Thursday, January 27, 2011

A sacred gift

You'll have to forgive me a bit, today; I've been battling a stupid migraine all day, and am now pressed for time as I try to get things ready for Bookgirl's birthday tomorrow.

While I haven't had time to enter back into the comments regarding the Church's teaching against contraception in the comments below this post, I've been reading them. I still think that there is, for many people, a fundamental misunderstanding about contraception that comes from not fully understanding the Church's teachings regarding marriage and the family.

I'm not a moral theologian, and my understanding of these matters is simply that of a Catholic lay woman. And today probably isn't the best day for me to be delving into matters so deep--but I wanted just to get the conversation going, in the hopes that better-trained and more focused Catholics will chime in.

In the first place, one of the phrases the Church uses both about marriage generally and about the marital embrace specifically is that it involves the total gift of self to other. That, essentially, is what love is; and marital love has a physical dimension proper to it exclusively.

What is a total gift of self to other? It is saying, in the marriage covenant, that I no longer belong solely to myself, but also to someone else, and he belongs no longer solely to himself, but also to me. The marital embrace is both the sign and the consummation of this unity of self with other, and in its highest expression, in the children who result from the embrace, who are truly flesh and blood of both husband and wife equally; thus, the children are the living signs of their parents' permanent and committed love.

Now, it is the sad reality of our fallen world that children are born outside this union of permanent and committed love. This has all sorts of evils for the children, who may very well be deprived of their most essential birthright: the right to be loved, raised, and cared for by their own parents. Children, who are wholly innocent, are owed this, and they deserve it; adults who by their behavior deprive them of it act very badly indeed.

Given that, you would think that the Church would almost condone contraception outside marriage--but she does not, for excellent reasons. Primary among these reasons is that sex outside of marriage, contraceptive or not, is a lie. It cannot involve a total gift, when each person is holding back from the other their public and binding committment as well as their fertility; it is not yet promised to be permanent, even if by God's grace the couple sees their error, repents, and then enters into such a permanent union; and it is not committed by its very definition. Any children born into this pseudo-union are in a precarious situation, and though it may be hoped that their parents will do the right thing as regards their children there is no guarantee that they will, and plenty of statistical evidence suggesting that they will not.

But what about contraception within marriage? Why can that not be allowed?

Again, because contraception itself renders sex, even inside marriage, a lie. The husband "says" to his wife with the language of his body, I give myself totally to you--except for my ability to give you children, and I accept the gift of your total self--except for your ability to have children, and the wife "says" the same thing back to him, allowing for the change in pronouns. But there can be no total gift when a vital aspect of that gift is being denied; the marital embrace becomes not unifying, but isolating; the couple are not drawn closer together, but pushed farther apart.

Interestingly, statistics from the Natural Family Planning group show that married couples who use NFP have a less than 5% divorce rate (which is still too high, of course) compared to a national divorce rate of 50%. I'd like to see a study done in which those who use no family planning at all are included with those who use natural means, and those who use contraception are included with those who have been surgically sterilized--because I'd be willing to bet that the divorce rate of the former group would also be a fraction of the divorce rate of the latter.

Sex is a sacred gift, but it is not a gift which belongs to one person, to use with as many others over the course of his life as he sees fit. Rather, it is a gift that is only properly used when it is given to one other person exclusively within the context of a permanent, committed marriage. Any other use of it is gravely unjust to the person himself, to those with whom he "uses" this gift, and to any children born deprived of the loving relationship with their parents which they are owed by virtue of their humanity.


L. said...

I would also bet that the divorce rate of people who use no family planning at all is a fraction of the divorce rate of those who use contraception -- such people are likely to have a whole different approach to marriage, and to life in general. I would be willing to bet they have lower rates of disease, too, because they probably don't smoke, drink much or use recreational drugs, and probably are careful to eat healthy food, and take better care of their bodies.

I disagree that any children born into a "pseudo-union" in which parents use contraception are in a "precarious situation." Some surely are, but the way "pseudo-union" is defined here is anything less than a devout Catholic marriage, and there are plenty of loving, stable relationships that don't fit that description.

