasure and fleshy-ness of sex is de-emphasized - right in line with the Platonic disdain for the material world, in which the flesh is bad b/c it hinders the spiritual pursuits of the soul. There's more of course, but if we launch two big discussions on this thread we'll all get tangled. From a historical perspective, I see the church's (all our churches) stance on sexuality to be more influenced by our shared hellenistic philosophical heritage that entered the church through the early church theologians like Augustine, rather than Scripture. We swallowed a whole lot of pagan philosophical assumptions back in the day, and we're still perpetuating them. I think it's time to re-do our take on sexuality. I realize that in the RCC the community of interpretation plays a bigger explicit role than in the non-RCC world, but I would encourage Catholics to acknowledge the fact that Hellenisitc philosophy plays a major part in that interpretative community's interpretations.

re: the inconsistencies - I've pressed a few well-informed Catholics on this before, and I haven't seen yet any solid ground between FQ's totally indiscrimminate sex (paying no heed to fertility), and allowing bc (what NFP calls contraception).

shar - TheMouse and I were having a little PM conversation and I suggested that we turn it into a thread. I think this will be different from the other bc discussions because it deals with the modern Cahtolic theology behind NFP... which I suspect TheMouse has a much better understanding of than the other RCC/NFP posters we've had in the past. At any rate, it will help all us non-Catholics understand where Catholics are coming frmo a lot better, I think.

We've got a few more PM's to past in hear before we're caught up, but it shold let people see how the discussion has formed.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Mon Oct 18, 2004 9:44 am

Given how the not using any method? thread has taken off in the past couple of days, it's probably better not to try to confuse the issue there with talking about NFP! {Note to all-- that's why we started a new thread here. I cannot guarantee that I have new things to say ("nothing new under the sun. . . of the writing of many long posts there is no end. . ." etc.) so anyway, if you've had enough of a dead horse, feel free to ignore. Also, my apologies for any format oddities in this particular post; I composed it another program and cut and pasted, so the quotes are weird.}

Snuggle Muffin wrote: "I can PM you our final post if you want to see where we left off. I liked talking with him b/c he really seemed to know his stuff... I get the same vibes from you. Of course, if you aren't going to accuse me of various evils (sin, lack of faith, rejecting my spouse, rejecting God's gifts, selfishness, inferiour sexual experience, etc) b/c I use bc, then I won't feel much of a desire to chew through it again."


To clarify: I don't particularly want to come to a forum like TMB --where I know that my position is a minority position and is clearly NOT the position the forum is founded on, so to speak-- and start telling people that I think their guiding assumptions about sexuality are wrong: at the very least, it seems rude and at worst, I think it makes people less likely to listen. That's why as much as possible I try to restrict myself to just ?clarifying what the Catholic Church teaches? if a Catholic doctrine or issue comes up. I have found that many Protestants don't actually know what the Catholic Church teaches-- not just on sexual ethics, but a lot of issues-- (the same thing can be said for many nominal or undereducated Catholics, unfortunately) so I do try to speak up if I see a possibility of misrepresentation of Catholic thought. Furthermore, while I do think that using artificial birth control is objectively wrong, I don't think I am likely to convince anyone that they are sinning, and I don't think that's even my job: if people are doing something wrong, it's God's job to convince people of sin. The most I can do is point out reasons why an action might be wrong, etc.

So having said all that, it's up to you how far you want to pursue this. Again, I don't know all the points other people have gone over with you. If you do want to keep talking about it and think sending the last PM from the earlier conversation would help, feel free to do so. And now for my long-winded response:

I guess the reason I was asking about the Augustinian/Hellenistic influences is that it doesn't seem to me that the arguments used in modern Catholic theology actually do the things you suggest: they don't imply that sexuality is only good because of procreation, or that proceation is the only purpose of sex, etc. However, when you point to concerns with:

"- emphasis on and preoccupation with procreation that is out of proportion, I think.

- that despite the finely tuned nuances that speak so highly of sex, the same old messages are still perpetuated... sex isn't good in and of itself, it's good b/c of procreation and the 'unitive aspect.' Procreation 'saves' sex."

you're touching on areas that seem to me to be very subjective. What I mean is that I could say "no, procreation isn't being emphasized too much, it's that it isn't being emphasized enough in Protestantism" and I could find lots of Bible passages that refer to fertility to help support this. I don't know if that would prove anything, though, because our perceptions of what would be "too much" emphasis on procreation would still probably vary; you would counter quotes about fertility with the Song of Songs, etc. Writers like the Torodes (Open Embrace) make it clear that they aren't trying to prioritize procreation, but that they just don't think that procreation should be downplayed or rejected (see pg. 21-22, for instance), but ultimately that's probably not very convincing to you, because it may seem that even though they SAY that procreation doesn't dominate the other purposes of sex, it ends up doing so anyway. So at least for now, I don't think I'm going to directly pursue that point.

Where I do think it could be helpful is to put the Hellenistic dualism in a different context. What I mean is that dualism has two faces: the ascetic and the excessive. Ascetic Gnosticism or Manichaeism, which is what you're talking about, is the sort that would say "sex is bad and can only be tolerated for the sake of procreation. Husbands and wives are more pure and holy if they have sex less often." I think you're right to see this operating in various Christians throughout the history of the Church with regard to sexual ethics. I do, unfortunately, see occasional traces of it in the Kippley's works on sexuality (they're the founders of Couple-to-Couple League), and it probably does influence the think of some NFP-only users. But I honestly DON'T see this at work in John Paul II's work on sexuality, such as _Love and Responsibility_, or the work of Christopher West or other proponents of the Theology of the Body. In other words, advocacy of Catholic sexual ethics --including but not limited to the NFP-only stance-- doesn't seem to me to be dependent on or necessarily rooted in ascetic dualism. Rather, it's dependent on a sacramental world view; more on this later.

I agree that ascetic dualism has done a lot of harm in Christianity; most likely, I am not aware of all that it's done and is still doing. That's partly because for me, this age actually seems prey to a totally different kind of dualism: a form of Gnosticism or Manicheaism that focuses on excess. In this view, the underwriting assumption is the same: the body is bad, the soul is good, etc., but the resulting actions are different. Historically, some dualists who started from the assumption that the body is bad went on to say "if the spirit is all that matters, then it doesn't matter what I do with my body. It doesn't matter whether I have sex with my wife or with a prostitute, because it's all bad anyway; only spirit matters." I don't think people today would openly say "bodies are all bad" but with regard to sexual ethics, our culture does seem to say "what you do with your body doesn't matter because it's what inside that counts." With regard to sexual ethics, the twenty-first century ethic is: "if all that matters is the internal self (emotional or spiritual), then it doesn't matter what specific sexual actions I'm doing, as long as they are mutually pleasing and conducive to love." In liberal or quasi-Christianity, this leads to an acceptance of homosexual marriage, on the grounds that as long there is real "spiritual" love, it doesn't matter how the bodies fit together. Since the Bible is clear that homosexual actions are wrong, Biblical Christians don't go that far, but it does seem to me that some of this brand of dualism may creep into Christian sexual ethics-- a kind of "any specific action is okay between husbands and wives as long as it is done in love" view. (* see note at the end of the message))

So, while you feel that the Catholic view on birth control is ultimately just a result of lingering dualism, it seems to me that the Protestant acceptance of artificial birth control (and some other other sexual practices) is also, in its own way, influenced by the "other face" of dualism. The proper view would be one that sees the body as good and as deeply important, not separated from the spirit but connected. For Catholics, this view is found in a sacramental world view, that sees our very actions (including sex) as potential means of grace. Our whole being is made up of body and soul, and our actions "speak" love, hate, selfishness, etc. THIS seems to me to be the grounding of Catholic sexual ethics, when it is articulated properly: a view of the speaking body. (See, for instance, Christopher West's _Good News about Sex and Marriage._ ) Sexual intercourse with one's spouse speaks of love, a desire for physical and spiritual unity, a desire to please the other, a desire to rejoice in God's creation-- including his creation of fertility. We don't want to reject God's gift of fertility precisely because creation matters, and fertility is part of God's creation.

So if it is time for Christians as a whole to re-do our take on sexuality, as you say, I would argue that means looking more deeply into what it means to call marriage a sacrament, as the Church did for centuries. We don't want to inadvertently slip from one kind of dualism to another, and it seems to me that sacramental thinking, which is rooted in the Incarnation, is the way we are meant to avoid that. Unfortunately, part of the problem is that most Protestants don't view marriage as a sacrament, and many Protestants don't share the same view of the sacraments that Catholics and Orthodox Christians share. But it seems to me that this is the viewpoint from which Catholic sexual ethics should be explored and examined, since Catholics do believe that marriage is a sacrament.


You wrote: "re: the inconsistencies - I've pressed a few well-informed Catholics on this before, and I haven't seen yet any solid ground between FQ's totally indiscrimminate sex (paying no heed to fertility), and allowing bc (what NFP calls contraception)."

This message is already getting really long, so I'll leave it up to you if you want to pursue this point; there's probably quite a bit that we could both say, but I'll try to be brief here. I will say that it seems to me that with regard to birth control, there are at least two wrong attitudes to take. One is to say that since sex is only or almost exclusively for procreation, a couple may never have sex unless they intend to get pregnant. The other error is to say that the physical pleasure, emotional bonding, or spiritual unity benefits can "cancel out" the procreative purpose of sex, so that it doesn't matter what spouses do with our bodies as long as it's mutually pleasing. NFP theology seems to me to mediate between these two positions. To "no birth control" believers it says: "yes, you are right that procreation is important, but it is clearly not the only purpose of sex within marriage. It's not wrong to have sex for other reasons. Making love doesn't just mean making babies. All of sexuality, as God designed it, is meant to be good-- not just fertility." To pro-contraception believers it says "yes, you are right that sex is meant to be mutually pleasurable, that it is a way of speaking love, and that it is spiritually significant. But don't forget that it's also there for procreation! All of sexuality, as God designed it, is meant to be good-- including fertility."

You wrote: "btw - I started a thread a little while ago for Catholics and non-Catholics to help each other uindrestand the different ways we approach Scripture, interpretation, and forming theological truth. It didn't go that great b/c no Cathlics showed up, and all the hard-core Reformers did. But it's been dead for a while (it may be 'safe' now ). If you' dlike to help us understand the Catholic perspective I'd be happy to learn!"

Yeah, I did see the thread and I read a few of the posts. I probably should have posted contributed there, as it would have been in keeping with my self-assigned correcting-misconceptions-about Catholicism role. I think I just chickened out because I knew that I was way outnumbered {edited for politeness!}

* Footnote: The footnote I wanted to make to an earlier comment may be relevant here: Obviously, different views on the Bible and doctrine play a role in the birth control debates. Even if I am right that Christians are being influenced by a kind of Gnosticism of excess, which focuses on emotions as the justification for sexual actions, Christians who take the Bible seriously will draw the lines at things like homosexuality, bestiality and pre-marital sex because the Bible clearly forbids them. Because the pagan culture has rejected Biblical standards, it carries the "it doesn't matter what I do as long as it's done in love" ethic much farther. In other words, turning to the bible provides a counter-part to this kind of dualism. To a Catholic, though, it may seem that Bible-centered Protestants are still being affected by unBiblical assumptions, and are operating from an ethical system that isn't adequate for dealing with moral situations (stem cell research, birth control pills, even abortion) that the Bible doesn't specifically address. The Bible is a historically contextualized document, and it may be difficult to tell whether an issue isn't dealt with because it's not a problem or simply because it wasn't an important problem at that time. We would argue that we need moral principles based both on what inspired revelation we do have (the Bible) and the use of reason, including reasoning about natural revelation-- in other words, Christian natural law, which suggests guidelines for determining what sexual behaviors are appropriate. I'd argue that these guidelines don't contradict the Bible, but for the many Christians who don't make doctrinal decisions based on any extra-biblical sources, they won't be convincing.
Last edited by TheMouse on Mon Oct 18, 2004 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Mon Oct 18, 2004 1:37 pm

