James wrote:

It is true that there is a long historical tradition in the Church that condemns contraception, and both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have reaffirmed this teaching. This certainly has to be taken into account in any discussion of the matter. But the condemnation of contraception represents just one part of the Church’s teaching on the subject, and however solemn this teaching has been, it has not been proposed as an infallible and irrevocable one.
Further, arguments from authority cannot and should not be the main arguments here, for the condemnation of contraception is based on natural law, and natural law falls within the scope of human reason, and therefore the upholders of this condemnation should welcome the opportunity to show how reasonable their position is. Unfortunately, thus far, these upholders of condemnation have been remiss in providing these convincing arguments on the supposed reasonableness of this teaching. This is true both in CCLI writings, such as those from the honorable Sheila and John Kipply (sp?) and in this forum as well. It is unfortunate since it lends itself further to the lack of credibility the Church currently experiences due to the many scandals and its appearance of being out of touch with the laity.


Dear James,

If we could bring forth arguments which are clear and cogent based on reason alone, it would not be necessary for our commission to exist, nor would the present state of affairs exist in the Church as it is.

The Minority Theologians of the Papal Birth Control Commission

p.s. The above is no parody but rather a DIRECT QUOTE from the minority report. Mo4

To James:

I doubt if there is anything about this you have not heard along the lines of classical philosophical arguments. I have often questioned just what the whole framework of natural law is.

Going from philosophy to theology may be a possible approach, but to tell the truth, I have not read anything from JPII on the likes of "Theology of the Body".

Sometimes I was a bit confused with such phrases as "against the natural law". Not being homosexual, I had no issue with dictates and strictures against homosexual acts. But the issue of birth control and natural law was not parsed out in the past but instead was presented in classical arguements that did not have immediate meaning. The tone of Scripture, including the New Testement is often to the sublime as something of evidence but this is not delt with directly. Recently the parsing out the arguement against ABC seems to center on the celebration of fertility. Fertility is what is corrupted/denigated by contraception. I can suggest that fertility has always, until recently had a certain primeval quality and numinosity, especially since it has a lifegiving potential and is an essential part of our nature. We can be co-creators with it. Oddly enough fertility and the homage to it can have a certain nonChristian color as is evident from other cultures. But this need not mean that we can not affirm such a primeval force in a thoroughly Christian context. Any colorization towards an overly holistic naturalism can and should be counterbalanced by Scripture.

One approach to the modern problem of births, extended life expectancy would be to attempt to approach fertility awareness and to celebrate it and allow it to exist in its primative form. Supposedly you may question if this is "reasonable" in the cognative rational sense. My concern is no so much whether this is "reasonable" in this context as much as "reasonable" insofar as the definition of "reasonable" means "practical". I think the answer to the reasonable/practicality question is "maybe to a certain extent" as far as a mass human scale is concerned. Mankind probably has not reached this level of domestication. Ironically what some are attempting (Kippleys) is both wild and primative as well as very domesticated. Something of a union of opposites.

I have my own ideas of how I would approach the subject of birth control if it were a personal issue, which it is not.
I believe in process. In more colorful days Purgatory probably represented what we call theological process today.
To tell you the truth, I believe in a Classical Purgatory.   Michael


The Editor responds:

Michael, when you say the issue of birth control isn't a "personal" one, are you meaning to tell us that you're not married, and/or if so, you have no experience in marriage with the issue of birth control?

If that's the case, then you've been arguing strictly from an intellectual standpoint, whereas the existential/experiential testimony of married couples is an indispensable dimension of this discussion.

As I'm catching up on things after a few days away, I'm aware that I might have missed your sharing about your state in life in one of your posts. Perhaps I'll come to that in short order.


To editor:

In several message I've confessed to not being a spouse, parent, priest, or other clergyman. For these reasons this birth control issue is not directly personnel to me.

These discussions are something of a rehash of similar squabbles back in the 1960's and 1970's. I was not immediately involved then, being a teenager in the 1960's. At the time I just could not understand the reason for all the rancor. I was a cradle Catholic, told what sin was and how to confess it. Yes, this is something of an infantile understanding.

Example; fornication or premarital sex. I would not really parse out whether it was with a girlfriend, acquaintance, prostitute, relative, or fiance. Something like that was to be confessed. If I was told it was sinful to put both mustard and chili on my hot dog at the same time, I would make some effort not to do that, but if I succumbed I would confess that. Perhaps I would wonder why, but I would leave the direction to the "experts" who had history on their side.

The argument over contraception, ABC, seemed to have a strange mystery to it and almost a cosmic quality. Not that I necessarily disagreed with the strictures but I was not sure how the concept of natural law developed. On some level I knew it was an important factor in human behavior and ethics.Also I realized that unlike an individual act of premarital sex or some other peccadillo or even cold bloody murder, contraception (ABC)was something that would tend to be metastabilized, especially with something like the pill or IUD, rendering repentance from it a difficult task.

