Theology and NFP (Natural Family Planning)

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TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Mon Oct 25, 2004 11:18 am

This is just the first of my responses; I don't know when I'll get to the later ones. I'm trying to condense my replies a bit, because I think there are just one or two crucial points and much of your post returns back to those points in different ways.

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

Snuggle Muffin wrote: There is a crucial distinction I?m trying to make between the sexuality (procreative and unitive) of the marriage relationship in general and the sexual act specifically. This distinction is not articulated clearly in the writings you quoted and I think leads to misapplication of the theology, and the likelyhood of Catholics and non-Catholics talking past each other when discussing NFP.


I think you're quite right to isolate this as a cause for confusion.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: So what you?re saying is: "any attempt by humanity to separate the unitive and procreative principles is inherently sinful."


Yes, that's more like what I'm saying. A more specific way to put it is that any sexual act that an individual or a couple has altered so that the unitive and procreative principles are separated is inherently wrong. This would include alterations of the body that made it impossible for sexual intercourse to result in conception.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I find this to be logically inconsistent: only God can deliberately separate the procreative aspect from the unitive (?prevent conception?) without sinning, but at the same there are ways that people can deliberately prevent conception by removing the procreative from their sexual relationship, without sinning. First people can't do it, but then they can so long as they do it properly.


I think that, again, part of the disagreement is that I see that there can be a moral distinction between committing an action in order to achieve a certain goal and refraining from an action in order to achieve the same basic goal. There is a difference between willing not to have sex at a time when you know conception is likely, and willing to have sex while making it impossible for conception to result. I know this may not seem like a real difference to you; hence, this might be the sticking point. The actions of the couples involved do seem to me to speak different things. With NFP, a couple decides whether their overall sexual relationship will result in children, but they do so through the cycle that God has put into place. With contraception, they decide not just whether to have children (not just whether their overall sexual relationship should result in children at this time) but HOW to change the reproductive system God put into place.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:But NFP does much more than simply allowing sex during an infertile timeof the cycle. Perhaps NFP does not change the procreative nature of the sexual act (no messing with the cycle), but it very much delibereately changes the procreative nature of the sexual relationship. This is where I think FQ is more logically consistent than NFP. NFP does not adequately address what the method "speaks" in the greater context of the marriage relationship.


This is where I think that you are demanding that NFP only theology conform to assumptions that it doesn't actually make. However, I would argue that NFP use actually IS concerned with a couple's overall attitude towards procreation: hence, couples who are avoiding for selfish reasons might be sinning, as might be couples who are completely closed to the idea of having children at some point in their marriage. I do think it speaks positively about fertility in the greater context of the marriage relationship in other ways: for one thing, using NFP can help a woman better tell when to conceive, and it can help her know when she is pregnant, or if she has suffered an early miscarriage. Furthermore, charting can alert woman to health issues that might make conception difficult or might make miscarriages more likely (such as short luteal phases, or inadequate cervical mucus, or a pattern of rare ovulation), and interestingly, correcting such problems may have the double benefit of both making a woman more fertile during her fertile time and lengthening the infertile time: what is good for a couple who has to abstain, in other words, is also good for a couple who is trying to conceive. Using NFP even to avoid actually encourages improving one's reproductive health, rather than damaging it (even temporarily). Using NFP means learning about a woman's reproductive system, and the knowledge can be useful for either conceiving or avoiding. The most extreme view of this benefit is the opinion of one theologian that every married woman should chart her cycles, even if she wasn't actively trying to either conceive or avoid, because God gave her the signs of fertility for a reason and not trying to understand her cycles would mean ignoring his gift! I'm not endorsing that view, but pointing out that NFP use broadly conceives speaks of a respect for and a desire to understand the fertility cycle in a unique way.

More to the point: NFP-only theology doesn't claim that a couple's sexual life as a whole has to be oriented towards procreation at every time in their married life. If this were the case, then women who breastfeed "ecologically" would be sinning if they had sex, because they know that one effect of such breastfeeding is that it makes them less likely to ovulate, and they may in fact desire to space their children apart. Basically, if you assume that respecting the unitive and procreative nature of sex demands that a couple's sexual life as a whole must be directed towards conception at all times throughout a marriage, or that a couple's sexual life as whole for any extended space of time must have the same statistical chances of conception as dose a couple who "does nothing," then NFP-only theology will seem inconsistent. However, NFP--only theology does not make such an assumption.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: NFP actively, purposefully, artificially separates the procreative from the unitive, committing against the marriage relationship the same sin with which it charges BCPs/barriers at the specific sexual act level. NFP is inherently speaking the same thing as BCPs and barriers; what BCPs speak is heard during each sexual act, but the same message is heard from NFP in the marriage relationship as a whole. God?s design of fertility has been deliberately changed/rejected by the will of humanity.


I feel like this is just getting back to what I said in previous posts. A couple may have valid reason to say "we cannot have children now, but we should still enjoy the other benefits of sex." NFP and ABC can both speak that. What NFP does speak that ABC doesn't is this: "I will enjoy the pleasures and unitive properties of sex while it is naturally impossible for you to conceive, but I will not act to remove fertility from our actions at a time when we know you are likely to conceive." The difference is in one case, the couple refrains from a good (sex during a time when conception is likely)-- in another, they interfere with that good, making it something other than what it was meant to be. You would argue, if I am understanding you, that NFP does the same thing because it interferes with the good of procreation in an overall sense: God means for sex to result in children, and using NFP to avoid means a couple has sex but doesn't have children. The assumption here is that God intends for couples to be having children at all times throughout their marriage, so that the only way to respect that intent is not to do anything (even breastfeeding, perhaps) that would lower the chance of conception. FQ supporters may have that view ?that the sexual life of a couple should be oriented towards children at all times-- but NFP only theology does not. It does demand that individual acts be in keeping with the unitive-procreative purpose of sexuality, but it recognizes that there are times when God doesn't want couples' sex lives to result in children.

I'll address some of your other points in a second post. I suspect, though, that we're at an impasse; this is probably the point at which we'll have to agree to disagree. I feel that you are blurring the distinction between ends and means, and that you are trying to make NFP-only theology fit into a framework that it doesn't actually accept, thus claiming it is inconsistent only because you are trying to make it be consistent with a set of propositions different from the ones it actually makes; you feel that the principles it advocates are contradictory because the logical result of some conclusions that it does endorse would be other conclusions that it does not. I would just remind you that just because a proposition CAN lead to a certain conclusion doesn't always mean that it has to! To give an example: in 1 Corinthians, Paul deals with a group of Christians who are asking whether an ascetic life opposed to marriage is better than a healthy sexual life within marriage. Paul agrees with some of their propositions --according to him, it is easier for unmarried men and women to focus on God, and celibacy is a gift from God-- but not with their conclusions. What they are missing is that marriage is also a gift from God, and those with strong desire do better to marry than to be tempted to sin; celibacy is not a gift God gives to everyone. One might think that Paul should discourage marriage because of his principles about the benefits of celibacy, but in fact, he recognizes that practically this isn't possible for everyone, nor is it the will of God for everyone. Likewise, as you suggest, one might think that the Catholic Church should encourage the FQ position because it is most open to life, but this is missing part of the picture. Practically the Church recognizes that having as many children as is possible isn't possible for all couples, and it is not the will of God for all couples (though it might be God's will for some).

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Mon Oct 25, 2004 2:05 pm

I. The Charges Against BCPs/barriers and the Internal Logic of NFP
(This post looks long, but I quoted alot.)
TheMouse wrote: I feel that you are blurring the distinction between ends and means, and that you are trying to make NFP-only theology fit into a framework that it doesn't actually accept, thus claiming it is inconsistent only because you are trying to make it be consistent with a set of propositions different from the ones it actually makes; ...
This is a big part of why I appreciate being able to bounce my perspective off you - I anticipate that your responses will in part include some helpful correctives.
TheMouse wrote:I suspect, though, that we're at an impasse; this is probably the point at which we'll have to agree to disagree.
Perhaps eventually, but I don't know that we're there quite yet. After reading your response, I think I may have not communicated part of what I was saying clearly. I'll try and refine my point below. I suspect it's possible we may never see eye to eye on the active/passive, subvert/cooperate distinctions between BCPs and NFP, but even in that case, I'd still appreciate hearing what you have to say regarding the criteria for determining inherent/attributed meanings... if you ever get the time.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: There is a crucial distinction I?m trying to make between the sexuality (procreative and unitive) of the marriage relationship in general and the sexual act specifically. This distinction is not articulated clearly in the writings you quoted and I think leads to misapplication of the theology, and the likelyhood of Catholics and non-Catholics talking past each other when discussing NFP.
I think you're quite right to isolate this as a cause for confusion.
Snuggle Muffin wrote: So what you?re saying is: "any attempt by humanity to separate the unitive and procreative principles is inherently sinful."
Yes, that's more like what I'm saying. A more specific way to put it is that any sexual act that an individual or a couple has altered so that the unitive and procreative principles are separated is inherently wrong. This would include alterations of the body that made it impossible for sexual intercourse to result in conception.
Yeah, in the realm of NFP consistency, we may be stuck here (though the clarifications I make below might open up some possibilities). I would still apply your sentences here to the sexuality of the marriage relationship and see NFP as intentionally changing it ("any sexual [relationship] that has been altered so that the unitive and procreative principles are separated is inherently wrong ... this would include alterations of the sexual [relationship] that make it impossible..."). I'll just stick this clarification here: in saying FQ is a more consistent end than NFP, I mean that only in the sense that they more reflect the fertile-1/3-of-the-time design, not in their attempt to increase their degree of fertility.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: I find this to be logically inconsistent: only God can deliberately separate the procreative aspect from the unitive (?prevent conception?) without sinning, but at the same there are ways that people can deliberately prevent conception by removing the procreative from their sexual relationship, without sinning. First people can't do it, but then they can so long as they do it properly.
I think that, again, part of the disagreement is that I see that there can be a moral distinction between committing an action in order to achieve a certain goal and refraining from an action in order to achieve the same basic goal. There is a difference between willing not to have sex at a time when you know conception is likely, and willing to have sex while making it impossible for conception to result. I know this may not seem like a real difference to you; hence, this might be the sticking point. The actions of the couples involved do seem to me to speak different things.
Perhaps this bleeds into the other post, about deciding what an action speaks, and whether that meaning is inherent or not. We may simply be each attributing a different relative meaning to the same act, while believing that the meanings are inherent.
TheMouse wrote: With NFP, a couple decides whether their overall sexual relationship will result in children, but they do so through the cycle that God has put into place. With contraception, they decide not just whether to have children (not just whether their overall sexual relationship should result in children at this time) but HOW to change the reproductive system God put into place.
While I believe there can be a real difference between active and passive choices, in this context I think NFP constitutes an active choice regarding the sexuality of the marriage, actively choosing to deliberately alter behaviour to produce a result that does not reflect God's biological design of fertility (and is therefore 'artificial'/'unnatural').
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:But NFP does much more than simply allowing sex during an infertile timeof the cycle. Perhaps NFP does not change the procreative nature of the sexual act (no messing with the cycle), but it very much delibereately changes the procreative nature of the sexual relationship. This is where I think FQ is more logically consistent than NFP. NFP does not adequately address what the method "speaks" in the greater context of the marriage relationship.
This is where I think that you are demanding that NFP only theology conform to assumptions that it doesn't actually make. However, I would argue that NFP use actually IS concerned with a couple's overall attitude towards procreation: hence, couples who are avoiding for selfish reasons might be sinning, as might be couples who are completely closed to the idea of having children at some point in their marriage. I do think it speaks positively about fertility in the greater context of the marriage relationship in other ways:
This is one area where I may not have communicated clearly ::sorry . I understand that NFP has different positive messages and benefits for sexuality of the marriage relationship. Though I think that, according to its own criteria, it does speak a negative message in the specific sense that I've tried to illustrate, doing to itself what it does to BCPs/barriers: negating the method due to its message regardless of whatever other positives there may be.
TheMouse wrote: for one thing, using NFP can help a woman better tell when to conceive, and it can help her know when she is pregnant, or if she has suffered an early miscarriage. Furthermore, charting can alert woman to health issues that might make conception difficult or might make miscarriages more likely (such as short luteal phases, or inadequate cervical mucus, or a pattern of rare ovulation), and interestingly, correcting such problems may have the double benefit of both making a woman more fertile during her fertile time and lengthening the infertile time: what is good for a couple who has to abstain, in other words, is also good for a couple who is trying to conceive. Using NFP even to avoid actually encourages improving one's reproductive health, rather than damaging it (even temporarily). Using NFP means learning about a woman's reproductive system, and the knowledge can be useful for either conceiving or avoiding. ...NFP use broadly conceives speaks of a respect for and a desire to understand the fertility cycle in a unique way.
Could not the same benefits be attributed to FAM? I don't think (I'm not a scientist!) that any of these benefits are dependent on NFP's moral/theological claims - they are the result of monitoring the wife's menstrual cycle. I have no objection to that.
TheMouse wrote:More to the point: NFP-only theology doesn't claim that a couple's sexual life as a whole has to be oriented towards procreation at every time in their married life. Basically, if you assume that respecting the unitive and procreative nature of sex demands that a couple's sexual life as a whole must be directed towards conception at all times throughout a marriage,...NFP-only theology will seem inconsistent. However, NFP--only theology does not make such an assumption.
This is where I miscomunicated. I did not mean to suggest that couples must deliberately try to get pregnant at every possible opportunity in order to stay consistent with NFP. I meant that they should respect the natural fertility cycle as designed by God by not altering their sexual behaviour so as to alter God's predetermined 1/3 ratio. This means that sex during an infertile time is entirely permissable. As God apparently designed women to breastfeed and designed breastfeeding to decrease the chances of conception, I don't see why breastfeeding would be subverting God's created design.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: NFP actively, purposefully, artificially separates the procreative from the unitive, committing against the marriage relationship the same sin with which it charges BCPs/barriers at the specific sexual act level. NFP is inherently speaking the same thing as BCPs and barriers; what BCPs speak is heard during each sexual act, but the same message is heard from NFP in the marriage relationship as a whole. God?s design of fertility has been deliberately changed/rejected by the will of humanity.

... What NFP does speak that ABC doesn't is this: "I will enjoy the pleasures and unitive properties of sex while it is naturally impossible for you to conceive, but I will not act to remove fertility from our actions at a time when we know you are likely to conceive."
"...but I will remove fertility from our sexual relationship."

You mostly articulated my point accurately, but I'll make some important clarifications below...
TheMouse wrote: The difference is in one case, the couple refrains from a good (sex during a time when conception is likely)-- in another, they interfere with that good, making it something other than what it was meant to be. You would argue, if I am understanding you, that NFP does the same thing because it interferes with the good of procreation in an overall sense: God means for sex to result in children,
...approximately 1/3 of the time...
TheMouse wrote:and using NFP to avoid means a couple has sex but doesn't have children.
...as much as God apparently intends for them to have according to His creative design. ...
TheMouse wrote: The assumption here is that God intends for couples to be having children at all times throughout their marriage, so that the only way to respect that intent is not to do anything (even breastfeeding, perhaps) that would lower the chance of conception.
Not exactly (though perhaps FQ might argue that, I don't know). "The assumption here is that God intends for approx. 1/3 of the couples sexual intercourse to be during fertile times. That is the created design, and changing behaviour so as to change that design speaks disrespect. (I don't know if you'd argue that stewardship allows for us to handle fertility this way, but of course I'd argue that that would open up the door for including BCPs as a means of stewardship).
TheMouse wrote:FQ supporters may have that view ?that the sexual life of a couple should be oriented towards children at all times-- but NFP only theology does not. It does demand that individual acts be in keeping with the unitive-procreative purpose of sexuality, but it recognizes that there are times when God doesn't want couples' sex lives to result in children.
If we aren't to 'artificially' manage God's biological design of fertility through deliberate human means, then it seems to follow that unless God has made a woman infertile (cycle, breastfeeding, etc), then we ought not to be circumventing His design. If a couple can't have children for whatever reasons (school, finances, etc.), are they ready to be married at all?
TheMouse wrote: I feel that you are blurring the distinction between ends and means,
Not intentionally at least... but if our actions speak inherent messages, then I want to make sure I'm listening to all of our actions for all that they're speaking, not narrowing the radio frequency so as ony to pick up certain messages from certain acts. I'm just trying to be consistent.
TheMouse wrote: and that you are trying to make NFP-only theology fit into a framework that it doesn't actually accept, thus claiming it is inconsistent only because you are trying to make it be consistent with a set of propositions different from the ones it actually makes; you feel that the principles it advocates are contradictory because the logical result of some conclusions that it does endorse would be other conclusions that it does not.
I hope not, though I know my understanding of NFP is incomplete and possibly flawed... which is of course a big reason I appreciate your feedback.
TheMouse wrote: I would just remind you that just because a proposition CAN lead to a certain conclusion doesn't always mean that it has to! [followed by the 1 Corinthians example]
That, actually, is a point I've been standing by all along... though I would direct it toward certain meanings of actions that NFP labels 'inherent.'

