Freedom of conscience and Pandora's boxBirth Control in the Catholic Church

November 28, 2002, 10:54 AM
Freedom of conscience and Pandora's box
The point is often made by critics of ABC that if this can be justified in conscience, then this opens a Pandora's box to rationalizing anything in conscience, including abortions, gay marriages, etc. The antidote proposed to avert this disastrous "domino effect" is essentially conformity with Magisterial teachings. It is stated that any conscience which deviates from such is malformed, deviant, in error, and in the grip of sin, if not the devil.

Well, what about all that?

Let's first note that not all moral decisions are equal in type or consequences. All affect the individual making the decision, but not all affect others--at least not directly. Murder obviously produces direct consequences to the life of another, as does abortion, theft, adultery, and certain kinds of lies. Overeating, smoking and masturbation are examples of behaviors which don't directly affect others, especially if the glutton isn't taking away from others and the smoker goes outside. These are more personal decisions affecting the individual first and foremost and then indirectly affecting other relationships.

A simple application of the golden rule suggests that freedom of conscience ends where another's freedom begins. Hence, one cannot claim good conscience for acts which adversely affect others' lives, even if one feels at peace about the decision. One is not merely deciding for oneself, in such situations, but for others as well. Behaviors like smoking, gluttony, and masturbation, which do no significantly impinge on the freedoms of others, must be made by the individual with consideration for consequences to his or her personal health. In both kinds of moral issues, there are teachings handed down through the ages, with far more urgency given to the issues which affect not only self, but others.

It is my view that decisions about non-abortive ABC, when agreed upon by couples after study, prayer, and reflection, are more along the lines of individual decisions. No one is directly harmed by a couple's decision, and the case has yet to be unambiguously presented that the couple is hurting themselves by making this decision. References to divorce rates in comparison with NFP couples are so poorly nuanced as to provide meaningless inferences; same goes for pointing to harmful trends in family life since the pill was made available. If ABC is supposed to be intrinsically evil--a grave sin!--then we should see more unambiguous evidence of this evil in marriages and in society, but we don't. Anecdotal testimonies by NFP couples can easily be matched by anecdotal testimonies from ABC couples who once used NFP (present company included). So there's little evidence of ABC doing direct or even indirect harm to anyone, which means that decisions of conscience about this matter are more an individual issue than other types. In fact, there's considerably more evidence of smoking causing health problems and even doing damage to others' lives than ABC, and the case could easily be made that smoking is an intrinsically evil act. But notice that there is no condemnation of smoking as a grave evil by the Catholic Magisterium. Catholic couples should be given the same freedom of conscience for ABC that they're given for decisions pertaining to tobacco use, and these kinds of decisions shouldn't be lumped in with others which directly affect the freedom and welfare of others--like murder, abortion, etc.

Spinmeisters, take heed! cool

[This message was edited by Editor on November 28, 2002 at 11:47 AM.]
November 28, 2002, 09:29 PM
This line of thinking about personal conscience from the traditionalits side of the isle has always smacked of an element of fear. Fear of the unknown, and some sloth to boot. It certainly takes more responsibility and effort to form one's own conscience, than it does to just wait for the hierarchy to decide what to do for you. I believe it takes root in Church history. Especially from the standpoint of the Church's past influence during the Holy Roman Empire. This tactic toward conscience formation was used by Officials to control the less than literate or educated commoners, which made up the majority of the population. It is truly insulting to see this used in modern times by influential members of the Church. Not only is it wholly dishonest, but it is as if they are unaware that many of us (I will go as far to say 50%?) are as well educated with at least bachelor degrees, many also possess advanced degrees or certifications. Treating us like we are not capable of being responsible for our own learning about Mother Church, spiritual growth, and discernment is evidence that they either do not want to recognize or have not even realized that we are as members of the laity as educated (in some cases more so) and inspired by the Holy Spirit as the any of the Church leaders are.
November 29, 2002, 12:07 PM
I totally agree with you James. The way the traditionalists speak about conscience on this forum and others around the Internet is outrageous and does seem to be appealing to fear. The Editor's point in another thread about them not really recognizing the reality of conscience is also well-taken. What they propose, really, is CONFORMITY, which is not the same thing as obedience or decisions based on conscience. And you're right in saying that this is really the easy way out.
November 29, 2002, 12:24 PM
See SHOULD CATHOLICS LET THEIR CONSCIENCE BE THEIR GUIDE? The Editors of U.S. CATHOLIC Interview Sidney Callahan and a wealth of other good links at DOCUMENTS by ARCC members and others .

