Friday, August 5, 2011

In Defense of NFP

I've become loathe to do "this sort" of post lately, partly because I've been through all this so many times in various contexts and am bored of the topic, and partly because it seems rather sex-obsessed...but given how my hedonism post from a few days ago got pretty heavily into the natural law and the question of intelligible goods and, yes, sexual morality specifically, I figured I might as well bookend it with this based on a discussion/debate I had with a friend tonight regarding NFP.

The argument I had to counter was one I think faithful Catholics will hear frequently, and which it is thus important for them to be armed against. However, bastardized forms of our
own arguments which get thrown around by ignorant Catholics (and even priests and theologians and hierarchs who obviously like a sound-bite more than thinking things through) often litter the playing-field before such a discussion even begins, and cause significant misunderstanding that can leave the unprepared apologist flustered.

The argument was that NFP is somehow equivalent to contraception or sterilization. That limiting sex to infertile days to deliberately avoid conception is really no different from having contraceptive sex of some sort or sterilization. That both are methods, "technologies" as it were, for having sex without conceiving children and that, thus, to make a distinction is artificial, as the consequences intended by the person are the same either way, just the technique is different. That an allowance for any sort of infertile sex destroys any consistency in the Church's claim of requiring the connection to procreation in sexuality, of preserving mating as its meaning.

Of course, the Church doesn't say that every sex act has to lead to a conception, merely that they must be "open to life." They must be of the reproductive
sort of act (meaning, to make it obvious, that semen must be deposited in the vagina.) However, my friend was arguing, to deliberately exclude conception, to time things and formulate ones intent specifically to avoid it...is not truly "open to life." That, again, the intended consequences are the same as contraception, just the means are different.

The stupid "miracle" argument was brought up ("Well, NFP leaves room for a miracle!") and easily dismissed (as God could just as easily preform a miracle with sterilization or contraception, certain forms especially), though I certainly was not the one to bring it up, so it was something of a straw-man. I would also point out, before moving on, the same distinction I did in my post last year between contraception and sterilization; in the mind of the Church, contraception (acts where semen is not even deposited in the vagina, or is removed) renders the sex act in-itself invalid and unchaste, whereas sterilization, though wrong as a form of mutilation before-the-fact (whether sex follows or not), does not necessarily effect the morality of the sex act itself if everything still "winds up in the right place."

Anyway, my argument would be along the lines that the means make all the difference. That contraception is not wrong on account of intending the consequence of conception being avoided (in itself neutral), but on account of the defect in moral object itself. The moral object is the least understood of the "three fonts of morality" in Catholic thought, yet without it...we would be reduced to some sort of ethics of consequentialism.

I think it can be demonstrated quite easily that NFP is categorically different than contraception or sterilization just from an argument about knowledge. Because, of course, NFP is only separated from "random" sex by knowledge. The couple knows which days are fertile and which aren't and use that knowledge. As has often been pointed out, this knowledge can be used to maximize the chances of conception as much as to minimize them. But even more to the point, in itself ignorance does not excuse risking evil.

There is a notion apparently held by those who would see NFP as equivalent to contraception that somehow acting on knowledge has a moral relevance that "random" sex would not. However, this is incorrect. If I have a gun, and I do not know if the chamber is loaded or not, but know there is a good chance it is...it is wrong and equivalent to murder for me to point it at someone and fire. If you know there is such a risk, ignorance does not absolve.

To apply this analogy to NFP: if sex on infertile days (or among the perpetually infertile, or the pregnant, or the menopausal) is wrong in itself, then it would be always wrong. Ignorance would not excuse it. If the "problem" were that all infertile sex were wrong, then "shooting in the dark" would be no better than deliberately seeking out the infertility (or deliberately causing it)!

Under that logic, a condemnation of NFP, of deliberately having sex on days known to be infertile, would be equivalent to a
positive obligation to ensure a day was fertile before having sex.

And that, of course, is absurd. It's ridiculous simply because it is unworkable. For much of history, people simply couldn't ensure a day was fertile before having sex. We didn't have that knowledge. Yet, if infertile sex was in-itself wrong, the ignorance would excuse no one.

Well, some might conclude, this in itself proves the whole system is incoherent, and that all sorts of sex are okay! Either every sex act must be deliberately attempting to have children, or they're all okay! (And since the latter is simply impossible, they must all be okay!)

Thankfully, the Church is not so childish, and knows such a black-and-white dichotomy excludes the middle. In fact, what I think my demonstration (about how a condemnation of NFP would be equivalent to a positive obligation to make sure a day was fertile) shows...is that NFP must be categorically different from contraception or sterilization, and thus they could be condemned or approved separately. NFP does not rise or fall with contraception.

We cannot imagine a workable condemnation of NFP that didn't, by it's own internal logic, turn into an impossible requirement that couples make sure every sex act is fertile and deliberately intend to use it for baby-making. On the other hand, a condemnation of contraception turns into no such requirement. The only obligation there is to
not alter the act, something that is obviously a very deliberate choice to do; whereas a condemnation of NFP would require positively seeking out fertility.

They are clearly categorically different on this grounds alone. NFP is morally "passive" and to condemn it would be to impose an active requirement on couples to ensure a day was fertile before having sex (as "remaining ignorant" would not excuse). The moral object in sex using NFP is the same moral object (valid natural sex) as in fertile sex, merely the circumstances in which the choice are made are different. Contraception, on the other hand, is an entirely separate choice and active moral object that can be morally forbidden without imposing any sort of additional obligation on anyone.

Of course, circumstances can affect morality. Shooting a gun when no one is standing in front of you is totally different than shooting it when someone is, obviously, on account of the foreseen consequences. To condemn NFP on the grounds of foreseen consequences, however, would be to assume that "sexual pleasure without a conception resulting" is an evil consequence in-itself. However, that would bring us back to the idea that fertility and deliberately conceptive intent was required for valid sex, which is I think the heart of the issue that needs to be debunked (and Catholic apologists don't help here!)