Thanks for the reply! I appreciate it. I only replied this early because at the moment I had the time, though I might not later in the week - otherwise I would have waited.
"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

NFP and Morality of specific actions

Postby TheMouse » Tue Oct 26, 2004 10:04 am

MORALITY OF SPECIFIC ACTIONS

You beat me to the punch by replying before I could finish this message! I think I am just going to finish what I had started, and then go back and address the points from your most recent post, rather than trying to edit this. This is primarily a reply to your message number II, so hopefully it will still make sense. Notice that I haven't gone over all of your commen ts from message I. point by point. I don't mean to ignore important points-- rather, I'm trying to just hit the key points. However, there are some specific points I wanted to focus on at greater length.

In your first post, you said:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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"?


and in your second one, you said:

Snuggle Muffin wrote: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?


These points seem to be related, so I'll try to address them here.

For why one might interfere with God's design about the nature of the sexual relationship as a whole, see my previous point. The way Humanae Vitae put it was this: the Catholic Church felt both that God had bonded the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage together, and that God called Christian parents to responsible stewardship. On the one hand, the church wanted to affirm that sexuality was good and holy in marriage, and that it was as oriented towards uniting a couple and strengthening their marital love as well as oriented towards procreation. On the other hand, the church wanted to affirm that, as wonderful as children were, there were times when a responsible Christian couple might need to try not to conceive another child. There are a number of ways of dealing with this problem:

1)Couples who shouldn't have children abstain from sex entirely

2)Couples who think they can't have children should trust in God's providence and continue marital relations without change

3) Couples who can't have children should use some form of family planning technology or behavior so that they can still consummate their marriage while avoiding conception

I know that you don't need me to tell you the problem with option number one. In the past, this may have been the only option for many cultures (not just Christian) throughout a considerable amount of history, but it puts obvious limits on the ability for couples to "speak" of their marital love. It does not offer the chances to speak of respect for the other goods of marital intercourse. The problems with number 2 have been discussed at length in the "not doing anything" forum, and I won't rehash them here. This leaves number 3. Part of my answer to your questions here
Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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"?

is that there are times when "interference with God's design" at the level of the marriage relationship might speak more of love and responsibility than do the alternatives. Or to put it another way, the assumption is that God designed couples to be fertile an X amount of time, he may not intend for them have children as often as is statistically likely if they just had intercourse without "doing anything." In cases where a couple needs to avoid children, the statement: "we can't have children, so we won't have sex at all" may speak a denial of the other positive aspects of sex. It may speak of a rejection of one's spouses body, or of one's own. Saying "we should just have sex even though a pregnancy could kill you/ even though I'm out of work" might speak a lack of concern for one's spouse, or a lack of responsibility. (I am not saying that "not doing anything" always speaks that! For some people, that may be the best use of their fertility.) In some cases, only option 3 speaks of both responsible stewardship AND full love of one's spouse and recognition of the good of marriage.


None of what I've said above is particularly new, but it's setting up for what I want to say next.

Let us assume that we have a couple for whom option 3 ?speaks? the most loving way. For the purposes of our example, let's assume the woman has a health condition that would be aggravated by pregnancy: maybe a heart problem, for instance. It would be dangerous to her health for her to become pregnant at this time, but because of the nature of the disease, abstaining until she's better isn't a reasonable option. You and I might both agree that option 2, the FQ position, is an example of bad stewardship here, so we might both argue for option 3. Here's where the difference occurs, and here is where the means of family planning become important.

In order for pregnancy to occur, a number of things have to happen.

1.Both partners have to be relatively healthy. A woman must be ovulating, and the man must be producing sperm.

2.Intercourse must occur near the time of ovulation. Sperm generally don't live longer than 5 days, and an egg generally doesn't live longer than 24-48 hours.

3.Ejaculation has to occur in the vagina or in contact with the vulva.

4.The path from the ovary to the uterus must be clear of obstruction, as must the sperm's path out of the man's body. There must be nothing that blocks the sperm from passing through the cervix in order to fertilize the egg. Furthermore, a woman has to have a healthy amount of cervical mucus to help the sperm.

5. The woman has to have a uterine lining thick enough to support the implantation of a fertilized egg. This lining has to be maintained for long enough to prevent an early miscarriage.

Now, if you look at individual mechanisms of family planning, this is how they work:
--Hormonal contraceptives affect #1.-- they prevent ovulation. In some cases, they also prevent implantation -- #4. If I recall correctly, they can also change the cervical fluid; I may be confusing them with IUDs though.
-- Condoms and the diaphragm affect #3: they disrupt or change the one-flesh nature of intercourse and prevent sperm from entering a woman's body. Sterilization alters the bodies of one of the partners so that sperm aren't released into the vagina at all or so that an egg can never meet the sperm.
--withdrawal and use of only non-intercourse sex (oral sex used as a substitute for intercourse, for instance) affects #3 as well
-- NFP affects #2 (so does total abstinence, but we're putting that one aside)

If a couple believes that using family planning is God's will for them, they still have to ask: of the actions described above which prevent conception, which do we KNOW are moral? Do we know anything about the morality of any of them? (I'm speaking here of the actual action or mechanism, not the intent.) As is often pointed out, the Bible doesn't directly address the issue of what means of family planning might be moral and what might not. The only time someone in the Bible alters the sexual act to prevent conception is the case of Onan, who didn't come to a fortunate end. As is often pointed out, Onan's primary problem was that he had the wrong intent (he wasn't fulfilling the command to raise up an heir for his brother), so we can't take this as evidence that withdrawal in and of itself is immoral, but there's also no evidence in the text that suggests that it would be moral under other circumstances. It may seem a little ominous that the only time in the bible that someone tries this, he gets killed, but the question of whether altering the sexual act in some way so that sperm don't enter the vagina is still open.

Obviously, there were no birth control pills or sterilization procedures back in ancient Israel, so the the Bible can't be expected to directly deal with this. With regard to an argument that says we are allowed to use our medical knowledge to apply to a situation like family planning, the deuterocanonical book of Sirach (Sir. 38:1-15) speaks positively of medicine and the work of doctors, but it is talking about contexts of illness, and can't be used to support the issue of changing a healthy state for an abnormal one. We are authorized --actually, encouraged, in this passage-- to use medicines when we are ill, but there's no biblical support for using medicines to change a normative, healthy state to an unnatural, abnormal, or unhealthy one. (I'm mentioning Sirach even though it isn't accepted as Scripture by all Christians simply because I know of no other passage in the bible that speaks most directly to the issues of scientific knowledge in the field of medicine. I realize this isn't an authoritative text for you, but it might be taken as evidence of Hebraic thought about medicine, for what that's worth.)

It's also quite true that no one in the Bible uses natural family planning to avoid children, so there is no direct support for that. However, if we look just at the mechanism NFP uses --abstinence-- there is clear permission for it in some cases. Under the Old Covenant, people abstained from sex before they performed certain religious or civic duties (going to war, for instance) and regularly during a woman's menstruation as part of the cleanliness rules. The New Testament absolves Gentiles of following such rules, but the first generation of Christians included many who worshiped in the temple or their synagogue, according to the Acts of the Apostles, and presumably they would have abstained during menstruation in order to avoid offending their fellow Jews by praying in the temple in a state of uncleanliness.

I know that people sometimes cite 1 Corinthians 7 as evidence against the morality of NFP, but this seems to me to be based on a misreading of the text. The context appears to be that the Corinthian Christians, possibly reacting to the immorality of their city, wanted to avoid sex altogether, and either to not marry or to remain celibate in marriage. Paul corrects them by saying that even though there are benefits to celibacy, it isn't for everyone. Most relevant to this discussion is that he tells them to avoid sex in order to devote themselves to prayer and fasting (ascetic devotion?) only for a time, and then come together again. People who use this passage against NFP appear to assume that Paul intends to say that abstinence is only allowed for prayer; in other words, because that is the only reason he gives, he is limiting the action. Actually, the reason Paul mentions prayer is that that's what the Corinthians asked him about: they are talking about abstaining from sex permanently in order to devote themselves to holy lives. His limitation is on the amount of time that they do this. He is not actually addressing the issue of whether there are other reasons why a couple might need to abstain; his purpose is just to make it clear that abstinence for the purposes they're asking about should only be temporary. To assume that because he only mentions prayer and fasting couples can only abstain for those reasons would be to ignore the case of Jewish Christians who were trying to maintain ritual purity so that they could witness in the temple. (In actuality, I don't know anyone who really treats 1 Corinthians 7:5 as a prohibition against abstinence for any reason other than prayer: most people admit that Christians who are sick or recovering from surgery can reasonably abstain! It seems this is only employed against the use of abstinence for NFP purposes.) Nowhere does the Bible forbid temporary abstinence, and it is clear that in some cases, it is acceptable. This doesn't prove that it is permissible to abstain in the specific context of family planning, but if we are looking just at the specific mechanism or action involved in family planning, then based on the Bible, abstinence is the only one that we KNOW is moral in some cases.

However, that in itself wouldn't prove that abstinence is the only moral mechanism for family planning, except for Christians who assume that anything the Bible doesn't command or specifically allow is forbidden. For Christians who believe that anything the Bible doesn't forbid is permissible, then any mechanism of birth control would be acceptable. But those who question the adequacy either of those ethics would have to turn to ethical systems and Christian tradition on this issue.

The Bible does tell us that God bound the procreative purpose of sex intimitely to its unifying purpose: this is quite clearly stated in Malachi 2:15.
Hence, reasoning about methods of contraception should ask if any of the specific mechanisms are more respectful of that integrity. In fact, only abstinence is a mechanism that doesn't alter the body or alter the sexual act itself. Furthermore, abstinence is the only case where on is NOT taking a positive action to alter the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act itself. With NFP, sex during the infertile period doesn't affect any of the other conditions listed above: it doesn't involve altering any function of the human body. All it involves is an awareness of when a woman is fertile, and a desire to avoid using the time when conception is most likely. It doesn't damage potential fertility: it doesn't prevent an egg from being released, or prevent sperm from entering a woman's body. It just refrains from sex during the most fertile time. Use of reason suggests that NFP is less "invasive" or biologically disruptive than any of the other methods.

The Christian tradition has maintained for centuries that human beings aren't supposed to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality. The Catholic Church has proposed a theology to describe the purpose and use of sex, one which deals with both the issue of responsible stewardship and the integrity of human sexuality. The decision of Humanae Vitae was that the way these two apparently conflicting principles can be resolved is through "periodic abstinence" based on an understanding of the natural fertility cycle. This view would argue that there are ALREADY infertile "spaces" put into a couple's sex life, so that responsible family planning is possible without creating more "infertile space" through artificial methods. Thus, while family planning might be necessary in order to maintain responsible stewardship, ABC isn't. And while ABC rejects fertility at the level of the sexual act, NFP doesn't. Overall, then, in situations where responsible stewardship calls for avoidance of children, NFP is more in keeping with the unitive-procreative nature of sex. NFP doesn't interfere with a woman's potential fertility; it merely refrains from making use of it for a time. When intercourse does occur, there is nothing about the act itself that would prevent conception taking place if ovulation were to happen unexpectedly early or late: the act of intercourse is itself still potentially procreative as well as unitive. Use of ABC, on the other hand, removes that potential fertility while still making use of the unitive aspect of sex: hence it creates a separation that NFP does not. NFP makes use of a natural separation; other forms of birth control create one. You may not find the distinction between passively restricting use of sex to a pre-existing infertile condition and actively creating an infertile state so that one can use it at will to be convincing, but it does seem to me to be a real difference.

For the many Christians who don't feel bound to follow the teaching of the Catholic Church, I realize that the issue is much less clear. However, I honestly have not heard good justifications for using contraception that often. It generally seems the case that people say "God wants us to use our will and our knowledge to be good stewards" (which NFP only theology would agree with) and that the argument then assumes that the specific mechanism doesn't matter. But I've never heard a good biblical or rational justification for why using a SPECIFIC method would be moral: I don't tend to hear arguments rooted in the Bible or Christian tradition for why taking a medication that prevents a woman from ovulating is in keeping with God's will for us, or why using a condom (which, on a physical level, actually prevents some of the literal unity between man and women the Bible mentions) would be permissable. While I've heard objections to the Catholic theology behind NFP, I don't know that I've seen any coherent Protestant theology that supports other methods of contraception without assuming (as it seems to me) that since the ends are moral, the means are moral as well. Doesn't this seem ethically and philosophically problematic?

I realize I haven't met all of your points, particularly not things you brought up in your most recent post. I'll try to address some of those later. This post ended up being much longer than it needed to be, but it just seemed easier to present the argument as a whole rather than to isolate specific parts. Unfortunately, this may mean that it doesn't really address any of your specific objections!

TheMouse

Song of Songs

Postby TheMouse » Tue Oct 26, 2004 12:13 pm

Okay, I'm going to try to keep this brief, but I did want to address this post!

Snuggle Muffin wrote:III. The Song of Songs
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).


Here I think the problem is, as I indicated, a failure to practice the method of scriptural reading the Catholic Church actually espouses (the four-fold theory looks at literal, moral, anagogical, and allegorical readings of texts, seeing these readings as supportive or inter-related rather than conflicting). Allegorical readings are supposed to be built on the literal meaning of the text-- the problem is, as you point out, that the literal meaning gets glossed over. I'm not claiming this doesn't happen.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:?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).[/quote]

These probably fall in the "moral" category of four-fold meanings of Scripture, so admittedly, such readings may also fail to respect the literal meaning of the text in their desire to jump to "moral" applications. My point in mentioning these readings was to show that the Christ-and-the-Church allegorical meaning wasn't the ONLY mean seen by the Catholic church; I have a vague impression that there is an increased tendency to look at the Song of Songs in other ways, but this isn't something I know much about. I also suspect that the positive view of sexuality in the theology of the body is partly rooted in the postive depiction of erotic love from the Song of Songs, but off the top of my head I don't have anything concrete to prove that. Basically, this objection isn't one that I can answer really well, because I haven't really studied how the Song has been used/interpreted recently by Catholic theology.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: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.


Exactly how do you think it should inform theologies of sexuality? I suspect you have a specific vision of how it should be used by Christians and are frustrated because it isn't used that way. But it might be helpful if you could describe what kinds of conclusions about sex you think can be drawn from the the text.

In as much as Song of Songs is a clear statement of the goodness of sexual love and sexual pleasure, and is a statement about the "nuptial meaning of the body," I do think it plays a role in modern Catholic thought about sex--maybe not enough of a role. But if there are more specific conclusions you want to draw from it, that gets complicated. Part of the problem is that while the book contains raw sexual messages, they are themselves hidden in figures of speech and metaphors-- poetic devises. The format of the book is that of erotic poetry, not that that of "how to manual." While I understand your frustration with an undue emphasis on secondary meanings of the text, whether they are moral or allegorical, I think there would be a danger of misreading the literal level --the raw physical level, so to speak-- as constituting a kind of norm ("this is how sex is supposed to be" or conveying instructions ("this is what you should do with your spouse"). It's not as if we're supposed to look at Songs 8:3 and say "okay, honey, now you should put your left hand under my head and embrace me with the right." Nor should we assume that the ideal place to consummate a marriage is outside in the fields, under a tree! While I applaud the desire of many Christians to base their views of sexuality on the bible, I worry that the current response risks turning the Song of Songs from an inspired work of art, a love song, to a textbook or list of guidelines, which I don't think was intended.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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)?


Well, for the Song to present challenges to the Catholic teachings on these issues, one would have to first prove that the text depicts masturbation (I'm assuming you're referring to chapter 5, or are there other passages you're thinking of?) and oral stimulation that involves ejaculation outside the vagina, since oral stimulation in other contexts isn't condemned by the Catholic Church. I don't know that pursuing possible interpretations of the Song would be wise in this thread, at this time. Maybe move the discussion elsewhere or hold off on it? Admittedly, I don't know Hebrew and am not a scripture scholar, so I don't know that I could discuss the text on the same level you could.

(Side note: Earlier, I mentioned these readings to my husband, who is Protestant and has a MAR from a Protestant seminary --where one of his assignments, years ago, was translating the Song of Songs from Hebrew into English-- and he was pretty skeptical. He didn't seem to think you could use the poem to "prove" that oral sex was biblical, or that the text indicates that the beloved is masturbating in chapter 5. Of course all this indicates is that there are differences of opinion among Protestants on the subject.)