Thanks for the reply, Mouse! This is long, but mostly b/c I quoted your message a lot.
TheMouse wrote:To clarify: I don't particularly want to come to a forum like TMB --where I know that my position is a minority position and is clearly NOT the position the forum is founded on, so to speak-- and start telling people that I think their guiding assumptions about sexuality are wrong: at the very least, it seems rude and at worst, I think it makes people less likely to listen.
Yeah, that's been tried before.
TheMouse wrote:That's why as much as possible I try to restrict myself to just ?clarifying what the Catholic Church teaches? if a Catholic doctrine or issue comes up. I have found that many Protestants don't actually know what the Catholic Church teaches-- not just on sexual ethics, but a lot of issues-- (the same thing can be said for many nominal or undereducated Catholics, unfortunately) so I do try to speak up if I see a possibility of misrepresentation of Catholic thought.
Please do! That's why I made that other thread. It bothers me that my conversations with Catholics are compromised due to our mutual ignorance of the other's beliefs.
TheMouse wrote:Furthermore, while I do think that using artificial birth control is objectively wrong, I don't think I am likely to convince anyone that they are sinning, and I don't think that's even my job: if people are doing something wrong, it's God's job to convince people of sin. The most I can do is point out reasons why an action might be wrong, etc.
right, iron sharpens iron, we have a degree of responsibility for fellow believers, but ultimately it's between them and God. I don't mind someone saying, "I think what you're doing is wrong because...".. I mean, it's not the funnest thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, but I think it's important that I consider such perspectives.
TheMouse wrote:I guess the reason I was asking about the Augustinian/Hellenistic influences is that it doesn't seem to me that the arguments used in modern Catholic theology actually do the things you suggest: they don't imply that sexuality is only good because of procreation, or that proceation is the only purpose of sex, etc.
I realize that modern Catholic theology explicitly teaches a highly positive (spiritualized) view of human sexuality. But at the practical level I still see much of the old baggage (I realize that in most churches, the formal theology is usually not accurately expressed at the ground level - for many reasons). I do not mean to imply that modern Catholic theology explicitly says those things. I do think that it leaves too much room for those perspectives to continue, perhaps it does not reform the ground-level practices and teachings as much as I'd like.
TheMouse wrote:you're touching on areas that seem to me to be very subjective. What I mean is that I could say "no, procreation isn't being emphasized too much, it's that it isn't being emphasized enough in Protestantism"
Sure. Many non-Catholic traditions could use a higher view of and respect for procreation, but in my experience the benefits of the Catholic message get obscured in the attempt to swim against the flow... and I think declating bc to be objectively wrong goes too far (whether it's overly-corrective, reactionary, or perpetuating traditional teachings, etc.). I obviously don't consider the distinction between bc and contraception to be relevant.
TheMouse wrote:and I could find lots of Bible passages that refer to fertility to help support this. I don't know if that would prove anything, though, because our perceptions of what would be "too much" emphasis on procreation would still probably vary; you would counter quotes about fertility with the Song of Songs, etc.
Regardless of the deficiencies in the non-Catholic traditions, I still view the RCC as placing a disproportionate amount of emphasis on procreation in regards to human sexuality. The Torodes perhaps are not the best mediators of the RCC perpspective, but their suggestion that total abstinence within marriage is better than exclusively having sex at non-fertile times (for couples that honestly can't provide for children) serves as an example of what i'm getting at. Abstinence is holier than sex with the procreative element deliberately diminished.
TheMouse wrote:Writers like the Torodes (Open Embrace) make it clear that they aren't trying to prioritize procreation, but that they just don't think that procreation should be downplayed or rejected (see pg. 21-22, for instance), but ultimately that's probably not very convincing to you, because it may seem that even though they SAY that procreation doesn't dominate the other purposes of sex, it ends up doing so anyway.
Exactly - especially with the Torodes. What is said explicitly in one sentance is often the opposite sentiment of what an entire chapter implies, I find. I think they're skilled writers who would make good political debate writers.
TheMouse wrote:Where I do think it could be helpful is to put the Hellenistic dualism in a different context. What I mean is that dualism has two faces: the ascetic and the excessive. Ascetic Gnosticism or Manichaeism, which is what you're talking about, is the sort that would say "sex is bad and can only be tolerated for the sake of procreation. Husbands and wives are more pure and holy if they have sex less often." I think you're right to see this operating in various Christians throughout the history of the Church with regard to sexual ethics. I do, unfortunately, see occasional traces of it in the Kippley's works on sexuality (they're the founders of Couple-to-Couple League), and it probably does influence the think of some NFP-only users. But I honestly DON'T see this at work in John Paul II's work on sexuality, such as _Love and Responsibility_, or the work of Christopher West or other proponents of the Theology of the Body. In other words, advocacy of Catholic sexual ethics --including but not limited to the NFP-only stance-- doesn't seem to me to be dependent on or necessarily rooted in ascetic dualism. Rather, it's dependent on a sacramental world view; more on this later.
Now this is very interesting to me - particularly b/c as a non-Catholic, RCC sexual theology is mediated to me primarily through CtoCLeague teachers or specific Catholics like yourself, so I only know it as accurately as they mediate it. In certain areas I assume that J.P.II makes a deliberate/explicit break with historical Catholic tradition, in that he intentionally does not perpetuate the ascetic dualism of our shared heritage? This is, of course, what i am trying to, though I don't have to maintain loyalities to tradition in the same way J.P.II might.Quote:
TheMouse wrote:I agree that ascetic dualism has done a lot of harm in Christianity; most likely, I am not aware of all that it's done and is still doing. That's partly because for me, this age actually seems prey to a totally different kind of dualism: a form of Gnosticism or Manicheaism that focuses on excess. In this view, the underwriting assumption is the same: the body is bad, the soul is good, etc., but the resulting actions are different. Historically, some dualists who started from the assumption that the body is bad went on to say "if the spirit is all that matters, then it doesn't matter what I do with my body. It doesn't matter whether I have sex with my wife or with a prostitute, because it's all bad anyway; only spirit matters."
If i've read my history correctly, Augustine was more or less in this camp before his conversion.
TheMouse wrote:... Biblical Christians don't go that far, but it does seem to me that some of this brand of dualism may creep into Christian sexual ethics-- a kind of "any specific action is okay between husbands and wives as long as it is done in love" view. * Footnote: The footnote I wanted to make to an earlier comment may be relevant here: Obviously, different views on the Bible and doctrine play a role in the birth control debates. Even if I am right that Christians are being influenced by a kind of Gnosticism of excess, which focuses on emotions as the justification for sexual actions, Christians who take the Bible seriously will draw the lines at things like homosexuality, bestiality and pre-marital sex because the Bible clearly forbids them. Because the pagan culture has rejected Biblical standards, it carries the "it doesn't matter what I do as long as it's done in love" ethic much farther. In other words, turning to the bible provides a counter-part to this kind of dualism. To a Catholic, though, it may seem that Bible-centered Protestants are still being affected by unBiblical assumptions, and are operating from an ethical system that isn't adequate for dealing with moral situations (stem cell research, birth control pills, even abortion) that the Bible doesn't specifically address. The Bible is a historically contextualized document, and it may be difficult to tell whether an issue isn't dealt with because it's not a problem or simply because it wasn't an important problem at that time. We would argue that we need moral principles based both on what inspired revelation we do have (the Bible) and the use of reason, including reasoning about natural revelation-- in other words, Christian natural law, which suggests guidelines for determining what sexual behaviors are appropriate. I'd argue that these guidelines don't contradict the Bible, but for the many Christians who don't make doctrinal decisions based on any extra-biblical sources, they won't be convincing.
All Christians make doctrinal decisions based/heavily influenced/determined by extra-biblical sources whether they know it or not, IMO ...though I wonder if today's reactionary responses to excessive dualism are basically repeating the history of the early church.
TheMouse wrote:So, while you feel that the Catholic view on birth control is ultimately just a result of lingering dualism, it seems to me that the Protestant acceptance of artificial birth control (and some other other sexual practices) is also, in its own way, influenced by the "other face" of dualism.
I certainly would not claim that those influences are not significant (on both sides). And I certainly agree that amore Hebrew view of the person (integrated) is probably more Christian than hellenistic dualism.
TheMouse wrote:The proper view would be one that sees the body as good and as deeply important, not separated from the spirit but connected. For Catholics, this view is found in a sacramental world view, that sees our very actions (including sex) as potential means of grace. Our whole being is made up of body and soul, and our actions "speak" love, hate, selfishness, etc. THIS seems to me to be the grounding of Catholic sexual ethics, when it is articulated properly: a view of the speaking body. (See, for instance, Christopher West's _Good News about Sex and Marriage._ ) Sexual intercourse with one's spouse speaks of love, a desire for physical and spiritual unity, a desire to please the other, a desire to rejoice in God's creation-- including his creation of fertility.
Is there not room for bc in the faithful Christian life as seen from this perspective? I think so. The fact that this theological basis is used to single out and condem bc in particular suggests to me that the influences represented by Augustine are alive and well in RCC sexual teaching. I suspect that NFP goes out of it's way to condemn 'contraception'; that perhaps the theology does not warrant this but the traditional influences do, and that these infleunces hold significant sway over the application of modern Catholic theology.
TheMouse wrote:We don't want to reject God's gift of fertility precisely because creation matters, and fertility is part of God's creation.
My subjective wondering wonders whether the influences of the historical heritage manifest themsevles in the application of this theological perspective. This is the point where I ended with the CtoCLeague teacher - disagreement over what constitutes 'rejection of God's gift of fertility' and what God's expectations are for us regarding the stewardship of that gift. I admit I am rather skeptical that J.P.II reformed the church's historical tradition to the degree I think necessary, perhaps largely b/c of what I see are internal inconsistencies in NFP (why even attempt those claims?) and the curious ways in which modern RCC sexual theology is applied. It seems NFP goes out of its way to make certain statements, that perhaps aren't necessarily reflective of it's theological base.
TheMouse wrote:Unfortunately, part of the problem is that most Protestants don't view marriage as a sacrament, and many Protestants don't share the same view of the sacraments that Catholics and Orthodox Christians share. But it seems to me that this is the viewpoint from which Catholic sexual ethics should be explored and examined, since Catholics do believe that marriage is a sacrament.
believe it or not, my Systematic Theology prof grew up Catholic, and though he fell away (completley) and years later was restored to Christ through a non-Catholic tradition, he deliberately draws heavily on sacremental and Incarnational theology in forming our ethical/moral and theological base. I'm reading one of his articles right now which responds to the moral challenges against Christianity by basing human dignity and the honour of personhood in an Incarnational perspective.
TheMouse wrote:... NFP theology seems to me to mediate between these two positions. To "no birth control" believers it says: "yes, you are right that procreation is important, but it is clearly not the only purpose of sex within marriage. It's not wrong to have sex for other reasons. Making love doesn't just mean making babies. All of sexuality, as God designed it, is meant to be good-- not just fertility." To pro-contraception believers it says "yes, you are right that sex is meant to be mutually pleasurable, that it is a way of speaking love, and that it is spiritually significant. But don't forget that it's also there for procreation! All of sexuality, as God designed it, is meant to be good-- including fertility."
As you decribed NFP's teaching, many pro-bc Christians would have no problem agreeing. But I think you've significantly softened/hidden the procreative emphasis in the above quote. NFP goes much farther than simply raising everyone's respect for the importance of procreation. Perhaps the problem with NFP is that when it addresses the pro-bc Christians (I'm not convinced that the bc/contraception distinction is not artifical and irrevelvant), it swings so hard in favour of procreation that it ends up off balance and unable to plant one foot firmly on the 'unitive-affirming' side, and smacks too much of Augustine for us to swallow. This may be a big reason why many of us see inherent contradicitons between the teaching and the method. Ultimately, it seems that NFP should either go the FQ route, or admit that barriers and hormones are theoretically OK, since deliberate abstinence to avoid pregnancy is inherently the same action - 'speaking the same thing' if you will.
TheMouse wrote:Yeah, I did see the thread and I read a few of the posts... I think I just chickened out because I knew that I was way outnumbered and, well, I didn't want to end up arguing with the "hard-core Reformers."
I was disappointed with I ended up with more [---edited to remove possibly inflammatory references to those in the TMB family who are particularly big fans of the Reformation :wink: ---]Thanks for taking the time to enlighten the few of us desiring enlightenment! I really do appreciate it; it's a priviledge to refine my understanding with someone who has your level of understanding and demeanor. Should we turn this conversation into a new thread (post our PM's one at a time in order?) I feel you may be beyond my league theologically, but, oh well. - SM

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Mon Oct 18, 2004 2:13 pm

I know, I know... bad form to add to an already long post, but I figured this was better than changing it and then pretending like it'd always been that way. :wink:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:So, while you feel that the Catholic view on birth control is ultimately just a result of lingering dualism, it seems to me that the Protestant acceptance of artificial birth control (and some other other sexual practices) is also, in its own way, influenced by the "other face" of dualism.
I certainly would not claim that those influences are not significant (on both sides). And I certainly agree that amore Hebrew view of the person (integrated) is probably more Christian than hellenistic dualism.
Reflecting more on this, I think the non-Catholics are perhaps caught by heavy doses of both ascetic and excessive dualism. The ascetic influence on the non-Catholic churches is centuries deep, while the excessive influence is relatively recent, so I wouldn’t characterize the non-Catholic churches as being more influenced or more formed by the excessive. Our traditions share most of the ascetic dualistic heritage, and perhaps a greater temptation for faithful non-Catholics than faithful Catholics is to adopt uncritically (an dunknowingly) a degree of excessive dualism in a negative reaction to our ascetic heritage.

No doubt this is happening in non-Catholic churches; even among those truly desiring a Godly understanding of sexuality. Perhaps (i say 'perhaps' b/c I do not know) an important difference between the Catholic and non-Catholic quests for a theological basis from which to understand human sexuality is that non-Catholics have a greater freedom to say, "We were really really just straight-up wrong - let's re-think this." While certainly the RCC practices self-critique of its theology and tradition, the non-RCCs, I think, don't have to be as careful about removing their assent from certain traditional doctrines that were perhaps 'added to the canon' (though often they/we still treat them that way).
TheMouse wrote:...our actions "speak" love, hate, selfishness, etc. THIS seems to me to be the grounding of Catholic sexual ethics, when it is articulated properly: a view of the speaking body. (See, for instance, Christopher West's _Good News about Sex and Marriage._ ) Sexual intercourse with one's spouse speaks of love, a desire for physical and spiritual unity, a desire to please the other, a desire to rejoice in God's creation-- including his creation of fertility.
Reflecting more on this, I think I agree with idea of the 'speaking body,' and that our actions speak various things as we are the body of Christ, including what you have attributed to sexual intercourse. I am hesitant in two areas regarding this though:

First, I'm hestitant to formalize this concept into doctrine on which we will base and draw various other conclusions, though I think it is accurately descriptive of reality. The abstract should be brought down to practicality, but that's a delicate process... sometimes it happens too quickly and conveniently for my liking. My second hesitation is in part one reason for a less-rigid handling of the speaking body concept.

Second, I agree that a couple using bc/contraception can (and sometimes does) speak the negative things that NFP claims it does, but in such a case we should consider whether those meanings are inherent in the act of using bc or whether the couple in question is attributing those meanings to the act. In the case of the latter it might still be sinful for that couple to use bc (as they would be violating their conscience before God). It would not, however, universalize those negative meanings for every Christian couple. In this way, using bc can be sinful, but it can also not be sinful. This may sound like cheap relativism, but I don't think it is given the various factors involved.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Mon Oct 18, 2004 3:43 pm

Well, since Snuggle Muffin keeps adding things I may have to do my reply in two parts, too. ;-) Methinks this may be a longwinded thread.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:I realize that modern Catholic theology explicitly teaches a highly positive (spiritualized) view of human sexuality. But at the practical level I still see much of the old baggage (I realize that in most churches, the formal theology is usually not accurately expressed at the ground level - for many reasons).


Since I haven't done a survey of individual Catholic churches and their views on marriage, I can only offer slight anecdotal evidence, knowing full well that my experience doesn't match everyone elses. If anything, I think the average Catholic parish in America suffers from a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on sexuality: there is little teaching about sex, little explicit mention of it, and little (public) condemnation of those who don't follow Catholic teachings. (And I don't just mean on birth control.) So I can't say that I hear a lot of negative baggage about sex, but that's largely because it isn't spoken about openly as much.

However, in contexts where sexuality is discussed on the practical level tends to be positive. The materials for the Catholic marriage preparation my fiance and I did, for instance, were very positive about sexuality within marriage. I didn't see dislike of the body there, and I certainly didn't see the procreative purposes being pushed at the expense of the other purposes. Sex as loving communication and as way of expressing intimacy was the dominant motif in both the written materials used and the presentations. (It was a format similar to Engaged Encounter, with married couples speaking on different subjects.) When the issue of contraception came up at the marriage retreat we attended, all of the speakers at the treat weree being supporting of curch teaching against contraception without being deeply judgmental against participants who might not abide by church teaching. Although fertility was spoken of positively, the speakers who talked about sex talked about it almost entirely in the context of intimacy rather than having children. I didn't sense anything negative in their discussion of sex. But all of the above is based on limited exposure to a few churches or Catholic settings, so of course I can't speak for every church. I wouldn't be surprised to find that there were plenty of places and plenty of situations where negative views of sexuality lingered. Appropriate questions might be:"is there more such negativity in Catholicism than in Protestantism, and is it caused by the Church's rejection of contraception?" or "do Catholic sexual ethics hinder a proper view of sexuality in Catholic communities?" I don't have adequate practical knowledge of either Catholicism or Protestantism to answer the first question; obviously, my answer to the second one would be biased.

Where I might disagree with what you said is:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:I realize that modern Catholic theology explicitly teaches a highly positive (spiritualized) view of human sexuality . . .


I'm not sure what you mean by spiritualized. It is true that the Catholic Church sees sex as having considerable spiritual importance. On the other hand, the fact that it is a sacrament should emphasize the physicality of it.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:I do not mean to imply that modern Catholic theology explicitly says those things. I do think that it leaves too much room for those perspectives to continue, perhaps it does not reform the ground-level practices and teachings as much as I'd like.


Are there specific problems or situations you're thinking of?