So this raises the question of what
is required for valid sex, what is the intelligible good associated with sexual desire/pleasure? If it isn't fertility (impossible to guarantee; and against the constant tradition of allowing the infertile, the pregnant, and the menopausal to continue marital intercourse, as well as the allowance for NFP)...and yet it excludes contraception...what is it?

People eager to see the Church's teaching collapse in order to justify their own unchastity are likely to quickly jump to the conclusion that that it can't be anything. That if the intelligible good actualized in sex (and which it pleasure signifies) is not fertility/conception itself, then the condemnation of contraception makes no sense, as what other good does contraception exclude except conception?? And therefore, dissenters are often anxious to conclude, the intelligible good actualized in sex must be psycho-emotional-unity/intimacy/expression-of-love/bonding/relationship-building-ex-stasis/whatever other sentimentalist pet excuse or thought-terminating-cliche they use to justify their own lusts (if they even bother, at this point, to admit that some intelligible good is necessary at all!)

However, besides the problems with circularity (or at least ends-justifying-means) that my post on hedonism pointed out about such identifications, and besides the absolutely intellectually dishonest way this seems to relegate sex's connection to reproduction to just being sort of a side effect that can happen sometimes...this also is an example of sloppy thinking excluding the middle.

The truth is, yes, it is impossible to reasonably claim that fertility/conception is the intelligible good for sexual pleasure. For one, the Church has always allowed sex during pregnancy, for the infertile and menopausal, and (once knowledge of the fertility cycle was discovered) NFP. But also, as was emphasized at the beginning of this post, if actual reproduction were the intelligible good in sex, there would be a positive obligation to make sure each and every sex act was actually reproductive. That's clearly not the case, and yet I think people, even well-meaning faithful Catholics, get confused by all the verbiage about "life" and "procreation" and all that. So people assume that either the intelligible good is actual reproduction, or else purely recreational/relational.

In reality, though, there can be an intelligible good intrinsically related to procreation which is not actual reproduction. And, in fact, this is just what the Church proposes as the end of sexuality: procreative union. As discussed in that hedonism post, it would be a mistake to think the Church proposes some sort of psycho-emotional "unity" as an independent end of sex separable from the procreative. No, the union proposed is the very concrete biophysical union of the two halves of the reproductive system coming together in their common function. This union is reproductive (obviously, it is the union of the two halves of the reproductive system) but that doesn't mean it need always result in an actual conception. This union is a real intelligible good whether it bears full fruit or not.

In fact, conception itself could not be the intelligible good in sex exactly because it takes place potentially hours after the sex act. A pleasure or enjoyment will correspond temporally with the good it signifies, so whatever good is actualized in sex cannot be something that occurs later, it must occur during the very event. And given that this pleasure is localized in the genitals and coincides (in the male) with ejaculation, it is pretty clearly the deposit of semen which is the moment of the occurrence of the intelligible good, not what may later be accomplished by it in the female body (the woman's pleasure, it may be assumed, corresponds to something closely related but less localized, like "receptivity," and thus may occur before or after the actual deposit).

The nature of sexual union is in the "delivery," and in that it finds its natural fulfillment. The delivery is from one "half" of the reproductive system to the other, and involves delivering the "ingredients" of reproduction, but sex itself is not naturally "responsible" for anything beyond that; the conception and gestation will take place (non-voluntarily) inside the woman later.

Now, it was asked in my conversation, what good is intelligible in the deposit of semen in a vagina if there is no conception? If, say, there is no ovum (or even no uterus) waiting to use it? Why is that any more intelligible a good than ejaculation outside the vagina or in some other orifice?? Well, frankly, I think to a natural-thinking person it would be obvious why they are not equivalent, why one act has an organic coherence that the others don't. The delivery of semen to the vagina is simply the natural fulfillment of sex. But for those whom modern nihilism has confused, I can offer some analogies as to what constitutes true intelligible unions.

I think, for example, of a cord for an appliance plugged into a socket. The appliance is broken, but if it is plugged in, there is still a real union between the appliance and the electrical grid inasmuch as electricity still flows through (even if, because of mechanical failure, it does not actualize the work the machine was made for). The circuit is still completed. The potential is there even if, because of accidental circumstances, it is not actualized. On the other hand, taping two plugs together is mere juxtaposition, not a real union (at least, not an electrical union) because no electricity is exchanged.

For a union to be achieved, two things must be more than juxtaposed. Rather, they must work together for a common function. Ejaculation into a mouth or anus is mere juxtaposition, or if there is a common striving or cooperation, it is merely towards masturbatory stimulation (and as discussed in the hedonism post, it is circular to claim that "unity" in obtaining pleasure can be the good that pleasure signifies).

However, in valid sex, there is a real cooperation between the two halves of the reproductive system in taking the initial step of the process, at least. Which step we might call something like "acquiring the ingredients." The oven might be broken, the potential may never be realized, but there is a real intelligible cooking union in two people mixing the ingredients for a cake together, even if it never gets baked, even if they know it will never get baked (perhaps they're practicing to stay in top form for when they do have to actually bake a cake!)

Consider: there is a big difference between two people sitting at a table working independently on separate puzzles, or even "working together" by confusedly trying to jam pieces together from two different puzzles, and two people actually cooperating on the assembly of the same puzzle. The first is not cooperation in a common task at all, it is mere juxtaposition or "parallel play." The second is a form of cooperation in something, I suppose, maybe they consider shoving mismatched puzzle-pieces together some sort of game...but it certainly can't be said to be cooperation or union in the assembly of a single puzzle. The third, however, clearly is cooperation in assembling a puzzle, and this clearly remains true even if pieces are missing, even if they know pieces are missing, or even if they deliberately intend merely to start the puzzle together but never finish it. Cooperation in starting an intelligible task, in taking the first step...is true cooperation in an intelligible good whether or not the other steps are ever reached or can be reached or even intended to be reached.

