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August 2005 Archives

August 2, 2005

Mandatory School Prayer

The Big One

She Said YES!

or, to put it another way…

Emily and I Are Getting Married!

So, last Friday (the 29th of July), at 11pm, I said to myself “why am I still in South Bend? I could be proposing to Emily right now.” Being unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, I threw a few things in a bag, hopped in my car, and drove through the night, stopping only at McDonald’s and gas stations. (Oh, and I stopped at Meijer’s to pick up 2 dozen roses).

I arrived at Emily’s front door at 1:30 (2:30 her time) the next day (Saturday). She was planning on heading out to the library and then off to her friend Kate’s house to accompany her to a different friend’s birthday party. To keep her in her apartment until I could arrive, I enlisted the help of Rich to keep her online! I arrived seconds before she was going to leave. I knocked on the door, and presented a thoroughly flabbergasted Emily with 2 dozen roses. When we got inside, in the front hallway, I kneeled down, presented the ring, and asked her to marry me. She cried, and said yes! Then we went to her friend’s house.

The night I left, she had said over instant messenger that when I came and visited next (which was planned for two weeks time), we would need to “talk about where this relationship is headed”. After she said yes, I asked her if she was okay with where the relationship was headed. (She just smiled and cried a little more.)

So far, we’re thinking May of 2007. I’m leaning towards SB, but that far out, it may have to move.

August 5, 2005

Really Hot

August 28, 2005

Natural Family Planning

I’ve been thinking about natural family planning (NFP) recently. I’ve done some reading and a lot of thinking, and it strikes me as rather… contradictory. NFP is outlined in the Catholic Catechism, 2368-2370, which says:

A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:
When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.
“By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man’s exalted vocation to parenthood.”
Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality… . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle … involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.

Now, let’s think about this a moment. 2368 clearly says that having more children is not always the best thing. If you cannot care for your children for some good reason, or cannot raise them properly, it makes sense that you should not, then, have more children. For example, if you’re just starting out, you’re on a grad-student’s salary—go ahead, and avoid children. This is pure necessity, and is endorsed by the Church as being a moral stance to take as well.

2369 reiterates that this does not mean you must abandon your marriage. A marriage has two parts, both “unitive” (uniting of the souls, bodies, persons), and “procreative”. The “conjugal act” they refer to there is sex.

Now we get to the real meat, here: 2370. First, it starts out by asserting that NFP, or as it is phrased here, “periodic continence” (frequently it is known as “periodic abstinence”), is an acceptable moral practice. Apparently, NFP respects the bodies of the spouses, and encourages education—which, objectively, it does. The goal is to observe the woman’s body (I’m all in favor of that), and learn what its cycle is, so that you can subvert that cycle and avoid that cycle’s primary function. But then the catechism contradicts itself. It says that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil. Now, lets ask ourselves, is that really “in contrast” to NFP? Well, does NFP propose, as its primary purpose, to render procreation impossible?

According to the pamphlet the United States Confederacy of Catholic Bishops distribute, With regard to spacing or limiting pregnancies, NFP is up to 99% successful when couples understand the methods, are motivated, and follow the guidelines. Now, 99% is not, strictly speaking, rendering procreation impossible. There’s always that little 1% chance. So, okay.

What we have to take from this is that, according to the Catholic Church, a method that is 99% successful at preventing pregnancy is still respecting the procreative nature of the marital union, because it does not make conception impossible. Now, that 99% figure is an interesting number because birth-control methods like condoms and hormone pills have approximately the same success rate, if not slightly less. If NFP is acceptable because it does not make conception impossible, then surely the use of a condom or a hormone pill is acceptable because they don’t make conception impossible either.

There does seem to be some disagreement about the effectiveness of NFP, though. According to an 1997 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in practice, NFP does not achieve its 99% effectiveness claim. According to them, the average rate of pregnancy when using NFP is 25% (75% effective), not 1% (though they say the lowest pregnancy rates were between 1 and 9%). Now, that’s a rather significant difference. Does that make NFP more acceptable, because it isn’t as effective a birth control mechanism? I would say no—the purpose of NFP is to not have children. According to the catechism, the benchmark that a birth control method must pass in order to be considered intrinsically evil is that the method must propose to make procreation impossible. Whether it is successful at achieving that goal or not, its intent—or what NFP proposes to do—is the same that using a condom or a hormone pill proposes to do.

Think of it this way—if you were aiming to commit suicide, a known sin, there are several methods of doing so. Would one method, for example, hanging yourself, be morally acceptable if it fails 25% of the time versus another method that is more successful and only fails 1% of the time—swallowing pills, say? (I have no idea what the actual success rates of suicide methods are.) Of course not. It matters that you’re attempting to commit suicide, not that you’ve chosen a particularly poor or a particularly effective method of doing so.

