Monday, February 1, 2010

Yes, Put a Damn Condom on Already!!!

[Update: See this post for a more recent analysis]

A provocative title, perhaps. I'm sorry.

But once again someone has posed to me the "hypothetical" question (Catholics love those, don't they?) as to whether if an unmarried couple is going to be fornicating "anyway"...does using a condom (or other non-abortifacient contraceptive) to protect against STD's and pregnancy make the act morally worse?

There are many legalistic Catholics living in the unreal world of "theory" who will tell you that "objectively speaking" the act is worse, because fornication (or prostitution or even adultery for that matter) can still be "natural" even if not moral. Inasmuch as everything winds up in the same place and a conception can still result. "Better to spill your seed in the belly of harlot than spill it" we're told...

Uh-huh. Great. Very interesting "theory". However, theory is all it is, and assuming that "spilling" includes condoms...that has little practical value anymore for the situations most people are imagining.

Two teenagers in the back seat of car not want to get pregnant. There is no common-law marriage or stable relationship there. If she does get pregnant, it will ruin her life one way or another, especially if she ends up aborting. And there are risks of STDs. I have to think this is a "lesser of two evils" situation. But it turns out that teen pregnancies are higher in conservative states exactly because they are conservative. The kids don't think they are going to have sex because they've "pledged" not to, or whatever, and so don't have any protection on them when they do, in fact, yield to temptation (and many do). They "think" it isn't going to happen, and so don't prepare for it, not even "just in case". But often times it does happen, and so they wind up pregnant. I don't see anything "better" about this situation.

Now, I'll admit that there are some cases of non-marital sex where using contraception would be morally worse. Where the fornication could be, and so should be, "natural" still, even if not moral; where mere "simple fornication" is less grave than other possible situations. I'm thinking specifically of concubinage, which in the modern day would probably describe situations like common-law "marriages" between people who may even have children together. In a committed relationship where they've made it clear that they'll keep whatever pregnancies might come along...I suppose then, yes, contraception would make the fornication worse since they're already in a pseudo-marital relationship, merely eschewing the official ceremony and communal sanction. For them, excluding the procreative end of sex might be morally worse since they already do, at least, recognize the unitive end, and so (like a married couple contracepting) they could be accused of attempting to separate the two ends. For them, the decision to have sex without the marriage ceremony, and the decision to contracept, are two separate moral acts.

However, people using contraception for promiscuous hook-ups, or sex with prostitutes, or an adulterous affair, or even just casual sex in casual "serially monogamous" relationships, cannot be accused of trying to separate the unitive and procreative ends of sexuality...because they already implicitly deny both the unitive and procreative ends of sexuality. So at that point I don't think they can be sinned against separately. People involved in promiscuous premarital sex have no thought of pregnancy, and usually very little of a committed relationship, they either consciously or subconsciously exclude the idea. They are already in a contraceptive mindset. And at that point, actually physically manifesting that mindset doesn't make things any worse (an "already committed contraception in their hearts" sort of thing, I suppose). In fact, it would be downright contradictory and stupid, yes stupid, to not externally manifest that internal disposition.

An attitude that sees no unitive or procreative end in sexuality is not a good internal disposition, it's a gravely sinful one. But if you didn't have such a disposition, you probably wouldn't be having promiscuous pre-marital sex either, so the hypothetical about whether or not to contracept is rather silly. No one who is already promiscuously fornicating is going to bother to avoid contraception for "moral" reasons (though, like the teen pregnancies in conservative states, prior moral resolve might leave them unprepared when they do finally break down). It's why I have to think it's dumb to accuse the Church's stance on condoms of spreading AIDS in Africa; why would people obey that particular rule (already much ignored) but then not the one about fornication or multiple partners?

So, anyway, does a condom during pre-marital sex make it "worse" morally than it already would be?? I'm going to say no. The mindset of fornication and of contracepting during it...are usually not two separate moral decisions; they usually go hand in hand as the same debased hedonistic attitude about sexuality that excludes both its ends at once anyway. And at that point, I don't think there is any reason to advise people to avoid the one element if they aren't going to avoid the other. You might be able to abstract the one from the other theoretically, but in practice they are one and the same moral decision regarding sex (and one admittedly much graver than that of the simple fornication of those in concubinages who merely ignore the official ceremony but still can recognize sexuality's ends).