Likewise, in valid natural sex, there is a real reproductive union even if, once the semen is in its natural receptacle, other circumstances (even deliberately sought out circumstances) prevent an actual conception from taking place. Because conception was never the intelligible good in the sex itself (conception, if it does take place, could happen hours later). The intelligible good was the reproductive union of taking the first step of depositing semen in the vagina. The couple has "completed" each other physically, has given the other the ingredient or receptacle they could not obtain from their own bodies (or bodies of like sex). Reproduction may not result, but sex has fulfilled its role in the process, at least.

The two halves of the reproductive system have really cooperated in their common function, in the procreative process, by exchanging ingredients. Even if that process remains incomplete beyond that first step, there is still a real intelligible procreative union in taking that first step and, indeed, the one corresponding to sexual pleasure (which only ever coincides with "getting the ball rolling" given that the next steps happen involuntarily inside the woman much later).

They have "exchanged the potentialities of parenthood" by taking that first step, even if in given circumstances (or perpetually) those potentialities are zero or close to zero. Still, there is a huge difference between a gift of ingredients (to be totally graphic: cake batter) to a neighbor you know will never bake it, and simply dumping it on the driveway or throwing it at the side of her house. The former is an intelligible gift and, since all the matter is there, could even be called, implicitly, the gift of a cake, even if never fully actualized/baked once given. The latter, on the other hand, is just making a mess.

So, in summary: to condemn NFP simply because it involves sexual pleasure obtained deliberately without actual reproduction would be equivalent to imposing an (impossible) positive obligation on couples to ensure a sex act resulted in conception every time. Because if infertile sex is bad, it would be always bad, the mere ignorance of "random" sex would not excuse. Condemning contraception, however, would not necessarily be equivalent to imposing such a positive obligation, so it is clearly categorically different than NFP. In reality, infertile sex cannot be considered an evil in itself, but that doesn't mean that sex acts which don't deposit semen in the vagina are okay as, in the categories of the Church, such acts are not merely infertile, but impotent. Much confusion about all this likely results from thinking the procreative end of sex can only mean fully actualized reproduction or a conception, when really the intelligible good in sex itself is merely the reproductive union of taking the first step of "acquiring the ingredients" together or "exchanging the potentials." Whether that goes on (or even can go on) to bear full fruit within the woman or not, cooperating in that initial function of the reproductive system remains a true intelligible procreative union.

Now, all of this has largely been directed against those who would dissent on Church teaching. However, before concluding, it would be worth also mentioning those Catholics who constantly obsess over "NFP being used with a contraceptive mentality." In reality, I'm not even sure what this would mean.

Certainly a married couple who can do so is obligated to have, I'd think, at least one child. To use NFP to avoid any children for ones whole marriage would be to withhold reproductive capacity from the other, the exchange of which is the very nature of the marriage contract. Exchanging potentialities on any given day when the potentials are zero or near zero isn't wrong, there is still a real reproductive union there. But perpetually doing it on those days and never even once exchanging on a day when things were at "full potential" would constitute a withholding unless there was a grave reason that such an exchange would be more harmful than good. For a chef to assemble the ingredients of a cake without actually baking it may be perfectly fine in itself. But for him to spend his whole career and never even bake one cake even when it was possible...well, he'd hardly deserve the title of chef.

However, I will point out: this applies equally to total abstinence, which would likewise be wrong for a married couple unless they had a very good reason. We likewise probably wouldn't call someone a chef who never baked a cake even if he also never even assembled the ingredients. The problem here isn't, then, NFP being used "contraceptively" (the sex they do have, on the infertile days, may still be totally chaste). Rather, it's a question of the general obligation of married couples to have children, not a question of that needing to be actualized in every sex act (as long as the intelligible reproductive union is maintained).

Beyond this, talk of NFP (or even sterilization) being used with, or leading to, a "contraceptive mindset" only makes sense in a world where people's understanding of sex has already been reduced to something essentially masturbatory. I have no doubt that some couples using NFP or having sex during pregnancy or after menopause (and most people sterilizing themselves, either permanently or temporarily)...have no particular notion or understanding of the good of reproductive union in "acquiring the ingredients" as separate from actual reproduction, and are pursuing sex with an intent formulated to exclude everything but the recreational or possibly relational apparent goods (and, without the foundation of an intelligible good, they are only ever merely apparent). And yet, if they don't even consider it, can they really exclude it in intent when they aren't actually excluding it in practice?

So, in closing, I would remind people of something from a Catholic Encyclopedia article which I always find useful: "it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one's mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God," and also to close with something more from that section of Grisez I quoted in the hedonism post: "This is not the same as the situation in which one spontaneously does reasonable things without having reasoned about them. Nor is it the same as cases in which one acts for an intelligible good and gains emotional satisfaction in its concrete, sensibly pleasant aspects." In reality, we're naturally drawn to pleasurable things, and that's totally fine as long as we do not intentionally engage in enjoying them severed from their connatural intelligible good which the subjective enjoyment merely signifies.

18 comments:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Interesting post and very informative. It cleared up some things which a FSSP priest I heard talking about NFP (see here: http://www.sensustraditionis.org/webaudio/Sermons/Disk5/Contraception.mp3) had confused me about. HE says that NFP's purpose is to know the fertile days so as to facilitate procreation. For a sermon, it is awfully technical :-D

A Sinner said...

Some traditionalists are uncomfortable with NFP, they too are confused and see it merely as a loophole or "Catholic contraception" and therefore distance themselves from it.

In reality though, it's pretty clear that they don't understand that "procreation" is a little broader than actual conception, and that if the latter were the intelligible good it would require positively ensuring fertility in each and every act (ignorance would add nothing, "shooting in the dark" would be just as bad).

Not understanding the Church's metaphysics fully enough, some people have a hard time seeing that there is an intelligible good (union of the two halves of the reproductive system as one organism) in "getting the ball rolling" through deposit even if the process never plays out to full fruit.

Robert said...