Snuggle Muffin wrote:Regardless of the deficiencies in the non-Catholic traditions, I still view the RCC as placing a disproportionate amount of emphasis on procreation in regards to human sexuality. The Torodes perhaps are not the best mediators of the RCC perpspective, but their suggestion that total abstinence within marriage is better than exclusively having sex at non-fertile times (for couples that honestly can't provide for children) serves as an example of what i'm getting at. Abstinence is holier than sex with the procreative element deliberately diminished.


D'oh! I mentioned the Torodes because you'd mentioned them, so I thought they could serve as a common ground of knowledge. I didn't know or didn't remember that they said that total abstinence in marriage was better than exclusively having sex at non-fertile times. This doesn't correspond with a modern Catholic perspective. To put it another way, no Catholic material on marriage or on NFP that I've encountered has suggested that it would be better for couples who can't have children (say, for health or financial reasons) to abstain from sex altogether. This entirely flies against a view of sex as renewal or seal of the marriage covenant: who wouldn't want to renew their marriage covenant? Or, to use Fulton Sheen's pre-Theology of the Body terms, why would married couples be holier for passing up what was a means of grace? Anyway, I wouldn't have cited them if I'd known they advocated that-- I'm a bit surprised.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:[Now this is very interesting to me - particularly b/c as a non-Catholic, RCC sexual theology is mediated to me primarily through CtoCLeague teachers or specific Catholics like yourself, so I only know it as accurately as they mediate it. In certain areas I assume that J.P.II makes a deliberate/explicit break with historical Catholic tradition, in that he intentionally does not perpetuate the ascetic dualism of our shared heritage?


Here's the short answer: I think in _The Theology of the Body_ the Pope was well aware of the history of dualism within the Church and was deliberately trying to replace lingering Manichaism (sp? too lazy to look it up) with an Incarnation, sacramental view of marital sexuality.

Here's the longer explanation of the short answer!
I'd first mention/remind that not all Catholic tradition is equally binding. Not all doctrines are infallible, and more importantly, specific theologies are not infallible. So JPII (and other Catholic theologians) are not obliged to affirm everything the Catholic Church has said about sex. Areas on which there have been clear, firm teachings --such as the prohibition against abortion or contraception-- are binding. I've heard cynical Catholics argue that what the current Pope has done with regard to birth control is take the pre-existing doctrine, thrown out the negative views on sex that had previously gone with it, and try to "invent" a theological justification for it by writing his works on the theology of the body. This seems unfair to me, for a number of reasons; for one thing, he draws directly from Scripture as well as from Catholic tradition in crafting his arguments. However, I do think it is true that JPII's work represents a break with or a correction to negative views of sexuality. In _The Theology of the Body_, which is made up of a number of short reflections on scripture (only about half of which I have read!), he returns to "the beginning" and looks at the state of man and woman in Genesis, when Adam and Eve were naked without shame, as proof of the original holiness of sex. He then grounds Christian sexuality in the redemption of the body that is the work of the Holy Spirit within Christians. I think his decision to devote some of his wednesday lectures on Paul's comments about the desires of the flesh warring with the Spirit was a deliberate movement to counter possible Manichian readings of those texts, while his references to human beings as "integrally" made up of body and soul seems a deliberate counter to dualism.



Snuggle Muffin wrote:Is there not room for bc in the faithful Christian life as seen from this perspective? I think so. The fact that this theological basis is used to single out and condem bc in particular suggests to me that the influences represented by Augustine are alive and well in RCC sexual teaching. I suspect that NFP goes out of it's way to condemn 'contraception'; that perhaps the theology does not warrant this but the traditional influences do, and that these infleunces hold significant sway over the application of modern Catholic theology.


and

Snuggle Muffin wrote:As you decribed NFP's teaching, many pro-bc Christians would have no problem agreeing. But I think you've significantly softened/hidden the procreative emphasis in the above quote. NFP goes much farther than simply raising everyone's respect for the importance of procreation. Perhaps the problem with NFP is that when it addresses the pro-bc Christians (I'm not convinced that the bc/contraception distinction is not artifical and irrevelvant), it swings so hard in favour of procreation that it ends up off balance and unable to plant one foot firmly on the 'unitive-affirming' side, and smacks too much of Augustine for us to swallow.


This is something I've been thinking about the past few days. I think that both Catholics and Protestants sometimes fail to understand why the Catholic church condemns artificial contraception becasue they don't see the system in its totality. If you look to _Humanae Vitae_ (or to JPII's reflections on HV) the core of the document is the statment that the unitive and procreative functions of sexuality cannot be separated. As this thread and the past discussions of birth control have shown, use of contraception is one of the most controversial results of this belief. What may go unnoticed is that is not the only implication of this belief. In the Catholic Church's eyes, it is just as sinful to try to separate the procreative functions of sex, while rejecting the unitive ones, as it is to retain the unitive and reject the procreative. _Humanae Vitae_ cites coercive sex (marital rape, basically) as an example of sinning by denying the unitive function of sex, but couples who are desperately trying to conceive and who have allowed sex to become nothing but an attempt to make a baby may fall into sin too. Since _Humanae Vitae_ was written, reproductive technology has given other examples of what the Catholic Church considers to be the sin of taking procreation while leaving sex behind: artificial insemination, for instance, is not allowed, even though it can make babies (which the Catholic Church thinks is good), because it is a means of conception that doesn't allow the "one flesh" union of sex.

I don't bring these examples up so that people can argue about whether there's anything wrong with them (I'm sure there's plenty of room for debate!); rather, I bring them up to show that the prohibition against birth control DOESN'T stand on its own, but is part of a system of sexual ethics. I honestly think that the reason the prohibition against birth control is emphasized so much in different discourses on Catholic sexuality is simply because it is the one that most Catholics are tempted to do, and because it is so prevalent in the culture. As different reproductive technologies have become more prevalent, the Catholic Church has become more outspoken against them. If you pick up a copy of Christopher West's _Good News On Sex and Marriage_ , for instance, you'll see that while he devotes a chapter to the church teaching on birth control and NFP, he also devotes an entire chapter to reproductive technologies that the church considers inappropriate.

To recap: it is just as sinful to try to isolate the procreative meaning of sex without also accepting its unitive properties. Thus, what is at stake seems to me to be not so much the church's emphasis on procreation but its emphasis on the integrity of sex. If the Church allowed artificial insemination, IVF, etc. but rejected contraception on the grounds that fertility was the most important or only goal of human sexuality, your argument here might be more plausible, but as it is, it seems you are focusing on one thing only (perhaps because it is the most well-known aspect of Catholic sexual ethics, perhaps simply because it happens to be the topic under discussion) and not seeing that it is part of a whole.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:It seems NFP goes out of its way to make certain statements, that perhaps aren't necessarily reflective of it's theological base.


Are you thinking of specific statements?

It's time for my dinner, so I'm going to stop here-- I will probably come back and say more, as I know I haven't addressed all your points, particularly the distinction between NFP and artifician methods of contraception.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Mon Oct 18, 2004 6:03 pm

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Reflecting more on this, I think the non-Catholics are perhaps caught by heavy doses of both ascetic and excessive dualism. The ascetic influence on the non-Catholic churches is centuries deep, while the excessive influence is relatively recent, so I wouldn?t characterize the non-Catholic churches as being more influenced or more formed by the excessive. Our traditions share most of the ascetic dualistic heritage, and perhaps a greater temptation for faithful non-Catholics than faithful Catholics is to adopt uncritically (an dunknowingly) a degree of excessive dualism in a negative reaction to our ascetic heritage.


I do want to add that I don't want to sound as if I think only non-Catholics are being influenced by what I see as the "excessive dualism" of our culture. Catholics can be affected, too-- including Catholic moral theologians who argue against the Magisterium on the matter of sexual ethics. On the practical level, I've read more than one bad opinion column or letter to the editor in my (Catholic) university's student newspaper about how it doesn't matter if people have sex before they are married, because sex is just a physical need like eating or drinking or using the restroom, and the church should just quit be uptight about it, and the university should let students have sex in their dormrooms. (Um, yeah, these are written by students who live in the dorms, as you might guess.) Sigh. . . at least most evangelical Protestants are more faithful to the Bible than that! To me, the equation of sex as something equivilent to just eating or drinking is missing quite a bit (for one thing, it's missing that even eating and drinking can have social and religious functions); I see this as part of a pervasive "bodily actions don't matter" move.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:...our actions "speak" love, hate, selfishness, etc. THIS seems to me to be the grounding of Catholic sexual ethics, when it is articulated properly: a view of the speaking body. (See, for instance, Christopher West's _Good News about Sex and Marriage._ ) Sexual intercourse with one's spouse speaks of love, a desire for physical and spiritual unity, a desire to please the other, a desire to rejoice in God's creation-- including his creation of fertility.
Reflecting more on this, I think I agree with idea of the 'speaking body,' and that our actions speak various things as we are the body of Christ, including what you have attributed to sexual intercourse. I am hesitant in two areas regarding this though:

First, I'm hestitant to formalize this concept into doctrine on which we will base and draw various other conclusions, though I think it is accurately descriptive of reality.


I'm not sure that I'd say that the view of the speaking body is itself a doctrine. Rather, it's theology-- an exposition of scripture and natural law. In this case, perhaps part of the difference is that we would say that you could base doctrine on something that is "accurately descriptive of reality" because reality, creation, is a kind of "natural revelation" of God. I think that gets back to the whole natural law thing, though.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:Second, I agree that a couple using bc/contraception can (and sometimes does) speak the negative things that NFP claims it does, but in such a case we should consider whether those meanings are inherent in the act of using bc or whether the couple in question is attributing those meanings to the act. In the case of the latter it might still be sinful for that couple to use bc (as they would be violating their conscience before God). It would not, however, universalize those negative meanings for every Christian couple. In this way, using bc can be sinful, but it can also not be sinful. This may sound like cheap relativism, but I don't think it is given the various factors involved.


Where I would disagree is that I would think that some actions themselves speak negative things. I'm probably repeating myself, but what I would say is this: it's possible to use NFP in such a way that a couple is effectively saying "I love you, but I can't stand the fact that you are fertile. I wish you were infertile all the time." This would be sinful; it wouldn't be speaking respect for God's complete gift of sexuality, and it wouldn't be accepting of the whole person. However, NFP does at least allow the possibility of "proper use": the action of sex during the infertile period can say: "I love you, and I thank God for your (or my) wonderful fertile system that has these built in infertile times. We can't have children until we graduate/have steady employment/recover from the effects of surgery/overcome the abusive past that would make us wretched parents, but I am grateful that God designed you this way."

I don't see that using hormonal contraception or barriers works the same way. At the risk of sounding flippant, with a condom, the action is saying: "I love you, but not your semen-- keep that stuff out of me, because we can't have children now!" and with hormonal methods, the action says: "I love you, but we need to change the way your (or my) fearfully-and-wonderfully-made body works, because the way it was designed just isn't convenient for us right now."

Important point: I don't mean to say that the couples who use these methods are consciously thinking that. They may have perfectly valid reasons to avoid children. They may want to use lovemaking to speak of love and respect for each other. However, the methods they use are inherently limited.

People keep saying that they don't see a difference between using NFP to avoid children and using contraception. To me, it seems plain. With contraception, you are rendering a sexual act sterile in one way or another. With NFP, all you are doing is making use of the times when the body is already sterile.

Some people object that this kind of argument would go against other uses of medicine. Again, there does seem to me to be a very real difference. We use medicine when something goes wrong with the human body, when it is being attacked or otherwise not working the way it was designed. If a person's body produced too much of one hormone and too little of another, for instance, it would be appropriate to correct the imbalance by giving the person hormones. If a woman has ovarian cancer, and the only way to stop the cancer from spreading is through removing her ovaries, there is nothing wrong with such surgery, because it is the only way from preventing a disease from spreading and further attacking her body. A man who has a vascectomy isn't solving a problem, though-- he's causing one, by altering his body so that it doesn't function the way it was designed. A woman with normal fertile is producing the right hormones for her time of life. When such a women takes BCPs, she isn't correcting a problem-- she's causing one, in so far as she's preventing her body from doing what it is biologicaly supposed to be doing.

When you use NFP to avoid pregnancy, in contrast, you don't prevent your body from doing what it is supposed to do. Rather, you allow it to function healthily. All you do is limit your intercourse to times when the woman's body is already infertile. This does seem to me to be objectively different from taking a pill or even using a condom. I realize that it may not seem so to others, but I don't know of any other way of describing the difference between the two methods.

If I resort to analogies, I might turn to a pretty common one: that of death. When my grandfather was suffering from leukemia, for instance, he decided he had had enough of uncomfortable treatments and he quit taking his medience. He died shortly thereafter, and no one in our family felt that he had tone anything wrong in refusing to use something that might in other cases be seen as a good thing. On the other hand, if he'd decided to take an overdose of painkiller with the intent to kill himself, that would have been suicide. It seems to me that, regardless of where people stand on whether such suicide is moral, there IS a real difference between refraining from something (ceasing medicine) in order to allow death and taking a harmful drug to cause death. The patient who refuses to go on a ventilator or who stops taking medication may have the same goal as one who takes a lethal drug: they both intend to end their lives. However, the means are not the same. Likewise, a couple who uses NFP may desire to avoid a pregnancy, and a couple who uses contraception may desire to avoid a pregnancy, but the means aren't the same. In one case, the couple temporarily avoids something good (sexual intercourse during the fertile time); in the other, they do something that alters their body or the nature of the sexual act.

I suspect that this is something that everyone here's heard before, though, so I'll stop with the analogies.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Mon Oct 18, 2004 9:29 pm

Shulamite-in-Training wrote:I guess I won't try to get between two men discussing birth control and the history of the Church again...!


Hey, I'm not a man! Maybe I should start using my real name to sign messages. . . . (I am a graduate student, though, and maybe that says it all. I have nothing to do all day but read. . . .) And I didn't mean to ignore you. I just got a little "overly focused."

In your earlier post, you wrote:

Shulamite-in-Training wrote: "I've been repeatedly "put down" by many Protestants who have told me that I have "too many children", and ask me "haven't you figured out how that keeps happening?"


I think it's sad the way people assume that because large families are rare, there must be something wrong with them. I'm one of only four children, but my mother said that as soon as she had the third one, people started telling her that she had too many-- as if anything more than two were abnormal!

Shulamite-in-Training wrote: I'm drawn to the sacraments, and the "vastness" of God, and yet I'm hungry for the personal, intimate relationship with Him that I don't find within Catholicism... I love the rich prayers of the Orthodox, and their love for the mysteries of God...


I suspect some of that intimate relationship with God IS there in Catholic devotional life, just maybe not readily obvious. Have you ever asked a Catholic who regularly attends Eucharistic Adoration about this practice, for instance? For many Catholics, it is a quiet, very personal time of prayer.

Shulamite-in-Training wrote:I don't trust myself to know what's best for me here - who am I to say when I should conceive, how many I should have, or who God should choose to create through me?


In general, I'd side with the people on the "not using anything?" thread who feel that there are situations in which responsible stewardship might mean choosing to avoid pregnancy. On the other hand, I do think that in middle class America, people may not fully consider the benefits as well as the losses of having large families: I wonder if for many people this is just because they assume that 1-3 children is the "right" number. That doesn't seem like responsible planning to me, either.