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Thu Oct 28, 2004 10:31 am

You know, as this thread gets longer, I almost want to make up a really elaborate numbering system so that it's completely obvious which message each reply is actually replying to. And then I tell myself-- not everything needs an outline! Anyway, this is my reply to your clarification.

Again, I'm skipping over some points because I think I can address them more effectively in one fell swoop, so to speak, by lumping them together.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:I. The Charges Against BCPs/barriers and the Internal Logic of NFP

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I'll just stick this clarification here: in saying FQ is a more consistent end than NFP, I mean that only in the sense that they more reflect the fertile-1/3-of-the-time design, not in their attempt to increase their degree of fertility.


Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: The assumption here is that God intends for couples to be having children at all times throughout their marriage, so that the only way to respect that intent is not to do anything (even breastfeeding, perhaps) that would lower the chance of conception.
Not exactly (though perhaps FQ might argue that, I don't know). "The assumption here is that God intends for approx. 1/3 of the couples sexual intercourse to be during fertile times. That is the created design, and changing behaviour so as to change that design speaks disrespect. (I don't know if you'd argue that stewardship allows for us to handle fertility this way, but of course I'd argue that that would open up the door for including BCPs as a means of stewardship).


Here we go. This seems to me to be a key point in both sides of the argument. You say:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: The assumption here is that God intends for approx. 1/3 of the couples sexual intercourse to be during fertile times.


I'm not sure why I failed to address this point earlier; I know you were certainly articulating it earlier. (Sometimes it takes a while for thought processes to catch up with reading, I guess.) However, I think this a key place where I'm disagreeing with you. My assumption is that God intends for a woman to be fertile about 1/3 of the time, but I wouldn't argue that this means He intends for 1/3 of all sex acts to occur then. A Hebrew woman who had regular midcycle spotting might rarely have sex in her most fertile time, because she would be unclean then-- and midcycle spotting is not that uncommon. Likewise, a woman following the Torah who had long periods and short overall cycles might normally have intercourse after her most fertile time had passed. Would we say that this went against God's intentions?

Today, we aren't following the law, but we still have reasons for choosing not have sex at some times. While some women experience higher desire near ovulation, others experience minor cramping at that time which might dissuade them from having sex then, and others have their highest desire shortly AFTER ovulation or during their menstrual periods, which could encourage a higher concentration of sex during those times. It's not clear that couples having sex "just as they wanted" would necessarily be using the time of ovulation 1/3 of the time; it could be more, or less. The assumption behind NFP is that, within limits, God intended us to have control over when and how often they make love; He made us to be rational creatures, not animals, and in as much as we are whole beings, our ability to use our reason about sex has to also be counted as part of thedesign of our reproductive systems. We are not going against his intentions if we decide to make love at one time but not another.

Another of my unspoken assumptions is that, since God designed it such that women could tell whether they were fertile or not (and again, I want to stress that some cultures did figure this out on their own, without the help of modern science), He was allowing the possibility that they might consciously choose to USE that fertile time more often than the rest of the cylce in order to conceive, or choose not to use it. So implicit in my argument has been the assumption that in designing a fertility cycle with discernable times of infertility and fertility, God intended for us to have the capacity for controlling our fertility by deciding when to have intercouse.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: (I don't know if you'd argue that stewardship allows for us to handle fertility this way . . .


Yes, I would argue that stewardship would allow us to handle fertility that way, but that's partly because I think that when God designed the fertility system, He was intentionally leaving open a window for conscious use of it. I mean, he presumably could have changed things such that the cervical mucus flow was imperceptible and there were no secondary signs like cramps, spotting, or breast tenderness; or so that women ovulated a random number of times randomly throughout each month, or so on. Instead, he designed the fertile cycle with discernible patterns

Snuggle Muffin wrote:. . .but of course I'd argue that that would open up the door for including BCPs as a means of stewardship).


And of course, I would argue that there was a difference between following discernable signs left by God's design and using drugs to change that design. True, one could extend the "we have reason and can make choices" argument to say that since we are capable of finding chemical ways of preventing women from ovulating, we are free to use them (perhaps this is where you'd go), but this is where my previous points about the different actions come in. Basically, I see a major difference between making conscious decisions about when to have intercourse based on natural indications of one's probably fertility and changing one's probable fertility by taking a drug that suppressed a natural function (ovulation). This may seem to you to be a difference in DEGREE of manipulation rather than kind of manipulation, but would you claim that differences of degree are never morally significant? We may allow medication for mental disorders, but I think if modern science invented a drug that could completely alter a person's identity, we'd be alarmed. We may allow women to pierce their ears, but I at least would be alarmed by someone who wanted to cut his ears off entirely so that he'd look "freaky": I would see this as unwarrented mutilation, which the church has consistently recognized as a sin.

In many ways, this last analogy gets to the heart of my objection against sterilization (vascectomy, tying tubes) and to a lesser extent, BCP's: they seem to be a form of mutilation in that, unlike corrective surgery or corrective use of drugs, they don't help the body function as it is supposed to, but prevent an intended function. And while you might argue that the need for responsible stewardship can warrent such mutilation, I'd argue that it isn't necessary, since God already provided natural "sterile times" every month. A couple does not need to artificially create sterility when it's already present about 2/3rds of the time-- unless you argue that a married couple NEEDS to be able to have sex throughout the month. But, as my previous discussion of Biblical allowance of abstinence indicates, I don't think this is a biblically supportable position. The fact that God commanded Israelites to abstain regularly during the menstural cycle argues that it must not be harmful to marriages to regularly abstain part of the cylcle, and in 1 Corinthians 7, the Bible implicitly suggests that there can be actual advantages to periods of abstinence from sex.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Perhaps this bleeds into the other post, about deciding what an action speaks, and whether that meaning is inherent or not. We may simply be each attributing a different relative meaning to the same act, while believing that the meanings are inherent.


This may be the case. And it may be that we simply won't agree on what an action inherently speaks. But if I may borrow someone else's expression, I think that what Titanium said on the "BCP and. . ." thread aptly explains what I think about barrier methods:

Titanium wrote:I don't like the idea of condoms. To me, it goes against the idea of intimacy in my mind, and just seems like back when I had premarital sex again! I don't like them at all - they just feel wrong when I'm trying to establish a completely intimate, sexual relationship in marriage. It feels like a physical barrier, that in turn, creates an emotional one. That might be a bit hard for people who aren't into symbolism as much as I am, to understand, and I don't mind at all if you wish to question me on it!


(Titanium, if you read this, please note that I realize you wouldn't agree with me about the morality of contraception-- I hope you don't feel I'm twisting your words by using them in an argument you wouldn't agree with. It's just that you happened to very nicely explain from an emotional/affective stance the theological objections the Catholic church has to barrier methods.)

One other thing that I may not have made clear is that it's not just important what actions speak to our spouses, but also what they speak to God. Perhaps part of my implicit thought has been that using the pill, or a condom, speaks of rejection to God in a way that I don't think use of NFP does-- again, you might not see a difference here, or you might see a difference of degree rather than kind.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: for one thing, using NFP can help a woman better tell when to conceive, and it can help her know when she is pregnant, or if she has suffered an early miscarriage. .. . (various benefits I see no need to list again).
Could not the same benefits be attributed to FAM? I don't think (I'm not a scientist!) that any of these benefits are dependent on NFP's moral/theological claims - they are the result of monitoring the wife's menstrual cycle. I have no objection to that.


You've got me there, sort of. I have other objections to FAM (see previous discussion of barrier methods), but I freely admit that many of the benefits I've described above are inherent in charting rather than in the theology of NFP. Furthermore, I honestly think that only NFP and FAM can claim to be authentic FAMILY PLANNING methods rather than merely contraception, because they are the only methods that can "work both ways" and help a couple conceive as well as avoid. For this reason, I would think that couples who plan to have children in the not-too-distant future would be merely being practical in choosing FAM or NFP to other methods-- leaving aside moral issues, it seems the best choice to me health-wise and in terms of anticipated future pregnancies. Hormonal methods can make it harder to conceive; and while I may be wrong about this, I seem to recall that there were some connections between spermicide and birth defects, which might require someone to wait a short time after discontinuing the use of barrier methods with spermicide before conceiving. (If this is true, and I am hazy on it, then it would be a mark against FAM with use of spermicide.) With NFP, on the other hand, a couple who decide to conceive rather than avoid can immediately put their knowledge to work and figure out the ideal time to "try for conception." They also have benefits of being able to figure out their actual due date better than a doctor, since they have a more accurate estimate of when ovulation occured.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: This is where I miscomunicated. I did not mean to suggest that couples must deliberately try to get pregnant at every possible opportunity in order to stay consistent with NFP. I meant that they should respect the natural fertility cycle as designed by God by not altering their sexual behaviour so as to alter God's predetermined 1/3 ratio. This means that sex during an infertile time is entirely permissable.


I guess the real question is whether God's design means that woman is supposed to be POTENTIALLY fertile 1/3 of the time, or whether He actually intends that 1/3 of all acts of intercourse should occur while a woman is fertile. See my points above.

You made some additional points in the rest of your email, but it seemed to me that they were interrelated, and that there wasn't much that I could say about them that wasn't already said here. Again, I realize that I'm not likely to have satisfied your objections-- I don't expect to change your mind. However, this may at least illustrate where we're thinking differently.

Lothar

Postby Lothar » Thu Oct 28, 2004 8:32 pm

The Mouse wrote:The Bible does tell us that God bound the procreative purpose of sex intimitely to its unifying purpose: this is quite clearly stated in Malachi 2:15.


I don't think it's "clearly stated" that way. Perhaps it appears as such in KJV and NIV, but other translations (in particular, some that I have good reason to trust) render the passage quite differently.

Malachi (translated in NIV) wrote:the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.


Even when read in NIV or KJV, the passage doesn't really bind procreation to sex. One reading of it is that it binds procreation to marriage. An alternate is that it's binding two-parent households to raising Godly children (that is, "He wanted your children to be Godly" rather than "He wanted you to have children who by the way were Godly") -- essentially saying that God wanted the parents to be "one" so that their children grew up with the "oneness" picture of God, and not applying at all to those who don't have children.

But then, the NIV / KJV rendering doesn't match up with my Interlinear, which reads ... "And what of the one? He was seeking a seed of God." NAS, NET, and others render the passage much closer to this:

Malachi (translated in NET - get it from bible.org) wrote:Yet you ask, “Why?” The Lord is testifying against you on behalf of the wife you married when you were young, to whom you have become unfaithful even though she is your companion and wife by law. No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this. What did our ancestor* do when seeking a child from God? Be attentive, then, to your own spirit, for one should not be disloyal to the wife he took in his youth.

*Translator's note: Heb “the one.” This is an oblique reference to Abraham who sought to obtain God’s blessing by circumventing God’s own plan for him by taking Hagar as wife (Gen 16:1-6). The result of this kind of intermarriage was, of course, disastrous (Gen 16:11-12).


When translated this way, what's "quite clearly stated" is that Abraham, like Israel in Malachi's time, broke faith with the wife of his youth, and it came back to bite him. All this is to say, be careful not to rest your theology on Malachi 2:15 unless you're a lot more sure of the translation than I am. The Hebrew is convoluted, at best... so I caution strongly against basing a major pillar of your theology on it.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Fri Oct 29, 2004 8:06 am

Lothar wrote: All this is to say, be careful not to rest your theology on Malachi 2:15 unless you're a lot more sure of the translation than I am. The Hebrew is convoluted, at best... so I caution strongly against basing a major pillar of your theology on it.


Thanks for pointing that out-- I should have more closely before leaning on this passage. I wouldn't say that I'm basing my theology on it ( and it's not as if all of NFP theology refers to this text or something) so much as that I read it recently and thought, "hey, that seems to articulate it very well." But your points are well taken.

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Sun Oct 31, 2004 12:44 am

I appreciate your continued dialogue. I’ll give you my honest responses from my perspective as a non-RC BCP-user, and I invite you to challenge my reasoning or my assumptions, should either be faulty. I’m not so much interested in winning a debate as I am in discovering what happens when the NFP challenge and the BCP objection are articulated accurately in a context of intellectual honesty.

TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: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)?
Is there a specific NFP answer to this question? I tried to distill one from your post, but I don't want to respond to an inaccurate understanding.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: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?
… the Catholic Church felt both that God had bonded the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage together, and that God called Christian parents to responsible stewardship. On the one hand, the church wanted to affirm that sexuality was good and holy in marriage, and that it was as oriented towards uniting a couple and strengthening their marital love as well as oriented towards procreation. On the other hand, the church wanted to affirm that, as wonderful as children were, there were times when a responsible Christian couple might need to try not to conceive another child.
I don't know if this realy answered my question… or at least I don'tthink this is what I was looking for. I'll rephrase it: if I am deriving meaning from a certain action, how do I know if that meaning is attributed (relative) or inherent (God's opinion)?

TheMouse wrote: Part of my answer to your questions here
Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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"?
is that there are times when "interference with God's design" at the level of the marriage relationship might speak more of love and responsibility than do the alternatives. Or to put it another way, the assumption is that God designed couples to be fertile an X amount of time, he may not intend for them have children as often as is statistically likely if they just had intercourse without "doing anything."
So it is established that it is possible to faithfully "interfere with God's design"? Responsible stewardship can include manipulating or actively managing creation as God designed it?
TheMouse wrote: In some cases, only [abstinence-only bc] speaks of both responsible stewardship AND full love of one's spouse and recognition of the good of marriage.
Why is it considered "responsible stewardship" to "interfere with God's design" regarding the relationship as a whole but considered [various negative things] to do the same with the biological realities of the sexual act? It is acceptable to in effect sterilize the sexual relationship until deemed convenient but it is unacceptable to sterilize the sexual act. We assume that God expects us to be good stewards of the sexual relationship by changing the degree of fertility in the relationship, but we assume that He holds the opposite opinion regarding the same concerning the sexual act? As a non-RC BCP-user, I'm still not convinced of the rationale for this. If I'm just being blind to a good explanation, please show me how.

TheMouse wrote: If a couple believes that using family planning is God's will for them, they still have to ask: of the actions described above which prevent conception, which do we KNOW are moral? Do we know anything about the morality of any of them? (I'm speaking here of the actual action or mechanism, not the intent.)