Alexander R. Pruss' article “CHRISTIAN SEXUAL ETHICS AND TELEOLOGICAL ORGANICITY” has a great argument countering the NFP=contraception statement. In section 5.1 he writes about the objection that NFP allows you to transfer your sex to infertile days,

“There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as moving the sexual act from one time to another time. Suppose one wants to say the act is “moved” from a fertile Monday to an infertile Friday. But one cannot say this. A human act is something that is unrepeatably defined temporally. A sexual act on Monday and a sexual act on Friday are two different acts. The act of abstaining from the sexual act on Monday and of engaging in a sexual act on Friday is not an act of transferring the sexual act from Monday to Friday, because it is a logical impossibility, strictly speaking, to transfer a specific act. The unrepeatable Monday-sexual-act cannot be moved to Friday any more than one can move the Monday itself to Friday.”

http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/ap85/papers/unity.html

A Sinner said...

Right, that's the thing: NFP isn't really "doing" anything. Abstinence isn't a positive act, it's a non-act. So unless we are proposing that couples are positively OBLIGATED to have sex on every fertile day, abstaining on fertile days cannot be condemned.

Likewise, if sex on infertile days is okay to "risk" in ignorance, it must be okay with knowledge too.

It would be morally absurd to require people to "remain ignorant." And, if they do gain the knowledge (of which days are fertile/infertile) using this knowledge to abstain or have sex on given days could not be condemned unless we propose a positive obligation to have sex on fertile days or to avoid it on infertile days. Otherwise, the knowledge adds nothing to the equation (if it's okay, it must be okay whether ignorant or knowing, if it's not okay...the ignorance would not excuse).

On the other hand, contraception (which involves a positive altering of the act) CAN clearly be condemned without any of the above epistemological contradictions.

NFP is okay because both "halves" of what it is are okay: abstinence on fertile days is clearly okay, because there is no positive obligation to have sex on every fertile day. And sex on infertile days is clearly okay, because there has never been a positive obligation to avoid sex on infertile days (which, if it were bad, mere ignorance or "shooting in the dark" would NOT excuse).

And so if both those moral objects are okay in-themselves, combining them with the mere knowledge of strategic timing cannot be considered to add anything to the moral equation.

Contraception, on the other hand, alters the moral act itself by excluding deposit of semen in the vagina...which is, in itself, essential to the intelligible good, in sex, of cooperating in that "first step" of the reproductive process.

Sterilization, of course, as discussed in my Contraception vs Sterilization post...is wrong simply as a mutilation, whether sex follows or not, but does not necessarily render the sex act "invalid" or unchaste in the eyes of the Church if there is still a deposit of semen. Deliberately breaking the oven so you don't have to bake the cake is vandalism, certainly, but that doesn't mean mixing the ingredients afterward isn't still a true cooperation.

I think a big source of the confusion about NFP vs Contraception comes from the notion that the Church says actual reproduction (ie, a conception, or the "risk of" it at least) is the intelligible good in sex, when really the intelligible good is simply the reproductive union of the sort which is the "first step," the "exchange of ingredients."

This leads people to conclude that the evil the Church sees in contraception is preventing conception, when really the evil is the prevention of deposit.

This is only further confused by not making clear the distinction between contraception and sterilization, as the latter does NOT necessarily prevent deposit. And so if people mistakenly think such sterilizations are condemned as "contraceptive"...they will not understand that contraception's specific malice lies not in the exclusion of conception itself, but in the exclusion even of valid seminal deposit.

Turmarion said...

Of course, the Church doesn't say that every sex act has to lead to a conception, merely that they must be "open to life." They must be of the reproductive sort of act....

Well put. That sums up, in a nutshell, my objection. I don't think this is a meaningful distinction.

If you follow the logic out strictly to its conclusion, the traditionalists who are uncomfortable with NFP are actually correct; and the obligation to ensure fertility does logically follow. I don't think it's the Church's wisdom, but its inconsistency that explains why it doesn't teach this.

I think a big source of the confusion about NFP vs Contraception comes from the notion that the Church says actual reproduction (ie, a conception, or the "risk of" it at least) is the intelligible good in sex, when really the intelligible good is simply the reproductive union of the sort which is the "first step," the "exchange of ingredients." This leads people to conclude that the evil the Church sees in contraception is preventing conception, when really the evil is the prevention of deposit.

Once more, well and succinctly put--I just think the distinction is meaningless and that therefore the logic is unintelligible. Also, having read many NFP advocates and Church documents, I'm not sure that the Church doesn't say, or at least strongly imply, that the sin is, in fact, the prevention of contraception. In any case, I think the dissemination of the official teaching, even from official sources, is extremely confused much of the time.

A Sinner said...

"That sums up, in a nutshell, my objection. I don't think this is a meaningful distinction."

Not a meaningful distinction, or not a meaningful intelligible good??

There is clearly a distinction between preventing conception and preventing even deposit of semen in the vagina, as there are methods ("sterilization" as opposed to contraception) like the Pill which allow deposit to take place but render the act infertile.

The Church has ALWAYS made a distinction between the infertile, on the one hand, and the IMPOTENT on the other. The former can validly marry and have sex, the latter cannot (because they cannot even complete the "real" sex act).

And, though they don't make this clear enough, there is clearly a conceptual difference in Church teaching between contraception and sterilization. For example, sex on the Pill is considered by canonical courts valid for consummation of marriage. Sex with a condom is not.

"If you follow the logic out strictly to its conclusion, the traditionalists who are uncomfortable with NFP are actually correct; and the obligation to ensure fertility does logically follow."

What logic, though?

The Church teaches that there is an intelligible good in two halves of the reproductive system coming together as one organism to fulfill their natural function (of delivering semen to the proper receptacle in the woman).

I think phrasing this as "open to life/procreation" may confuse people, definitely, but the real good is simply the one-flesh union of the exchange of procreative ingredients.

"Once more, well and succinctly put--I just think the distinction is meaningless and that therefore the logic is unintelligible."

Again, what distinction? Between the delivery of ingredients and what may happen to those ingredients once the woman has them??

Sex itself has never been responsible for the latter, only the former. Its natural end, in itself, is "complete" with the delivery (and, indeed, sexual pleasure in the male coincides with ejaculation).