Unlike a couple in concubinage, it's not like a couple in the "hook-up" culture first decides "are we going to fornicate?" and then decides "are we going to use a condom?" Rather, the two acts are so entangled up one with the other that I think it is no help trying to separate them abstractly in making a moral judgment. The reason they fornicate is because they believe sex is meaningless fun, and when you believe that, contraception is just a logical adjunct to that attitude, not a separate moral decision. Their sin is actually "treating sex as ultimately meaningless," a category I'm not sure pre-moderns could even have imagined since Nihilism hadn't been invented yet. The discreet acts are, after that, all just aspects flowing from that same sin.

So, lovers of hypotheticals, "if" your heart is already hardened with lust, if you are already committed to the idea of sex as a nihilistic end in itself separated from the meaning of life-giving love...then for society's sake, please at least wear a condom and don't get an innocent child involved or spread your venereal disease.


A Sinner said...

Grr. I was talking to some people today who tried to pull the whole, "better to put your seed in the belly of a whore than spill it" thing...

Saying that “natural” fornication resulting in conception is better than contracepted fornication “objectively” great theory and all. But it’s not very helpful for the question in practice, where the sinners never have any thought of this hypothetical natural fornication. If condoms weren’t available, they’d use coitus interruptus. Which is much less effective and so could result in an abortion in the end, and which doesnt protect from STDs. So it’s really better to tolerate the availability of condoms in society.

It’s no loophole, it’s just common sense. If I were giving advice to a friend, and he had already decided to have premarital sex in a way totally mentally detached from life-giving love, and I was not able to convince him otherwise, then I’d finally say, “well, then…for God’s sake…at least protect yourself”. I wouldnt say, “Well, then be sure to at least do it in a technically ‘natural’ sort of way”. That would just be ridiculous.

The latter would just be stupid and reckless, a childish oversimplification of morality and a very “black and white” robotic way of thinking. If they think that teens or twenty-somethings having premarital sex SHOULDNT be using protection, as if that makes it “better” somehow…it is they who have a legalistic obsession with the “rules” of sex and vague hypotheticals about “natural fornication” that have little application to reality (as most promiscuous people are already closed to life mentally).

IF people are going to be promiscuous, if they are already closed to life-giving love in their hearts…at that point they SHOULD at least protect themselves, and society, and the innocent child they could get involved. Otherwise, there might be an abortion, the spread of AIDS, etc

George said...

then what is your thoughts on condoms and aids in africa and all that?

A Sinner said...

The question of the Church and condoms for stopping the spread of AIDS in Africa is always, rather distractingly, framed as the question, "If a member of a married couple has AIDS, could they use condoms to prevent infecting their partner?"

But the thing is, that question for some reason assumes that it's going to be a married couple. Who, indeed, shouldn't contracept because their sex is, unlike fornicators, licit in itself. So the contraception really does ADD unnaturalness and sin. Allowing condoms would then turn into an ends justifying the means sort of thing (though, if they were ALREADY using withdrawal or some such method, I might say at that point to at least switch to a method that will also prevent transmission).

However, I doubt AIDS in Africa is primarily being transmitted husband to wife. In reality it is being transmitted by unmarried sex with multiple partners. And at that point, I think the arguments from my post apply for tolerating the availability of condoms as an effective means for preventing the spread of AIDS in a world where people are already fornicating. If they're already using coitus interruptus, or simply have a contraceptive mindset (as most fornicators do)...then using a condom makes things no worse, it's simply a safer method than withdrawal, but is morally interchangeable.

A Sinner said...

To those who would question my refusal to make a distinction between a contraceptive mindset and actually using contraceptive methods, I'll point out that fornicators who aren't open to life ARE using a contraceptive method, even if they don't withdraw: namely, chance.

Even most fornicators who recklessly "do nothing"...are, morally speaking, relying on chance to prevent pregnancy, hoping that "chance" will prevent pregnancy. But if that's your hope...that is still not "open to life" in any meaningful sense any more than those NFP users who use it with an attitude that totally excludes possible pregnancy. Who use NFP "contraceptively," instead of simply as a prudent way to space births. Who use it to prevent a family rather than to plan a family.