…only abstinence is a mechanism that doesn't alter the body or alter the sexual act itself. Furthermore, abstinence is the only case where on is NOT taking a positive action to alter the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act itself.
But, it very much alters the U&P aspects as they concern the marriage relationship… Not only in that they do not reflect God's biological procreative design (degree of fertility) but also in that when practiced consistently there are serious concerns regarding the affect on the unitive aspect of the relationship. When practiced, NFP consistently denies the wife sex when she is designed by God to physically desire it the most.
TheMouse wrote: With NFP, sex during the infertile period doesn't affect any of the other conditions listed above: it doesn't involve altering any function of the human body.
Not having sex when one desires it most seems like an alteration to me, especially when done consistently.
TheMouse wrote: All it involves is an awareness of when a woman is fertile, and a desire to avoid using the time when conception is most likely. It doesn't damage potential fertility: it doesn't prevent an egg from being released, or prevent sperm from entering a woman's body. It just refrains from sex during the most fertile time. Use of reason suggests that NFP is less "invasive" or biologically disruptive than any of the other methods.
So the morality of a method is determined by whether or not it alters the function of the human body? Or the degree to which it disrupts the biological realities God created? I'm fishing for criteria here.
TheMouse wrote:The Christian tradition has maintained for centuries that human beings aren't supposed to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality.
The Christian tradition(s) have maintained for centuries many things that are highly questionable and downright opposed to the true content of the faith. Tradition deserves more weight than many non-RCs give it, but it is never above question. The claims of tradition should also stand or fall on their own - this is what I am trying to discover about NFP.
TheMouse wrote: The decision of Humanae Vitae was that the way these two apparently conflicting principles can be resolved is through "periodic abstinence" based on an understanding of the natural fertility cycle. This view would argue that there are ALREADY infertile "spaces" put into a couple's sex life, so that responsible family planning is possible without creating more "infertile space" through artificial methods.
.. and of course I'd say that NFP is 'artificially' creating quite a bit of infertile space.
TheMouse wrote: Thus, while family planning might be necessary in order to maintain responsible stewardship, ABC isn't.
So it is a matter of necessity? Our active stewardship – our interference with God's design – is only moral insofar as it is necessary? I imagine that FQers would argue that NFP is certainly unnecessary and speaks a great lack of faith.
TheMouse wrote: And while ABC rejects fertility at the level of the sexual act, NFP doesn't.
So then it is also a matter of "not rejecting fertility," but only concerning selective, narrowly focused aspects of the marriage relationship like the sexual act itself and not the marriage relationship as a whole, even though that relationship is supposed to be representative/incarnational of God's relationship with His people? I'm not trying to be combative here; this is just the honest perspective of a partially-informed non-RC BCP-user.
TheMouse wrote:Overall, then, in situations where responsible stewardship calls for avoidance of children, NFP is more in keeping with the unitive-procreative nature of sex.
So responsible stewardship can entail deliberately avoiding children? Why is it that we can manipulate the nature of the marriage relationship in general to avoid children and call it responsible stewardship, but if we actively manage biological factors to avoid children it’s inherently sinful? This seems to reveal a great respect for God’s biological design – so much so that we shouldn't tamper with it unless correcting harm (like disease). I wonder what would happen if we gave biology a voice with which to inform this discussion more equal to the degree of respect NFP seems to give it; let’s consider giving a louder voice to God’s biological design of fertility that reflects NFP’s high degree of respect for that design, and include it in the conversation. Concerning the marriage relationship in general (as a whole), the unitive and the procreative aspects are intended by God to be together (Humanae Vitae), to be present, in every marriage relationship (except in exceptional cases). Concerning the sexual act itself, the unitive and procreative aspects are only intended to be present at the same time 1/3 or less of the time. Therefore (states NFP), it is OK for a couple to deliberately manipulate the degree of fertility – to deliberately separate the procreative from the unitive - in the context where the procreative and unitive are to always be present (the marriage), but it is sinful to deliberately manipulate the degree of fertility in the context where God separates the procreative from the unitive more often than not: biologically, in the sexual act itself. It is at the level of the marriage relationship as a whole where the U&P are intended to both be present according to God’s intention, yet this is the very place NFP manipulates fertility, separating the U&P aspects beyond what God has designed. It is at the level of the sexual act itself – of biology – that the U&P are intended to be separate more often than not, yet to avoid children at this level is sin, while avoiding children where the U&P are intended to be together is “responsible stewardship.” I still find this to be inconsistent. This tempts me to speculate things like this (to which I will probably never know an answer): does NFP really reveal a deep respect for God’s design – for God’s gift of procreation – or does it reveal a deep respect for traditional church anti-bc teaching masquerading as respect for God’s design? I can’t make this an accusation b/c I don’t know – I just bring it up to be transparent about what is going through my head.
TheMouse wrote: NFP makes use of a natural separation; other forms of birth control create one.
I'd call this an insignificant distinction – NFP and BCPs both "make use" of God's 'natural' design, creating a greater degree of infertility than is naturally present in that design.
TheMouse wrote: For the many Christians who don't feel bound to follow the teaching of the Catholic Church, I realize that the issue is much less clear.
Indeed it is. Many of us (well, me at least) are not yet sure if RCC loyalty is really the ultimate deciding influence maintaining NFP and not the logical coherence of its position.
TheMouse wrote: However, I honestly have not heard good justifications for using contraception that often.
… probably because (from the BCP-user perspective) FQ is the only true non-contraceptive challenge to BCPs, and as far as I know they have not developed a very robust theological or biblical challenge to BCP-use.
TheMouse wrote: The Bible does tell us that God bound the procreative purpose of sex intimitely to its unifying purpose: this is quite clearly stated in Malachi 2:15.
Perhaps I shouldn't comment on this, as Lothar has accused me of the same thing regarding some of my SoS interpretations :wink: . But, at the risk of appearing hypocritical, I'd say that this is reading into the text.

Re: Onan – I know you didn't bring him up as a major pillar of NFP or anything. I just wanted to underline the virtual uselessness of bringing Onan into NFP/BCP discussions. As you indicated, his "primary problem" (I'll go ahead and say, "the sin for which he was judged" – I realize NFP folk often hesitate to close the possibility that Onan might have also been condemned for contraceptive-related reasons) was that "he wasn't fulfilling the command to raise up an heir for his brother." I think Onan would have been equally guilty of this had he practiced NFP instead of withdrawal. Ultimately, I think he's irrelevant to the discussion.

Re: 1 Corinthians 7 - I've let this passage alone b/c my primary objections to NFP's challenge aren't founded on (or intended to be) a counter-attack that relies on a proof-text trump card or an interpretational technicality. It may come up later (I doubt it); I'm willing to leave it alone… it is not an unspoken objection secretly fueling my other ones. My objections should stand or fall on their own, as should NFP's challenge.
"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 » Sun Oct 31, 2004 1:11 am

TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: I'll just stick this clarification here: in saying FQ is a more consistent end than NFP, I mean that only in the sense that they more reflect the fertile-1/3-of-the-time design, not in their attempt to increase their degree of fertility.
Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: The assumption here is that God intends for couples to be having children at all times throughout their marriage, so that the only way to respect that intent is not to do anything (even breastfeeding, perhaps) that would lower the chance of conception.
Not exactly (though perhaps FQ might argue that, I don't know). "The assumption here is that God intends for approx. 1/3 of the couples sexual intercourse to be during fertile times. That is the created design, and changing behaviour so as to change that design speaks disrespect. (I don't know if you'd argue that stewardship allows for us to handle fertility this way, but of course I'd argue that that would open up the door for including BCPs as a means of stewardship).
Snuggle Muffin wrote: The assumption here is that God intends for approx. 1/3 of the couples sexual intercourse to be during fertile times.
My assumption is that God intends for a woman to be fertile about 1/3 of the time, but I wouldn't argue that this means He intends for 1/3 of all sex acts to occur then.
And of course, nor would I. I am saying that according to the criteria that NFP applies to respecting fertility, it logically follows that Christians would respect God’s biological design and not abuse our God-given abilities by manipulating it. Of course this wouldn’t be applied in a Pharisaical calculating of days and ejaculations, but it would certainly rule out deliberate drastic changes, like raising the infertility of the marriage from 33% of the time to 99.9% of the time. The question, “What does this speak?” features so prominently at the level of the sacramental sexual act itself, I think we should also apply it to the incarnational marriage relationship in general.
TheMouse wrote: The assumption behind NFP is that, within limits, God intended us to have control over when and how often they make love; He made us to be rational creatures, not animals, and in as much as we are whole beings, our ability to use our reason about sex has to also be counted as part of the design of our reproductive systems. We are not going against his intentions if we decide to make love at one time but not another.
I agree of course. But I am saying that to be consistent with NFP, a couple’s relationship should reflect the degree of fertility as designed by God when choosing when and when not to have sex, because deliberately changing the fertility of the relationship from 33% to 0.1% would then say that God’s biological design is inadequate for that relationship.
TheMouse wrote: Another of my unspoken assumptions is that, since God designed it such that women could tell whether they were fertile or not (and again, I want to stress that some cultures did figure this out on their own, without the help of modern science), He was allowing the possibility that they might consciously choose to USE that fertile time more often than the rest of the cylce in order to conceive, or choose not to use it. So implicit in my argument has been the assumption that in designing a fertility cycle with discernable times of infertility and fertility, God intended for us to have the capacity for controlling our fertility by deciding when to have intercourse.
And of course I agree. This has been my position all along – where we disagree is the means by which we may control our fertility. I’m saying that NFP is inconsistent in claiming that changing biologically internal factors in order to control fertility is inherently speaking disrespect and therefore sinful, while changing biologically external factors (behaviour) in order to control fertility is permissible (or 'relationally internal factors').
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: (I don't know if you'd argue that stewardship allows for us to handle fertility this way . . .
Yes, I would argue that stewardship would allow us to handle fertility that way, but that's partly because I think that when God designed the fertility system, He was intentionally leaving open a window for conscious use of it. I mean, he presumably could have changed things such that the cervical mucus flow was imperceptible and there were no secondary signs like cramps, spotting, or breast tenderness; or so that women ovulated a random number of times randomly throughout each month, or so on. Instead, he designed the fertile cycle with discernible patterns
Snuggle Muffin wrote:. . .but of course I'd argue that that would open up the door for including BCPs as a means of stewardship).
And of course, I would argue that there was a difference between following discernable signs left by God's design and using drugs to change that design. Basically, I see a major difference between making conscious decisions about when to have intercourse based on natural indications of one's probably fertility and changing one's probable fertility by taking a drug that suppressed a natural function (ovulation). This may seem to you to be a difference in DEGREE of manipulation rather than kind of manipulation, but would you claim that differences of degree are never morally significant?
Is that question relevant here? The NFP stuff I’ve read claims that it is a more effective bc than BCPs…
TheMouse wrote: We may allow medication for mental disorders, but I think if modern science invented a drug that could completely alter a person's identity, we'd be alarmed. We may allow women to pierce their ears, but I at least would be alarmed by someone who wanted to cut his ears off entirely so that he'd look "freaky": I would see this as unwarrented mutilation, which the church has consistently recognized as a sin.
… and I would argue that the same logic which characterizes what BCPs do to the sexual act as unwarranted mutilation equally characterizes what NFP does to the fertility of the marriage relationship as unwarranted mutilation – emasculating the marriage relationship with its superior contraceptive effectiveness. However, in neither case to I actually think we’re talking about mutilation or destruction of identity; what NFP and BCPs do to the fertility of a marriage (when used properly, in faithful stewardship) is more akin to shaving one’s legs or face than it is to chopping off ones ears. Not the same, of course – altering hormones in someone’s body is more drastic than external cosmetic alterations, but closer to that than mutilation, esp. regarding identity. And of course, our discussion here is directed more to BCPs than barriers. Does NFP differentiate between BCPs and barriers, condemning them each separately for different reasons? Or are they both condemned for the same reasons?
TheMouse wrote: In many ways, this last analogy gets to the heart of my objection against sterilization (vascectomy, tying tubes) and to a lesser extent, BCP's: they seem to be a form of mutilation in that, unlike corrective surgery or corrective use of drugs, they don't help the body function as it is supposed to, but prevent an intended function. And while you might argue that the need for responsible stewardship can warrent such mutilation, I'd argue that it isn't necessary, since God already provided natural "sterile times" every month.
Why is necessity the criterion? If we included an FQer here, they’d charge that NFP is unnecessary and provide their own marriages as evidence to the fact.
TheMouse wrote: A couple does not need to artificially create sterility when it's already present about 2/3rds of the time--
How then can NFP faithfully artificially increase the sterilization of the marriage from 66% to 99.9%?
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: Perhaps this bleeds into the other post, about deciding what an action speaks, and whether that meaning is inherent or not. We may simply be each attributing a different relative meaning to the same act, while believing that the meanings are inherent.
This may be the case. And it may be that we simply won't agree on what an action inherently speaks.
I suppose if we had criteria for determining what actions speak, which we could then evaluate… Why does NFP claim that BCPs inherently speak the various sinful things of which it is accused?
TheMouse wrote:But if I may borrow someone else's expression, I think that what Titanium said on the "BCP and. . ." thread aptly explains what I think about barrier methods:
Titanium wrote:I don't like the idea of condoms. To me, it goes against the idea of intimacy in my mind, and just seems like back when I had premarital sex again! I don't like them at all - they just feel wrong when I'm trying to establish a completely intimate, sexual relationship in marriage. It feels like a physical barrier, that in turn, creates an emotional one. That might be a bit hard for people who aren't into symbolism as much as I am, to understand, and I don't mind at all if you wish to question me on it!
And I would totally agree with him/her, especially if condoms have been previously associated with sinful sexual activity. That attributes all kinds of sinful, real meaning to using condemns, and I would not expect a person in such a state to violate their conscience and use condemns. It would be sinful for them to do so. Symbols only carry the meanings attributed to them. If God attributes a meaning, then I guess that would make the meaning inherent. But we could play a lot with symbolism – like what it ‘symbolizes’ that God designed millions of sperm to die, eggs to get flushed, wet dreams, or NFP's abstinence in marriage, etc. Is it inherently wrong for sex to be incapable of procreation? Since it’s not, does a latex barrier (rather than a menstrual barrier, or abstinence) inherently, absolutely, have to speak something against God?
TheMouse wrote:One other thing that I may not have made clear is that it's not just important what actions speak to our spouses, but also what they speak to God. Perhaps part of my implicit thought has been that using the pill, or a condom, speaks of rejection to God in a way that I don't think use of NFP does-- again, you might not see a difference here, or you might see a difference of degree rather than kind.
right. Attributed and inherent meanings… meanings that we understand an act to convey and meanings that God understands an act to convey. How is it determined that the negative things attributed to BCPs and barriers are inherent (from God) and not attributed (from us)?
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: for one thing, using NFP can help a woman better tell when to conceive, and it can help her know when she is pregnant, or if she has suffered an early miscarriage. .. . (various benefits I see no need to list again).
Could not the same benefits be attributed to FAM? I don't think (I'm not a scientist!) that any of these benefits are dependent on NFP's moral/theological claims - they are the result of monitoring the wife's menstrual cycle. I have no objection to that.
You've got me there, sort of. I have other objections to FAM (see previous discussion of barrier methods), but I freely admit that many of the benefits I've described above are inherent in charting rather than in the theology of NFP. Furthermore, I honestly think that only NFP and FAM can claim to be authentic FAMILY PLANNING methods rather than merely contraception, because they are the only methods that can "work both ways" and help a couple conceive as well as avoid.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit surprised here. I would expect NFP to condemn FAM (barriers) for the same moral/theological reasons it condemns BCPs (I’m leaving the health debate aside right now). Sure, there’s more in common between NFP and FAM, but FAM removes the moral claims from NFP.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: This is where I miscomunicated. I did not mean to suggest that couples must deliberately try to get pregnant at every possible opportunity in order to stay consistent with NFP. I meant that they should respect the natural fertility cycle as designed by God by not altering their sexual behaviour so as to alter God's predetermined 1/3 ratio. This means that sex during an infertile time is entirely permissable.
I guess the real question is whether God's design means that woman is supposed to be POTENTIALLY fertile 1/3 of the time, or whether He actually intends that 1/3 of all acts of intercourse should occur while a woman is fertile. See my points above.
I would think that if NFP has somehow managed to decipher what God specifically intends regarding fertility accurately enough to conclude that BCPs and barriers inherently speak against God, then surely NFP has the wherewithal to conclude decisively regarding the above problem.
TheMouse wrote:Again, I realize that I'm not likely to have satisfied your objections-- I don't expect to change your mind. However, this may at least illustrate where we're thinking differently.
... and I appreciate your willingness to articulate NFP to me.

Two things not clear to me yet (which would greatly help me understand, I think):
(1) The criteria for determining what our beings/actions speak (and how we differentiate between attributed and inherent meanings)
(2) Why controlling fertility externally is OK but internally it’s sinful. It seems that our ‘external’ controls (abstinence) are really internal as far as the marriage is concerned. When the response is “b/c of what such actions inherently speak,” then I’m back to #1 – why do they speak that, and how do we determine what they speak, and are we consistent in asking that question in all aspects of the marriage relationship that concern fertility?
"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 » Sun Oct 31, 2004 1:19 am

The Song of Songs

If I’d known you were going to respond to my comments regarding the SoS interpretations you shared, I would have refined them much more – I didn’t think it would matter so I just whipped off a quick response. Oh well – I guess just a few comments here.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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).
Here I think the problem is, as I indicated, a failure to practice the method of scriptural reading the Catholic Church actually espouses (the four-fold theory looks at literal, moral, anagogical, and allegorical readings of texts, seeing these readings as supportive or inter-related rather than conflicting). Allegorical readings are supposed to be built on the literal meaning of the text-- the problem is, as you point out, that the literal meaning gets glossed over. I'm not claiming this doesn't happen.
Does this four-fold theory assume that every passage contains meanings at all of these levels? I am very hesitant to deliberately apply such a grid to Scripture. No doubt we can create meanings (good meanings) in these categories from most texts – I think it’s fine to (carefully) use a certain text to articulate a certain truth that the specific text in question might not actually be speaking - but us creating a metaphor or allegory (etc) and explicitly claiming it as our invention is different from claiming that the text itself – the author - actually contains or intends to convey those meanings. Perhaps this illuminates the different roles of the interpreting community in our different traditions.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: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).
Basically, this objection isn't one that I can answer really well, because I haven't really studied how the Song has been used/interpreted recently by Catholic theology.
I should go on record here saying that I don’t see the poor traditional handling of SoS as a primarily RC problem. Most (all?) Christian traditions have perpetuated that common heritage, and I don’t know that I‘d want to say the non-RC traditions are currently doing all that much more than the RCC.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: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.
Exactly how do you think it should inform theologies of sexuality? I suspect you have a specific vision of how it should be used by Christians and are frustrated because it isn't used that way. But it might be helpful if you could describe what kinds of conclusions about sex you think can be drawn from the the text.
I don’t actually have anything specific hammered out, though I would like to see what will happen if people start taking SoS seriously. Maybe Dale’s Rite of Passage thread (and a certain article he can give you the link to) are good examples. I think the truth in the opinion is self-evident - that any Christian theology of sexuality is severely handicapped if it works from an emasculated interpretation of the most sexual book in the Bible.
TheMouse wrote: It's not as if we're supposed to look at Songs 8:3 and say "okay, honey, now you should put your left hand under my head and embrace me with the right." Nor should we assume that the ideal place to consummate a marriage is outside in the fields, under a tree! While I applaud the desire of many Christians to base their views of sexuality on the bible, I worry that the current response risks turning the Song of Songs from an inspired work of art, a love song, to a textbook or list of guidelines, which I don't think was intended.
You’re echoing some of my own concerns (that I’ve shared on TMB before). Case in point: Tommy Nelson. I think the ideas he is teaching are beneficial for the church and good for people to hear – I just don’t think they all come from the text of SoS. I am definitely not advocating the kind of handling that you described; I’m mostly advocating for a re-sexualization of SoS, and for that to have its proper role in informing the church’s theology.
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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)?
Well, for the Song to present challenges to the Catholic teachings on these issues, one would have to first prove
Prove? That’s virtually impossible considering the genre and the cultural and historical distance. I wouldn’t claim to be able to prove that such things are indicated by the text, but I would claim that a fair weighing of the available evidence suggests that these interpretations are very good possibilities.
TheMouse wrote: … oral stimulation that involves ejaculation outside the vagina, since oral stimulation in other contexts isn't condemned by the Catholic Church.
that’s good to know. I was not aware of that the RCC made that distinction. Does the RCC teach that ejaculation (other than wet dreams, etc.) must always be inside the vagina?
TheMouse wrote: I don't know that pursuing possible interpretations of the Song would be wise in this thread, at this time.
no, it would derail the discussion, and it would never end, since ‘proving’ anything from poetry is almost hopeless.
TheMouse wrote: [My husband] didn't seem to think you could use the poem to "prove" that oral sex was biblical, or that the text indicates that the beloved is masturbating in chapter 5. Of course all this indicates is that there are differences of opinion among Protestants on the subject.)
And I would agree with him – you can’t prove those things at all. Within the arena of exegesis, several interpretations would fall in the “responsible” or “acceptable” categories. I would maintain that masturbation is the best, most plausible interpretation, while acknowledging that we will never know for certain. Same for the oral sex, though to a slightly lesser degree.