"Also, having read many NFP advocates and Church documents, I'm not sure that the Church doesn't say, or at least strongly imply, that the sin is, in fact, the prevention of conception."

I think there has been a terrible job explaining it, which has led to a loss of a lot of credibility, even though there IS an internal logic to it if one doesn't get caught up in all the sound-bites about procreation.

Anonymous said...

While A Sinner's exposition is lucid and informative, there's a part of the NFP question that hasn't been mentioned yet.

In the hermetically sealed world of thought experiment and theology, NFP works. A "typical" woman at a "typical" age should have the same percentage of family planning certitude as a Pill user.

However, there ain't no "typical" woman anywhere. Ovulation/menstruation, and female physiology in general, is often not easy to gauge. NFP works very well for some couples who can easily establish a abstinence rhythm because the wife has exactly timed periods. Great! For others, irregular ovulation and menses, combined with both partner's frustration with establishing abstinent periods, can place a great strain on marriage. Using contraception is a sin. However, it's a lot easier for a woman to pop Orthotricyclen than spend months charting and measuring to seemingly no avail. What should a priest say to a couple if they've read up on every NFP method, charted for many months, bought all the electronic gizmos, and still got a fourth "surprise" in the first half-year of use?

I just don't see a diocesan-level commitment to post-marriage NFP counseling for those couples who struggle to follow the Church's teachings. A few Pre-Cana nights isn't going to do it for some couples. If we want Catholics to stay in the Church with good conscience, post-marriage instruction is just as important.

Caveat: I'm a person with "intrinsically disordered deep-seated homosexual tendencies" (IDDSHT?), so I lack a physiological drive towards procreation. I'm also bigger than Mama Cass after a pork rind binge, so my chastity is assured. What I know I've gleaned from family and friends who've found NFP challenging. It's time for the trad and lib churches to realize that The Way can't be explained in one evening and in a laminated manual.

A Sinner said...

Perhaps, but the Church's sexual ethic doesn't hinge on NFP being effective, merely allowed. If a couple truly CAN'T responsibly have any more children (hard to imagine in the First World outside certain medical situations) they may have to abstain entirely.

Of course, I assume that someday soon there WILL be a device that will be able to detect ovulation with 99.99999% certainty.

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt for a moment that the Church does not care about efficacy. Rather, NFP fulfills the Catholic understanding of matrimony and indeed personhood. This is why I mentioned IDDSHT tongue-in-cheek. In the eyes of the Church, my innate understanding of the world is flawed precisely because I do not intuitively understand that NFP is the doctrine of matrimony in practice, so to say. Per Catholic doctrine, any person should ontologically and physiologically grasp NFP when explained in a TOTB frame. There are sanctioned groups (Courageous? think not) in the Church that attempt coercion to at least get gay people to pay lip service to a physiological understanding which they will never understand. Even heterosexual people struggle to accept the ontological-procreative model set forth for them by Mother Church.

The question of responsibility and family size lies not after the marriage but before it. Again, I speak of what I will never know; this is knowledge gleaned from others. Still, I have known not a few young couples who have gone into marriage without any realistic understanding of the financial commitment. Pre-Cana often includes a financial planning quick overview. Life the NFP way requires a sustained willingness to sacrifice financially and materially for the larger family. This, again, is very difficult for many new couples to grasp or assent to. After all, we are all bombarded at every turn with the facade of "happiness" through material wealth.

We of the present age will never be able to predict ovulation perfectly for every woman. Maybe later in time. Then again, I'll bet that 1000 years from now the alien-humanoids will regard our "medicine" as barbaric as King Henry's syphilitic mercury bath.

Turmarion said...

I'll try to be brief, but it may take more than one post because of the size limit; apologies in advance.

Not a meaningful distinction, or not a meaningful intelligible good??

If I'm understanding correctly, you're saying something like this:

1. Conception is the Divinely-instituted intrinsic good toward which intercourse is ordered. Thus no one may deliberately and knowingly prevent this good; hence the forbidding of contraception.

2. On the other hand, each individual act of intercourse need not result in pregnancy, even if the lack of conception is foreseen with complete accuracy. Hence the permissibility of sex for infertile or elderly spouses and NFP.

3. However, in cases such as those in 2, the sperm must still be deposited in the vagina. The reason for this is that it is a "reproductive sort of act'. That is, the integrity of the act must be preserved even if it is known that the act will not result in conception because the intrinsic good of the act lies not only in its efficacy, but in the bodily symbolism which is displayed. Roughly, it's like a sacrament in that the proper form and matter must be present.

4. Therefore, contraception, of whatever form is sinful and forbidden, whereas a complete sexual act is not even if it is known for certain that it will not result in conception.

As far as the logic of trads who dislike or don't allow NFP, the problem lies with point 2. There was never talk of the "unitive" end of sex before the last century, and many Fathers are quite clear in condemning any any sex that is infertile, as well as dismissing the "unitive" aspect altogether. You can read more here and here, among others, but let me give just a few quotes, emphasis added, and needing a new post.

Turmarion said...

OK, representative quotes:

Athenagoras of Athens. Supplication for the Christians. 33. From 177 AD:
"Having the hope of eternal life, we despise the things of this life, even
the pleasures of the soul, each of us reckoning her his wife whom he has
married according to the laws laid down by us, and that only for the purpose
of having children
."

Clement of Alexandria. Paedagogos 2. 10:(before 202. AD)"Marriage in
itself merits esteem and the highest approval, for the Lord wished men to
'be fruitful and multiply. ' He did not tell them, however, to act like
libertines, nor did He intend them to surrender themselves to pleasure as
though born only to indulge in sexual relations
... . . Why, even unreasoning
beasts know enough not to mate at certain times. To indulge in intercourse
without intending children is to outrage nature, whom we should take as our
instructor
."

Lactantius: "[Some] complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power . . . or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife (Divine Institutes 6:20 [A.D. 307])."

"God gave us eyes not to see and desire pleasure, but to see acts to be performed for the needs of life; so too, the genital ['generating'] part of the body, as the name itself teaches, has been received by us for no other purpose than the generation of offspring (ibid. 6:23:18)."