I have had both kinds of sex with my partner -- contraceptive sex, and sex open to life. Neither one was a "lie," neither one was "isolating." In both, we were drawn closer together, not pushed farther apart.

L. said...

Related to this, there is a devout Catholic blogger who has an inherited medical condition, and has passed it on to at least one of his children. He and his wife believe that the marital embrace involves the total gift of self, and the total acceptance of this gift, including his disease (and if I'm not mistaken, this is why the Vatican doesn't want to condone use of condoms by AIDS-infected people, even within marriage).

If people honestly believe this is the only way to live, to be closest to God, then by all means, they should live this way. But I really don't think it's for everyone, and it certainly isn't for me.

Archaeology cat said...

Not to mention the health issues of hormonal contraceptives, and the fact that all hormonal contraceptives have the potential to act as an abortifacient (says so right on the pack insert when it tells you that one of the ways it works is by preventing implantation of an embryo). There's no way to know how often that does happen, but even once is too often.

bathilda said...

I see the difference intellectually between artificial contraception and NFP...there's an obvious difference. I use NFP. I have two children. these children were planned. I don't have other children ON PURPOSE. I purposefully schedule our "marital embrace" (ugh) so as not to become pregnant. My husband goes along with this plan because he does not want me to become pregnant either. We have been at this for 18 years. So when we are having sex during the safe days (which most of them are, by the way, most NFP teachers aren't so knowelegeable) we are not technically "open to life". we don't want to become pregnant. How is this different from using some other sort of contraception? because it's natural? because it can "not work", so technically we are indeed open to life? I really see this as a case of splitting hairs. To say that contraceptive sex pushes people apart is just silly. it does no such thing to many normal, loving couples. I don't think that the "excellent" reasons given by the church hold any water whatsoever. I would challenge that a marriage with two children, which is stable and financially comfortable has a LOT less stress and a LOT more closeness than a non contraceptive couple with eight children, who is strapped both for money and time. btw, those divorce statistics really are stacked, as L. was pointing out. There are a LOT more factors to the divorce rate than contraception. They are likely to be Catholic or fundamentalist christian of another denomination, and therefore more likely in general to stay married. But I digress. I guess my point is that even though I use NFP, I feel like I still contracept, and I think trying not to get pregnant is trying not to get pregnant no matter the method. (before anyone gets on their high horse, I don't think that abortion is a method of contraception or birth control)

Archaeology cat said...

bathilda, it's different because you aren't doing anything to thwart your natural fertility. You aren't trying to change your cycles or keep yourself from ovulating. You aren't trying to block or kill the sperm. It has nothing to do with being "natural" (one could argue that withdrawal is "natural" in that artificial barriers or hormones aren't used, but it's still contraceptive), but with working with your body, working with your combined fertility. It should also be noted that a couple should assess why they are choosing to avoid or achieve pregnancy, as NFP is to be used to postpone pregnancy only for just reasons. That is not for me to judge, though.

God bless

bathilda said...

A.Cat, I see your point about preventing children in the first place being an issue. For my husband and me...we would probably be considered by some as being selfish for not procreating more. We are educated, healthy, I don't work outside the house, and my husband earns a really nice income. Our two children are well cared for, and will be educated. Could we afford more financially? yes. Emotionally, mentally, etc... not so sure. Don't really want to find out. I've said it before. If I was meant to have more children, I would have them.

I'll read your link, A.Cat...

bathilda said...

I just read it, and I had the same reaction that I have whenever I read stuff like that. I just hope no one really wonders why people don't remain catholic, and why people don't become catholic except in small numbers.

c matt said...

I really see this as a case of splitting hairs.

Sometimes the difference between what is moral and what is not is pretty close.

The difference is the means employed to achieve the end (assuming the end itself is good). One works with the system as designed, one works against it. NFP does not "rob" or thwart the system of its function - it takes advantage of its natural rythms, and therefore is not a lie - it does not introduce falsity.