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Tue Oct 19, 2004 11:20 am

I appreciate the reply. You've provided me a great window in RCC theology. If at times a come across as challenging, please understand it as my style of learning. In theology and philosophy class I often choose to learn by defending ideas and having the prof squash them flat. Violent and possibly masochistic, I know, but an effective learning tool for me, anyway. I'm not out to squash a Catholic or anything like that... this is a learning/refining experience for me. Just wanted to make sure my replies were understood within that context.

I'm quoting large blocks just to help keep my comments in context. This will make the post seem reeeeaaaly long, but I don't think it will increase your reading.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: Reflecting more on this, I think the non-Catholics are perhaps caught by heavy doses of both ascetic and excessive dualism. The ascetic influence on the non-Catholic churches is centuries deep, while the excessive influence is relatively recent, so I wouldn?t characterize the non-Catholic churches as being more influenced or more formed by the excessive. Our traditions share most of the ascetic dualistic heritage, and perhaps a greater temptation for faithful non-Catholics than faithful Catholics is to adopt uncritically (an dunknowingly) a degree of excessive dualism in a negative reaction to our ascetic heritage.
I do want to add that I don't want to sound as if I think only non-Catholics are being influenced by what I see as the "excessive dualism" of our culture. Catholics can be affected, too-- including Catholic moral theologians who argue against the Magisterium on the matter of sexual ethics. On the practical level, I've read more than one bad opinion column or letter to the editor in my (Catholic) university's student newspaper about how it doesn't matter if people have sex before they are married,...I see this as part of a pervasive "bodily actions don't matter" move.
Right, that's why in this sentence, "perhaps a greater temptation for faithful non-Catholics than faithful Catholics is to adopt uncritically (an dunknowingly) a degree of excessive dualism," I qualified with "faithful" Catholics and "faithful" non-Catholics. Not to be judgmental (though perhaps it is), but I have no illusions about how much the world impacts the population of any Christian tradition, and how much our traditions' populations compromise/syncretize. I think what I was trying to clarify in that reflection was that the ascetic dualistic heritage has at least as strong an influence in non-RCC churches as does the excessive influence; that it's a battle on two opposite fronts. I wouldn't want to simplistically characterize the non-RCCes as primarily influenced by the excessive (not that you necessarily were).

TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:...our actions "speak" love, hate, selfishness, etc. THIS seems to me to be the grounding of Catholic sexual ethics, when it is articulated properly: a view of the speaking body. (See, for instance, Christopher West's _Good News about Sex and Marriage._ ) Sexual intercourse with one's spouse speaks of love, a desire for physical and spiritual unity, a desire to please the other, a desire to rejoice in God's creation-- including his creation of fertility.
Reflecting more on this, I think I agree with idea of the 'speaking body,' and that our actions speak various things as we are the body of Christ, including what you have attributed to sexual intercourse. I am hesitant in two areas regarding this though:

First, I'm hestitant to formalize this concept into doctrine on which we will base and draw various other conclusions, though I think it is accurately descriptive of reality.
I'm not sure that I'd say that the view of the speaking body is itself a doctrine. Rather, it's theology-- an exposition of scripture and natural law. In this case, perhaps part of the difference is that we would say that you could base doctrine on something that is "accurately descriptive of reality" because reality, creation, is a kind of "natural revelation" of God. I think that gets back to the whole natural law thing, though.
poor choice of terminology on my part. I think I was mostly just remarking on the tendency to sometimes solidify speculation into something more definite than speculation warrants, with the result that our practical applications sometimes have a less-than-comfortable fit with the Christian faith, even though they are theologically coherent. I don't know if that is the case with NFP (particularly the natural/artificial and bc/contraception distinctions) b/c I don't know the theology well enough yet, though it is a possibility in my mind. I'm far from drawing a solid conclusion though.

TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:Second, I agree that a couple using bc/contraception can (and sometimes does) speak the negative things that NFP claims it does, but in such a case we should consider whether those meanings are inherent in the act of using bc or whether the couple in question is attributing those meanings to the act. In the case of the latter it might still be sinful for that couple to use bc (as they would be violating their conscience before God). It would not, however, universalize those negative meanings for every Christian couple. In this way, using bc can be sinful, but it can also not be sinful. This may sound like cheap relativism, but I don't think it is given the various factors involved.
Where I would disagree is that I would think that some actions themselves speak negative things. I'm probably repeating myself, but what I would say is this: it's possible to use NFP in such a way that a couple is effectively saying "I love you, but I can't stand the fact that you are fertile. I wish you were infertile all the time." This would be sinful; it wouldn't be speaking respect for God's complete gift of sexuality, and it wouldn't be accepting of the whole person. However, NFP does at least allow the possibility of "proper use": the action of sex during the infertile period can say: "I love you, and I thank God for your (or my) wonderful fertile system that has these built in infertile times. We can't have children until we graduate/have steady employment/recover from the effects of surgery/overcome the abusive past that would make us wretched parents, but I am grateful that God designed you this way."

I don't see that using hormonal contraception or barriers works the same way. At the risk of sounding flippant, with a condom, the action is saying: "I love you, but not your semen-- keep that stuff out of me, because we can't have children now!" and with hormonal methods, the action says: "I love you, but we need to change the way your (or my) fearfully-and-wonderfully-made body works, because the way it was designed just isn't convenient for us right now."

Important point: I don't mean to say that the couples who use these methods are consciously thinking that. They may have perfectly valid reasons to avoid children. They may want to use lovemaking to speak of love and respect for each other. However, the methods they use are inherently limited.
So if I understand you correctly, what you're saying (in light of my above quote) is that these negative meanings are inherent in the act of using 'contraception,' regardless of what meanings the couple might attribute to that act? From God's perspective, the act speaks these meanings regardless of the understanding of the couple? (ftr - In principle I believe this is possible.)

TheMouse wrote:People keep saying that they don't see a difference between using NFP to avoid children and using contraception. To me, it seems plain.
Well, I see plenty of difference, I just think that the difference is ultimately superficial in the sense that they are both inherently deliberate contraceptive acts (in that they deliberately avoid conception). But you address all this below...
TheMouse wrote: With contraception, you are rendering a sexual act sterile in one way or another. With NFP, all you are doing is making use of the times when the body is already sterile.
The way in which NFP uses the term 'articifical' I think applies to this, in that we "make use." The desire to avoid pregnancy changes our sexual behaviour - changes our sexual relationship. From the NFP perspective, wouldn't this in itself 'speak' something negative, regardless of the means? Perhaps it doesn't render that specific sexual act sterile (b/c it already is by God's design), but does it not deliberately render a couple's entire sexual relationship sterile? Wouldn't having sex only on non-fertile days be fundamentally committing the same wrong (contraception)? To me, it would seem that this 'speaks' the same thing as rendering a specific sexual act sterile. In this sense, bc and contraception (your distinction) both render the sexual relationship sterile.
TheMouse wrote:Some people object that this kind of argument would go against other uses of medicine. Again, there does seem to me to be a very real difference. We use medicine when something goes wrong with the human body, when it is being attacked or otherwise not working the way it was designed. ... A man who has a vascectomy isn't solving a problem, though-- he's causing one, by altering his body so that it doesn't function the way it was designed. A woman with normal fertile is producing the right hormones for her time of life. When such a women takes BCPs, she isn't correcting a problem-- she's causing one, in so far as she's preventing her body from doing what it is biologicaly supposed to be doing.

When you use NFP to avoid pregnancy, in contrast, you don't prevent your body from doing what it is supposed to do.
For now I'll let my previous paragraph speak to this, along with this more specific response: We are designed by God to get pregnant when we have sex on certain days of the cycle; our sexual relationship as a whole is designed by God to produce children. Wouldn't 'contraception' and NFP both render the sexual relationship sterile, thereby preventing the sexual relationship from doing what it is biologically supposed to be doing (and speaking) as intended by God?
TheMouse wrote:... Likewise, a couple who uses NFP may desire to avoid a pregnancy, and a couple who uses contraception may desire to avoid a pregnancy, but the means aren't the same. In one case, the couple temporarily avoids something good (sexual intercourse during the fertile time); in the other, they do something that alters their body or the nature of the sexual act.
a continuation of the same discussion. I'll [rephrase] one of your sentances to illustrate my current understanding: "[In both cases], the couple temporarily avoids something good (sexual intercourse during fertile time); in the other, the do something that alters [the nature of the sexual relationship]." 'Articifial' could be said of both 'contraception' and NFP, when understood as I've described it.
"Rejoice in the wife of your youth... may you be forever captivated by her love!"
Prov 5.15-20
"I wanna be rich in memories not money / Our love is our inheritance, honey"
Jon Foreman, "Inheritance"

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Snuggle Muffin
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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Tue Oct 19, 2004 12:45 pm

TheMouse wrote:Well, since Snuggle Muffin keeps adding things I may have to do my reply in two parts, too. ;-) Methinks this may be a longwinded thread.
... yeah, but sometimes goiing deep means going long. It just means we may end up waiting a few days to reply. fine with me.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:I realize that modern Catholic theology explicitly teaches a highly positive (spiritualized) view of human sexuality. But at the practical level I still see much of the old baggage (I realize that in most churches, the formal theology is usually not accurately expressed at the ground level - for many reasons).
Since I haven't done a survey of individual Catholic churches and their views on marriage, I can only offer slight anecdotal evidence, knowing full well that my experience doesn't match everyone elses. If anything, I think the average Catholic parish in America suffers from a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on sexuality: there is little teaching about sex, little explicit mention of it, and little (public) condemnation of those who don't follow Catholic teachings. (And I don't just mean on birth control.) So I can't say that I hear a lot of negative baggage about sex, but that's largely because it isn't spoken about openly as much.
well, there's one characteristic our traditions still share. :x
TheMouse wrote:However, in contexts where sexuality is discussed on the practical level tends to be positive...
right, this is what I would expect. I'm not saying I see explicit Augustinian sexual view expressed at the forefront of modern Catholic articulations of theology of sexuality, I'm just wondering if some of old ascetic dualistic teachings aren't manifesting a significant degree of influence when it comes to things like condemning bc/contraception or maintaining that the procreative element cannot be removed from a given time of sexual intimacy.
TheMouse wrote: The materials for the Catholic marriage preparation my fiance and I did, for instance, were very positive about sexuality within marriage. I didn't see dislike of the body there, and I certainly didn't see the procreative purposes being pushed at the expense of the other purposes. Sex as loving communication and as way of expressing intimacy was the dominant motif in both the written materials used and the presentations. (It was a format similar to Engaged Encounter, with married couples speaking on different subjects.) When the issue of contraception came up at the marriage retreat we attended, all of the speakers at the treat weree being supporting of curch teaching against contraception without being deeply judgmental against participants who might not abide by church teaching. Although fertility was spoken of positively, the speakers who talked about sex talked about it almost entirely in the context of intimacy rather than having children. I didn't sense anything negative in their discussion of sex.
That's really interesting. thanks for giving me a peek into that. It's certainly different from what the CtoCLeague guy presented, though he explicitly would affirm almost al of what you described. Perhaps his message got partially mangled in the attempt to tailor it for what he perceived as an excessively dualistic protestant.
TheMouse wrote: But all of the above is based on limited exposure to a few churches or Catholic settings, so of course I can't speak for every church. I wouldn't be surprised to find that there were plenty of places and plenty of situations where negative views of sexuality lingered.
The non-RCCes are certainly not exempt from this. Hence, TMB!
TheMouse wrote: Appropriate questions might be:"is there more such negativity in Catholicism than in Protestantism, and is it caused by the Church's rejection of contraception?" or "do Catholic sexual ethics hinder a proper view of sexuality in Catholic communities?" I don't have adequate practical knowledge of either Catholicism or Protestantism to answer the first question; obviously, my answer to the second one would be biased.
those are important questions. If it is even possible to answer the first, it is certainly beyond my ability to provide an adequately informed opinion. In regards to the second, i do wonder if perhaps Catholic sexual ethics in and of themselves do not, but the influence of the ascetic dualistic heritage brought to bear on modern Catholic sexual ethics does. Perhaps what contributes to my suspicion is this (possible erroneous) assumption/perception: that there is pretty much a concensus among faithful and educated Catholics that a condemnation of 'contraception' is the logical end of modern Catholic theology of sexuality. Though it could be argued that this should encourage the opposite suspicion, it seems to me that there is a conspicuous lack of disagreement, particularly regarding some of the more delicate details regarding things like interpreting God's expectations for stewardship of the gift of fertility. (This uniformity may not exist... it's just I've only ever encountered this one opinion from educated faithful Catholics.)
TheMouse wrote:Where I might disagree with what you said is:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:I realize that modern Catholic theology explicitly teaches a highly positive (spiritualized) view of human sexuality . . .
I'm not sure what you mean by spiritualized. It is true that the Catholic Church sees sex as having considerable spiritual importance. On the other hand, the fact that it is a sacrament should emphasize the physicality of it.
that mostly relfects my mostly uninformed perception of Catholic theology of sexuality. ... that the great spiritual meanings attributed to sex, procreation, and sexuality serve as a means to perpetuate aspects of teh ascetic dualistic heritage, only with a positive tone instead of a negative one. Part of this (admittedly uninformed) perception comes from my limited experience discussing SoS with Catholics - that all of them have taken a primarily spiritual allegorical interpretation of the book, and firmly rooted a lot of their sexual theology in that interpretation. Though i personally don't think it's wrong to view SoS as descriptive of God's relationship with His 'bride,' I think we make a crucial mistake when we forget that the primary reading of SoS is entirely physical/sexual and that the allegorical interpretation was read into the text by early Christians as an additional interpretation or an illustrative metaphor. Especially when the allegorical interpretation of SoS was the direct result of the ascetic dualism prevelent in the philosohpical and interpretational circles of teh times.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:I do not mean to imply that modern Catholic theology explicitly says those things. I do think that it leaves too much room for those perspectives to continue, perhaps it does not reform the ground-level practices and teachings as much as I'd like.
Are there specific problems or situations you're thinking of?
i think they get mentioned somewhere in this post...
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:Regardless of the deficiencies in the non-Catholic traditions, I still view the RCC as placing a disproportionate amount of emphasis on procreation in regards to human sexuality. The Torodes perhaps are not the best mediators of the RCC perpspective, but their suggestion that total abstinence within marriage is better than exclusively having sex at non-fertile times (for couples that honestly can't provide for children) serves as an example of what i'm getting at. Abstinence is holier than sex with the procreative element deliberately diminished.
D'oh! I mentioned the Torodes because you'd mentioned them, so I thought they could serve as a common ground of knowledge. I didn't know or didn't remember that they said that total abstinence in marriage was better than exclusively having sex at non-fertile times. This doesn't correspond with a modern Catholic perspective. This entirely flies against a view of sex as renewal or seal of the marriage covenant: who wouldn't want to renew their marriage covenant? Or, to use Fulton Sheen's pre-Theology of the Body terms, why would married couples be holier for passing up what was a means of grace? Anyway, I wouldn't have cited them if I'd known they advocated that-- I'm a bit surprised.
They balk at drawing a hard line, but they do explicitly suggest that they 'personally' think it 'best' for couples to abstain rather than only have sex on infertile days, even if for noble reasons (unable to provide for children at that point in their lives, etc.) They would probably want to apply several qualifications to explain what I've accused them of, but at the end of the day there is still often a difference between what is explicitly said and what is implicitly communicated. They (IMO) are effective rhetoricians. If I had the book with me I cold look up the page # - but anyway, it's irrelevent to our discussion if they aren't good mediators of your perspective. We might as well jettison the Torodes.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:[Now this is very interesting to me - particularly b/c as a non-Catholic, RCC sexual theology is mediated to me primarily through CtoCLeague teachers or specific Catholics like yourself, so I only know it as accurately as they mediate it. In certain areas I assume that J.P.II makes a deliberate/explicit break with historical Catholic tradition, in that he intentionally does not perpetuate the ascetic dualism of our shared heritage?
Here's the short answer: I think in _The Theology of the Body_ the Pope was well aware of the history of dualism within the Church and was deliberately trying to replace lingering Manichaism (sp? too lazy to look it up) with an Incarnation, sacramental view of marital sexuality.