These are just a few examples that could be put forth--if I had time, there are scads of others. Now one can argue interpretation or that such statements are non-infallible, etc., but I trust it's clear to anyone reading in an objective frame of mind that the Church Fathers are clearly forbidding sex for any reason besides conception, and are denigrating or denying what we'd now call the "unitive end".

Thus, trads in this respect are correct in seeing NFP as a doctrinal innovation of recent years which (at least to all appearances) contravenes centuries of previous teaching. Moreover, reading statements like these does indicate a view that, taken to its logical conclusion, indeed deems any sex act that can't result in conception as sinful; which implies by corollary that couples must have sex only if they intend to have children, period.

In my view, the reason the Church hasn't gone to the logical conclusion and banned sex among the elderly or infertile or insisted that couples "pop 'em out" as much as possible is not because of any interior logic, since these propositions are contradictory, but out of inconsistency. I think the Church often subliminally realizes that things are more complex than the official moral reasoning lets on, and thus, in a manner somewhat similar to the Orthodox economia allows its practice to be inconsistent.

In short, the Church, while denying any unitive goal, realized that marriages that are sterile or between the elderly have a goodness in themselves, and that couples sometimes need to have sex but can't afford children. Thus it allowed such marriages (though even that took awhile--the early Church strongly discouraged marriage by the elderly or widows, remember) and NFP, though this was logically inconsistent with the stated principles.

This is what I meant when I said, "If you follow the logic out strictly to its conclusion, the traditionalists who are uncomfortable with NFP are actually correct; and the obligation to ensure fertility does logically follow."

Turmarion said...

OK, I think this will be the last one.

I take issue with point 3 as stated in my post of 9:10 AM; or as you put it, "The Church teaches that there is an intelligible good in two halves of the reproductive system coming together as one organism to fulfill their natural function (of delivering semen to the proper receptacle in the woman)," and "[T]he real good is simply the one-flesh union of the exchange of procreative ingredients." In both, the unstated clause is even if it is known with certainty that conception will not result.

To say that conception is an intelligible good is fine; to say that the union of man and wife is an intelligible good is also fine. To say that the good is not in the union except insofar as the sperm gets to the right place nor in the conception since conception doesn't have to occur--that is what I consider unintelligible.

To say, as most of the Fathers did, that sex must not only be "open to life" but must be capable of resulting in conception is logical. To say that preventing conception is permissible is logical. To say that conception may be prevented by acts where conception cannot occur but that such acts must still be unimpeded doesn't seem even capable of being logical.

On a related note, we've discussed this before over at Arturo's blog, and we both agreed, if I remember correctly, that natural law arguments don't work and that the theology of the body is in many ways problematic. What you seem to be saying here, though, sounds almost like TOB. To say that the sex act must be complete and unimpeded even if non-conceptive, seems to be saying that any kind of contraception destroys the unitive aspect of sex. Thus, while contraceptive sex might seem to achieve the unitive end, it doesn't really--contra the lived experience of millions of men and women--and sounds suspiciously like TOB.

Given all this, I consider the "distinction between preventing conception and preventing even deposit of semen in the vagina" to be meaningless, and the statement, "And, though they don't make this clear enough, there is clearly a conceptual difference in Church teaching between contraception and sterilization. For example, sex on the Pill is considered by canonical courts valid for consummation of marriage. Sex with a condom is not," also to represent a meaningless distinction. Once again, I think the Church is actually being inconsistent in its practice, since it would be worse to invalidate all marriages using the Pill than to put up with it on one level. Beyond that, I'm not sure the Church's position is as well-thought out as you indicate, nor (pending an encyclical) even what you say it is, since different factions in the Magisterium seem to have radically different views on the matter.

Two final thoughts. One, to say, "Perhaps, but the Church's sexual ethic doesn't hinge on NFP being effective, merely allowed," seems to me to give the game away. Thus NFP is a sop to throw to couples who have legitimate concerns about family size, and too bad if it doesn't work.

This ties in to what Anonymous says: "I just don't see a diocesan-level commitment to post-marriage NFP counseling for those couples who struggle to follow the Church's teachings. A few Pre-Cana nights isn't going to do it for some couples."

This is completely in line with my experience, and for the Church to behave this way towards those who do accept its teaching on contraception is simply abominable. It's saying, "Don't do this, do that--though it might not even work--and good luck with it, 'cause we have other things to do!" Even if one accepts the teaching, I think this is one more reason the Church has so little credibility on the issue.

A Sinner said...

I am going to do another post analyzing NFP based on the "three fonts of morality" in order to show again (more clearly and tersely I hope) why contraception (and sterilization) can be opposed, but NFP cannot, with internal consistency being maintained.

However, I will address a few specific points of yours here:

First, while I do find the analogy to form and matter in a sacrament vaguely helpful, I would NOT advocate TOTB or anything about "proper symbolism." That's a novel category, all very poetic, but ultimately not enough to demonstrate a moral "ought" or "ought not."

I DO support a natural law approach, but believe that an "externalistic" understanding of the natural law based on a mere "functionalism of body parts" is a huge problem. The natural law must be understood in an INTERNAL fashion, in other words: related to the goods which engage the Will.

Two, in terms of the quotes from the Fathers, I would say this:

Understood in the context of their moral concerns generally, the Fathers seem to be primarily concerned with pleasure taking precedence to the rational good that pleasure represents in our motives (ie, fallen concupiscence).

Now, they are (perhaps a bit misleadingly) calling this rational good "the procreation of offspring"...but as I've argued, that doesn't necessarily exclude the sort of act that leads to the procreation of offspring even if none actually takes place.

For example, there are many stories in the early Christian tradition about women who were known to be barren for years finally having children by a miracle of God.

There is never any implication that they abstained from sex because of their sterility, nor that they were explicitly alerted by God of its miraculous cure before resuming marital intercourse. No, the story seems to be that they kept having sex without being able to conceive (even though their infertility was obvious) but that at long last, after sex one day, they finally DID become pregnant. And there is never any implication that the sex in the mean-time, when they thought they were barren, was wrong.