As for artificial contraception pushing couples apart, I don't know that this is such a strong argument on an individual basis. In the collective, art. contra. makes adultery much less risky, so for those who would indulge it but for the risk, it does make it more tempting. In that sense, you could say a.c. has more potential to push couples apart.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

No argument with the premises, but there are many reasons I don't arrive at the same conclusions. I recognize that the conclusions are the teachings of your church; on your and its terms, you are not free to revise or abandon them because you hear a reasonable counter argument. So, in the same spirit that you have attempted to explain the purpose and reasons for a command you absolutely will not violate, I'm answering with one reason I don't accept the same authority.

The physical and hormonal aspects of sexuality are physical, animal impulses, which exist primarily to insure reproduction of the species. As such, most animals (and plants) are biologically programmed to produce as many offspring as possible, since a large portion, usually a majority, are prone to death by disease, accident, predators, etc. That is a numbers game, all about the species, not about the individual or couple concerned.

Not so with humans. There is a whole other dimension, which is bound up with conceiving children, but not limited to propagating the species.

The more progress we make with controlling and supplementing our food supply, establishing shelter, building protection against predators, or hunting them to near extinction, the larger the portion of our offspring will survive.

In addition, humans have a unique set of problems with pain and hemorrhaging that is relatively absent in other mammals. It may be for reasons set forth in Genesis, or having to do with walking upright in a skeleton not designed for it, plus the unusually large size of the human head at birth... but it is a real strain and hazard for a woman.

So, imposing a measure of control to reduce the number of children conceived makes a lot of sense in the human context. Half the children a woman brings into the world aren't going to die in childhood any more.

Then, there are couples who want to continue to give themselves to each other, who know it would likely be fatal to one of them (generally the wife), not the average risk, but a specific condition making death likely. Contraception is a sensible way to preserve the giving of self without being the agent of death.

I agree that there isn't a real moral distinction between NFP and medical contraception. In both cases, there is conscious manipulation to avoid children. I admire the concept of being able to do that without chemicals or physical obstructions, but it is not on a different moral plane.

L. said...

I've seen and heard a lot of warnings (both on the Internet and in real life) about the dangers of "using NFP contraceptively." I think this means, avoiding children for all but "grave" reasons, and not really being open to life.

And yes, Archaeology cat, there can be serious health issues with hormonal birth control, and there's the chance it can cause an embyo from implanting.

I once knew a woman (evangelical Christian, not Catholic) who wouldn't have sex with her husband when she was breastfeeding, because she said breastfeeding hormones could alter her uterus and prevent an embryo from implanting. I have never heard that there was any scientific basis for this (then again, I never really looked very hard), but she was adamant that "no life should be created, to be starved to death inside my body," and even the remote chance of this disturbed her. While nothing artificial is involoved in breastfeeding, and it certainly has a good purpose, I have to say, her very extreme view was at least logically consistent.

L. said...

...and I just read the link, too, and my reaction was similar to Bathilda's.

The Catholic (and Mormon) churches really seem intent on their members producing as many children as possible, and motherhood really seems to be women's highest calling. This is not going to appeal to everyone, because not everyone wants exactly the same things.

melanie said...

First, NFP is on a different moral plane because it requires that you DO NOT HAVE SEX at certain times of the month. No other form of contraception does that. The basis of NFP is abstinence, which is the exact opposite of the basis of artificial contraception, which allows couples to have sex whenever they want. Abstaining from sex= different moral plane. I don't just get to do what I want when I want.

At the basis and heart of the church's teaching on sex is selflessness. Not necessarily as opposed to selfishness, but certainly as a requirement to a higher sense of ourselves, a better sense of ourselves. The church asks us to go beyond what necessarily constitutes our own sense of "rightness". It's a calling to be higher, better, holier, and it necessitates grace and the sacraments. It cannot be done without them. It's easy to stand outside the church and call it lunacy, because the church is asking for something supernatural from us. The point is we need God to help us do it, the further point is we become greater unto ourselves by doing it. This is not something we see or understand until we look back. We look back at what we were before and see what God has created out of us because we took a leap of faith.
It's very difficult to make a rational argument that people outside the church can relate to I think. That's probably why evangelization maybe shouldn't start with sex ideally
:-). It should start with what's at the heart of having faith which is putting trust in something outside of ourselves, outside of what constitutes our own rationalizations. This is different than "using our reason as a tool" to understand faith. But faith should come first and be paramount. And when in doubt, reason should bow to faith. My two cents.