Here's the longer explanation of the short answer!
I'd first mention/remind that not all Catholic tradition is equally binding. Not all doctrines are infallible, and more importantly, specific theologies are not infallible. So JPII (and other Catholic theologians) are not obliged to affirm everything the Catholic Church has said about sex. Areas on which there have been clear, firm teachings --such as the prohibition against abortion or contraception-- are binding. I've heard cynical Catholics argue that what the current Pope has done with regard to birth control is take the pre-existing doctrine, thrown out the negative views on sex that had previously gone with it, and try to "invent" a theological justification for it by writing his works on the theology of the body.
I would share this suspicion, though i'm hesitant to voice it b/c I assume that the deserves a little more credit than that... but even with good and intelligent intentions, I think the end result could be what these cynical Catholics are describing. That is the initial surface impression I got when I first encountered all the positive Catholic opinion of sexuality: a fresh spin on old ideas, reforming to degree, but not enough.
TheMouse wrote: This seems unfair to me, for a number of reasons; for one thing, he draws directly from Scripture as well as from Catholic tradition in crafting his arguments. However, I do think it is true that JPII's work represents a break with or a correction to negative views of sexuality. In _The Theology of the Body_, which is made up of a number of short reflections on scripture (only about half of which I have read!), he returns to "the beginning" and looks at the state of man and woman in Genesis, when Adam and Eve were naked without shame, as proof of the original holiness of sex. He then grounds Christian sexuality in the redemption of the body that is the work of the Holy Spirit within Christians. I think his decision to devote some of his wednesday lectures on Paul's comments about the desires of the flesh warring with the Spirit was a deliberate movement to counter possible Manichian readings of those texts, while his references to human beings as "integrally" made up of body and soul seems a deliberate counter to dualism.
I assume that he did deliberately move against some of these influences, but I'd be very surprised to find that he managed to produce a theology that didn't perpetuate them to some degree. Though that does reflect a degree of cynicism/skepticism.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:Is there not room for bc in the faithful Christian life as seen from this perspective? I think so. The fact that this theological basis is used to single out and condem bc in particular suggests to me that the influences represented by Augustine are alive and well in RCC sexual teaching. I suspect that NFP goes out of it's way to condemn 'contraception'; that perhaps the theology does not warrant this but the traditional influences do, and that these infleunces hold significant sway over the application of modern Catholic theology.
and
Snuggle Muffin wrote:As you decribed NFP's teaching, many pro-bc Christians would have no problem agreeing. But I think you've significantly softened/hidden the procreative emphasis in the above quote. NFP goes much farther than simply raising everyone's respect for the importance of procreation. Perhaps the problem with NFP is that when it addresses the pro-bc Christians (I'm not convinced that the bc/contraception distinction is not artifical and irrevelvant), it swings so hard in favour of procreation that it ends up off balance and unable to plant one foot firmly on the 'unitive-affirming' side, and smacks too much of Augustine for us to swallow.
This is something I've been thinking about the past few days. I think that both Catholics and Protestants sometimes fail to understand why the Catholic church condemns artificial contraception becasue they don't see the system in its totality.
I have to agree with you there... though I would probably add that it is just too suspicious that the modern theology just happens to uphold what we perceive to be a ascetically-dualistisc-influenced emphasis on procreation.
TheMouse wrote: If you look to _Humanae Vitae_ (or to JPII's reflections on HV) the core of the document is the statment that the unitive and procreative functions of sexuality cannot be separated.
The CtoCleague guys was big on that point, and our conversation ended before I got an indepth reply to my objection. I have a logical problem with this, which is perhaps simply the result of my lack of information regarding this teaching. If the unitive and procreative elements cannot be separated then why the fertility cycle, and how can NFP allow couple to deliberately avoid procreation? The CtoCLeague guys' initial reply was more in line with what I've accused the Torodes of - that using NFP as a means to not get pregnant is bascially as abuse of NFP and a misunderstanding of its purpose. At the same time he conceded that each sex act doesn't have to include the procreative aspect, though they cannot be separated. I expect you'll be able to enlighten me on this one!
TheMouse wrote:As this thread and the past discussions of birth control have shown, use of contraception is one of the most controversial results of this belief. What may go unnoticed is that is not the only implication of this belief. In the Catholic Church's eyes, it is just as sinful to try to separate the procreative functions of sex, while rejecting the unitive ones, as it is to retain the unitive and reject the procreative. _Humanae Vitae_ cites coercive sex (marital rape, basically) as an example of sinning by denying the unitive function of sex, but couples who are desperately trying to conceive and who have allowed sex to become nothing but an attempt to make a baby may fall into sin too. Since _Humanae Vitae_ was written, reproductive technology has given other examples of what the Catholic Church considers to be the sin of taking procreation while leaving sex behind: artificial insemination, for instance, is not allowed, even though it can make babies (which the Catholic Church thinks is good), because it is a means of conception that doesn't allow the "one flesh" union of sex.
sure, I assumed as much... never bothered to press the point.
TheMouse wrote: I don't bring these examples up so that people can argue about whether there's anything wrong with them (I'm sure there's plenty of room for debate!); rather, I bring them up to show that the prohibition against birth control DOESN'T stand on its own, but is part of a system of sexual ethics. I honestly think that the reason the prohibition against birth control is emphasized so much in different discourses on Catholic sexuality is simply because it is the one that most Catholics are tempted to do, and because it is so prevalent in the culture. As different reproductive technologies have become more prevalent, the Catholic Church has become more outspoken against them. If you pick up a copy of Christopher West's _Good News On Sex and Marriage_ , for instance, you'll see that while he devotes a chapter to the church teaching on birth control and NFP, he also devotes an entire chapter to reproductive technologies that the church considers inappropriate.

To recap: it is just as sinful to try to isolate the procreative meaning of sex without also accepting its unitive properties. Thus, what is at stake seems to me to be not so much the church's emphasis on procreation but its emphasis on the integrity of sex. If the Church allowed artificial insemination, IVF, etc. but rejected contraception on the grounds that fertility was the most important or only goal of human sexuality, your argument here might be more plausible, but as it is, it seems you are focusing on one thing only (perhaps because it is the most well-known aspect of Catholic sexual ethics, perhaps simply because it happens to be the topic under discussion) and not seeing that it is part of a whole.
I am focusing on that one thing because it is the topic under discussion ...I would honestly have to say that I have never seen the flipside (procreative w/o unitive) as having that much relevance to the bc/contraception discussion. I assumed it was there, as I've assumed there is a whole system of ethics with a theolgoical base behind the condemnation of bc/contraception. That's what I'm trying to explore.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:It seems NFP goes out of its way to make certain statements, that perhaps aren't necessarily reflective of it's theological base.
Are you thinking of specific statements?
yes.. though I'm no longer sure if they are part of NFP or of poorly mediated NFP theology. A few examples of the top of my head... statements (often conflicting) like what I've accused the Torodes of (it's wrong to use NFP as a means of bc), the procreative element cannot be removed from sex, despite the cycle of fertility and the entire purpose of NFP as a means of bc. Continuing to interpret an employ SoS allegorically, as if it were written for that purpose.
"Rejoice in the wife of your youth... may you be forever captivated by her love!"
Prov 5.15-20
"I wanna be rich in memories not money / Our love is our inheritance, honey"
Jon Foreman, "Inheritance"

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Wed Oct 20, 2004 11:06 am

This is the first part of what is ultimately going to be a two or three part response, I think; there's just a limit to how much I can write at one time before lunch. So let me say from the start that this only covers one part of one post!

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I'm not saying I see explicit Augustinian sexual view expressed at the forefront of modern Catholic articulations of theology of sexuality, I'm just wondering if some of old ascetic dualistic teachings aren't manifesting a significant degree of influence when it comes to things like condemning bc/contraception or maintaining that the procreative element cannot be removed from a given time of sexual intimacy.


Ultimately, I wonder if it is impossible to prove this one way or another. The way that you pose the question seems to assume that the emphasis on procreation, or the refusal to allow unitive and procreative aspects to be separated, MUST be due to dualism. I can point out ways in which modern theology roots those beliefs in a sacramental view of the body, but I can't prove that this means that the Catholic stance on contraception isn't an effect of dualism. But at the same time, I don't know that you can "prove" that a system of sexual ethics that was biblically rooted and was freed of dualistic influence would necessarily HAVE to accept artificial contraception (more on this point later). Maybe I am just getting pessimistic now. . . .

Snuggle Muffin wrote: That's really interesting. thanks for giving me a peek into that. It's certainly different from what the CtoCLeague guy presented, though he explicitly would affirm almost al of what you described. Perhaps his message got partially mangled in the attempt to tailor it for what he perceived as an excessively dualistic protestant.


Right; opposing a view that one sees as unbalanced tends to make one's own argument unbalanced as well. That could be a factor there; or there could be something more wrong.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: i do wonder if perhaps Catholic sexual ethics in and of themselves do not, but the influence of the ascetic dualistic heritage brought to bear on modern Catholic sexual ethics does. Perhaps what contributes to my suspicion is this (possible erroneous) assumption/perception: that there is pretty much a concensus among faithful and educated Catholics that a condemnation of 'contraception' is the logical end of modern Catholic theology of sexuality. Though it could be argued that this should encourage the opposite suspicion, it seems to me that there is a conspicuous lack of disagreement, particularly regarding some of the more delicate details regarding things like interpreting God's expectations for stewardship of the gift of fertility. (This uniformity may not exist... it's just I've only ever encountered this one opinion from educated faithful Catholics.)


I don't think that uniformity entirely exists: there are educated Catholics who are otherwise orthodox who don't believe the Church is right to insist that use of artificial contraception is wrong. However, in general, those Catholics who are faithful to the church's other teachings and who are actually living a Christian life are much more likely to support the church's stance on contraception than are those who are only nominally Catholic, or who are theologically liberal; I'm guessing this is what you've observed. There is some genuine theological opposition to the teaching on contraception: in some cases, for instance people will argue that each individual act need not follow the unitive-procreative unity, but that a couple's sexual life as a whole should, so that as long as a married couple sometimes has marital intercourse that is "open to life," it doesn't matter if other acts are closed to life.

I guess I would ask: why would you need to see disagreement? What exactly is unhealthy about agreement? One could say (along the lines of Newman) that arguments and even doctrinal formulations need to be opposed in order to be refined, but there is plenty of opposition to the Church teaching on contraception from other sources-- why "should" there be disagreement among faithful Catholics about it?

Snuggle Muffin wrote:I realize that modern Catholic theology explicitly teaches a highly positive (spiritualized) view of human sexuality . . .
TheMouse wrote: I'm not sure what you mean by spiritualized. It is true that the Catholic Church sees sex as having considerable spiritual importance. On the other hand, the fact that it is a sacrament should emphasize the physicality of it.
Snuggle Muffin wrote:that mostly relfects my mostly uninformed perception of Catholic theology of sexuality. ... that the great spiritual meanings attributed to sex, procreation, and sexuality serve as a means to perpetuate aspects of teh ascetic dualistic heritage, only with a positive tone instead of a negative one.


Later on in your message you said:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:... but even with good and intelligent intentions, I think the end result could be what these cynical Catholics are describing. That is the initial surface impression I got when I first encountered all the positive Catholic opinion of sexuality: a fresh spin on old ideas, reforming to degree, but not enough.


Okay, it seems to me that this describes your hypothesis or operating view. I guess my question here is: what would constitute evidence that the Catholic emphasis on procreation and the prohibition against contraception WEREN'T just lingering effects of dualism? What conditions would prove your hypothesis wrong?

Part of the reason I ask is that I've been in conversations with other Protestants who have admitted admiration for the Theology of the Body and the work the pope has done to ground a view of Christian sexuality in the redemption of the body we have through life in Christ. However, they may say, the Pope just hasn't gone far enough and admitted that sometimes it was all right to have separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act through artificial means. In other words, they assumed that to be a fully positive view of sex, one had to allow contraception, but didn't present an argument why contraception was necessary for such a view of sexuality. The practical effect was that the argument seemed stacked against Catholic sexual ethics from the begining.

I'm not saying that this what you're doing: rather, by asking under what conditions you might consider your hypothesis proven wrong, I'm offering you a chance to show how your argument isn't the kind of circular one that people sometimes make that says "saying we can't use contraception means holding a negative view of sexuality; the Catholic church says we can't use contraception, so despite other evidence, the Catholic Church must still be hung up with negative baggage about sex." To put it another way-- why does rejecting artificial methods of contraception HAVE TO indicate a negative view of the body or sexuality? I suspect that you don't mean to imply that it does have to indicate a negative view of sexuality, but that's what it sometimes seems that you are implying.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Part of this (admittedly uninformed) perception comes from my limited experience discussing SoS with Catholics - that all of them have taken a primarily spiritual allegorical interpretation of the book, and firmly rooted a lot of their sexual theology in that interpretation. Though i personally don't think it's wrong to view SoS as descriptive of God's relationship with His 'bride,' I think we make a crucial mistake when we forget that the primary reading of SoS is entirely physical/sexual and that the allegorical interpretation was read into the text by early Christians as an additional interpretation or an illustrative metaphor.


To some extent, what you are pointing to is an inconsistency between Catholic theory of reading the Bible and Catholic practice. Officially, Catholic teaching would say that allegorical meanings of the text must be grounded on the literal. I do think you are right that many Catholic readings jump straight into the allegorical reading. However, I don't think they all do. This isn't something I've heavily researched, but it may be worth pointing out the notes for the New American Bible, after describing in depth the allegorical reading and showing other old testament examples of it, say: "While the Song is thus commonly understood by most Catholic scholars, it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union." Other Catholic readings that I've seen see the book as a presenting an argument for monogamous marriage based on love, or otherwise see it as an example of ideal human love; I suspect this an area where more work needs to be done.

Ultimately, the spiritual meaning of something shouldn't interfere with the dignity of the body; spiritualizing marriage doesn't need to mean treating the body as if it were unimportant, but rather recognizing that every human act is an act of body a body and a soul. Catholic thinkers see in a sacramental view of marriage the antidote for dualism. For instance, back in 1951 Fulton Sheen wrote:

"Sex is a function of the whole personality and not of the body alone, much less of the sex organs alone. Plato and his followers bequethed the false idea to history that man is primarily spirt, or a rational being who, unfortunately, has a body. The soul, according to him, is in the body as a man rowing is in a boat. As there is no intrinsic connection between the two, so neither is there an intrinsic bond between body and soul. For later and wiser philosophers, body and soul are not two distinct things but two irreducible and implied aspects of the one sole being, which is man. It is not, therefore, the sex organs which have sexual desire; it is the self, or human personality. Hence their use or abuse is funadmentally a moral problem, because it is the act of a free being. {. . . .} If sex were only a physiological phenomenon restricted to a certain area, it would not have much repercussion on the psychic life of individuals. Precisely because it is essentially bound up with the body-soul unity of a human, it affects him mentally, morally, and socially."