On the other hand, in the minds of the early Fathers, it was quite possible to be concupiscent even when the act DID result in conception or was completely fertile/"open to life."

Because the question for them does not seem to be so much about fertility vs infertility (though some may have hastily jumped to that conclusion), but rather about the relationship between upper appetite (reason) and lower (sensuous) appetite in our motives.

They seem to have believed that the Rational motive would always preferably be explicit and immediate, or else there would be at least venial sin. However, more nuanced heads prevailed, and we realized that, "there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one's mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God."

In other words, if the pleasure intelligibly signifies a rational good, the pleasure is not a bad motive (and, in fact, it is simply the subjective representation of the good sought).

There IS a very real concern in fallen concupiscence (ie, the lower appetite petitioning the will independent of reason) and we must work to bring it under the control of reason, but as long as the lower and upper appetites coincide, there is no problem intrinsically (though some of the Fathers seemed, understandably, concerned if the lower appetite was being followed on its own without any heed paid to the question of rationality, even when it COINCIDENTALLY happened to also line-up with Reason).

A Sinner said...

Three, I would again question your definition of the "unitive end"

As I've said, people seem to imagine the "union" to mean the subjective psycho-emotional union, but this is not what the Church means at all. It means the very concrete biophysiological union.

And this is not ACTUALLY separate or independent from the procreative end at all. They are perhaps abstractable conceptually or in emphasis, but in practice amount to the same thing: the deposit of semen in the vagina.

Four, in response to your conclusion that, "To say that conception may be prevented by acts where conception cannot occur but that such acts must still be unimpeded doesn't seem even capable of being logical"...I would simply point out that this statement is, in itself, illogical.

Because NFP doesn't "prevent" conception at all. You're acting as if NFP somehow actively "prevents" conception. But it doesn't. NFP is entirely passive, morally speaking. As the quote Rob gives above points out, we cannot logically speak of "transferring" sex from one day to another, the act on the two days must be considered independently.

To say sex acts on NFP (or even the acquiring knowledge of timing beforehand) are "preventing" conception is incoherent. Prevention of conception cannot, in any logical metaphysics, be said to be caused by the sex on infertile days...because there would be no conception that day whether the couple had sex OR NOT!! So the non-conception cannot be said to be caused by the sex at all.

Abstaining on fertile days might be said to "prevent a conception"...but unless we're claiming that there is a positive obligation to have sex on every fertile day, to be constantly actualizing a specific good, this is not problematic either.

This point about NFP not actually doing anything actively is what I intend to address in my next post.

Turmarion said...

Your response is very thoughtful. What I'd say, in brief:

We can't read the Fathers' minds, so it's hard to tell what they meant, as a noted in passing before. It is true that many moral theologians even into modern times believed that even "permitted" sex (between husband and wife which is "open to life") was always a venial sin. I think this is significant in trying to parse the worldview of the times.

Also, many of the Fathers (Jerome springs to mind) had an outright repulsion to sex. For many of them, it seems that it wasn't just that "Rational motive would always preferably be explicit and immediate," but that it was the only legitimate motive and that ideally there would be no sensual pleasure at all, either physical or emotional. Once more, not necessarily representative of the whole Church, but very common and revealing.

In any case, while acknowledging the complexity and the context of the Fathers' approach, I think it's clear to see why they can be (and are) easily read as condemning even NFP-type sex; which was my point.

It's true, as you say, that there were couples who evidently continued intercourse despite sterility; but it's also true that at many times the Church strongly discouraged remarriage and often recommended Josephite marriages. Once more, sex is a messy, complex topic, and I think the Church often found that in order to deal with it an approach that was inconsistent actually worked better.

In this respect, it was somewhat like Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church has often been criticized by Westerners as being somewhat loose, messy, and inconsistent, as contrasted with the crystal clarity of Scholastic thought; but I think the wisdom of the East (and the Achilles heel of Scholasticism) is that life is indeed messy and inconsistent, and that while you need principles, you get into problems if you're too consistent with them.

As I've said, people seem to imagine the "union" to mean the subjective psycho-emotional union, but this is not what the Church means at all. It means the very concrete biophysiological union.

I have to say you're the first person I've ever read who's defined "unitive end" thus, including a lot of promotional material for NFP. I see what you're saying in this regard.

But in that case, it seems to me that the unitive end collapses into the same thing as the procreative end; since if the unitive end is just the biolphysiological union which can bring about conception under the right circumstances, it seems as if it's not really different, except in a very abstract, analytical way from the "procreative end".

In fact, I don't see how it even is an end, a telos, if it's about "biophysiological union". Pleasure is an end for which said union might be undertaken; so are communion and love between spouses, procreation, etc.--but I don't see how the union in itself is an end, any more than chewing food is an end, rather than nutrition.

As to natural law, when you start trying to apply it internally to will and such, it seems to me to break down. It is logical to say that sex is naturally for the purpose of procreation and that it thus must be used for such (the externalistic view); but when you get into will and volition and states of mind, it seems to be saying that certain frames of mind or desires are somehow "natural", as opposed to others that are not; and then you sink in a swampy mass of subjectivism, IMO.

Turmarion said...

As to my error in referring to NFP as "preventing" conception, point taken. Let me be a little more careful in stating what I meant.

A. One might say that sex is permissible only when there is an active intention and ability to procreate. In such a case, married couples would be bound to abstain at all times except when they specifically intended to have a child. It would also, obviously, forbid even NFP. If they didn't want more children, it would be abstinence until menopause. This position is logical, whatever one thinks of it.

B. If it is considered permissible to have sex while intending not to procreate--not to have a child--then this can be done in two ways: by contraception or NFP. Both are methods of avoiding pregnancy, one by direct prevention, one by timing.