Hector said...

Re: I have never heard that there was any scientific basis for this (then again, I never really looked very hard), but she was adamant that "no life should be created, to be starved to death inside my body," and even the remote chance of this disturbed her.

Lactation does suppress implantation to some degree in rats, and there's been speculation it does the same in humans. I don't think it's been proven to happen, but then again, it's never been proven that hormonal birth control causes failure of implantation either (all there is is some interesting speculation).

If you have a problem with hormonal birth control because it might theoretically suppress implantation, then you should have the same objection to lactation as well.

Re: But faith should come first and be paramount. And when in doubt, reason should bow to faith

Yes, but that's obviously not an argument that is going to make any headway with those of us who belong to churches other than your own. Rowan Williams, the head of my church, doesn't agree with you, so why would I place my faith in you, rather than in him?

Hector said...

Re: and the fact that all hormonal contraceptives have the potential to act as an abortifacient (says so right on the pack insert when it tells you that one of the ways it works is by preventing implantation of an embryo).

Serious question- can you point me to a scientific study that provides evidence of the Pill acting as an abortifacient? The fact that it says so on the pack insert is neither here nor there. Until you can show me an actual study that proves it, I'm not sure why we should believe that the Pill commonly acts as an abortifacient. The relevant studies I'm aware of (including by a Catholic university in Chile) found no evidence of it.

That being said, even if it does occasionally result in the failure of implantation, it's certainly not the intended result, it's an unintended side effect. So I would think it's justified under double effect.

And as I said above, if you're that concerned about unintended failure of implantation, then you should advocate that women stop lactating.

L. said...

Melanie, if abstaining from sex sometimes somehow brings you closer to God, and closer to your spouse, then more power to you. Celibate people choose to abstain for life, for all different reasons, and living this way gives them purpose and meaning and fullfillment.

My (non-Christian) partner has always traveled a lot, and my family still co-sleeps, even though the older kids are teenagers. Abstaining from sex is not a problem -- finding the time and privacy for it is. So let's just say, I am skeptical that abstaining from sex during my fertile times would have brought us closer together -- and I can't imagine that we're unique. I can see why devout Catholics (of which I am admittedly not one) do struggle with this.

If evangelization "shouldn't start with sex ideally," then how to keep people from running for the doors when they find out about it?

"...when in doubt, reason should bow to faith." Well, that statement pretty much sums up why I am unlikely to ever be in communion with the Catholic Church. If faith can't pass the test of reason, why good is it?

melanie said...

L. That's a really fascinating statement- if faith can't pass the test of reason what good is it? If faith can't pass the test of reason, that's what makes it faith....again reason can be and should be a tool by which we understand God, but where our reason fails us, which may be often, our faith doesn't.

L. said...

I guess it's always going to be the old chicken-egg, with faith and reason.

One thing about doubts (in which I specialize): It's important not to let doubts become beliefs in themselves.

I always say, for some, faith equals belief, and for others, it equals the conscious suppression of disbelief. And I think reason is required for the latter.

melanie said...

"for some faith equals belief, and for others, it equals the suppression of disbelief.". This is very true, and even as I do my best to live out my Catholic faith, faithfully, I struggle
to do those very things. Believe and when I don't, suppress my disbelief. :-)

Archaeology cat said...

Regarding lactation and implantation - it is common for a woman to have a short luteal phase at first when she starts ovulating again. If she is concerned about that, she can abstain during the fertile times until she has a sufficient luteal phase. Either way, nothing is being done to cause the embryo not to implant.

I do not know of studies showing that the pill disrupts implantation, but I also wouldn't say that that is an unintended effect, especially with progestin-only contraceptives. It says that it works both by thickening the cervical mucus and by thinning the endometrium to prevent implantation, so that is the intended effect.

If I had a health condition that made it so that it was dangerous for me to conceive, I would use NFP to avoid, using it rather conservatively, or abstain completely. Contraceptives all have failure rates, and if it was that imperative that I not conceive, then I wouldn't take the chance of the contraceptive failing. And yes, if it was that imperative, I'd feel the loving thing would be to abstain, or perhaps only have intercourse when I was sure that I'd ovulated already. It would be a sacrifice, but I'd take that before playing Russian roulette with my life, personally.