On a few occasions where I asked people about NFP, or rhythm as it was called then I would get something of a dismissal. When my very good friend was married when we were both 23, the discussion of birth control came up. He was from a large Catholic family. He had some affinity for Catholic teaching but we I asked about NFP, rhythm, Tom replied " Yes but it doesn't work that way!!"

Another discussion I remember vividly was in the college Catholic student center, circa 1973-75 when I was in grad school. One of the young priests was a delightful dissident on many current issues. There was a young man, like myself and the priests and we were discussing various issues. I had the occassion to ask "What is needed to keep the Church's teaching on birth control?" The young man replied "You need to be a masochists!" I took that to mean he was not a providentialists and the notion of period abstinance was incredibly steep. The priests then said, "I would put that another way; you have to be a saint!!" This comment STUNNED ME. A Saint!? Like those transcendant figures on stain glass windows!?

Later I realized that for 22 year olds to do perfect periodic abstinance with no kinky infractions, comfortably, and without making this effort define their entire existance would existentially require sainthood of a type.

For a number of reasons I can almost concur to the notion that some mixture of barrier methods and NFP-like practices should be a creative, communicative, compassionate norm for Christian people of this age group who can not be pure providentialists (they are out there believe it or not in some rural areas of the American south). I notice this approach is gaining some surprising support from pro-life Evangelicals. This eliminates the metastabilzation of ABC. The notion of pure NFP is always present in such an approach as a transcendent ideal of course. Also, that certain "asthetic" contraceptives like the pill and depo provero may be abortificient is also relevant but the main issue to me is the metastablization factor that presents some type of living moral hazard.

But I do not think there is an easy way this approach could be articulated into a Church teaching, regardless of any natural law or theological argument. It is too cumbersome.




The Editor:


Thanks for the info about your state in life, Michael. Which raises the question for me of why you have such an interest in this topic?

You wrote: The notion of pure NFP is always present in such an approach as a transcendent ideal of course.

I don't buy that, especially the "of course" part. Why not say the ideal is that couples are open to having children at some time in their lives, and that their sexual relationship is one which helps to awaken and deepen love and joy in their relationship? Then the issue of NFP vs. ABC is besides the point.



Mo4 writes:


Convincing Arguments? Reason? Logic? Research?

Tomothy Sedgwick: Many public statements are episodic, hasty and shallow, more in the nature of moral declaration than broadly informed reasoned arguments.


Harmon Smith: They are rather more reflexive than reflective.

Allan Parrent: They are often self-contradictory, inconsistent, muddled and chaotic.

David Scott: They are marred by problems in logic, by avoidance of fundamental issues, and by failure to even identify moral standards.

David Smith and Juith Granbois: The statements ignore pertinent research and opinion available from other, often more expert bodies and our ecumenical dialogue partners.

Allan Parent: At the same time, the pronouncements are clearly compassionate, humane, morally earnest, and manifest a deep and genuine concern for peace and justice in the world. The question for the church is how it might remedy the inadequacies in its statements and teachings while maintaining these positive qualities.

Doesn't this well reinforce James' position?

Oh, it is worthy of note that the above quotes are from Anglican theologians.

Be well, all.



Mo4 concluded:


There's the rub, James. The minority report of the papal commission DID set forth tradition and authority as THE central issue in the question of artificial contraception. It maintained that reason alone couldn't solve the issue.

Humanae Vitae, although it rang true with much of the majority report's position on conjugal love, at least implicitly seemed to take the minority report's position that reason could not decide the issue because 1) it did NOT address why artificial contraception was intrinsically evil or why it couldn't be allowed as a lesser evil or why it rejected the majority report's appeal to the total good of the marriage, whereas 2) referring to the "constant firmness by the teaching authority of the Church", the encyclical DID explicitly address tradition and authority as central issues (though it didn't dwell on them).

So, there is my theory on why debates in this forum and elsewhere get so entangled in magisterial theorizing, rather than teasing out the nuances of natural law perspectives. That's pretty much how it got permanently framed by Rome, especially once setting aside the majority report, which could have reframed it.

This also would account for the functional illiteracy, we witness in this forum and in others, where natural law concepts and principles are concerned. What you get is ultraconservative Catholic reactionaries beaming their radio broadcasts all over the world and its listeners throwing around all sorts of big words which they can't even spell, not having done any depthful reading or serious research on their own. The 1975 CDF Declaration did little to advance such knowledge of natural law issues although it gave the self-proclaimed "orthodox" a way to concede exculpability to the artificial contraception practitioners, patronizingly and condescendingly, by pointing out that, in sins of the sexual order, "it more easily happens that free consent is not freely given".

So, there's my social critique, which undergirds my prediction that this forum will always have its superficial flamers and trollers, unable to substantively engage people like you. They simply lack formation. Like radical Protestant Fundamentalists with bumper stickers that read: "The Bible said it. I believe it. That settles it." , the radical Catholic Fundamentalists take the position: "The Pope said it. I believe it. That settles it." How do they differ, therefore, from the radical Islamic fundamentalists?

I simply don't want to predict that we might never happen across some worthy debate partners re: natural law theory but how likely is that to happen if the official church teaching doesn't believe that either side can advance such arguments, in principle?