People with a contraceptive attitude relying on chance...are merely using the least effective method of contraception. But it is still a method. And one that additionally doesn't protect from STD's (except By Chance also).

Condoms are a lesser evil in these already bad situations than both coitus interruptus, and the "chance method".

Kelly said...

Thinking about your comment on the teen pregnancy rate between liberals and conservatives: We really have no idea how many babies are being conceived---we only know how many are being born.

I propose that teen pregnancy may be higher amongst conservatives than liberals is because conservatives tend to be pro-life whilst liberals tend to be pro-choice.

some percent of conservative teens are fornicating, but I suspect that they are less likely to then compound that problem with abortion.

A Sinner said...

It's certainly possible, at least for early chemical abortion, though I think teen-pregnancy rates include surgical abortions.

Michael (friend) said...

I have thought about this, and I think that you are wrong in saying that

"IF people are going to be promiscuous, if they are already closed to life-giving love in their hearts…at that point they SHOULD at least protect themselves, and society, and the innocent child they could get involved. Otherwise, there might be an abortion, the spread of AIDS, etc".

Reviewing Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, I first considered the attitude with which the saint addressed those Christians who did sin and think it okay to participate in the Corinthian's debaucheries:

"All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Meat for the belly, and the belly for the meats; but God shall destroy both it and them: but the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Now God hath both raised up the Lord, and will raise us up also by his power.

Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of an harlot? ..."
(Corinthians 6: 12-15)

Secondly, I considered the attitude with which Paul rebuked those Christians who were trying to justify incest in Chapter 5 and then to those who had been taking their disputes in Chapter 6 before the pagan judges and exposing themselves to the pagan law:

"Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to be judged before the unjust, and not before the saints?

Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

If therefore you have judgments of things pertaining to this world, set them to judge, who are the most despised in the church.

I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not among you any one wise man, that is able to judge between his brethren?

But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers.

Already indeed there is plainly a fault among you, that you have lawsuits one with another. Why do you not rather take wrong? Why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?

But you do wrong and defraud, and that to your brethren.

Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God?... [neither fornicators, idolators, extortioners, etc.]"
(Corinthians 6:1-9)

Now, if Paul was so adamant to criticize those Christians allowing incest within the Church, going to the secular courts for even trifling things, participating in the Corinthian's debaucheries and associating with fornicators and sinners (Corinthians 5: 9-13), would he not also criticize our fumbling with the rules of grace regarding the proper use of condoms for non-believers?

I could argue that he'd laud the need to preserve Catholic identity and moral integrity, that, despite all illusions of "lost sheep" impossible-to-convince-otherwise morally lost friend, it would be better to pain lost friendship, act like Christ and say no.

I would like to think what Christ would say regarding all this? Would he tell us to use condoms if we were totally morally lost and likely to have sex anyway with no remorse for an abortion should we get pregnant? I'd like to say no. What kind of counsel WOULD he give and how would he give it?

Those are my only gripes.

Concerning the argument using Corinthians 7:2,9 , consider:

"...I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment." (Cor 7:6), distinguishing between real divine revelation and human opinion.

A Sinner said...

"I would like to think what Christ would say regarding all this? Would he tell us to use condoms if we were totally morally lost and likely to have sex anyway with no remorse for an abortion should we get pregnant? I'd like to say no."

Christ said to Judas, going to betray him, "What you do, do quickly"...isn't this similar?

My point, as I explained even further in the comments section, is that most fornicators are ALREADY contracepting. Many men assume that women are on the Pill. I'd tell them: don't assume, you've got to take responsibility for yourself. Many of these people are already withdrawing.

It would be ridiculous for someone to be about to fornicate and to think to themselves, "Well, at least I'm not going to 'compound' my sin by contracepting. I'll just risk it!" Because "risking it" implies that they are already not open to life. Crossing-your-fingers is just as much a method of contraception as condoms, if you are closed to life, just a much less effective method. If you are going to be closed to life anyway, you should definitely at least use a method that prevents disease.

Under your logic, we'd be advising fornicators to use NFP. It's just absurd.

If someone was going to murder someone with a grenade...if I couldn't talk them out of it, I'd at least advise them to use a gun instead so that only the intended target was hit.