If one assumes B, then it's hard to see how there is a moral difference between the two methods of avoiding conception. Yes, one prevents, one avoids--but the goal, i.e. not to have a child--is the same. It's hard to see why the method by which this goal is accomplished, unless such a method is intrinsically immoral, makes a difference; and it's hard to see why contraception is intrinsically immoral.

Consider an admittedly goofy analogy. Suppose I say that guns are designed to shoot projectiles and that even if one is not intending to hit something, one has to use real bullets, since blanks are intrinsically incapable of hitting anything. Thus if I'm filming a Western, I have to use live ammo and just be sure I miss the actors I'm supposedly shooting!

More seriously, if the desire not to have children, or the desire to have sex with someone incapable of having children, is morally wrong, then contraception and NFP are both out, as well as any sex for an infertile or elderly couple. On the other hand, if the desire, for the appropriate reason, not to have a child, or the desire to sleep with one's infertile spouse, is not wrong, then it's extremely hard to see why the sperm must still be deposited in an unimpeded way. We both agree that the external natural law argument is ineffective; I think the internal version of it is incoherent; we both agree that TOTB is a mess; "because the Church says so" isn't an argument; so what's left? The only thing that suggests itself is to argue that contraception is intrinsically immoral or disordered; but that lands us right back at square one, since I don't see that as having been proved; and certainly not as self-evident (if it were self-evident, we wouldn't be having this discussion!).

A Sinner said...

"Once more, sex is a messy, complex topic, and I think the Church often found that in order to deal with it an approach that was inconsistent actually worked better."

Well, but if so, it was inconsistent by being STRICTER than logic would require, not more lenient.

Which is fine. When you aren't sure about something, when it hasn't all been thought out analytically yet...putting a broader "fence around the law" to ensure that no one breaks it (because things ARE messy)...is fine. By all means, take the safer approach!

What would be problematic, however, is if the Church were to adopt a LENIENCY that was inconsistent internally.

But "extra" prohibitions (positively enjoined, as like a discipline) are no problem pastorally, and don't prove any sort of ultimate inconsistency.

"I have to say you're the first person I've ever read who's defined 'unitive end' thus"

It's defined this way in the Pruss article I quoted a few days ago, for example:

http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/ap85/papers/unity.html

But, more importantly, the Church has consistently (going back to the Bible!) referred to the "one FLESH" union.

One flesh does not equal "one mind" or "one heart" or something like that. No, it means, quite obviously: one flesh (ie, an organic union that is physical, not something merely psycho-emotional.)

"But in that case, it seems to me that the unitive end collapses into the same thing as the procreative end"

It does, yes, in practice. As I said in my comment above:

"this is not ACTUALLY separate or independent from the procreative end at all. They are perhaps abstractable conceptually or in emphasis, but in practice amount to the same thing: the deposit of semen in the vagina."

The Church has NEVER recognized the "two ends" as separate in any but an abstract way. They have certainly never been seen as independent (which otherwise WOULD justify contraceptive acts on the grounds of the "psycho-emotional union" alone). The "two ends" talk is confusing. It's really more like, two sides of the SAME coin.

"I don't see how the union in itself is an end, any more than chewing food is an end, rather than nutrition."

Well, except inasmuch as sexual union was never responsible for conception, merely the delivery of the ingredients (the conception happens later inside the woman). Just like eating has never been responsible for nutrition in itself, merely the delivery of ingredients (the nutrition happens further down the digestive track).

But yet, each TYPE of act is made intelligible by the end as the "first step"...if only because the first step, in either case, is the only thing we can actively choose (once we get the ball rolling, the rest happens as a non-voluntary biological process).

A Sinner said...

"It is logical to say that sex is naturally for the purpose of procreation and that it thus must be used for such (the externalistic view); but when you get into will and volition and states of mind, it seems to be saying that certain frames of mind or desires are somehow "natural", as opposed to others that are not; and then you sink in a swampy mass of subjectivism, IMO."

This is not what I mean by externalistic vs internal.

I mean that, for example, the immorality of contraception must be found in the disorder between the end sought by the Will (sexual pleasure) and the moral object chosen by the Will as means.

In other words, morality lies only in the Will, not in mere external events or arrangements of matter.

There is nothing "immoral" about, say, a penis in another male's anus, even a penis ejaculating semen.

The immorality there is not in the mere external juxtaposition of parts along the lines of a simplisitic "that parts not supposed to go there" argument (THAT'S the sort of argument I would identify as "externalistic").

Rather, the moral disorder that will usually be found in that act is found in the Will, in the disorder between the desire/pleasure obtained and the type of object/act chosen (which is not the type connatural to that sort of pleasure).

"If it is considered permissible to have sex while intending not to procreate--not to have a child--then this can be done in two ways: by contraception or NFP. Both are methods of avoiding pregnancy, one by direct prevention, one by timing."

As I discuss in my newest post, this is again the same sort of error.

Not intending to procreate and intending NOT to procreate are different.

Either way, it is absurd to say that the intent of the couple in having sex...is ever "to not procreate." Methinks their INTENT (that is to say, the end sought in the act) is the pleasure or release or whatever.

"Not procreating" is never the "why" for having sex! It may be the "why" for abstaining (inasmuch as the non-act of abstinence can even be called an active choice) on fertile days, but it certainly is inconsequential on non-fertile days, as the infertility is a circumstance that exists before-the-fact and which thus forms no part of the actual active choice.

"Yes, one prevents, one avoids--but the goal, i.e. not to have a child--is the same."

I don't think the goal of sex is ever "to not have a child." That's absurd. That may be a resultant benefit knowingly enjoyed from the pre-existent circumstances of a given situation or day, but it in no way forms an ACTIVE part of the act of the will (except, perhaps, choosing to restrain oneself on a fertile day).

"On the other hand, if the desire, for the appropriate reason, not to have a child, or the desire to sleep with one's infertile spouse, is not wrong, then it's extremely hard to see why the sperm must still be deposited in an unimpeded way."

Because this is identifying the morality of an act only in either intent or consequence, and forgetting that Catholic morality is based also (and even "mainly") on moral object, either in itself or in the proper ordering between object and end.

See my newest post.