You husband is not RC? Another time, another thread, but I imagine a lot of people would benefit from hearing how you guys work out your theological differences. I’m pursuing a degree similar to an MAR from a ‘Protestant’ university – and had to do a smaller assignment in an ‘ethnotheology’ class regarding the possible meanings in SoS. That’s what contributed to my current SoS soapbox, anyway.
"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

Song of Songs

Postby TheMouse » Mon Nov 01, 2004 6:36 pm

This is just a reply to this one message. It'll take me awhile to get back to you on the other ones. There are a lot of related points and I'm not sure how best to respond.
The Song of Songs

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Does this four-fold theory assume that every passage contains meanings at all of these levels? I am very hesitant to deliberately apply such a grid to Scripture.


I don't think so. I think it's more that those are four different categories of meaning one might find. My main point in mentioning that is that even in the medieval style, the allegorical reading was not supposed to be at the expense of the literal meaning, or of other meanings that might be present.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I should go on record here saying that I don?t see the poor traditional handling of SoS as a primarily RC problem. Most (all?) Christian traditions have perpetuated that common heritage, and I don?t know that I?d want to say the non-RC traditions are currently doing all that much more than the RCC.


Fair enough. I suspect that there has been more of a "Protestant recovery" of the Song of Songs as an erotic text that doesn't have parallels in Catholicism, at least not at the popular level.

I got curious about how other Catholics read the Song of Songs, though, so I ran a poll in an NFP forum to see what others thought. Granted, not all of the members of this forum are Catholic, and not all of them use NFP rather than FAM, but the majority seem to be Catholics who follow the Church's teachings, and they seemed like a good group to sound if one was curious as to how NFP-users felt about the subject. Only a minority (11%) thought of it as _only_ an allegory of Christ in the church. The majority (72%) saw the text as including multiple meanings, and of those who did vote for only one meaning, a slight majority (16% vs. 11% of total votes) saw the primary meaning as erotic rather than allegorically protraying the church. I don't think one poll on a specific NFP forum proves anything, but since you had mentioned that most Catholics you talked to seemed to view the book primarily as an allegory, I thought you'd be interested. (Yeah, I spend too much time on the internet. It's not that I don't have real work to do, it's that non-real work is so much more fun. . . .)

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: 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)?
Well, for the Song to present challenges to the Catholic teachings on these issues, one would have to first prove
Prove? That?s virtually impossible considering the genre and the cultural and historical distance. I wouldn?t claim to be able to prove that such things are indicated by the text, but I would claim that a fair weighing of the available evidence suggests that these interpretations are very good possibilities.


"Prove" was probably not the best word. But the very problem interpreting the text on account of its figurative/poet language seems to make using it to support moral positions somewhat difficult. Not impossible, but difficult, since half the time it's impossible to tell for certain what they are doing. Additionally, given that it IS a poem, it's hard to tell what use we're "supposed to" make of it. As you mention, for instance, it isn't even clear that the lovers are married. Some critics (the Blochs, for instance) argue that the text actually indicates that they are unmarried; that's why they have to meet clandestinely. Even if this were true, would it follow that we were supposed to read the text as an endorsement of pre-marital sex?

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: ? oral stimulation that involves ejaculation outside the vagina, since oral stimulation in other contexts isn't condemned by the Catholic Church.
that?s good to know. I was not aware of that the RCC made that distinction. Does the RCC teach that ejaculation (other than wet dreams, etc.) must always be inside the vagina?.


Yes; that's why withdrawal is not considered an appropriate means of birth control. To put it the way Christoper West puts it, it basically means that a husband is not supposed to intentionally ejaculate anywhere but his wife's vagina. Unintentional ejaculation, whether it is the result of a wet dream or an "accident" during foreplay, wouldn't be considered a sin. (I seem to remember this cropping up in a much earlier thread on "semen outside the vagina," but I don't remember all that was said there about it.)


Snuggle Muffin wrote: it would derail the discussion, and it would never end, since ?proving? anything from poetry is almost hopeless.


Which is probably another reason why I'm a little skeptical of what seem like "mechanical" applications of the Song of Songs. Just as I'm not convinced that it was intended to be a step-by-step guidebook on sexual technique, I'm not sure it was meant to be a moral list of "oks" or "no-can-do's." Of course you CAN teach moral lessons through poetry, but as you point out, the poetic form makes it very ambiguous.

TheMouse

What sexual intercourse "speaks"

Postby TheMouse » Fri Nov 05, 2004 11:53 am

Okay, once last shot. Maybe this won't literally be the LAST series of posts, but I suspect we are getting to the crux of the difference, so I don't know how much more there is for me to say, unless of course you have questions about specific points.

Once again, I'm going to try to get to as many individual points as I can, but I may skip over some. If there are some things you feel that I neglected to answer, let me know; it's probably that I felt that they were being answered elsewhere.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote: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)?
Is there a specific NFP answer to this question? I tried to distill one from your post, but I don't want to respond to an inaccurate understanding.


I guess I would say we determine what an action speaks based on reasoning grounded in scripture (what does Scripture say about the action, if anything? If it says nothing about hte action, do Scriptural principles relate to it), reasoning, and the traditional teaching of the Christian Church. Human experience is a factor, so it is reasonable to look at the experiences of couples who use NFP, couples who use condoms, couples who use BCPs, etc., but it is not the only factor or the determining factor. Some couples might have a better experience using condoms than with NFP, but that in itself would make condoms "right' for them if condom use were shown to be flawed on other grounds.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I don't know if this realy answered my question? or at least I don'tthink this is what I was looking for. I'll rephrase it: if I am deriving meaning from a certain action, how do I know if that meaning is attributed (relative) or inherent (God's opinion)


Hopefully, my response above somewhat answered your question. You need to look at all the factors, and at the action itself rather than how it feels to use it. It's possible that one place where we part ways is that ( as the way you word your question suggests) you appear to assume that it is up to the individual to determine what an action speaks. I assume that an inidividual should also appeal to the judgment of those in teaching positions. I'm not just speaking here of the kind of authority faithful Catholics might see residing in the magisterium; I'm speaking more generally of an idea that when you have a theological question, you turn to theological experts. This means that there needs to be a theology behind the use of birth control. And there may be --surely there is-- but I don't know what it is or who is articulating it. To cut to the chase though, I would say the problem is not (or not just) that individual Christians need to decide what kind of birth control is right for THEM, but that the Christian community needs to discuss what each method of birth control "speaks." The fracturing of the Church makes this harder, of course: different groups aren't always listening to each other. But just dismissing the theology of the body by saying "Catholics have to believe this" surely will not help Protestants come to a fuller theological understanding of this issue.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: So it is established that it is possible to faithfully "interfere with God's design"? Responsible stewardship can include manipulating or actively managing creation as God designed it?


I think ultimately the problem I have communicating about this is that I simply don't see NFP use as interfering with God's design in the same way that birth control does. Partly, this is because I don't think it is God's will for every couple to have children all the time, or for every couple to have children 1/3 of the time. My point is that God designed the human body such that one could choose not to have children, while still having intercourse regularly, without changing the body or the nature of the sexual act. The "problem" of changed behavior doesn't seem to me to be a problem if you assume that God designed people to be able to choose to abstain at some times. I realize this doesn't really answer your objection, but I don't think I can give a more satisfactory answer than that.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:Why is it considered "responsible stewardship" to "interfere with God's design" regarding the relationship as a whole but considered [various negative things] to do the same with the biological realities of the sexual act? It is acceptable to in effect sterilize the sexual relationship until deemed convenient but it is unacceptable to sterilize the sexual act. We assume that God expects us to be good stewards of the sexual relationship by changing the degree of fertility in the relationship, but we assume that He holds the opposite opinion regarding the same concerning the sexual act? As a non-RC BCP-user, I'm still not convinced of the rationale for this. If I'm just being blind to a good explanation, please show me how.


I'm not sure that I can give you any explanation that I already haven't given. I think we are just seeing things differently here. (Or, to use your language, I may being blind to the weight of some of your objections. Except that you can't see weight. . . .) The difference is that with NFP you make the relationship as a whole sterile by using the sterile "patches" that God already put in place. With other methods of birth control, you yourself are generating the sterility. I do see this as fundamentally different. It is true that both mean that the relationship as a whole is "sterile" (at least temporarily) but they are completely different approaches. So it seems to me, anyway, but it may not seem so to you.

As for why you can't sterilize the act even if it is permissive to have a sexual relationship that doesn't result in conception, I think a point someone raised in the masturbation thread is actually useful here. So once again (and I hope I don't offend anyone-- I know this is rhetorically a frowned upon move) I'm going to take someone's quote out of context to make a point.

BoG wrote:Well, whether Onan "got his release" [mod edit] through the enterprise -- or not -- you can read it either way into the story. But what he did do is that, when his father commanded him to perform his duty of levirate marriage, he put on the appearance of obeying. The text narrates it as "whenever" he lay with her (NIV) , so he was regularly making a show of doing his duty. Only he didn't do it, actually.

This shenanigan strikes me as perfectly analogous to Ananias and Sapphira, wherein they represented themselves as having made a generous donation, whereas they actually kept back a part for themselves. It was a lie to the Holy Spirit that was God's displeasure. I sort of think this might actually be what God was most displeased about with Onan. Consider that in Deuteronomy where the Mosaic law is elaborated, the man who refuses to do his levirate duty is not put to death, merely disgraced. It was an option, just not an honorable one. I suspect it was Onan's disingenuousness that was the real breaking point.


The reason I'm quoting this is that it gets to the heart of the Catholic emphasis on the sexual act. Recall that for us, sexual intercourse is the renewal of the marriage covenant between husband and wife. As many Catholic writers point out, it's the reaffirmation of a couple's wedding vows. Each sexual act, thus, is supposed to speak of loving unity (it's not enough to say that a marriage as a whole is loving or unitive, but that sex only has to be loving sometimes), fidelity (each sexual act must be with YOUR spouse, not another, and not while you're thinking of another) and openness to life. The sexual act speaks of all these things naturally. They are all inherent components of sex, though of course a couple might be emphasizing one more than another. A couple who is trying to conceive their first baby may be thinking a lot more about "openness to life" than about unity or fidelity, but if what they are doing is somehow unloving to each other or unfaithful (if a husband thinks of another woman in order to arouse himself so they can conceive, for instance!) then that particular act is sinful, even if their marriage relationship as a whole is otherwise oriented towards loving unity, fidelity, and openness to life.

When a couple uses a condom, they SEEM to be affirming their desire to renew their marriage covenant, but in fact they are not. Since sexual intercourse is naturally oriented towards conception, it seems that by undertaking it, they are affirming openness to life, but they aren't. They are saying "I do" to loving unity, and fidelity, but not to openness to life, because they are taking action that prevents life from forming. They are being "disingenius" the way Onan and Sapphira and Ananias were, in that they SEEM to be doing something --achieving one-flesh unity that is faithful, loving, and potentially procreative-- but they are holding back. And in the case of condom use, they are holding back more than the actual procreation; they are also holding back part of the unity, because there isn't the full degree of literal, physical, one-flesh unity that there is when no barrier is present.

Is a couple who uses NFP "disingenious" in the same way? No, because when they know that conception is likely, they don't make a pretense of renewing their covenant: they refrain. To refer back to the passage in Acts mentioned above, most scripture scholars agree it would have been moral for Ananias and Sapphira to keep as much of their fortune as they wanted if they had been clear about it: it was the fact that they made it appear that they were giving all the money to the church that made their action sinful. They wait to renew their marriage covenant until such time as it is naturally unlikely that they will conceive; and this is their right. When they DO make love, they are not holding anything back. The only thing that prevents conception from taking place on the occasions when they do make love is God's design of female periodic infertility. God is the one who makes the woman biologicaly infertile at that time. The couple merely refrain from renewing their marriage covenant until these times; they don't alter the sexual act such that it prevents each act from being a complete renewal of their covenant.

I know this probably isn't convincing to you, but to better explain where NFP users see a distinction, I'll give an anology that I've read elsewhere (I think Fr. William May first used it). The sexual act is an invitation: it's an invitation for God to bless a couple with pleasure, with unity, and with new life. Every time a couple has intercourse, they send out an invitation to God for all of these things. It's like people sending out a wedding invitation. But as I know from my own wedding, there are a limited number of people who you can fit into a reception hall, so this means there are some people you may not be able to invite. On the other hand, there are always some friends and relatives who you know are unable to come because of distance or other obligations. It isn't wrong to invite those friends even though you know they can't come. These people who are automatic "refuses" mean that the number of invitations you send out may be greater than the number of guests you can handle. There still might be people who you can't invite becaause of lack of room, though, and likewise, if you really can't afford to invite them, it isn't wrong to refrain from sending them an invitation. But it would be rude to send them an invitation and scrawl "please don't come, we don't actually want you!" on the bottom of the envelope!

Likewise, a couple using NFP to chart fertility knows that there are some times when a sexual act would be an invitation sent out to someone who simply can't come. So they may have sex more often than they want to conceive (just as couple may invite more guests than they can actual handle) KNOWING that those times are times when the invitation won't be responded to. Likewise, when they think it likely that an invitation would be responded to with conception, but they simply can't have a child at that time, they may refrain from sex, as one might refrain from inviting an old college friend for whom there simply isn't room. What they DON'T due is send out an apparent invitation --sex during a time when conception is likely-- but cancel it out by using a condom. That would be like sending out a wedding invitation but telling the friend "we don't actually WANT you to come." Nor do they change their body so that conception is impossible at all times (as hormonal methods do); that would be like writing "please don't come to our wedding" at the bottom of every invitation.

And that is why the individual actions matter even if a couple has valid reason for making their sexual relationship as a whole unprocreative. Again, I don't expect it to be convincing to you, but that is how I would see it.

Protestants may argue that even if a sexual relationship as a whole must be open to life, there's no reason why each sexual act has to be done in such a way that the act doesn't impede possible conception. But from a Catholic perspective, Protestants (and ABC-using Catholics) seem inconsistent in what they say the sexual act is supposed to "speak." They affirm that every sexual act must be faithful and that every sexual act should be loving (adultery or marital rape "just once" isn't okay), but they seem to make a special distinction for openness to life and say that a couple can choose to close some of their sexual acts off from the possibility of conception by altering them (or altering the man or woman's body). In contrast, a couple who has sex when a wife is infertile still "speaks" of the possiblity of life: it is just that conception is an unlikely result at that time. The rest of the time, they refrain from "speaking" of their love in a sexual way; to do so is better morally than speaking of it but lying about part of it. Silence is better than a lie. . . . The analogy above was meant to show why I see that as different from altering the sexual act to MAKE conception impossible.