"The body is also the means by which we enter into communion with one another: verbally, through words, which are broken fragments of the Eternal Word; physically, by the assistance of our neighbor in the common tasks of daily life, culture, and civilization; artistically, in the dance, the theater, and the arts; sexually, by reducing duality to unity, which is the mission of love; religiously, by adding force to prayer in outward symbols, such as by kneeling to express the humble attitude of the soul before God."

Sheen goes on to describe why the body is noble: because in the Incarnation Christ took on human flesh and glorified humanity; because (in Catholic theology) God grants grace through the body in the actions associated with baptism, anointing of the sick, communion, and of course marriage; because of the blessings associated with the body; because it will one day be resurrected. With regard to the later point he says: "The immortality will be not only of soul, but of body and soul, since both are necessary for the full and perfect man. The body is not a prison house, nor a tomb in which the soul is confined for a time and from which it gladly makes its escape."

I'm citing these passages at length because they appear in _Three to Get Married_, a pre-Vatican II Catholic book on marriage. My point in citing them is that if marriage is understood sacramentally, then all of the spiritual meanings should only affirm the goodness of the phyiscal aspects of sexuality. In practice, of course, that may not always happen, but the same Catholic writers who argue against contraception and talk about marriage as sacrament are often explicitly trying to counter dualism; rather than tacking teachings about contraception, etc. onto such a view of the human person, they see it as a necessary development of the view of the speaking body and sex as a personal act. I realize this necessity is precisely what you'd question, but I think it unfair to accuse people like Fulton Sheen and the Pope of only passing on a negative teaching with new packaging. Rather, what they would probably see themselves doing is unpacking the valid reasons for the teaching while trying to show that it is not simply caused by a negative view of the body. While you may be right that they are not entirely successfully in escaping the problems of ascetic dualism, once again I would question why the argument against contraception is assumed to be one such effect. (I think I'm repeating myself a lot here.)

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Wed Oct 20, 2004 1:58 pm

At the start of my last message, I should probably have put an qualification that if at times I seem overly aggressive or critical of arguments, it shouldn't be taken personally. Like many analytical people, I probably often work from a hermeneutic of suspicion and assume the worst possible meaning. That's part of why I try to ask a lot of questions.


Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: If you look to _Humanae Vitae_ (or to JPII's reflections on HV) the core of the document is the statment that the unitive and procreative functions of sexuality cannot be separated.
Snuggle Muffin wrote:The CtoCleague guys was big on that point, and our conversation ended before I got an indepth reply to my objection. I have a logical problem with this, which is perhaps simply the result of my lack of information regarding this teaching. If the unitive and procreative elements cannot be separated then why the fertility cycle, and how can NFP allow couple to deliberately avoid procreation?


Here's how _Humanae Vitae_ puts it:

"11. These acts, by which husband and wife are united in chaste intimacy, and by means of which human life is transmitted, are, as the Council recalled, "noble and worthy", and they do not cease to be lawful if, for causes independent of the will of the husband and wife, they are foreseen to be infecund, since they always remain ordained towards expressing and consolidating their union. In fact, as experience bears witness, not every conjugal act is followed by new life. God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves, cause a separation in the succession of births. Nonetheless the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by their constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act (quilibet matrimonii usus) must remain open to the transmission of life.

12. That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. "

(The whole encyclical is available here: http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_pa06hv.htm)

On the subject of NFP, the encyclical starts by pointing out that God himself has designed fertility such that a woman is not always capable of conceiving, and that a couple doesn't sin in having intercourse at such times. For instance, a woman is infertile after menopause, and it wouldn't be a sin for a couple to have intercourse, knowing that they are not likely to conceive, barring a miracle. Likewise, women who breastfeed heavily are often infertile for six months, or in some cases longer. A couple may know from experience that, because the wife is still the primary nourisher of their baby, she is unlikely to be ovulating, but they are not sinning in having intercourse then: the anovulation caused by lactation is probably MEANT by God to prevent women from having one baby after another in quick succession. (Of course, it doesn't work for every woman, and doesn't work well at all if babies are supplemented with formula or other food.)

As far as I know, no Christians today would argue that a woman who is breastfeeding ecologocially shouldn't have sex, or that a couple shouldn't have sex after menopause. (I am aware that there were people in the past who thought it better for couples to give up sex once a woman is past child-bearing.) The theology of NFP merely says that if it is permissable for couples to have sex during those natural times of infertility, then it is permissable for them to have sex during times of the cylce when they know that the wife is infertile. Doing so doesn't violate the unitive-procreative unity of sex which is "willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative" because in this case, the wife's infertility at discernable times of the month is also willed by God.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:The CtoCLeague guys' initial reply was more in line with what I've accused the Torodes of - that using NFP as a means to not get pregnant is bascially as abuse of NFP and a misunderstanding of its purpose.


First of all, it isn't abusing NFP to try to avoid pregnancy as long as the couple have valid reasons for avoiding pregnancy. If that is indeed what the CCL guy was saying, I would disagree with him. _Humanae Vitae_ makes it very clear that with regard to family planning, there are real reasons for limiting family size. (In some cases, there might be valid reasons for never having children-- but I would argue that that is much rarer and a more complicated issue; I'd rather put that aside for now.)

Snuggle Muffin wrote: At the same time he conceded that each sex act doesn't have to include the procreative aspect, though they cannot be separated. I expect you'll be able to enlighten me on this one!


I think the problem is that when we say "the unitive and procreative aspects of sex can't be separated" we mean that WE aren't allowed to separate them. God does sometimes remove fertility --either temporarily, as in the case of women who are breastfeeding or who are infertile for 2/3rds or more of the their cycle-- or permanently, as in the case of menopause and permanant infertility. However, sexuality and procreation as a whole are intimitely bound together. The sexual act is biologically designed for conception. Interfering with that act, therefore, is interefering with God's design. Interfering with a woman's body so that it doesn't ovulate is also interfering with that design. Learning about the fertility cycle, however, is cooperating with that design.

I just realized that I was dealing with your posts out of order, and some of your points from the first one were certainly applicable here, so I'll try to combine a response to both posts in one:

Snuggle Muffin wrote: So if I understand you correctly, what you're saying (in light of my above quote) is that these negative meanings are inherent in the act of using 'contraception,' regardless of what meanings the couple might attribute to that act? From God's perspective, the act speaks these meanings regardless of the understanding of the couple? (ftr - In principle I believe this is possible.)


Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. A couple who are using condoms and a couple who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy may both have valid reasons for avoiding childrent at that time. They may both love and respect each other. And as you point out below, in both cases the couple's behavior is changed in some way to prevent pregnancy. But the actions themselves are different. A woman who takes the pill may intend no disrespect to her fertility cyle, but the action itself conveys the implication that there is something wrong with her ability to conceive: what she is doign is taking a drug that will change her natural ability to conceive. A woman who uses NFP, on the other hand, learns more about how her body work and uses that knowledge to plan or avoid pregnancy. Many women report a higher degree of respect for the way they were created once they learn to chart and see how predictable their bodies are-- but my point is that even if an NFP couple doesn't subjectively experience such greater respect, what they are doing is respecting the body's fertility. Likewise, even if a contracepting couple using the pill doesn't subjectively experience disrespect, the action itself is more respectful of human fertility.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Well, I see plenty of difference, I just think that the difference is ultimately superficial in the sense that they are both inherently deliberate contraceptive acts (in that they deliberately avoid conception). . . . The way in which NFP uses the term 'articifical' I think applies to this, in that we "make use." The desire to avoid pregnancy changes our sexual behaviour - changes our sexual relationship. From the NFP perspective, wouldn't this in itself 'speak' something negative, regardless of the means? Perhaps it doesn't render that specific sexual act sterile (b/c it already is by God's design), but does it not deliberately render a couple's entire sexual relationship sterile? Wouldn't having sex only on non-fertile days be fundamentally committing the same wrong (contraception)? To me, it would seem that this 'speaks' the same thing as rendering a specific sexual act sterile. In this sense, bc and contraception (your distincion) both render the sexual relationship sterile.


I think the key to this point is right here:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: Wouldn't having sex only on non-fertile days be fundamentally committing the same wrong (contraception)?


This question seems to assume that it is always wrong to act in such a way as to avoid conception. That is not what the Catholic Church says. Rather, NFP-only theolgoy says that given the close bond between the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, it is wrong to act in certain ways to prevent conception: specifically, that it is wrong to impose a barrier between the two aspects, but it is not wrong to make use of times when the procreative potential is naturally absent. In other words, the wrong here is NOT "behaving in such a way as to avoid contraception."

To give an analogy: If someone who believes he would be a terrible father makes the decision never to marry, his behavior is preventing conception, because he's abstaining from sex all of his life. He wouldn't be said to be doing anything wrong (unless it is God's will that he marry!): he isn't separating the unitive and procreative aspects of sex because all he is doing is avoiding sex. But I think that in the same sense that you say NFP is a contraceptive behavior, a man's decision not to marry is contraceptive behavior: he's deciding not to do the actions involved in starting a family. However, what he's doing doesn't alter the sexual act or alter his own reproductive system, or anyone else. It simply means he recognizes that, since having sex naturally leads to children in healthy adults of reproductive age, one can avoid children by avoiding sex altogether. NFP extends this to say that even married couples who need to avoid conception can do so by recognizing that having sex naturally leads to children only at certain times, and that one can avoid children by avoiding sex at specific times in the cycle.

NFP, like "artificial" methods of birth control (I don't know how to refer to it in such a way that it won't offend) does make use of human reason and understanding of the human body so that a couple can behave in such a way that they will not conceive. But in doing so, it doesn't interfer with the one-flesh union of sex, and it doesn't interfere with the reproductive processes of the body. In that it cooperates with the system of fertility that God designed, rather than subverting it, we say that it "speaks of respect for fertility" in a way that artificial birth control doesn't. (See some of my earlier points; I'm starting to repeat myself.) In this sense, it seems to me that even when taken as a whole, NFP speaks of acceptance of fertility, not rejection. It says "yes, this cyle you made is wonderful, and it works well. I will not do anything to damage my ability to conceive."

Snuggle Muffin wrote: For now I'll let my previous paragraph speak to this, along with this more specific response: We are designed by God to get pregnant when we have sex on certain days of the cycle; our sexual relationship as a whole is designed by God to produce children. Wouldn't 'contraception' and NFP both render the sexual relationship sterile, thereby preventing the sexual relationship from doing what it is biologically supposed to be doing (and speaking) as intended by God?


Some of your own arguments against a Full Quiver view seem relevant here. Furthermore, I think it might help to word the question in a different way. Suppose we ask:" does God expect married couples to have intercourse?" I think we would both agree that the answer is yes. If we ask "Does God expect married couples to have children?" I would suggest that the answer is generally "yes" though there are exceptions. And as you suggest, normally, God expects that a couple's sexual life will lead to children. But if you ask:"does God expect that a couple have children whenever possible?" or "does God expect that every sexual act should lead to conception?" then the answer is less clear; again, the dialogue on "not using anything" raised a number of reasons why couples might not be supposed to have as many children as they could. In other words, there are reasons why God would will that a couple not have children, but there are also reasons why a couple would still be encouraged to/expected to sometimes engage in marital relations if they weren't intending to conceive. These reasons include a number of things you've already brought up, such as the fact that procreation isn't the only purpose for sex.

So if it is established that a couple might have valid reason to have sexual activity but they might also have reasons to need to avoid conception, then we've established that they might have need to control birth in some way. Then the question about birth control becomes: "Are some ways of preventing conception more moral than others?" The Catholic answer to this qusetion could be put different ways. It could be said: "yes, because some actions speak of respect for fertility while others reject it" or "yes, because some actions alter the sexual act or the human body to prevent conception, while others do not." In other words, we come back to my earlier point: NFP-only theology doesn't say that it is always wrong to alter one's behavior so that one doesn't conceive. If that were the case, then people who didn't marry because they didn't want families would be necessarily be sinning.

If we agree that married couples are both expected to have a sexual life but not necessarily expected to have children at all times of their life, then the issue of whether it is permissable for their sexual behavior as a whole to be "sterile" is answered. What determines the morality of the method of regulating family size or time of birth is not just the couple's intentions, though they are important, but also the specific action involved and what it speaks. This action matters precisely because of our body-soul unity; it is precisely because Christians are not dualists that they should not assume that any method of regulating birth is as permissable as another. What we do to our with our bodies communicates something about them; and as my previous post indicated, the use of NFP communicates something different from the use contraception EVEN IF THE COUPLE'S INTENTIONS ARE OTHERWISE GOOD.

To put one way, if we grant that Christians are allowed to delay or prevent the birth of children, that doesn't alter the fact that HOW you do something is just as important as WHAT you do. To go back to my previous analogy, a man who pulls the plug on a brain-dead wife my be acting in such a way that she dies, but he isn't doing the same thing as a man who injects his wife with a toxic drug. In one case, he allows her body to die naturally; in the other, he disrupts its function. For couples using NFP, whether they use it to conceive or to avoid, they allow the natural consequences of each sexual action to occur. What NFP speaks of is a desire not to USE the gift of fertility at a specific point in time, but it doesn't deny that gift by getting rid of fertility. When artificial methods are used, on the other hand, each action speaks not just a desire not to USE fertility but a physical or chemical rejection of it: "I don't want your/my body to ovulate as it is supopsed to" "I don't want my body to join yours entirely as it is designed to; I want a barrier of latex to separate us so we don't conceive" etc. There's a difference between choosing not to use something and rejecting it outright: if your Aunt Tilly gives you a vase that clashes with your living room, you might perfectly reasonably put it in the closet until you move to a house where it wouldn't clash, but it wouldn't be respectful for you to smash it.

And now I think I'm just repeating myself in different words, so I'm going to stop here.

subconsciousness

Postby subconsciousness » Wed Oct 20, 2004 10:26 pm

TheMouse wrote:To put one way, if we grant that Christians are allowed to delay or prevent the birth of children, that doesn't alter the fact that HOW you do something is just as important as WHAT you do. To go back to my previous analogy, a man who pulls the plug on a brain-dead wife my be acting in such a way that she dies, but he isn't doing the same thing as a man who injects his wife with a toxic drug. In one case, he allows her body to die naturally; in the other, he disrupts its function. For couples using NFP, whether they use it to conceive or to avoid, they allow the natural consequences of each sexual action to occur. What NFP speaks of is a desire not to USE the gift of fertility at a specific point in time, but it doesn't deny that gift by getting rid of fertility. When artificial methods are used, on the other hand, each action speaks not just a desire not to USE fertility but a physical or chemical rejection of it: "I don't want your/my body to ovulate as it is supopsed to" "I don't want my body to join yours entirely as it is designed to; I want a barrier of latex to separate us so we don't conceive" etc. There's a difference between choosing not to use something and rejecting it outright: if your Aunt Tilly gives you a vase that clashes with your living room, you might perfectly reasonably put it in the closet until you move to a house where it wouldn't clash, but it wouldn't be respectful for you to smash it.