Michael (friend) said...

We would not be advising fornicators to use NFP because they would not be Catholic and would not need our advice to preserve the common good. Furthermore, a firm stance on that occasion would reaffirm our Catholic identity and preserve the teaching on faith and morals. Consider arguing with someone who is belligerent and not willing to change his own profligate life:

"Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which you are."
(Corinthians 3: 16-17)

"Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body.
For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body."
(Corinthians 6: 18,20)

Furthermore, the advice he gives to the Corinthians regarding the proper treatment of someone who is profligate:

"To deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Jesus Christ.

Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump?"
(Corinthians 5: 5-6)

"Which things also we speak, not in the learned words of human wisdom; but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.

But the spiritual man judgeth all things; and he himself is judged of no man.

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that we may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
(Corinthians 2: 13-16)

Lastly, consider the way in which the apostles themselves were treated for preaching the Gospel in a way that did not undermine their convictions or the law:

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but we without honor.

Even unto this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no fixed abode;

And we labor, working with our own hands: we are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it.

We are blasphemed, and we entreat; we are made as the refuse of this world, the offscouring of all even until now."
(Corinthians 4: 10-13)

Assuming that someone is not going to change regardless of what you say is a spiritual fallacy. If you stand firm at the moment of argument and then pray to God afterwards for a conversion, there exists enough raw material and witness for it to happen.

Otherwise we would be undermining our belief in Christ and that he can work on souls despite our own failings.

That is why I think advising the use of condoms to someone who's "already going to sin" is silly.

A Sinner said...

Well, then forget the idea that this is even a hypothetical counsel or "advice."

Rather, take what I'm saying as simply a concrete statement of undeniable FACT: people who fornicate, and who don't want to get pregnant or STDs, but then don't use a condom...are incredibly stupid and reckless. And if they don't use it for "moral" reasons (even though they are already fornicating), they are also seriously confused and perhaps self-destructive or schizophrenic.

Knowing that I oppose fornication in the abstract, and that I also think concretely that fornicators who don't use a condom are incredibly stupid and reckless individuals...they can draw their own conclusions about how they should act in all contingencies.

Let's put it this way; when(/"if") I fornicate, I'm using a condom because that's just common sense. I'd be an idiot if I didn't.

Also, for me it's not even so much about "advising" them as supporting the availability and knowledge.

People are told by their health class and stuff, they don't need to hear it from me. The problem is that a lot of Catholics (with no success thankfully) seem to imagine a world where contraception is illegal, even for non-Catholic producers selling to non-Catholic buyers.

I for one am simply glad to know they're out there for smart (if sinful) people to use to mitigate the material consequences of their actions (as I've said, I don't think it's any spiritually worse, that damage is already done; hooking up is meaningless fun and non-life-giving either way).

As for a married couple with AIDS, of course what they should do is abstain totally. But if they are going to have sex anyway...Well, let's say, in some African countries, the infected husband is going to force it on his wife and she cannot refuse. I'd tell her to get the female condom or something like that. At that point, it becomes an unjust aggressor.

But even if it is mutual, I'd rather a couple who refuses to abstain protect each other from transmission than, essentially, murder each other with the disease. Many Cardinals even have expressed the same opinion, and mark my word that will be reinterpreted in the case of AIDS soon enough (unless a cure is found sooner). The teaching that contraception is wrong is doctrine (and I agree)...the prudential application of that teaching to the specific situation of a couple with the greater evil of a fatal STDs who refuses to abstain? Well, there's definitely wiggle room there still, totally within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Michael (tired) said...

I would agree with you, but which of these is a greater evil, contracting the fatal sexually transmitted disease, or using a condom to prevent a pregnancy?

If the method worked solely to prevent STD's, I would agree with you. But since it does not, but cut off life, and smother the soul, I cannot.

Perhaps the disease really exists for another reason. I am old-fashioned enough to say that it does. It exists to return remorse to those individuals who did what they did, so they can search for something more meaningful and repent.

People can plan and think and do all they want, but the quicker they realize the consequences of sin (which are inevitable) the safer their souls will be in Christ's kingdom.

Mike L said...

...despite imminent disease or death, because death seems to have "lost its sting."