Rebecca in CA said...

I think there is a lot of confusion these days about why contraception is immoral, in itself, but I think it was something that was understood by most people 100 years ago. We are a product of our culture. The immorality of contraception, in itself, has nothing to do with how many children you do or don't intend to have. Being open to children is another issue, connected to, but not the same as, the immorality of contraception. Given that a couple wishes to avoid conceiving a child at a given time, what would make a barrier method immoral is similar to what makes it immoral and perverse to eat a meal for the pleasure of it and then gag yourself so you don't actually digest it. You are doing something which is meant to end up a certain way, and then you are deliberately blocking the end. We all think the Romans were disgusting in this practice, because it's obvious why it's disgusting, and our natural sense of what is perverse hasn't been numbed by growing up with people regularly doing this around us. With contraception it now seems "normal" because people do it all the time, nice people, just as with the homosexual act.

On the other hand, the reason the use of the pill to avoid conception is wrong is different, and that is why many moral theologians were confused about it when it came out as an alternative. It doesn't have the same effect as barrier methods; it isn't like barfing after you eat, so they thought it might be okay. But actually it is wrong for a reason which is just as obvious--it is deliberately bringing the woman's body out of a state of health and into a state of unhealth. I'm not talking about the cancerous effects of the pill (which is though an important consideration) but simply the fact that the body is meant to have certain hormonal interactions, with the cycle happening in a certain way. Deliberately to thwart this is against the art of medicine, period, and as well will *of course* have a profound effects on all other processes in a woman's body. The abortifacient effect of contraception is a major consideration of course, but I think it is very important to be aware that the pill as a contraceptive is wrong in itself apart from that consideration. First things first.

So again, contraceptives of both types, though for slightly different reasons, are a perverse means to what might be a perfectly just end. The Catholic Church certainly does not require married couples to have large families and gives us much freedom in discerning when the conception of a child would be a good thing for the family, in fact She demands that prudence and discretion be exercised in this choice. But she also demands that we not use perverse means towards that end, and when we do, all kinds of awful things result, because our sexuality is part of us at the deepest level, psychologically and physiologically--it has much more dire consequences in us than the Roman practice of enhancing one's enjoyment of food.

Rebecca in CA said...

Oh, I forgot to add something important--of course people are going to object that food is digested whenever you eat it whereas not every sex act ends in a conception, in fact most don't--but when I made the analogy with the Roman practice, what I meant is that the union between a man and woman is meant by nature to end with the seed entering the womb--that is what is obvious.

MightyMighty said...

I went to a "party" last night with the mother's from my son's play group. The hostess is extremely anti-Catholic, so as we talked about politics and religion, she made numerous nasty remarks about the church, often as asides and totally tangential to the actual topic. (If we're talking about Theology of the Body, she makes some crack about the Bible being written in three languages originally.)

Her heart was extremely hard, especially on abortion and contraception. One woman asked me about the rules governing medical treatment of infertility, and I could barely answer her over the cackling about "how many Catholics do you think masturbate?" I eventually had to say, "Let me answer Sarah, and then we can change topics, as listening to your condescending remarks is hardly what I intend to do all night." What was interesting was watching the other two women, besides the cackler, start to see how consistent and beautiful the teaching of the Church actually are. They didn't know why we believe what we believe.

The cackler kept hiding behind statements about how I am "very young." (She's the only grandmother in the group.) It took a lot of self-discipline to not respond, "I am young, but wise. My life is centered around coming to know the Truth. You breathing for an extra thirty years, and reading lots of anti-Catholic books, does not mean that your view is more highly evolved than mine. It just means you're older." However, as I stayed calm through over 75 anti-Catholic remarks over a five-hour period, I think it was a further witness to the other ladies. Our side can be supported with love, not contempt; with peaceableness, not aggression.

Regardless, I've felt spiritually drained all day after fielding all the comments about how "certain groups" should "control their populations", children in the womb not being human, Christ not being divine, the Church being an evil scion committed to oppressing women, etc. I am so looking forward to going to Mass in a few minutes!

