The Real Nitty GrittyBirth Control in the Catholic Church
Mom of 4
October 28, 2002, 10:15 AM

The Real Nitty Gritty
Let's get right down to it, you know, the REAL nitty-gritty!

The Editor and James have refocused our discussions, time and again, to what they consider central issues and core issues.

The issue is not primarily one of authority insofar as natural law interpretations are accessible to human reason. Authority only becomes an issue because the ordinary magisterium has failed to make a satisfactory appeal to human reason, has failed to discern the sense of the faithful and has therefore had to rely on heavy-handed and apodictic pronouncements. So, that issue won't go away. But let's set it aside for this consideration.

It appears to me that all of our debates and deliberations will have us talking past one another ad nauseum because of a profound disagreement at the level of fundamental presuppositions regarding the proper interpretation of the natural law.

As long as some choose an exclusively essentialistic approach and disregard any existentialistic approach, we will ALWAYS disagree.

It is almost as simple as asking: Do you include an existentialistic approach in your interpretation of natural law? And, if the answer is no, then the debate is really over inasmuch as all of the responses and counterarguments will algorithmically flow from those presuppositions.

A similar and much related phenomenon occurs in the realm of metaethics where deontological and teleological approaches are concerned. If the authoritative and deontological approach is taken to the exclusion of nonauthoritative and teleological approaches, as a metaethical superstructure, then any ensuing ethical decisions, deliberations and debates are going to unfold algorithmically and reasoning appeals founded on an alternative metaethic are guaranteed to be fruitless.

So, what I am suggesting is, we should just agree to disagree and shut down this bulletin board. JUST KIDDING! What I am suggesting is that we consider why the Church should or should not supplement its essentialistic approaches with existentialistic approaches. Can we look to Thomas Aquinas, for instance, to defend the use of teleological approaches in addition to deontological approaches? Also, does consequentialistic ethics have a role in our moral deliberations?

Our approach presently is one-sidedly philosophical. How can we make it more Christocentric, more "anchored in charity"? It is a narrow, parochial approach. Could it be more universal [catholic] in its appeal? It is biologistic and physicalistic. How can we make it more personalistic, emphasizing the centrality of the human person? It is presented as infallible. How could it be more "modest and tentative" in its appeal? Could it be more ecumenical, drawing on other sources outside Catholicism for ideas? It is so exclusively deductive. How could it be more inductive, using the insight of laypersons? It seeks universal conformism. How can it be more pluralistic, allowing for differences according to individual cases? It has been so manualistic and minimalistic. How can it be more aspirational, "appealing to the spiritual hungers of people" vs. setting forth merely basic obligations?

These are mostly paraphrases from folks like Fathers McBrien and McCormick.

My challenge to the conservatives is to answer why things must be so one-sidedly philosophical, essentialistic, minmalistic, physicalistic, biologistic, parochial, deductive, infallibilistic?

The case to made by the progressives is how we can better aspire and give witness to the complementary values that I juxtaposed above.

Most respectfully, thanking all for their contributions to this discussion which impacts Church life pervasively on so many fronts, I remain in
October 28, 2002, 10:35 AM
Absolutely superb post, Mom! You put your finger on the "nitty gritty" issues, for sure.

I've recommended two positive "ways out" of the current impasse on the web site, but maybe it's been awhile since I put them up on the board.

1. Broaden the understanding of what "Natural Law" affirms for human sexuality. This will call for a small dip into existential considerations, but only very small. Too often, Natural Law understanding looks at the "objective structure" of an act, and/or looks at the purpose of an act relative to its purpose in the animal kingdom. Hence:
a. sex for animals is primarily (almost totally) about reproduction;
b. human beings also use sex to reproduce;
c. the first end of human sexuality is reproduction;
d. there may be secondary "goods" in human sexual relations, but these are always secondary, suspect, and likely tainted by selfishness/Original Sin.

Do you see the flawed reasoning in the leap from b to c? What about the ongoing interest by a couple in sexual relations as indicating that an evolution of this function has taken place so that it's not merely reproductive in focus, but unitive as well? What about this unitive aspect being a *Natural* and even distinctive aspect of human sexuality--even the primary aspect?

What the Church could do, here, even at this "late date" of having reaffirmed Humane Vitae again and again, is acknowledge the role of human behavioral sciences and even biology (specifically, ethology) in helping to come to a broader understanding of human sexuality. They could acknowledge that our grasp of Natural Law is an ongoing process, calling for reformulations of moral teaching from time to time in light of this fuller grasp. They could affirm the good work done in the past in fidelity to the understandings perceived during those times, then go on to allow all non-abortive forms of birth control for married couples who have decided they need to space their children or avoid having one altogether. They could explain that openness to procreate is an essential way to honor the full meaning of human sexuality, and so couples should keep this in mind, evaluating between themselves and before God when they feel called to bring a child into this world (same as with NFP, btw).

They could do all this in such a way as to not admit they're "eating crow," and be more respected for it in the long run.

b. Natural Law isn't our only source for determining moral behavior. Biblical revelation has a lot to say about this as well, of course. As the Bible hasn't much to say, really, about contraception, one could point to its teaching about marriage as a covenant between husband and wife. The characteristics of this covenant could be spelled out, especially in the light of the meaning of covenant between God and Israel, and Christ in the Church. Values like love, tenderness, fidelity, trust, and commitment could be emphasized as constituative of the covenant; their importance in marriage and sexuality could be emphasized as well, for sex outside of this context is generally demeaning of both partners. It could also be shown that there are important rituals in which the covenant is remembered (anamnesis) and celebrated, facilitating a deeper surrender of God's covenant partner to the covenanting God, and producing a deeper realization of the promises of the covenant. Sex in marriage could be regarded as such a celebrative ritual in which the couple surrenders themselves more fully to one another and to God, deepening their love for one another, and thus evidencing more fully what it means to be an ecclesia domestica or domestic Church. There will be little need to emphasize the procreative aspect since bringing more individuals into this circle of love is a natural development in covenantal spirituality. Covenantal love overflows into evangelical endeavors and, in the context of marriage, in bringing new life into this world.