Peace, dear children
November 29, 2002, 03:10 PM
Conformity as Satanic
Thanks Momz,
The first article was really edifying. I think especially poignant was this quote,


Yes, when they are acts of reflective conscience. You know, the Nazi motto was: "My honor is my loyalty." If you think about that, it is really satanic because it is saying that your honor is not to principles, or to the good, or to God -- it is based solely on your loyalty to the group and its leader. If the group leader tells you to kill gypsies, you kill gypsies; if the leader tells you to bomb some city, you bomb the city. That is moral suicide. You are abdicating responsibility for your actions, and that is terribly wrong."
November 29, 2002, 06:13 PM
After Editor post I took same little crazy ideas:

1. Maybe NFP can be more evil for spouses than ABC? I have some bad personal experience in my marriage. I think is possible that NFP can “produces direct consequences” for sexual life spouses and disturb unitive part of sexual act. Pat Crowley , member of Papal Birth control Commission wrote:
“Rhythm destroys the meaning of the sex act; it turns it from a spontaneous expression of spiritual and physical love into a mere bodily sexual relief; it makes me obsessed with sex throughout the month; it seriously endangers my chastity; it has a noticeable effect upon my disposition toward my wife and children; it makes necessary my complete avoidance of Al affection toward my wife for three weeks at a time. I have watched a magnificent spiritual and physical union dissipate and, due to rhythm, turn into a tense and mutually damaging relationship. Rhythm seems to be immoral and deeply unnatural. It seems to me diabolical.”
(Quote from Garry Wills (2000) Papal Sin - Structures of Deceit)
In my opinion even procreative function of sex act could be distorted by using NFP – One of my child had been conceived after only 6 months pause and was not proceeded by period (if you probably now it is really difficult to predict first ovulation after childbirth). My wife and me were scarred. I conquered my bad feelings and I love this child now. I think that is very bad situation when new human is creating without full love of his parents like a “accident”. So maybe NFP opens a “Pandora’s box” too, or maybe I’m not just an ideal father?
2. Is it possible that Humanae Vitae caused "domino effect"? I mean that it divided Church and now many believers are out of Church, they can’t get absolution etc. What do you think? Have we got “HV box” with many bad results in Church condition, or it’s simplification and life is not so simple?
3. OK Let’s assume that Catholic can be free in conscience and choose ABC. But then you will scandalise many other believers. And second: Is it possible to stay “apostle”, to be a testimony of Christ for non-believer with such a discrepancy to official teaching? Maybe honestly is to remain NFP user in spite of doubts? I don’t know confused.

November 29, 2002, 09:57 PM
. OK Let’s assume that Catholic can be free in conscience and choose ABC. But then you will scandalise many other believers. And second: Is it possible to stay “apostle”, to be a testimony of Christ for non-believer with such a discrepancy to official teaching? Maybe honestly is to remain NFP user in spite of doubts? I don’t know.
Who is a couple scandalizing if the use of ABC for them is a private matter in the bedroom? I know there are many in our parish that use ABC (Frankly, I don't think there are more than a couple using NFP. We do not have even the most minimal of NFP instructors within a 300 mile radius.) and none of them make public proclamations about it, and are not scandalizing the rest of the parish.

NFP can be spiritually beneficial to a couple who are only abstaining a week or less. However, NFP can be very damaging for those that abstain nearly a month at a time. This kind of use no longer is obedience, it becomes heroic, which is not a requirement of any spiritual work. Furthermore, this type of practice violates the wisdom of the apostle Paul, who tells us, "Do not deprive one another." This was a specific request to avoid sexual immorality by frequent conjugal relations. If something is spiritually damaging, it is to be avoided. This is one of the reasons that priests now face the assembly instead of the front of the Church. It was thought the latter practice damaged the assembly in a meaningfully spiritual way. We cannot worship God fully, honestly, and correctly when we practice those things which damage our spirituality, even if they may be Churched sanctioned. Regards-