Later in your post, you asked:

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: Thus, while family planning might be necessary in order to maintain responsible stewardship, ABC isn't.
So it is a matter of necessity? Our active stewardship ? our interference with God's design ? is only moral insofar as it is necessary?


Yes, actively avoiding children is only moral when there are valid and important reasons. In otherwords, only when responsible stewardship demands that we refrain from children is it permissable to do so. For some couples, the "FQ" approach (having sex and just accepting children when they come naturally) might be the moral one.


Some of your other objections I am going to answer in a subsequent posts or posts.

TheMouse

More on the "mechanism", etc.

Postby TheMouse » Fri Nov 05, 2004 12:56 pm

Please note that I am quoting some of your points out of order in order to try to organize this a bit more logically. Other points about tradition, scripture, etc. will be addressed in a different reply.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: ?only abstinence is a mechanism that doesn't alter the body or alter the sexual act itself. Furthermore, abstinence is the only case where on is NOT taking a positive action to alter the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act itself.
But, it very much alters the U&P aspects as they concern the marriage relationship? Not only in that they do not reflect God's biological procreative design (degree of fertility) but also in that when practiced consistently there are serious concerns regarding the affect on the unitive aspect of the relationship. When practiced, NFP consistently denies the wife sex when she is designed by God to physically desire it the most.


First of all, not all women desire sex most during the time of ovulation. There are a large number who experience their greatest desire during their period, as well, and some who don't notice a real difference. But ultimately, this seems to be beside the point we're discussing. All methods of birth control have their downside: hormonal methods may lower a woman's desire, condoms and diaphragms can sometimes interfere with pleasure, and so on. If we had established that all mechanisms of preventing birth were equally moral in general, then for specific couples the decision of which to use might depend on which method interfered least with their health and pleasure. But we haven't established that all methods are equally moral to use! It is true that the disadvantages and advantages of each method are important, but they don't cancel out other moral issues. To give a different example: couples who believe that the pill is potentitally abortificaent and who feel this makes its use immoral will not use it even if it seems the best choice for their situation.

Since you brought up this point, though, let me say this. It is true that many women find NFP use to be frustrating. But many also report that they are more aware of their desire while using NFP than they were when were using other methods. For instance, many women report that having to go without sex for about 1 1/2 weeks when they really want it makes them appreciate it much more when they are infertile again. Others report that they enjoy "the honeymoon effect" of a time of courtship and anticipation which is followed by a time of sexual fulfillment. For many women, these "side effects" outweigh the frustration of abstinence, even if they have to abstain at a time when they most desire sex. Statistically, the people who report the most satisfaction with NFP are those who first tried other methods of birth control and switched to NFP. This would seem to indicate that most couples who compare NFP to other methods find its various disadvantages to be less than the disadvantages of other methods; or else they find its advantages to outweigh its disadvantages. I don't pretend that this proves that NFP is more moral than other birth control methods --I think that is way too subjective of a criterion-- but I think it's an important point.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: All it involves is an awareness of when a woman is fertile, and a desire to avoid using the time when conception is most likely. It doesn't damage potential fertility: it doesn't prevent an egg from being released, or prevent sperm from entering a woman's body. It just refrains from sex during the most fertile time. Use of reason suggests that NFP is less "invasive" or biologically disruptive than any of the other methods.
So the morality of a method is determined by whether or not it alters the function of the human body? Or the degree to which it disrupts the biological realities God created? I'm fishing for criteria here.


Since we're looking at this issue through the frame of "the language of the body", the morality of a method depends on what that method speaks. But part of determining what a specific mechanism speaks is how that mechanism interferes with biological function. So I guess the basic answer to your question is "yes." How the mechanism works has a lot to do with what it speaks.


Snuggle Muffin wrote:This seems to reveal a great respect for God?s biological design ? so much so that we shouldn't tamper with it unless correcting harm (like disease).


What kind of major "tampering" with the human body other than correcting harm --disease, birth defects, the results of accidents-- WOULD you consider moral? In general, the purpose of medical intervention is to correct something that is wrong-- so yes, tampering with the body that isn't being done to correct a wrong is problematic, particularly if it may have serious physical, emotional, or spiritual consequences.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:.. and of course I'd say that NFP is 'artificially' creating quite a bit of infertile space.


I think you must be using the phrase "creating infertile space" quite differently from me. Those who use NFP to avoid simply make use of the infertile space that is already there. They may be creating a larger time in their life when conception doesn't occur (which may be what you're referring to) but they don't change their bodies so that conception is possible a smaller percentage of the time (which is what I was referring to).

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: NFP makes use of a natural separation; other forms of birth control create one.
I'd call this an insignificant distinction ? NFP and BCPs both "make use" of God's 'natural' design, creating a greater degree of infertility than is naturally present in that design.


I've tried to show my reasons for not thinking the distinction is insignificant elsehwere, in the previous post. For clarification, I would say that I think I am using the word "infertile" differently than you are. You are using it to mean overall times when a couple doesn't have children. I use it to mean times or actions where conception is biologically not possible, either because of God's action (natural infertile times) or man's action (use of drugs or devices). My argument has been that makign use of naturally infertile times is permissable but that creating such infertile times isn't. Your use of the word fertile might actually be more medically accurate-- as someone on the NFP board I'm on pointed out recently, the word "fecund" more accurately describes what NFP calls "fertile." I don't know if that helps, though.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: And while ABC rejects fertility at the level of the sexual act, NFP doesn't.
So then it is also a matter of "not rejecting fertility," but only concerning selective, narrowly focused aspects of the marriage relationship like the sexual act itself and not the marriage relationship as a whole, even though that relationship is supposed to be representative/incarnational of God's relationship with His people? I'm not trying to be combative here; this is just the honest perspective of a partially-informed non-RC BCP-user.


Yes and no. The fertility of the overall marriage relationship is still important: couples are supposed to be open to having children. As I said in previous posts, the overall openness to life IS important. It's just that we do think that there are times when God may not want a couple to have children, and we think that it is licit for a couple to still enjoy the other benefits of intercourse by making use of the infertile periods in God's design. I don't think this is answering your objection, though.

TheMouse

Theology: scripture, tradition, etc.

Postby TheMouse » Fri Nov 05, 2004 1:38 pm

I'm lumping together a number of points from a single post so that I can deal with them all here; these issues all seemed more related to the Bible, tradition, or church authority. Your quotes may not be in order!

I think there's only one post of yours that I haven't replied to; I'll get to that later, either later today or later this weekend. (Just so you know that if it seems like I'm ignoring a lot, more is coming!)

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:The Christian tradition has maintained for centuries that human beings aren't supposed to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality.
The Christian tradition(s) have maintained for centuries many things that are highly questionable and downright opposed to the true content of the faith. Tradition deserves more weight than many non-RCs give it, but it is never above question. The claims of tradition should also stand or fall on their own - this is what I am trying to discover about NFP.


Part of our disagreement may be about how much "weight" should be given to tradition, but I don't think that authority is the only issue here. You are right that Christianity in the past has taught things that were wrong. But that doesn't mean that we can automatically assume that the teaching on birth control is one such teaching. I don't think that you, personally, are assuming that, but it sometimes feels to me that other Protestants do. They just assume that the reformers who spoke out against contraception were unenlightened or misguided, and that "we" know better now. In my opinion, this isn't how we are supposed to deal with the Christian tradition. It seems to me that if Christians have been very clear about teaching X throughout most of the history of Christianity, then the burden of proof is on those who challenge X. It is their job to offer convincing proof why X is wrong. In most discussion of contraception, I don't hear such arguments being presented by those who challenge the historic condemnation of contraception. Rather, condemnation of contraception is usually describe only in FQ terms, and that is what is countered. Or, a simplistic answer is given: "The bible doesn't mention birth control, so it is up to the individual conscience of a Christian." I think something more theologically meaty is needed to deal with the objections not just of 20th century Catholic theology but with the objections of people like John Calvin, whose own theological beliefs were systematically articulated. I know that not everyone loves systematic theology, but a systematic objection to artificial contraception requires a more thoughtful response than the one I see in Protestant books about sex.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: I still find this to be inconsistent. This tempts me to speculate things like this (to which I will probably never know an answer): does NFP really reveal a deep respect for God?s design ? for God?s gift of procreation ? or does it reveal a deep respect for traditional church anti-bc teaching masquerading as respect for God?s design? I can?t make this an accusation b/c I don?t know ? I just bring it up to be transparent about what is going through my head.


This is a fair enough question. All I can do is point to the many people who use NFP who aren't Catholic. Some of them do so out of a desire to live more naturally; they may not even be Christian but they have an idea of respecting how their body works which is similar to the desire to respect God's design. (Check out Feminists Against the Pill, for instance.) Some of them start using it because they are opposed to hormonal methods, don't care for condoms, and use NFP rather than FAM mainly because it is more effective than FAM, and then discover that it is preferable to them for other reasons. They don't all opt for it out of respect for church teaching. HOWEVER, I would ask: what's wrong with respect for traditional church teaching? There may be something wrong with taking a traditional teaching without examining it, but I can assure you that most supporters of NFP have examined the issue and the reasons for it. In most cases of couples who use NFP, I think both factors are at work. Some may be more at work in one case, some in another. In the case of the theology of the body, again, I think both factors are at work underpinning the project.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Many of us (well, me at least) are not yet sure if RCC loyalty is really the ultimate deciding influence maintaining NFP and not the logical coherence of its position.


I'm addressing this here because it is related to the point I addressed above. What I find problematic about this idea is the obvious fact that there are people who accept NFP-only theology and find it coherent without accepting the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. There are Protestant NFP users, Eastern Orthodox NFP users, even Mormon NFP users for whom the "NFP-only" theology seems clear even though they don't agree with the Catholic church on other issues. Now, the Eastern Orthodox Christians may have a loyalty to Christian tradition that's similar to Catholicism, but they aren't bound by documents like _Humanea Vitae_; nor do their own churches have a clear teaching on contraception (as far as I know), so Eastern Orthodox Christians who do agree with NFP-only seem to have different motives or reasons than mere loyalty.

It's true that many NFP users have come to accept the NFP position because of loyalty to the Catholic Church, but there are also people who come to accept the Catholic Church because of NFP! I have a friend who first decided on his own that contraception was immoral as well as abortion, and became disgusted with Protestant churches because they didn't see this. He began to investigate Catholic theology largely because he knew it was one of the few (or the only) religious bodies that consistently opposed contraception. In his case, and the case of others, it is clearly not loyalty to the Catholic Church that makes the NFP-only system seem coherent.

If your overall concern is with Catholic theology and whether it supports NFP only out of loyalty to past teaching, that is more difficult to answer. There ARE Catholic theologians who try to argue that artificial contraception should be permissable. Those theologians who do choose to back the Church teaching are doing so for many reasons-- and simple loyalty to past teaching doesn't seem to be the only reason they give.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: However, I honestly have not heard good justifications for using contraception that often.
? probably because (from the BCP-user perspective) FQ is the only true non-contraceptive challenge to BCPs, and as far as I know they have not developed a very robust theological or biblical challenge to BCP-use.


Perhaps I should have rephrased it as "artificial contraception." In event, I think I've addressed this concern elsewhere.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: Re: Onan ? I know you didn't bring him up as a major pillar of NFP or anything. I just wanted to underline the virtual uselessness of bringing Onan into NFP/BCP discussions. As you indicated, his "primary problem" (I'll go ahead and say, "the sin for which he was judged" ? I realize NFP folk often hesitate to close the possibility that Onan might have also been condemned for contraceptive-related reasons) was that "he wasn't fulfilling the command to raise up an heir for his brother."


Perhaps, but check out Deuteronomy 25:5-10:

Laws Concerning Levirate Marriage

5"If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. 6And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. 7 And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.' 8Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, 'I do not wish to take her,' 9 then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.' 10And the name of his house[1] shall be called in Israel, 'The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.'

(ESV)

If Onan had simply refused to marry his brother's wife, he would have been subject to punishment, but it would have been a punishment of public humiliation, not death! God killed him, it appears, because he APPEARED to take his brother's wife for the purpose of raising up offspring but acted to prevent conception every time he had sex with her. Thus, it doesn't appear to be irrelevant to the issue of contraception. What made Onan subject to death rather than mere ridicule may have been that, as BoG pointed out in the masturbation thread, he put forth a semblence of compliance with the law while withholding something. As I pointed out in a previous post, NFP-only users would see contracepted sex as doing the same thing: APPEARING to speak of marital love, but withholding fertility. That's how it could be relevent.

However, I won't press the point. My main reason for bringing it up was to show that this was the only example in the Bible of someone altering the sexual act to prevent conception and that it was inconclusive. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is irrelevant to the discussion, I do think it is simplistic of NFP-only users to take this as clear proof that artifiical methods of birth control are wrong. While Onan's withdrawal may have magnified his sin, even if he had refused to marry the woman at all, he would still have been doing wrong-- he just presumably wouldn't have been struck down. (When Judah refused to give Tamar to his son, God didn't kill him, even though it was --in your reading of Onan's case-- the same basic sin as Onan's.)



Snuggle Muffin wrote: Re: 1 Corinthians 7 - I've let this passage alone b/c my primary objections to NFP's challenge aren't founded on (or intended to be) a counter-attack that relies on a proof-text trump card or an interpretational technicality. It may come up later (I doubt it); I'm willing to leave it alone? it is not an unspoken objection secretly fueling my other ones. My objections should stand or fall on their own, as should NFP's challenge.


Okay, that seems reasonable enough. I brought it up because I have heard it from other Protestants, and it doesn't seem to do respect to the context to which Paul was speaking. Then again, a simplistic application of it in FAVOR of NFP is also not doing justice to that context. We don't know how Paul would have viewed abstinence for the purpose of avoiding children. All we know from this text is that abstinence is allowed for at least some purposes (prayer and fasting), but only for a time.

TheMouse

Postby TheMouse » Fri Nov 05, 2004 3:04 pm

This is the last of my replies in this "round," I hope.

I did have one footnote to make to my post about tradition, though. As I said, I feel that when someone challenges a longstanding Christian doctrine,the burden of prove falls on the challenger. One challenge to the Christian teaching that contraception is immoral which you've offered is that the traditional teaching was based on faulty dualistic thinking. However, I don't know that this by itself is entirely adequate as a challenge: it can involve the genetic fallacy. Just because the source of an idea is faulty doesn't mean that the teaching itself is always wrong. Anti-ABC people sometimes commit the same fallacy when challenging Planned Parenthood. They point out that one of Margaret Sanger's motivations for encouraging birth control was that she was prejudiced against immigrants and some other ethnic/class groups and wanted them to have fewer children. Anti-BC people will bring up this point as if, by itself, it proves that all of Planned Parenthood's goals are faulty. In reality, of course, it's possible for Sanger to have had admirable ideas about making birth control legal and available despite having immoral reasons for those ideals. Likewise, I would argue, just arguing that the Church fathers were against contraception because they were dualistic wouldn't, in itself, prove that all forms of contraception were moral. It is possible that some traditional teachings about sexuality have value despite the bad origins. More is required to justify rejecting the tradition than simply proving that some of the motives for the doctrine may have been wrong.


Snuggle Muffin wrote: I am saying that according to the criteria that NFP applies to respecting fertility, it logically follows that Christians would respect God?s biological design and not abuse our God-given abilities by manipulating it. Of course this wouldn?t be applied in a Pharisaical calculating of days and ejaculations, but it would certainly rule out deliberate drastic changes, like raising the infertility of the marriage from 33% of the time to 99.9% of the time. The question, ?What does this speak?? features so prominently at the level of the sacramental sexual act itself, I think we should also apply it to the incarnational marriage relationship in general.


Yes, it is important to consider what the decision to make a marriage temporarily or even permanently infertile speaks. The Catholic Church tries to emphasize this. Couple are supposed to be pray about their decision whether or not to have children, and they are only supposed to avoid conception if they have serious reasons for doing so: in other words, only if they have reason for believing that avoiding children would "speak" more lovingly than trying to conceive or "leaving it up to God."

In an earlier post, I've tried to indicate why "what does this speak?" is so important at the level of the act. I don't think I have an answer to this objection that will satisfy you. Rather, all I can say is that in same cases, it is necessary to render a marriage infertile (in the sense of not producing children) but that necessity alone doesn't mean that it is permissible to render the sexual act infertile by changing it. A woman who knew that a single pregnancy could kill her (or, render her emotionally unstable) might reasonably decide to refrain from marriage, on the grounds that any form of BC can fail. Would she be sinning by refraining from sex all of her life in order to avoid a pregnancy she couldn't handle? If not, then why would a couple who was married be sinning by refraining from sex when they knew they were likely to conceive?


Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: . . .implicit in my argument has been the assumption that in designing a fertility cycle with discernable times of infertility and fertility, God intended for us to have the capacity for controlling our fertility by deciding when to have intercourse.
And of course I agree. This has been my position all along ? where we disagree is the means by which we may control our fertility. I?m saying that NFP is inconsistent in claiming that changing biologically internal factors in order to control fertility is inherently speaking disrespect and therefore sinful, while changing biologically external factors (behaviour) in order to control fertility is permissible (or 'relationally internal factors').


Obviously, I don't see this as inconsistent. Part of my point is that the means of controlling fertility which NFP uses are BUILT INTO THE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM in a way that artificial methods are not. Thus, NFP is less intrusive, less biologically disruptive. An additional point has been that we know that, biblically, abstinence is moral in at least some cases-- we don't know that any other methods are moral. Finally, the act of sex speaks something different when it has been changed. Using NFP allows each sexual act to speak what it is meant to speak: it just means refraining from speaking that way during the times conception is most likely. But since I have said this before, I realize this doesn't meet your objections.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:. . .but of course I'd argue that that would open up the door for including BCPs as a means of stewardship).
And of course, I would argue that there was a difference between following discernable signs left by God's design and using drugs to change that design. Basically, I see a major difference between making conscious decisions about when to have intercourse based on natural indications of one's probably fertility and changing one's probable fertility by taking a drug that suppressed a natural function (ovulation). This may seem to you to be a difference in DEGREE of manipulation rather than kind of manipulation, but would you claim that differences of degree are never morally significant?
Is that question relevant here? The NFP stuff I?ve read claims that it is a more effective bc than BCPs?


Clarification: by difference of degree I didn't mean degree of effectiveness. Actually, the statistics I've read show NFP to be about as effective as birth control pills, or somewhat less effective; I haven't seen anything that showed it to be more effective. It is more effective than barrier methods. My point, though, was that it was manipulating the sexual act or the human body to a different degree, not that it was less manipulative with regard to the chance that an unexpected conception would arise. I think that overall you are more concerned with that issue than I am; I'm not sure why. The result is that I feel that you are focusing on something that is simply not that important, and you probably feel that I am missing your point. The point is not which method means that a couple is more likely to come closest to their biological capacity for having children, but which method speaks most respectfully of all the purposes of sexual intercourse.

Snuggle Muffin wrote: However, in neither case to I actually think we?re talking about mutilation or destruction of identity; what NFP and BCPs do to the fertility of a marriage (when used properly, in faithful stewardship) is more akin to shaving one?s legs or face than it is to chopping off ones ears. Not the same, of course ? altering hormones in someone?s body is more drastic than external cosmetic alterations, but closer to that than mutilation, esp. regarding identity.


I think you're missing my point. My point is that what makes, say, BCP's or "tying tubes" mutilation is that it prevents a human body from functioning as it is meant to. NFP does not do this. It does prevent a natural function (conception) from occuring but it does so while respecting normal biological function. It is precisely because a woman's ability to ovulate is good (even holy) that is wrong to change her hormones so that she doesn't ovulate. It is precisely because a man is supposed to produce sperm and release them in an orgasm that a vascectomy is disrespectful of the body. The difference between internal and behavioral changes again seems to come down to the difference between refraining from something good and changing something so that it no longer has that good thing. Potential fertility is still there in a woman who uses NFP to avoid. It is gone in a woman using hormonal contraceptives. Hence, hormonal contraceptives seem much more like mutilation to me. Basically, what I am saying is that even if you must avoid children, you can do so while stilll letting every sexual act "speak" as it was meant to, without altering your body. What you seem to be saying is that since it is okay to alter the results of marital sexuality as a whole, it must necessarily be moral to alter each individual action. How does that follow?


Snuggle Muffin wrote:And of course, our discussion here is directed more to BCPs than barriers. Does NFP differentiate between BCPs and barriers, condemning them each separately for different reasons? Or are they both condemned for the same reasons?


Both hormonal methods and barriers are condemned for the same reason: because they involve a sexual act that speaks of love, and faithfulness, but isn't open to life. There are additional objections to each of them, though: the objection to hormonal methods being that it seems that they can cause abortions (debatable, I know) and that they are interfering with the healthy function of the body, which is one I've been focusing on. An additional objection to barriers is that they prevent a true one-flesh unity. However, the central objection --that such methods send out an "invitation" which is canceled-- is the same.


Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:
Snuggle Muffin wrote:Perhaps this bleeds into the other post, about deciding what an action speaks, and whether that meaning is inherent or not. We may simply be each attributing a different relative meaning to the same act, while believing that the meanings are inherent.
This may be the case. And it may be that we simply won't agree on what an action inherently speaks.
I suppose if we had criteria for determining what actions speak, which we could then evaluate? Why does NFP claim that BCPs inherently speak the various sinful things of which it is accused?


I've tried to deal with the "why does NFP claim that BCPs inherently speak" question through the "invitation" analogy and the Ananias/Sapphira comparison, and through the even earlier post I made going through the mechanism of each method and discussing what it "speaks." I don't know that I have any other answer for you than what I've given, though.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote:But if I may borrow someone else's expression, I think that what Titanium said on the "BCP and. . ." thread aptly explains what I think about barrier methods:. . . .
And I would totally agree with him/her, especially if condoms have been previously associated with sinful sexual activity. That attributes all kinds of sinful, real meaning to using condemns, and I would not expect a person in such a state to violate their conscience and use condemns. It would be sinful for them to do so. Symbols only carry the meanings attributed to them. If God attributes a meaning, then I guess that would make the meaning inherent. But we could play a lot with symbolism ? like what it ?symbolizes? that God designed millions of sperm to die, eggs to get flushed, wet dreams, or NFP's abstinence in marriage, etc. Is it inherently wrong for sex to be incapable of procreation? Since it?s not, does a latex barrier (rather than a menstrual barrier, or abstinence) inherently, absolutely, have to speak something against God?.


I could argue that it's not just a symbol: a condom LITERALLY makes a barrier between the man and woman that wouldn't "naturally" be there. There isn't the same level of physical contact. What one could question is whether that literal lack of contact was enough to disrupt the actual unity between man and wife that sex symbolizes. The difference between the condom use and abstinence is that the couple who chooses to use a condom chooses to have sex while denying part of what the act is meant to speak; the couple who abstains chooses to speak their love in other ways entirely.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: You've got me there, sort of. I have other objections to FAM (see previous discussion of barrier methods), but I freely admit that many of the benefits I've described above are inherent in charting rather than in the theology of NFP. Furthermore, I honestly think that only NFP and FAM can claim to be authentic FAMILY PLANNING methods rather than merely contraception, because they are the only methods that can "work both ways" and help a couple conceive as well as avoid.
I?ll admit that I?m a bit surprised here. I would expect NFP to condemn FAM (barriers) for the same moral/theological reasons it condemns BCPs (I?m leaving the health debate aside right now). Sure, there?s more in common between NFP and FAM, but FAM removes the moral claims from NFP.


Sorry; I was unclear here. I do think that FAM is morally wrong, just as using condoms all the time is morally wrong. But for other reasons --emotional, physical, etc.-- using FAM seems (leaving aside morality) better than using BCPs or using barriers all the time. Couples who use FAM have the health benefits of NFP, and they at least get to experience non-barrier intercourse sometimes, so they are in various ways they may be "better off" than other couples, but that doesn't make what they are doing right. I didn't mean to indicate moral approval of FAM, just to admit that it had some of the same health benefits and so on of NFP.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:
TheMouse wrote: I guess the real question is whether God's design means that woman is supposed to be POTENTIALLY fertile 1/3 of the time, or whether He actually intends that 1/3 of all acts of intercourse should occur while a woman is fertile. See my points above.
I would think that if NFP has somehow managed to decipher what God specifically intends regarding fertility accurately enough to conclude that BCPs and barriers inherently speak against God, then surely NFP has the wherewithal to conclude decisively regarding the above problem.


Well, yes. I guess what I mean is that the problem is one for you, not for me. ;-) To put it less flippantly, the answer to the problem probably determines whether one supports NFP or the FQ position or whether one rejects both. The NFP answer, and my answer, should be obvious: I don't think God intends for EVERY couple that 1/3 of all sexual acts occur while a woman is biologically fertile, because he gave us the free will to decide when to have sex, and he permits us to abstain from intercourse for a time within marriage. I do think, however, he intends for women to ovulate, and for sperm to be ejaulated into the vagina. These both seem to be inherently written into the sexual act. I don't see justification for changing those factors in either scripture or tradition, so I don't see theological justification to use artificial contraception.

Snuggle Muffin wrote:Two things not clear to me yet (which would greatly help me understand, I think):
(1) The criteria for determining what our beings/actions speak (and how we differentiate between attributed and inherent meanings)
(2) Why controlling fertility externally is OK but internally it?s sinful. It seems that our ?external? controls (abstinence) are really internal as far as the marriage is concerned. When the response is ?b/c of what such actions inherently speak,? then I?m back to #1 ? why do they speak that, and how do we determine what they speak, and are we consistent in asking that question in all aspects of the marriage relationship that concern fertility?


I've tried to address these points in this round of posts. I realize it probably won't answer you objections fully, but at this point, I don't know that there's much more that I can say. If I've misunderstood something you said, then please do let me know, or if something I'm saying doesn't make sense, I can try to clarify.

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Postby Snuggle Muffin » Fri Nov 26, 2004 5:22 pm

Here it is finally… I hope these posts give you something to read that you haven't heard from me already. Thanks. - SM

General response

I agree that it is possible for a couple to render their marriage infertile and still be "open to life," and I agree that the means by which a couple chooses to do that could have theological/moral significance. I am not convinced the fine distinctions by which NFP tries to show itself superior to BCPs and FAM are ultimately theologically/morally relevant, and I am not convinced that these distinctions exonerate NFP from the theological/moral charges it lays against BCPs and barriers. I think I understand your rationale for why NFP can claim consistency despite allowing sterilization of the marriage relationship but not the sexual act (in response to some of my previous objections). I still don't buy it (as you predicted) – I think some of the added moral/theological claims inherent in NFP make it less agile than BCPs/ and FAM and ultimately the method is condemned by its own rationale (along with BCPs and FAM), but I think (hope) I've nuanced my response significantly enough that I'm not just repeating myself. We may pretty much be at an impasse now, unless one of us can think up a new way to articulate what we're trying to say, or some other people with fresher perspectives come in. Anyway, I tried to make sure these posts are worth your while, and I certainly appreciate the time you've spent explaining the NFP view to me.

I've tried to cut down on the repetition and peripheral stuff (though there is one or two small annoying recurring points that I just couldn't seem to get rid of), so I cut out a lot (Onan, the 'protestant' theology is underdeveloped charge, the 'protestant theology lacks concensus' charge, who has burden of proof, role and weight of tradition, the historical realities surrounding that 'very clear' tradition, genetic fallacy, why non-RC's might choose NFP, determining what an action inherently/attributively speaks, assuming God's assumptions, etc.). If I've not posted on anything that you feel is important, then please ask, as I have most of that stuff written already.

If NFP dropped the lines of argument like "more open to life," "renewing the marriage covenant," the invitation analogies, etc., and just stuck with "respect the body/don't mess with people's biology" it might have a potentially stronger case, albeit harder to sell to non-RC's with most of the profound/nice-sounding rhetoric removed. The rationale that exonerates the infertility of the NFP marriage relationship equally applies to BCPs and FAM (it's only temporary, pregnancy still a possibility, etc.), and the rationale for condemning the presence of BCPs/barriers in the sexual act (renewing the marriage covenant, what does it speak?, disrespect, rejection of spouse, etc.) make it difficult for NFP to justify deliberately engaging in exclusively infertile sex. This voids the "open to life" and "renewing (the RC view of) the marriage covenant" arguments, thus negating the bulk of NFP's theological superiority. I see a bigger difference between BCPs and NFP/FAM in that BCPs change a person's biology in a more active way than NFP/FAM, but if an argument is going to made around that distinction it will be quite difficult to 'draw the line' between moral active biological adjustment and immoral active biological adjustment (like pro-choice folks trying to explain when a person becomes a person. 'Correcting something wrong' won't cut it because deciding what is and isn't medically necessary is very difficult, and quite a bit of rhetorical finesse would be required to exonerate aesthetic changes that we all make (from make-up to shaving to scar tissue removal, etc.)). And of course, none of this would apply to barriers (i.e. FAM), which are now shown to be more closely related to NFP (physically keeping semen out of the vagina) than BCPs. Disingenuous? No, because FAMers are not making RC theological claims necessitating the symbolic renewal of every aspect of the marriage covenant in every sexual act and then only giving the appearance of doing so (like NFP). If any means is going to be deemed disingenuous, it seems to me that it should be NFP, because NFP makes theological claims that it only appears to fulfill in each sexual act. In a photograph of NFP sex it would appear that all aspects of the marriage covenant are symbolically present because semen is entering the vagina, but what you can't tell from the photograph is that the situation is rigged beforehand to give a procreative impression (like one might accuse BCPs). The semen in the vagina no longer truly carries the symbolic, theological significance when deliberate measures have been taken to ensure the sterility of the sexual act; it becomes an empty symbol – deceptive and disingenuous. My next posts unpack some of this (I hope).

TheMouse wrote:I don't think God intends for EVERY couple that 1/3 of all sexual acts occur while a woman is biologically fertile,
Nor do I, of course
TheMouse wrote: because he gave us the free will to decide when to have sex,
… and do a whole lot of other things. I find the rationale for why BCPs and FAM fall outside the category of 'good use of free will' lacking…
theMouse wrote:and he permits us to abstain from intercourse for a time within marriage. I do think, however, he intends for women to ovulate, and for sperm to be ejaulated into the vagina. These both seem to be inherently written into the sexual act.
Sure, I agree. But there's a huge difference between saying that and saying what NFP adds to it: "sperm can only be deliberately ejaculated inside the vagina or else it's sinful." "Women cannot do things to affect their ovulation without sinning."
TheMouse wrote:I don't see justification for changing those factors in either scripture or tradition, so I don't see theological justification to use artificial contraception.
But I don't see the justification in Scripture or tradition (make that 'good' justification) for making those judgements in the first place. Why should BCPs or FAM have to do anything but understand, evaluate, and respond to the charges brought against them by NFP? The silence of Scripture is not a substantial charge, and the tradition has little credibility when it comes to judging which sexual acts are and are not permissible - at least to the point of needed re-evaluation. Neither do I see compelling rationale that distinguishes NFP from BCPs and FAM in a theologically/morally significant way. That's all I'll write here, since I'll hit these areas later.
"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 » Fri Nov 26, 2004 5:27 pm

Who's causing the sterility?

TheMouse wrote:The difference is that with NFP you make the relationship as a whole sterile by using the sterile "patches" that God already put in place. With other methods of birth control, you yourself are generating the sterility.
So, BCPs inherently speak against God because they are an attempt to achieve a certain end by relying on ourselves when we should be relying on God (by using the means He has provided and not 'our own')? The problem with BCPs/barriers is that we are creating sterility rather than God – Who is the only One with the authority to cause or authorize sterility?

(You can guess where this is going.) I think your statement above shows that NFP generates sterility just as actively as BCPs and barriers do (as it concerns theology/morality). "With NFP you make the relationship as a whole sterile…" – to me this sounds an awful lot like "you yourself are generating the sterility." I know you wrote it that way on purpose and intend your distinction to hold up regardless, but I can't accept "by using God's patches" as a morally relevant distinction. NFP, barriers, and BCPs all make active decisions for the purpose of rendering the sexual relationship sterile based on human understandings of biological realties, using God-given gifts and abilities. NFP makes use of God's hormonal cycle – relying on human ability to manage our behaviour according to human understanding of God's biological design. BCPs make use of God's hormones – relying on human ability to manage the hormones in our bodies. Barriers make use of God's raw materials – relying on human ability to manipulate them into useful forms. All of them employ our God-given abilities as human beings to steward creation for the same purpose – sterilizing the marriage relationship. The issue isn't really "making use," is it? NFP actively manipulates God's design through behaviour. Like condoms, NFP withholds semen when it otherwise would not be withheld. Like BCPs, NFP relies on human ability to discern biological realities and to act on that understanding in order to generate sterility. They are doing the same thing for the same reasons through different means – and therefore any relevant distinction will be in the details of the means, not in what is being accomplished (an active generating/making/causing the relationship to be sterile). I'll get to "but BCPs speak _____" in just a bit.
"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 » Fri Nov 26, 2004 5:39 pm

NFP, BCPs, FAM: Who's being disingenuous?