Let me get this straight. A couple who carefully and dilligently maps out a woman's fertility cycle to the point of where they don't conceive, always acting to ensure they don't conceive and ending at the end of her fertility never having conceived -- which on the surface seems to me to be acting to try to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sex -- are without blame whereas a couple who decide to use condoms for a period -- let's say to do something like go on missions -- but then returns and actively tries to and does conceive however have sinned in the eyes of God.

Would this be a correct scenario under RCC theology?

sofs

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Thu Oct 21, 2004 8:37 am

subconsciousness wrote:Let me get this straight. A couple who carefully and dilligently maps out a woman's fertility cycle to the point of where they don't conceive, always acting to ensure they don't conceive and ending at the end of her fertility never having conceived -- which on the surface seems to me to be acting to try to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sex -- are without blame whereas a couple who decide to use condoms for a period -- let's say to do something like go on missions -- but then returns and actively tries to and does conceive however have sinned in the eyes of God.

Would this be a correct scenario under RCC theology?

sofs


Not necessarily. As you may recall, I tried to bracket the issue of people who NEVER wanted children. ;-) In Catholic theology, couples who marry are supposed to be open to children in a broad sense-- it would be problematic for a couple to go into marriage saying "we are certain we will never, ever want children." In some cases, a married couple might have valid reasons for never trying to conceive: severe health, financial reasons, or unusual circumstances. I do think that in most cases, a Catholic couple using NFP all their lives would be suspect-- they might be sinning in that they are being selfish. But my point is that that is a slightly separate issue.

Something I said in my original post over in the "Not using anything" thread may be relevant here:

TheMouse wrote:I think part of the confusion is that the Catholic Church teaches both that:
1) procreation of children is an important goal of marriage; children are a blessing, not a curse, and couples should be joyfully willing to bring new lives into the world to as great an extent as they can, and

2) responsible family planning must not impose any barrier (chemical, physical, etc.) between the procreative and unitive aspects of the sexual act.

My point is that these are two related but different points.


It seems to me that your question conflates these two issues. Yes, they are related, and they are both important parts of Catholic theology. But whether an individual couple is being truly open to life in the first sense is a different question than whether a specific method of avoiding conception is open to life in the second sense. In the scenario you describe, it sounds as if the Protestant couple is being open to life in the first sense, but not (by Catholic reasoning) in the second sense. The Catholic couple, meanwhile, is being open to life in the second sense, but not in the first. Since I'm not God, I can't rank the subjective guilt of each couple, but they are both doing wrong.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Fri Oct 22, 2004 9:14 am

subconsciousness wrote: Okay -- I can accept this explanation. So -- and I'm clarifying for my sake -- there are 2 basic tenets to deal with:


I'd modify the first tenet slightly, although I may just be splitting hairs here:

subconsciousness wrote:1. Christian marriages, barring extraordinary circumstances, must include children to avoid being a sinful marriage


I'd say, rather, "Christians who marry must not intented to exclude the possibility of ever having children." I'm wording it vaguely on purpose, because while the Catholic church does emphasize that children are an important part of marriage, what would constitute a sin in this regard might vary from couple to couple.

subconsciousness wrote:2. All artificial means of modifying a natural (biological?) process against God's design are inherently sinful


This may be more simplified than I would put it; basically, any attempt to separate the unitive and procreative principles is inherently sinful.

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Sat Oct 23, 2004 2:02 pm

I’ve tried to break up the discussion for the sake of clarity. You’ll see that I've cut/pasted a lot of quotes, but I tried to make sure they retained their intended meaning, despite being lifted from their original context. Also, the tone of this is more conclusive than I'd like, but I'm trying to shorten it up. Just read everything from a "It seems to me/from my perspective/according to my current level of understanding" kind of context. There are three more shorter posts coming.

I. The Charges Against BCPs/barriers and the Internal Logic of NFP

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. What is intended by God to characterize the sexual relationship as a whole (the presence of both the unitive and the procreative) does not have to characterize every sex act – or even most sex acts if we take your God-designed 1/3 or less ratio (that God has removed the procreative from the unitive 2/3's of the time according to the fertility cycle). The issue isn’t the presence or absence of the procreative in a given sex act because God has already removed it from most sexual encounters; He doesn't even intend it to be there most of the time. The interconnectedness of the unitive and the procreative is an aspect descriptive of God’s intention for the sexuality of the marriage relationship in general. The issue, I think, is whether or not people should rearrange the times of fertility/infertility or change the ratio. The rest of the post explores this.

TheMouse wrote: …any attempt to separate the unitive and procreative principles is inherently sinful…

God himself has designed fertility such that a woman is not always capable of conceiving, and that a couple doesn't sin in having intercourse at such times…
So what you’re saying is: "any attempt by humanity to separate the unitive and procreative principles is inherently sinful."
TheMouse wrote:Here's how _Humanae Vitae_ puts it: “…and they do not cease to be lawful if, for causes independent of the will of the husband and wife, they are foreseen to be infecund, since they always remain ordained towards expressing and consolidating their union. In fact, as experience bears witness, not every conjugal act is followed by new life. God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves, cause a separation in the succession of births. Nonetheless the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by their constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act (quilibet matrimonii usus) must remain open to the transmission of life.

12. That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. "…
Well really, the unitive/procreative connection can be broken by humanity (‘man’), it just can’t be broken by humanity in accordance with God’s will (which I guess is what Humanae Vitae is saying). Separating these aspects is not an inherently sinful act; God Himself has separated them (menopause, the cycle, etc.). It seems that it is a matter of who does the separating…
TheMouse wrote:So if it is established that a couple might have valid reason to have sexual activity but they might also have reasons to need to avoid conception then we've established that they might have need to control birth in some way. Then the question about birth control becomes: "Are some ways of preventing conception more moral than others?" The Catholic answer to this qusetion could be put different ways. It could be said: "yes, because some actions speak of respect for fertility while others reject it" or "yes, because some actions alter the sexual act or the human body to prevent conception, while others do not." In other words, we come back to my earlier point: NFP-only theology doesn't say that it is always wrong to alter one's behavior so that one doesn't conceive...

If we grant that Christians are allowed to delay or prevent the birth of children, that doesn't alter the fact that HOW you do something is just as important as WHAT you do…
and how. 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 attmept to flesh this objection out a bit more for the rest of this post.
TheMouse wrote:The theology of NFP merely says that if it is permissable for couples to have sex during those natural times of infertility, then it is permissable for them to have sex during times of the cycle when they know that the wife is infertile. Doing so doesn't violate the unitive-procreative unity of sex which is "willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative" because in this case, the wife's infertility at discernable times of the month is also willed by God.
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.
TheMouse wrote:I think the problem is that when we say "the unitive and procreative aspects of sex can't be separated" we mean that WE aren't allowed to separate them. God does sometimes remove fertility --either temporarily, as in the case of women who are breastfeeding or who are infertile for 2/3rds or more of the their cycle-- or permanently, as in the case of menopause and permanant infertility…
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. God’s biological design of fertility combines the procreative with the unitive approx. 33% of the time (your figure); NFP combines the procreative with the unitive 0.1% (NFP’s supposed contraceptive effectiveness, “when used properly”). The artificial/natural loophole is a mirage, because NFP deliberately removes procreation from the unitive – in fact, that is the whole purpose of the method. The FQ method (or non-method) - according to NFP criteria - is what truly speaks respect for the gift of fertility as God designed it, faithfully observing “the norms of the natural law” by being consistent at all levels of human sexuality/reproduction. FQ takes a more comprehensive perspective; it does not get blinded by narrowly focusing its attention on the sexual act, but also consistently applies its convictions to the whole. I’m not in favour of FQ – but I do think it is the logical conclusion of NFP’s theological claims.
TheMouse wrote:However, sexuality and procreation as a whole are intimitely bound together. The sexual act is biologically designed for conception.
Intimately bound together and biologically designed for conception 1/3 of the time. I think here you are confusing the sexuality of the marriage relationship in general with each sexual act specifically.
TheMouse wrote: Interfering with that act, therefore, is interefering with God's design.
What about interfering with God’s 2/3’s ratio? Didn’t He design that? Why does interference with God’s design matter at the level of the sexual act but not at the level of the marriage relationship? Surely both contexts “speak”?
TheMouse wrote: Interfering with a woman's body so that it doesn't ovulate is also interfering with that design. Learning about the fertility cycle, however, is cooperating with that design…
What about interfering with the marriage relationship so that even when the woman ovulates it is as if she never did? Co-operating with God’s design? Avoiding it, skirting it, rejecting it, but certainly not respecting it enough to co-operate with it. The times such a couple has sex might relfect a knowledge of God's design, but it does not reflect submission to His will as apparently expressed through His design. According to its own criteria, NFP speaks knowledge (not acceptance) of God's design, and deliberate rejection.
TheMouse wrote: NFP, like "artificial" methods of birth control (I don't know how to refer to it in such a way that it won't offend) does make use of human reason and understanding of the human body so that a couple can behave in such a way that they will not conceive. But in doing so, it doesn't interfer with the one-flesh union of sex, and it doesn't interfere with the reproductive processes of the body. … In that it cooperates with the system of fertility that God designed, rather than subverting it, we say that it "speaks of respect for fertility" in a way that artificial birth control doesn't. … In this sense, it seems to me that even when taken as a whole, NFP speaks of acceptance of fertility, not rejection…
But it interferes with the reproductive nature of the marriage relationship as designed by God. It changes God’s design of fertility so that the NFP marriage relationship does not reflect God’s design of fertility – it reflects artificial human control over fertility that divorces the procreative and unitive 99.9% of the time, not 1/3 of the time. If the legitimacy of a bc method for Christians is determined by what it “speaks,” then NFP has a problem. In terms of reflecting God’s design of fertility at the marriage relationship level, it speaks exactly the same thing as BCPs/barriers. NFP “speaks” the very message that it condemns.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: Wouldn't having sex only on non-fertile days be fundamentally committing the same wrong (contraception)?
This question seems to assume that it is always wrong to act in such a way as to avoid conception.
The question, and my comments above, assume that according to NFP, the marriage relationship should speak respect for God’s design of fertility by actually reflecting it sexually (procreatively and unitively), applying the same theological/ethical principles, standards, and expectations to the relationship as a whole as it does to each isolated sexual act.
TheMouse wrote:That is not what the Catholic Church says. Rather, NFP-only theolgoy says that given the close bond
(…less than half the time…)
TheMouse wrote: between the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, it is wrong to act in certain ways to prevent conception: specifically, that it is wrong to impose a barrier between the two aspects, but it is not wrong to make use of times when the procreative potential is naturally absent. In other words, the wrong here is NOT "behaving in such a way as to avoid contraception."…
… the wrong is “imposing a barrier between the two aspects,” which is what NFP does. It calls that barrier “abstinence.”
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: Wouldn't 'contraception' and NFP both render the sexual relationship sterile, thereby preventing the sexual relationship from doing what it is biologically supposed to be doing (and speaking) as intended by God?
Some of your own arguments against a Full Quiver view seem relevant here. Furthermore, I think it might help to word the question in a different way. Suppose we ask:" does God expect married couples to have intercourse?" I think we would both agree that the answer is yes. If we ask "Does God expect married couples to have children?" I would suggest that the answer is generally "yes" though there are exceptions. And as you suggest, normally, God expects that a couple's sexual life will lead to children. But if you ask:"does God expect that a couple have children whenever possible?" or "does God expect that every sexual act should lead to conception?" then the answer is less clear; again, the dialogue on "not using anything" raised a number of reasons why couples might not be supposed to have as many children as they could. In other words, there are reasons why God would will that a couple not have children, but there are also reasons why a couple would still be encouraged to/expected to sometimes engage in marital relations if they weren't intending to conceive. These reasons include a number of things you've already brought up, such as the fact that procreation isn't the only purpose for sex.
This did not address the question. I’m not wondering about whether God intends for couples to conceive at every opportunity. I’m wondering if deliberately rendering the sexual relationship sterile 99.9% of the time is consistent with “speaking respect for God’s design of fertility” as described by NFP.
TheMouse wrote:What NFP speaks of is a desire not to USE the gift of fertility at a specific point in time, but it doesn't deny that gift by getting rid of fertility.
It is more effective at getting rid of fertility than BCPs and barriers. To be internally consistent NFP must work from the perspective of the sexual relationship as a whole and the sexual act itself.
TheMouse wrote: When artificial methods are used, on the other hand, each action speaks not just a desire not to USE fertility but a physical or chemical rejection of it: "I don't want your/my body to ovulate as it is supopsed to" "I don't want my body to join yours entirely as it is designed to; I want a barrier of latex to separate us so we don't conceive" etc. There's a difference between choosing not to use something and rejecting it outright…
But when NFP is used, “each [relationship/marriage] speaks not just a desire too USE fertility but a [scientifically-enabled] rejection of it.”

I guess I could summarize my objection like this: If NFP wants to be internally consistent, it should do like FQ and remove the "Planning" from "Natural Family Planning," or concede that actively managing our fertility is within the bounds of responsible stewardship of that gift and expected by God.
Last edited by Snuggle Muffin on Sat Oct 23, 2004 3:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Sat Oct 23, 2004 2:11 pm

II. Determining what an action ‘speaks’: Inherent and attributed meanings.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: So if I understand you correctly, what you're saying (in light of my above quote) is that these negative meanings are inherent in the act of using 'contraception,' regardless of what meanings the couple might attribute to that act? From God's perspective, the act speaks these meanings regardless of the understanding of the couple? (ftr - In principle I believe this is possible.)
Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. A couple who are using condoms and a couple who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy may both have valid reasons for avoiding childrent at that time. They may both love and respect each other. And as you point out below, in both cases the couple's behavior is changed in some way to prevent pregnancy. But the actions themselves are different. A woman who takes the pill may intend no disrespect to her fertility cyle, but the action itself conveys the implication that there is something wrong with her ability to conceive: what she is doign is taking a drug that will change her natural ability to conceive.
TheMouse wrote:[NFP]says "yes, this cyle you made is wonderful, and it works well. I will not do anything to damage my ability to conceive."
TheMouse wrote: What determines the morality of the method of regulating family size or time of birth is not just the couple's intentions, though they are important, but also the specific action involved and what it speaks. This action matters precisely because of our body-soul unity; it is precisely because Christians are not dualists that they should not assume that any method of regulating birth is as permissable as another. What we do to our with our bodies communicates something about them; and as my previous post indicated, the use of NFP communicates something different from the use contraception EVEN IF THE COUPLE'S INTENTIONS ARE OTHERWISE GOOD.
How do we determine what an action "speaks," and how do we determine whether that meaning is inherent in the act itself (God's perspective) or attributed to the act by the human participants (relative)?