The Church could easily acknowledge that the broadened idea of Natural Law sketched above along with this deeper appreciation of marriage as a covenantal relationship calls for a new appreciation of the role of human sexuality in marriage. Human sexuality in the service of covenant and in accordance with the broader understanding of Natural Law would refocus ethical considerations away from preserving the objective, structural integrity of the sex act and emphasize instead its relational implications. The morality of marital sexuality would be evaluated more in terms of the love and growth it fosters among couples (or not) than whether or not impediments to procreation were present or absent.

That's my dream, and my hope for the Church. It's what makes sense to me, and is the approach my spouse and I have been taking for the past 10 years. I commend it to consideration for those who are forming their consciences on this issue.
October 28, 2002, 10:36 AM

With this approach, you have just totally shot down any argument against homosexual unions.

Sexual relations aren't primarily about reproduction? It's primarily unitive? Then why does sex have to be between a man and a woman?

Further intentions always trump the objective evil of an act? Then a homosexual couple who have the best intentions of staying together, maybe even going so far as moving to Vermont and having a commitment ceremony, are justified.

The one irrefutable argument against homosexual unions is the intrinsic evil of the act.

What you are talking about is moral relativism, plain and simple - no other fancy names are needed. If you scrap absolute standards for anything, not just sexual matters, then there can be no justice. Your wrong is someone else's right, and vice versa. How could we bring someone to court, or send someone to jail, unless there are agreed upon absolutes in place about what is right and wrong?

It doesn't ultimately work.

Fr. Charles
October 28, 2002, 10:37 AM
Dear Fr. Tia,

I personally do not see how one can be a relativist and still be a Catholic theologian. The charge of relativism on face value is very serious, but the Vatican in the past has erroneously charged theologians with relativism.

The encyclical Veritatis Splendor accuses Catholic revisionist moral theologians of relativism, subjectivism and individualism. I know no Catholic moral theologian who is a relativist or subjectivist or individualist. The Vatican accuses revisionist moral theologians of being relativists because they happen to disagree with some noninfallible moral teachings. Within the broader field of ethics, all those involved recognize that revisionist Catholic moral theologians cannot properly be called relativists in any sense of the term. Knowing how the Vatican has abused this concept of relativism in the past, I have to be suspicious when they raise it in another context.

Mom of 4
October 28, 2002, 10:38 AM
JSM, when you open your response with this --->With this approach, you have just totally shot down any argument against homosexual unions. Sexual relations aren't primarily about reproduction? It's primarily unitive? Then why does sex have to be between a man and a woman? <---

you give me the impression that your primary argument against the existentialistic, personalistic, aspirational, inductive, teleolgical, nonauthoritative etc etc etc slate of approaches to natural law interpretations is your concern that homosexual unions would no longer be illicit.

Without addressing whether your concern is well founded or not, I must point out that you are thereby engaging that logical fallacy called the *slippery slope fallacy*. It has no force of reason. That is to say, you must refocus your argument, if you care to be persuasive, on the issue at hand, which is why exclude the existentialistic slate of approaches from one's ethical deliberations.

As the Editor suggested, you may wish to pursue why you believe the following statement to be true in another thread, which was: ---> The one irrefutable argument against homosexual unions is the intrinsic evil of the act.<---

Now, when you say this, you are precisely back on topic:

---> What you are talking about is moral relativism, plain and simple - no other fancy names are needed. If you scrap absolute standards for anything, not just sexual matters, then there can be no justice. Your wrong is someone else's right, and vice versa. <----

What you are saying, therefore, is that there can be no such thing as a nonauthoritative approach to ethics, no teleological approach, only the authoritative & deontological approaches. That is your position statement, but we all already knew that.

It is only when we get here, where you wrote: --->How could we bring someone to court, or send someone to jail, unless there are agreed upon absolutes in place about what is right and wrong? <---- that you have begun to offer a reason for your position. Ironically, in order to make a compelling argument in favor of authoritative approaches you had to fall back on what appears to be an essentially pragmatic approach, which is consequentialistic and teleological, or, iow, nonauthoritative.

I don't mean to come across so pedantic, especially not condescending to you, in particular, JSM, but rather am trying to parse these considerations for all others who may read these exchanges. Further, I am going to try to acquire some other resources on the authoritative and nonauthoritative approaches and seek the Editor's help in making these available so others don't get lost in the flurry of big words.

Though I continue to disagree with your presuppositions, I very much apprciate that your own presentations are logically consistent and internally coherent. Thanks for hanging with us.

October 28, 2002, 10:38 AM
What you have essentially said here is that there is no objective difference from a homosexual couple who have anal sex, and a heterosexual couple who, knowing full-well that they are sterile, have intercourse. If you honestly cannot see the absurdity in this statement, then perhaps a discussion with you is pointless. I will then just leave you with this thought: Why does the Church allow sterile people to marry one another, without limits on the conjugal act. Obviously a sterile couple has sex with one intent and one intent only, unitive intercourse. Which is not the same thing as allowing homosexual unions.