A Sinner said...

For a married couple where one of the spouses has AIDS, the Vatican recommends (currently) total abstinence. Not something they usually recommend for married couples, obviously.

But it's because there is already a recognition that the sex act itself is changed for such a couple. It is no longer just some pure and wholesome life-giving thing. It can no longer be that. In fact, it becomes an occasion for exposing the person they allegedly love to a horrible death.

For those who refuse to abstain, the choice then is not between life-giving sexuality and barren contracepted sexuality, but rather between a basically violent act that exposes the other partner to the risk of DEATH...and contracepted sex.

Of course, you don't like "if they refuse" hypotheticals in the subjunctive like that, so I will once again phrase it as a series of concrete FACTS (those annoying little things Idealists seem to hate so much) in the indicative mood:

Fact: In some married couples one of the partners has AIDS and one doesnt.

Fact: Someone infected with AIDS has a duty not to have sex at all, especially with not-already-infected partners.

Fact: Some married couples in such a situation REFUSE to abstain.

Fact: They are wrong to refuse to abstain, no one here is questioning that. But in reality, it happens.

Fact: Some of these couples that refuse to abstain use a condom. Some don't.

Fact: The ones who don't are being incredibly reckless, and the infected partner is essentially murdering the non-infected one.

I think it is only a modest leap from here to propose, Fact: the omission of the condom by these couples is not in any sense morally ennobling, does not make the situation any "less" bad. In fact, it might make it worse.

I'm NOT saying we can approve condoms for married couples in this situation as a good; we can however admit that it is a lesser evil when they refuse to abstain (they shouldnt refuse, yet the reality is many will in practice).

At the very least, I think viewing condom use in these types of situations as a greater evil is ridiculous and shows an unhealthy obsession with the "rules" of sex among Catholics.

Risking harming someone is bad too. And for people who are ALREADY in situations where the sex is not life-giving, but who do it anyway (they shouldn't, but they do. It happens, that's just a fact)...I think at least mitigating the risk of harm is to be given no less priority than some theoretical obsession with the sex act in question remaining technically "natural" in its mechanics.

A Sinner said...

Because there is no possibility of natural sex for these couples anyway. That's true whether we're talking about the AIDS situation, or merely hedonistic promiscuity where the sex is already going to be meaningless and where the people are closed to life mentally either way. It's going to be culture of death sex either way.

In these cases we are faced with three choices:

A) abstain completely;
B) have dead sex with a condom;
C) have dead sex without a condom.

The morally correct choice is A. It is the only good choice, no one is disputing that.

But that doesn't mean we cannot make a value judgment about the relative merits of the other two. They're both bad, but which is worse? I think arguing that B is worse than C, that "maintaining the appearances" of natural sex (when it is already anything but) for some reason outweighs the risk of ridiculous.

A is the only good option, but we can discern greater and lesser evils, and B is definitely less bad than C (though they are both bad). A refusal to even compare their relative demerits since "they're both bad" is simply idealistic and naive.

Yes, A is the correct option. But we CAN rank the other two options and say that B is better than C because the risk of harm outweighs any additional evil the condom might add (which I have already argued is very little, as those types of sex act are ALREADY not open to life in any meaningful sense, whether a condom is used or not).

A Sinner said...

I like the diocese of Albany's Needle Exchange Program, for example:

Michael said...

I like your May 12th comment.

Luke said...

This is an example of the Church being harmful, even evil, since they are promoting abortion and transmission of a deadly disease.

A Sinner said...

Well, be careful about confusing "the Church" with members of it, even the Pope.

I think the objective teaching is sound (you may disagree) but there is just some really weird priorities being put forth in much of the current subjective application.

"Casuistry" got a bad name at some point, but as Catholic Encyclopedia explains it is merely "The application of general principles of morality to definite and concrete cases of human activity, for the purpose, primarily, of determining what one ought to do, or ought not to do, or what one may do or leave undone as one pleases; and for the purpose, secondarily, of deciding whether and to what extent guilt or immunity from guilt follows on an action already posited."

I'm not saying it's good, but anyone who thinks that contraception is the greater evil compared to the dangers of unprotected sex in some of these cases...needs to seriously ask themselves what their priorities are.