Red Cardigan, thanks for posting this. I felt like I did better with the cackler yesterday because of some of the eloquent points you've made recently on many of the topics that came up last night. So thanks for all the time you spend shining your light.

L. said...

Rebecca, interesting -- I have used the food metaphor before, too.

I just finished a diet desert that had zero calories. I tricked my body into thinking I was giving it yummy nutrients, when in fact it was getting nothing more than a bit of hydration. Technology allows me to do this -- and it allows me to have non-procreative sex, too. Human beings need a cetain amount of calories to live, and need to reproduce enough to keep the species going, and but beyond that, eating and sex need not be nutritious or procreative these days.

I've never belived that my sexuality was part of me "at the deepest level, psychologically and physiologically," and perhaps this is why I have never accepted strict rules about it.

Eating, though, is something I do several times every day, and deeply enjoy, and I would say, it's part of me at the deepest level. If I were an Orthodox Jew, there would be strict rules about eating, too, but the Catholic Church seems to keep out of it, except for a few days of loosely-defined fasting now and then.

Food for thought! (Had to say it, sorry.)

L. said...

MightyMitghty! You met my mom! :)

LarryD said...

To say that contraceptive sex pushes people apart is just silly. it does no such thing to many normal, loving couples.

I beg to differ - and while anecdotal experience is a poor substitute for statistics, I can absolutely attest to the fact that is is indeed not silly.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I think Melanie has a perfectly logical, consistent, point about NFP involving abstention. I don't share the notion that physical or chemical contraception is bad, my parents used it before and after my own birth, but for those who believe, this is an important distinction.

I don't follow the analogy to eating yummy food, then throwing up. Contraception does not, per se, create a spectacle or a mess to clean up (no more than the same act without contraception), and it doesn't expose tissue to long-term damage from hydrochloric acid. Roman vomitoriums are an ugly concept because the costs far outweigh the benefits. There are other things to use the day for than eating.

L. said...

"... while anecdotal experience is a poor substitute for statistics, I can absolutely attest to the fact that is is indeed not silly."

And I can anecdotally attest to the opposite. But again, what is right and meaningful and marriage-enhancing for one couple is not going to be equally so for another, regarding sexuality or just about anything else.

And there are indeed other things to use the day for than eating. There's cooking, reading about cooking, shopping for ingredients, and then washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen afterward.

Rebecca in CA said...


The analogy is this: as nature clearly intends for food to be swallowed, to reach the stomach and from there to proceed through the intestines, etc., and that is obvious to any small child, so also nature intends for the semen to enter the womb. It is really that simple.

L., I love technology, because it enables me to read Chesterton instead of washing laundry by hand. Technology can really help nature in that way--but to act directly contrary to nature is not its right. As Chesterton said, we've learned how to do many clever things; next step will be learning not to do them.

When I say that sexuality is a very profound part of us, I'd like you to think about things such as the molestation of children--why is that so horrible? Why is it so much more damaging, say, than having had to eat bland food your whole life? Why do people feel degraded when they are treated as sex objects, in a profound way which doesn't happen if they are just mugged? However people like to pretend that sex is for them just a sport, which doesn't have to do with their innermost, it is simply true that relationship with another human being is or ought to be a relationship of great respect and intimacy on all levels and one that extends to the whole person. Sure, people can be hardened and can treat it like a sport, but that itself is a proof of damage.

We would have no problem recognizing a problem if we saw a group of primates suddenly begin exhibiting strange sexual behavior. Researchers would immediately begin asking what was wrong--if they're in a zoo, is the wrong food being fed to them, are they becoming neurotic because of environmental factors, etc. It is only with respect to humans that we make ourselves entirely blind and pretend that we can simply re-create our natures according to our own wills.

Anonymous said...

I find the teaching of the Catholic Church
regarding marriage to be touchingly
beautiful but when under serious strain
and stress, difficult to follow continuously,

I remain faithful to the vows my wife and
I spoke 31 years ago, although she gave
them up more than 21 years ago. I have
empathy for those who struggle, as I remain
a sinner. Were it not for the clear teaching of
the Catholic Church, my only objection to
contraception, provided of course it did not
involve abortion, would be that it provides
too easily a method of reducing marital
union to little more than "a happy ending",
for each participant.