What criteria does NFP use to determine that the negative meanings it attributes to using BCPs/barriers are inherent? There are many positive, faithful-to-God meanings I could claim that the use of BCPs "speaks," but how would we determine if they are inherent or attributed?
"Rejoice in the wife of your youth... may you be forever captivated by her love!"
Prov 5.15-20
"I wanna be rich in memories not money / Our love is our inheritance, honey"
Jon Foreman, "Inheritance"

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Sat Oct 23, 2004 2:20 pm

III. The Song of Songs
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: Part of this (admittedly uninformed) perception comes from my limited experience discussing SoS with Catholics - that all of them have taken a primarily spiritual allegorical interpretation of the book, and firmly rooted a lot of their sexual theology in that interpretation. Though i personally don't think it's wrong to view SoS as descriptive of God's relationship with His 'bride,' I think we make a crucial mistake when we forget that the primary reading of SoS is entirely physical/sexual and that the allegorical interpretation was read into the text by early Christians as an additional interpretation or an illustrative metaphor.
To some extent, what you are pointing to is an inconsistency between Catholic theory of reading the Bible and Catholic practice. Officially, Catholic teaching would say that allegorical meanings of the text must be grounded on the literal. I do think you are right that many Catholic readings jump straight into the allegorical reading. However, I don't think they all do. This isn't something I've heavily researched, but it may be worth pointing out the notes for the New American Bible, after describing in depth the allegorical reading and showing other old testament examples of it, say: "While the Song is thus commonly understood by most Catholic scholars, it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union." Other Catholic readings that I've seen see the book as a presenting an argument for monogamous marriage based on love, or otherwise see it as an example of ideal human love; I suspect this an area where more work needs to be done.
All of these examples encourage my suspicion, as they are all reading many things into the text.

“It is also possible to see it…” (as if a sexual interpretation is as equally warranted as the primarily spiritual one).

“Sacredness and depth of married union”? “Presenting an argument...”? There is precious little indication in the text that the couple is even married (though I assume they are). Attributing that meaning to the book - as if the author was intentionally composing a counter-polygamy argument - is a monogamy hijacking, IMO.

If this is an “ideal portrayal of human love” then we are all guilty of not emphasizing the erotic nature of sex enough. I could go on and make these points clearer, but this is more peripheral (though important).

My point is that I have a hard time thinking that a Christian sexual theology/ethic not informed by the raw sexual messages of SoS is significantly well-informed in the area of expectations regarding the sexual experience. How would an accurate reading of SoS - and a properly given emphasis - affect the RC understanding of sexuality (particularly in regards to masturbation and oral sex)?
"Rejoice in the wife of your youth... may you be forever captivated by her love!"
Prov 5.15-20
"I wanna be rich in memories not money / Our love is our inheritance, honey"
Jon Foreman, "Inheritance"

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Sat Oct 23, 2004 2:37 pm

IV. Other possible (non-Incarnational/Sacramental) factors influencing NFP’s stance on BCP’s/barriers.

My concerns regarding the three areas I’ve discussed above suggest to me that there are other factors at work here significantly influencing/biasing the conclusions and applications of the RCC's Incarnational/Sacramental theology concerning bc. This is primarily speculation, but I think it is warranted by objections raised in my previous posts.
TheMouse wrote: Ultimately, the spiritual meaning of something shouldn't interfere with the dignity of the body; spiritualizing marriage doesn't need to mean treating the body as if it were unimportant, but rather recognizing that every human act is an act of body a body and a soul.
I am a big fan of this idea.
TheMouse wrote: Catholic thinkers see in a sacramental view of marriage the antidote for dualism. For instance, back in 1951 Fulton Sheen wrote:

"Sex is a function of the whole personality and not of the body alone, much less of the sex organs alone. Plato and his followers bequethed the false idea to history that man is primarily spirt, or a rational being who, unfortunately, has a body. The soul, according to him, is in the body as a man rowing is in a boat. As there is no intrinsic connection between the two, so neither is there an intrinsic bond between body and soul. For later and wiser philosophers, body and soul are not two distinct things but two irreducible and implied aspects of the one sole being, which is man. It is not, therefore, the sex organs which have sexual desire; it is the self, or human personality. Hence their use or abuse is funadmentally a moral problem, because it is the act of a free being. {. . . .} If sex were only a physiological phenomenon restricted to a certain area, it would not have much repercussion on the psychic life of individuals. Precisely because it is essentially bound up with the body-soul unity of a human, it affects him mentally, morally, and socially."

"The body is also the means by which we enter into communion with one another: verbally, through words, which are broken fragments of the Eternal Word; physically, by the assistance of our neighbor in the common tasks of daily life, culture, and civilization; artistically, in the dance, the theater, and the arts; sexually, by reducing duality to unity, which is the mission of love; religiously, by adding force to prayer in outward symbols, such as by kneeling to express the humble attitude of the soul before God."

Sheen goes on to describe why the body is noble: because in the Incarnation Christ took on human flesh and glorified humanity; because (in Catholic theology) God grants grace through the body in the actions associated with baptism, anointing of the sick, communion, and of course marriage; because of the blessings associated with the body; because it will one day be resurrected.
But what of inherent value in the human body as created and valued by God?- “and it was good.” I would see inherent and attributed value in creation, both originating from God. RC theology draws much of its anti-ascetic dualism views regarding the value/goodness of the body from the Incarnation. I have yet to hear how the creation account - and the inherent goodness of creation - informs the RC view of the value/goodness of the body. Is value found in redemption and creation - or is value-from-creation negated for some reason? By explicitly emphasizing how the Incarnation/redemption gives value to the body/creation, are we possibly implicitly perpetuating the ancient dualistic disdain for the body/creation (seen as bad due to the Fall)?
TheMouse wrote:With regard to the later point he says: "The immortality will be not only of soul, but of body and soul, since both are necessary for the full and perfect man. The body is not a prison house, nor a tomb in which the soul is confined for a time and from which it gladly makes its escape."

I'm citing these passages at length because they appear in _Three to Get Married_, a pre-Vatican II Catholic book on marriage. My point in citing them is that if marriage is understood sacramentally, then all of the spiritual meanings should only affirm the goodness of the phyiscal aspects of sexuality.
I don’t know, so I’m asking. Is there an inherent weakness in the sacramental understanding in that it does not find inherent value in the body as a work of creation? Or does it? Is there an implicit (Augustinian?) assumption that the body is “bad” until given value and goodness through redemption?
TheMouse wrote:In practice, of course, that may not always happen, but the same Catholic writers who argue against contraception and talk about marriage as sacrament are often explicitly trying to counter dualism; rather than tacking teachings about contraception, etc. onto such a view of the human person,
Perhaps – and this is just speculation – in the effort to counter dualism by attributing meaning to the body, RC writers swim too hard up stream and attribute inherent meanings to the body or acts of the body that really aren’t there, ultimately exacerbating the problem by emphasizing the other extreme.
TheMouse wrote:they see it as a necessary development of the view of the speaking body and sex as a personal act. I realize this necessity is precisely what you'd question, but I think it unfair to accuse people like Fulton Sheen and the Pope of only passing on a negative teaching with new packaging.
Right, I certainly see ‘new’ stuff in what they are teaching. I certainly wouldn’t’ say it’s all just spin.
TheMouse wrote:Rather, what they would probably see themselves doing is unpacking the valid reasons for the teaching while trying to show that it is not simply caused by a negative view of the body.
is the teaching a result of these reasons, or of ascetic dualism? Did the teaching pre-exist these more valid reasons?
TheMouse wrote: However, they may say, the Pope just hasn't gone far enough and admitted that sometimes it was all right to have separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act through artificial means. In other words, they assumed that to be a fully positive view of sex, one had to allow contraception, but didn't present an argument why contraception was necessary for such a view of sexuality. The practical effect was that the argument seemed stacked against Catholic sexual ethics from the begining.
I don’t think I’d argue that a fully positive view of sex requires one to accept/use what you call artificial contraception. That’s not the tack I’m taking. On the surface, that seems to me to be an attempt to develop theology to prop up a predetermined conclusion.
TheMouse wrote: I'm not saying that this what you're doing: rather, by asking under what conditions you might consider your hypothesis proven wrong, I'm offering you a chance to show how your argument isn't the kind of circular one that people sometimes make that says "saying we can't use contraception means holding a negative view of sexuality; the Catholic church says we can't use contraception, so despite other evidence, the Catholic Church must still be hung up with negative baggage about sex."
That would be hard to do – as part of my objection to NFP’s ethical claims is that we’re attributing a certain opinion to God that I don’t think is warranted. If my logical objections re: NFP’s method and its expression of its theological/ethical basis were satisfied (like the inherent significant difference between bc NFP-style and ‘artificial contraception’), and if it could be shown that the most responsible interpretation/conclusion is that BCPs/barriers inherently speak negative things in God’s opinion – independent of RCC-specific allegiances – I’d be much farther down the road to agreeing that Christians should not use hormones or condoms. Perhaps I’d be forced to concede? My objections regarding the logical consistency of NFP’s claims (Posts I. and II.) are a serious hang-up though.
"Rejoice in the wife of your youth... may you be forever captivated by her love!"
Prov 5.15-20
"I wanna be rich in memories not money / Our love is our inheritance, honey"
Jon Foreman, "Inheritance"

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Sat Oct 23, 2004 3:48 pm

I hope you don't mind if I answer your posts out of order. I'm tackling this one first partly because I can think of ready answers for it: responses to the earlier posts will come later, but probably not today!

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I don't know, so I'm asking. Is there an inherent weakness in the sacramental understanding in that it does not find inherent value in the body as a work of creation? Or does it? Is there an implicit (Augustinian?) assumption that the body is ?bad? until given value and goodness through redemption?


Yes, there is value given in the body as a work of creation. The assumption at work is that original sin has corrupted the human body as well as the human will. ( The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, in fact, think of the results of the Fall in terms of "Death" rather than in terms of some pre-existing guilt under which each person is born. ) Hence, _The Theology of the Body_ starts with the goodness of the body at Creation and then moves ahead to the Incarnation precisely because it is in the incarnation that the promise of Eden, lost at the fall, can be fulfilled. If this is a concern of yours, you might find the first section of the _Theology of the Body_ especially helpful, because it discusses, for instance, the difference between Adam and Eve being naked together without shame before the fall, their relationship to each other after the fall, and the relationship a man and woman in Christ can have as a result of redemption.

I don't think one has to accept on Augustinian view of original sin in order to follow this (I think it could be articulated so as to make sense in an Eastern Christian view, for instance), but one does have to believe that the Fall corrupted human beings, and corrupted the material world by introducing death, disease, etc. (such that cancer and the temptation to murder are both results of the Fall), and that we begin to be healed of that corruption when we are made new creations in Christ. We don't achieve full healing in this life, but it is by the grace of the God that we can, in marriage, be "naked without shame" again.

It seems to me clear that in the theology of the body, and in other 20th century Catholic explanations of marriage, it is not that matter is inherently corrupt or evil because it is matter, but that it has been affected by sin, and one of the results is that our physical desires can be sources of temptation (though in fact, "spiritual" temptations may be worse). (This also comes up in the Pauline sections of _TOB_.) One could maintain that our bodies were unaffected by the Fall and that only our souls have any kind of damage as a result of the fallen state in which we're born, but it seems to me that this would also be a form of dualism. We, as whole human beings, are born in an imperfect state. In Christ, we begin to be made perfect. Hence, a Christian view of the goodness of the body is grounded in the Incarnation, because in many ways, the Incarnation and the redemption we have in Christ are seen as the restoration of the good of Creation, which was partially lost in the fall. But again, Catholics wouldn't say that all that was good was lost: the fallen world is still very good. It's just that redeemed humanity is better than unredeemed humanity, and more relevant for the subject of Christian marriage. "Natural marriage"-- the marriage of non-Christians, as opposed to the sacramental marriage of Christians-- is still good.

I don't know if this will answer your objection, or just raise all kinds of other differences with regard to the consequences of the Fall!


Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:In practice, of course, that may not always happen, but the same Catholic writers who argue against contraception and talk about marriage as sacrament are often explicitly trying to counter dualism; rather than tacking teachings about contraception, etc. onto such a view of the human person,
Perhaps ? and this is just speculation ? in the effort to counter dualism by attributing meaning to the body, RC writers swim too hard up stream and attribute inherent meanings to the body or acts of the body that really aren?t there, ultimately exacerbating the problem by emphasizing the other extreme.


This is possible, of course-- but keep in mind that it isn't as if modern Catholic writers invented the concept of the sacramentality of marriage. It's been there since early Christanity (see above, too). I don't know how this would affect your point, but it seems important.


Random side note: the best evidence for a long-standing Catholic view of the goodness of the body seems to me to lie in the rich liturgical tradition that makes use of all the senses in worshipping God, and in the Catholic tradition of festival. St. Teresa of Avila, for instance, endorsed pretty strict living, but also taught her nuns to worship God by dancing to castanets on feast days! I'm not denying that there has been dislike of the body in Catholicism, as in other parts of Christianity, but I would point to substantial evidence that suggests that there has always been a counter-theme that praised creation and wanted to put created things at the service of God precisely because they were good; see the Canticle of the Sun, for instance. Such a counter-theme inspired not just spiritual things like cathedrals and sacred music, but Carnival (before it got out of hand!) and Hilaire Belloc's occasionally bawdy poetry in praise of marriage, wine, and partying. It seems unreasonable to assume, then, that positive views of marriage and the body must all new, or that the only way to account for the teachings on sexual ethics is to blame them on asceticism.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:Rather, what they would probably see themselves doing is unpacking the valid reasons for the teaching while trying to show that it is not simply caused by a negative view of the body.
is the teaching a result of these reasons, or of ascetic dualism? Did the teaching pre-exist these more valid reasons?


The teaching about contraception does predate the theology of the body, especially to the extent to which that theology has built on personalistic grounds. The teaching about contraception does not, as far as I know, predate the view of marriage as a sacrament. Hence, it does seem to me that modern Catholic theologians appealing to a sacramental view of marriage to explain a pre-existing teaching on contraception is not entirely an example of putting new grounds under on old theory. Rather, it's a case of building on and explaining pre-existing grounds. The concept of the speaking body may make the Catholic teaching easier to understand, but it isn't necessary to support the belief.

I would point out that you may be creating an unnecessarily binary argument here: EITHER the teaching about contraception is the result of modern Catholic views, OR it is the result of ascetic dualism. There are alternate possible causes: such as that it is the result of a view of sex as the seal of the marriage covenant (even in the medieval church, a couple wasn't considered fully married 'til they had consummated their marriage) taken in conjunction with a biblical view of marriage as oriented towards procreation as well as companionship (see Psalms 127 and 128, Genesis 1:28, Malachi 2:15, etc). Of course, modern Catholic theology also appeals to the latter grounds, but it did not invent these beliefs.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:I don?t think I?d argue that a fully positive view of sex requires one to accept/use what you call artificial contraception. That?s not the tack I?m taking. On the surface, that seems to me to be an attempt to develop theology to prop up a predetermined conclusion.


That's good to know-- and again, let me clarify that it's not so much that I thought that's what you were arguing as that it sometimes seemed that was what your words imply. But I'm well aware that the language I use may often seem to imply things I didn't intend.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: . . . part of my objection to NFP?s ethical claims is that we?re attributing a certain opinion to God that I don?t think is warranted.


That's understandable. . . I have to admit that after I asked you this, I started thinking about how I would answer a similiar question if someone asked me about my opinion (ie, what would change your belief in NFP-only theology?), and I realized how hard that is!


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