TheMouse wrote:Protestants may argue that even if a sexual relationship as a whole must be open to life, there's no reason why each sexual act has to be done in such a way that the act doesn't impede possible conception. But from a Catholic perspective, Protestants (and ABC-using Catholics) seem inconsistent in what they say the sexual act is supposed to "speak." They affirm that every sexual act must be faithful and that every sexual act should be loving … but they seem to make a special distinction for openness to life and say that a couple can choose to close some of their sexual acts off from the possibility of conception by altering them (or altering the man or woman's body).
God made that special distinction, or inconsistency, if you want to call it that, when He designed the human reproductive system, and our Hebrew/Christian heritage appears to have confirmed it by canonizing a sex book that doesn't bother to include mention of procreation (or at least didn't take advantage of a gift-wrapped opportunity to clarify the issue!). Every sexual act isn't intended to include the possibility procreation. Where did that idea come from? (That would be a revealing thesis project, I think. I wonder how much Augustine would play into it, and 'his' teaching that intercourse is the vehicle through which original sin is transmitted and its only redeeming value is the possibility of participation in new creation inherent in sex. Sex is Adam and Eve's apple. Sex would be totally bad, except for procreation, so Christians must include procreation in sex and remove the passion/pleasure. Regardless if Augustine intended his work to be understood and applied this way, it was, and that's how we receive it in our tradition. Here's a link to an Augustine defender I turned up on google. I just skimmed it but it looks balanced and informed. He's trying to set the record straight in response to extreme critics of Augustine's sexual teachings.) It is more inconsistent to claim that the sexual act reflects the marriage relationship and therefore can't be sterilized by humans, but the marriage relationship can.
TheMouse wrote:In contrast, a couple who has sex when a wife is infertile still "speaks" of the possibility of life: it is just that conception is an unlikely result at that time.
Only FQers can really make this claim.

The way you pose it, it sounds like infertility 'just happens' to NFPers, when in reality NFP is doing everything it can – going out of its way – to 99+% ensure the sterilization of the sexual act. There is more possibility of conception using BCPs or FAM than there is using NFP. How is it that NFP speaks about the possibility of life more than BCPs or FAM (I address your anticipated explanation a few quotes down)? Even if the sterilization isn't complete – temporary 100% sterilization is the attempt. This does not contrast NFP and BCPs at all, except to show that BCPs and FAM are slightly more 'open to life' than NFP in the sense we're talking about here. The NFP marriage relationship speaks something contrary to what NFP intends to speak through each sexual act. But it seems to me that NFP only listens to one voice. I realize that NFP justifies the temporary sterilization of the relationship the same way I do, but my different doctrinal perspective allows me to listen (I think) on more frequencies and consider a greater range of possible meanings.
TheMouse wrote:The rest of the time, they refrain from "speaking" of their love in a sexual way; to do so is better morally than speaking of it but lying about part of it.
Whether one is lying or not – in this case – depends on the consistency between one's claims and one's actions. I'd like to explore this…
TheMouse wrote:When a couple uses a condom, they SEEM to be affirming their desire to renew their marriage covenant, but in fact they are not. Since sexual intercourse is naturally oriented towards conception,
(Time out! Sexual intercourse is 'naturally oriented to conception' about 1/3 of the time, less according to one of your posts way back. If we're going to talk about the natural orientation or sex, then it seems that we should say sex is more oriented toward a non-procreative purpose than a procreative one, given the cycle and pleasurable biological design. Let's be fair in our observation of 'natural' realities and consider the whole picture.)
TheMouse wrote:it seems that by undertaking it, they are affirming openness to life, but they aren't.
And NFP is? NFP avoids the 'natural orientation toward conception' like the plague – that's its purpose: to have sex without conception. How does this affirm openness to life; how is it naturally oriented to conception? According to what it doesn't do? Relative to how other bc options appear if we were to take a photo or measure their hormone levels? And regardless, sexual intercourse is 'naturally' oriented to conception less than half the time… the idea that the act of intercourse is intended to include the possibility of procreation 100% is foreign (I think) to God's design. I realize that here is where 'open to life' gets differentiated from procreation (or its possibility), but ultimately, it seems like a word game. I wonder if biology (God's design) doesn't have a loud enough voice in forming NFP theology in this area.
TheMouse wrote:They are saying "I do" to loving unity, and fidelity, but not to openness to life, because they are taking action that prevents life from forming.
NFP does not take action that prevents life from forming? Just not when they're having sex? And this makes the crucial difference? …
TheMouse wrote: They are being "disingenuous" the way Onan and Sapphira and Ananias were, in that they SEEM to be doing something --achieving one-flesh unity that is faithful, loving, and potentially procreative-- but they are holding back.
BCP-users aren't being disingenuous because they aren't claiming to fulfill the RC mandate (according to RC definitions) of what each sexual act should be. If that's what NFP claims to do, then NFP is disingenuous because NFP sterilizes the sexual relationship/experience of a marriage – like BCPs and condoms – only NFP gives the appearance that it doesn't by rigging the sex act beforehand so that the presence of hormones or barriers aren't necessary. Just because one couldn't tell from a Polaroid of NFP sex doesn't meant that NFP sex 'speaks' openness to life any more than more visible (like FAM) means. From my perspective, the real difference between NFP, FAM, and BCPs in regards to 'openness to life' is that NFP simply hides the evidence of sterilization better. It's not speaking something different regarding openness to life – it just appears that way. If we 'listen closer' we'll get a different message.
TheMouse wrote: Recall that for us, sexual intercourse is the renewal of the marriage covenant between husband and wife. As many Catholic writers point out, it's the reaffirmation of a couple's wedding vows. Each sexual act, thus, is supposed to speak of loving unity (it's not enough to say that a marriage as a whole is loving or unitive, but that sex only has to be loving sometimes), fidelity (each sexual act must be with YOUR spouse, not another, and not while you're thinking of another) and openness to life. The sexual act speaks of all these things naturally.
(side note: the sexual act only speaks all of these things 'naturally' 1/3 of the time. It is the marriage relationship in general that is always characterized by an openness to life). "Every sexual act is supposed to speak unity, fidelity, and openness to life" (paraphrase). I think the mistake made here is taking aspects that should characterize the marriage relationship as a whole and stuffing them into each and every sexual act. The marriage relationship cannot claim fidelity or unity if either is missing from any one sexual act. But the marriage relationship/covenant can claim 'openness to life' and still remove procreation from many sexual acts. Would we say that a couple's marriage covenant was not open to life if the husband is 'fixed' but they have four children? Does the past tense I just used really matter? They aren't open to an endless degree of reproduction – they are open to a responsible number of children who don't stop living when the dad gets the operation.

Besides, how many aspects of the marriage covenant are we going to say should be present in every sexual act, and which ones to we pick? All of them? How far are we going to go with this? Having a spontaneous quickie sure doesn't reflect the serious deliberation of the marriage decision or long-term commitment that characterizes the marriage covenant. How would SoS look in light of the RC mandate? I think the marriage relationship should be open to having kids, but not every sexual act, and I think the NFP method agrees with me. NFP violates this RC prescription for what the sex act should speak just as BCPs and FAM does.

"The marriage covenant is characterized by openness to life, and since the sexual act is a renewal of this covenant, it should therefore always be open to life. However, if you change the characteristics of your marriage covenant by sterilizing it, that's OK, so long as you don't mess with the sexual act and make it physically reflect your new sterilized marriage, b/c the sexual act is supposed to reflect your marriage covenant that is always open to life." What has puzzled me for along time is this: The sexual act is defined in terms of the marriage covenant, and doing anything to the sexual act that causes it to not reflect some aspect of the marriage covenant is against God (like using condoms and not reflecting in the sex act the openness to life that is part of the marriage covenant). The general, big picture defines and characterizes the specific; the reason for applying these characteristics to the sexual act is found in the marriage relationship. The emphasis is on how the sexual act reflects the marriage covenant and don't you dare mess with the sexual act because it is a reflection and renewal (sacrament?) of the marriage covenant! But there is no protest when the marriage is sterilized. There is no objection when the relationship as a whole is closed to life, so long as each sexual act 'appears' to be open to life (in the strictly physical 'photographic' sense that there are no physical barriers or hormonal manipulations). The whole reason for taking what the sexual act speaks so seriously is because of the nature of the marriage covenant/relationship as a whole – but tinkering with the characteristics of that marriage covenant (like, by sterilizing it) is no big deal? How can it be mandated that 'openness to life' must always be symbolically/visually present in every sexual act (hormones/barriers) but not always present in the marriage relationship as a whole. What does a marriage covenant speak by avoiding sex during fertile times? Openness to life? Does NFP claim that one can sterilize the sexual relationship but cannot sterilize the sexual act that reflects the sterilized relationship? This is a flip-flop of God's design of human reproduction and His intentions for the marriage covenant. By God's design, the marriage covenant/relationship is intended to produce and raise children, but only a minority of sexual acts are intended to include the possibility of procreation.
TheMouse wrote: Is a couple who uses NFP "disingenious" in the same way? No, because when they know that conception is likely, they don't make a pretense of renewing their covenant: they refrain. To refer back to the passage in Acts mentioned above, most scripture scholars agree it would have been moral for Ananias and Sapphira to keep as much of their fortune as they wanted if they had been clear about it: it was the fact that they made it appear that they were giving all the money to the church that made their action sinful. They wait to renew their marriage covenant until such time as it is naturally unlikely that they will conceive; and this is their right. When they DO make love, they are not holding anything back.
Would not such a couple be holding back just as much as BCP-users? They are deliberately banishing the procreative from their sexual experience. This sterility is not God's doing – that claim, I think, is deception. The humans take action by altering their behaviour so that fertility is removed from their sexual relationship – from their sexual experience as a couple – yet somehow it was God's doing? I understand that they don't make the 'pretense' of being open to life by refraining during fertile times… but does this not constitute an admission of being "closed to life"? How is being more honest about being closed to life morally superior when every sexual act must be open to life. BCPs-users aren't "renewing their marriage covenant" every time they have sex according to RC specifications, but neither does NFP. The covenant can't be renewed if one is closed to life, and shutting the door 99+% of the way closed in the face of life can hardly be called 'open to life.' In trying to not be disingenuous, NFP could be accused of being in disobedience by refusing to renew the covenant by refusing to have sex during more fertile times.
"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 » Fri Nov 26, 2004 5:42 pm

The "Invitation" Analogies

There are two different "invitation analogies" you alluded to – I'll respond to both. The first characterizes sex as a prayer to God inviting Him to create life should He so choose to at that time. I think that is a very responsible way to view sex – I just don't think NFP, FAM , or BCPs make this prayer differently in any theologically/morally significant way. The second analogy characterizes sex as sending out a wedding invitation to someone who may not be able to come. Again, I find no difference in the degree to which this analogy applies to NFP, FAM, and BCPs, and I find that the only method it truly applies to is FQ. My explanations are below.

TheMouse wrote:The sexual act is an invitation: it's an invitation for God to bless a couple with pleasure, with unity, and with new life. Every time a couple has intercourse, they send out an invitation to God for all of these things.
But couples using NFP never send out such an invitation – their sexual life is sterilized. How can NFP-users claim to be asking God to bless them with new life any more than BCPs-users or FAMers when NFPers have taken more effective measures to avoid new life? (Besides, there is a very large assumption here that every sexual act is intended to be an invitation to procreation when in fact God only designed about 1/3 of them to be so.) Every sexual act is not designed to be an invitation to new life (though I would say that marriage covenant is), therefore removing the procreative element from a given sex act is not analogous to sending an invitation to God asking for children that has written on it "actually, please don’t." Claiming that one's sexual experience is a always prayer to God inviting new life when in fact one has taken the most effective means possible to sterilize it is guilty of sending confusing invitation. FAM and BCPs doesn't send the same invitation to God that NFP claims it does.
TheMouse wrote:It's like people sending out a wedding invitation. But as I know from my own wedding, there are a limited number of people who you can fit into a reception hall, so this means there are some people you may not be able to invite. On the other hand, there are always some friends and relatives who you know are unable to come because of distance or other obligations. It isn't wrong to invite those friends even though you know they can't come. These people who are automatic "refuses" mean that the number of invitations you send out may be greater than the number of guests you can handle. There still might be people who you can't invite becaause of lack of room, though, and likewise, if you really can't afford to invite them, it isn't wrong to refrain from sending them an invitation. But it would be rude to send them an invitation and scrawl "please don't come, we don't actually want you!" on the bottom of the envelope!
This second invitation analogy better argues for FQ, I think. According to this second analogy, NFP only sends invitations to people who cannot come! In fact, NFP makes a very effective effort to ensure that attending the party is too great an inconvenience for their potential guests. Talk about being disingenuous – NFP consults their 'guest's' calendars and makes sure to throw the party when their guests can't come! The invitation itself (a given sex act) looks entirely genuine – you can't judge them just based on the invitation, and they'll use their invitations as evidence to show their sincerity. But just because the invitation physically appears genuine, doesn't mean that the intent behind it (what it truly speaks) is genuine. What does deliberately sending invitations only to people who can't attend after first making sure they can't attend speak? Openness to having people attend the party? According to these analogies, only FQers send genuine invitations because they have sex when they could potentially get pregnant – they don't send out invitations while taking steps to avoid their potential guests. FQers don't wait until their potential guest is indisposed to mail their invitation.

The argument that NFP is a 'genuine invitation' because it allows for the possibility of procreation is (1) bogus and (2) does not distinguish it from FAM or BCPs. NFP attempts to avoid procreation as effectively as morally possible – that is not an invitation to life. The only reason the possibility exists is because NFP fails to be 100% effective (though it would be if it could be). The possibility of procreation with NFP is the same as or greater than FAM and BCPs – therefore the degree of possibility does not distinguish the NFP invitation to God fro life from BCPs' of FAM's invitation.

Sending out invitations to an event that has virtually no chance of happening – that one has tried to make sure doesn't happen – is not very nice. Neither is sending invitations to God asking Him for new life when one has taken extremely effective steps (sterilized the sexual relationship) to make sure He won't – talk about sending mixed messages. It's like facing someone who is standing there ready to hand you a present and saying to them, "Thank you! I'd love to receive your gift" while refusing to bring your hands and arms our from behind your back. That's what NFP is doing according to these analogies.

Obviously I personally wouldn’t charge a proper use of BCPs, FAM, or NFP with any of these accusations, but I think your analogies condemn them all. A married couple intending to use their marriage to birth and nurture children (perhaps I should add 'adopt' here as well) is not closed to life even if they do temporarily deliberately render their marriage (and consequently their sex life) infertile.
"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 » Fri Nov 26, 2004 5:43 pm

Song of Solomon

TheMouse wrote:…given that [Song of Songs] IS a poem, it's hard to tell what use we're "supposed to" make of it. As you mention, for instance, it isn't even clear that the lovers are married. Some critics (the Blochs, for instance) argue that the text actually indicates that they are unmarried; that's why they have to meet clandestinely. Even if this were true, would it follow that we were supposed to read the text as an endorsement of pre-marital sex?
Depends on how the text portrays the alleged premarital sex. Even if we can decipher what actions are being described, we still have to determine whether those actions are presented positively, negatively or neutrally – is this an endorsement, a warning, no comment? That is how I've seen OT theologians and missiologists condemn polygamy – yes it's in the Bible, yes, God seemed to not be very concerned about it, but when you take a big picture look at how Scripture portrays polygamy, it's negative and we're expected to understand that it is not the best way to go. "Just because it's biblical doesn't mean we're supposed to do it" goes right along with "just because it's heresy doesn't mean it's wrong." I've read the Bloch commentary, but I don't buy their pre-marital interpretation – even though the jury will forever be out on that one. I agree that the text leaves open the possibility that they have premarital sex, but I don't think it's the most likely conclusion given what we have (as the indicators for marriage are stronger, I think). I took and take all this into account when deciding what I think is the best interpretation for SoS, or any of the narratives, for that matter.
TheMouse wrote: I'm a little skeptical of what seem like "mechanical" applications of the Song of Songs. Just as I'm not convinced that it was intended to be a step-by-step guidebook on sexual technique,
Yep, I'm with you there.
TheMouse wrote: …I'm not sure it was meant to be a moral list of "oks" or "no-can-do's." Of course you CAN teach moral lessons through poetry, but as you point out, the poetic form makes it very ambiguous.
Definitely not a list of "do's" and "don'ts," but I'm not going to let SoS have less of a voice at the biblical table just because of its literary form. It has plenty to say about the biblical portrayal of sex, so when we're talking about sex, I think we should listen. Literary form determines how we handle the text, not the degree of importance.

Non-RC's can hardly be expected to see anything relevant to the bc issue in the Onan narrative if NFP continues to treat SoS (and the complete absence of reference to 'the procreative element'/'openness to life'/etc. despite the entirely sexual nature of the book) with a minimal amount of significance for its teachings on sexuality. (I'll respond to your Onan comments if you want me to – but I cut them out for now).

---[This is it for this round.]---
"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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