So, the catechism is either contradictory—it endorses NFP even though it makes pregnancy virtually impossible—or it is simply incomplete: perhaps it merely explicitly endorses NFP but only condemns contraceptive methods that ACTUALLY make conception impossible. This is certainly conceivable (sorry for the pun). What sort of sexual acts make conception impossible, then? I think this can only mean either the use of toys, complete abstinence, or even more bizarre things (like odd forms of cyber-sex, for example).

But … this is not the apparent position of the people who claim to know a lot about sex and who claim to espouse the Church’s position. These people claim that only NFP is an acceptable form of birth control and that all other forms of birth control are unacceptable—not only unacceptable, but immoral. We’ve established that the Catechism (or at least, the parts of the Catechism that I’ve read—and I’ve read a fair bit on this topic) either does not forbid the use of, say, a hormonal pill, or contradicts itself. As Sherlock Holmes once said, once we eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable (or difficult to believe) must be the truth. Presuming that the Catechism cannot contradict itself, it therefore must not be forbidding the use of more common forms of birth control. So, if we cannot use the Catholic Catechism, what reasoning can we use to support the “only NFP” stance?

I recently came across an article (okay, I admit, it was sent to me) from ThisRock, November 2003, titled God, Sex, and Babies: What the Church REALLY Teaches about Responsible Parenthood which, aside from sounding like some sort of exposé, attempts to make the case for the “only NFP” stance. I won’t quote the entire article here (you can read it yourself), but the author (Christopher West) makes some key relevant points:

  • Marriage consists of two parts, “incarnate” (physical) and “dis-incarnate” (meta-physical) love, which must not be separated: without one, you cannot have a valid marriage.
  • There is a life-giving nature to sexual love that echoes the love of God for His creation.
  • The use of bodily fluids in the sexual act is as important as the use of blood in the crucifixion of Christ.
  • God could not have performed Christ’s miracle of forgiveness without that bodily fluid.
  • NFP preserves the life-giving quality of sexual love.
  • Abstinence does not invalidate marital love.
  • Whether to have more children or not is a decision that should not be left solely to God.
  • There are many forms of selfishness when making decisions about whether to have more children, all of which are to be avoided.
  • You should justify the decision not to have children, not the other way around.
  • NFP is not a willful behavior and is as natural as an accident.

Now, some of his points are obviously incorrect. For example, contrary to his depiction, NFP is entirely willful behavior. Also, God can do whatever He likes, including make women pregnant who haven’t had sex at all: He is not restricted to using blood for His purposes. Some of West’s points are obviously correct, for example, that there are many forms of selfishness. And some of West’s points are directly contradictory, for example, that physical love is an indispensable part of marital love but that its absence does not invalidate that marital love. If we strip away those points, we’re left with:

  • There is a life-giving nature to sexual love that echoes the love of God for His creation.
  • The use of bodily fluids in the sexual act is as important as the use of blood in the crucifixion of Christ.
  • NFP preserves the life-giving quality of sexual love.

Now, the “life-giving quality” is an echo of the Catholic Catechism, which I’ve already discussed, so lets focus on the remaining argument. It makes a fair amount of sense, on the face of it. Some of the Church’s other religious observances center around some sort of bodily fluid—the blood and body of Christ in the Eucharist for example. So, we can forgive his rather bizarre justification for it (Hebrews 9:22, which only applies to men, not to God), and count this as a valid observation. Simple observation may not be sufficient justification for making it a rule … but lets give this the benefit of the doubt, and say: okay, the sexual act must not be modified in that sense in order to qualify as true marital love. The bodily fluids must mix.

When using a condom, of course, bodily fluids do not mix; that’s the whole point, after all. So let’s accept, for now, that the use of a condom is immoral, because it prevents the bodily fluids of the two people from mixing and therefore prevents the exercise of the sacrament. Condoms, of course, are not perfect, and only have a 99% success rate at preventing pregnancy, so there’s got to be some fluids mixing somewhere, but lets ignore that.

Where does this leave the use of other birth control methods like a hormonal pill regimen or spermicidal foam? Neither makes conception impossible, and neither prevents the mixing of bodily fluids. In the absence of a valid condemnation, one can only assume that they are absolutely permitted.

Well, that’s probably not the exactly right stance to take. Let’s go with a more Catholic stance, and fall back to the Primacy of Conscience. Now, given the name of the philosophy, you would think I would have started here, but I felt the need to address the more direct admonitions first.

This, though, is a much more personal thing. Having read about the issue, consult your conscience, and pray to God. Ask yourself and Him if NFP is a validation of the marital union or if the use of a hormonal pill regimen is a destruction and/or masking of the marital union. Ask God what about NFP is acceptable where other methods are unacceptable.

Here’s something to think about: hormonal pills may be used when the primary purpose is not birth control, but rather, hormone control. It may be desirable to control a woman’s hormonal cycle for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is to prevent pain during menstruation. Some women release too much of their own hormones (or not enough) and thus undergo unusually painful symptoms (like debilitating cramps which can have serious consequences, such as infertility, if left un-treated); a hormonal pill regimen can help.

Come to your own conclusions. I’ve come to mine. You can probably guess what that is, too.

About August 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Kyle in August 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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