I married for love, with a conscious choice
to be open to children and to create a
lifelong relationship with my wife, as taught
by the Church. Our selfishness pushed us
apart in other ways, but it boiled down to
losing the vision of "the good of my spouse"
and replacing it first with some reciprocal
50/50 double take, which lead to "you first"
or " you owe me", then to a "cold war" and
ultimately to internal abandonment which
my wife, for her part, took to its ultimate
conclusion. But I cannot absolve the
responsibility for my actions on the path we
were chosing/following at the same time,
although, heartbreakingly in retrospect, I
had no intention of breaking my
commitment, even as I was behaving like
a selfish idiot. I never saw it coming and did
not, till much later, know the lethality of my
choices and my behavior(s).

I understand now, how much my choices and
behaviors, then, were "contraceptive" because
they interrupted my giving of myself (as I had
PROMISED to in our vows). I had no idea, then,
of the depth of my own "internal unfaithfulness".

Since I have never been able to enlist the help of
the Church to attempt to bring my wife to the same understanding that took me years to reach,
I can only hope and pray that she will come to
understand what each of us did (not just her), in
time to turn her from the path she has chosen.

Selfishness is contraception. I think the words pretty much mean the same thing.

Don't do it people. It is blasphemous, as it places
the self, unrighteously in the place of God and
simultaneously offers a shallow, narcissistic, imitation of love to one that has been promised
the gift of selflessness, which is our best human
reflection of what Christ offered to our Father on the Cross...for OUR SINS....the selfless gift of His very being.

Forgive me Lord, for my unfaithfulness to you and
to my precious bride. Have mercy on us both.


L. said...

Rebecca, did you just compare molestation of children to being forced to eating bland food, and expect me to take that analogy to heart? The former is more like forcing someone to go without food to the point of starvation, or forcibly shoving unwanted food down their throats.

And when people tell me something is "simply true," I am automatically suspect of what they are about to say next -- especially when they are trying to tell me what my intimate relationship with my partner OUGHT to be.

Sexuality is only part of who we are, and not necessarily even an important part, depending on the individual. And again, what is right and meaningful and marriage-enhancing for one couple is not going to be equally so for another.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

If we're going to continue to talk about food, searing flesh over a fire before eating it is not "natural" either. It is natural to bring down your prey with your own hands, then sink your teeth deep into its raw inards. Also, modern building codes result in something quite unnatural. We were obviously meant to live in caves, or in the highest branches of trees that could bear our weight. And it is natural for women to die in childbirth, early enough that it would be natural for the widower to marry a child bride to bear a few more before SHE too died in childbirth. It is natural for a preemie to die, rather than being placed in an incubator.

Natural is not equivalent to either moral or beneficial, although it is certainly one factor to consider.

Rebecca in CA said...

We mean something different by "natural". I don't mean something like "whatever happens out there in the wild"; I mean what is proper to us as humans. A bear's nature would be whatever is proper to a bear. It is not natural to die in childbirth, it is a weakness in nature. It is natural to cook some of our food, to build buildings, to wear clothing, and otherwise to use tools at the service of our intelligence. What is moral is what is in accord with what is proper to us; what is immoral is what goes contrary to what is proper to us.

L.--I'm not sure why you would compare one event of sexual abuse to years of being forcefed--why not just compare one incident to one incident? Anyway, I still would like you to think about the fact that we all consider the sexual use of a child to be extremely tragic, extremely destructive to the psyche. I have never heard anyone say, "oh, it was okay for *that* kid, because his sexuality wasn't really a part of him". I kind of don't think there is much conversation we can have about this because you take it as a first principle that our nature is almost entirely malleable and we can just choose by sheer force of will what our happiness will be; whereas I take it as a principle that we have a nature and that violating that nature directly by acting against its intentions will have a dire effect. Not everything can be reasoned to; there are certain first truths which we either see or we don't, and reasoning proceeds from there.

L. said...

I said sexuality isn't necessarily intrinsic to who people are, not that it can never be violated. Those are two different, unrelated concepts.

You would still "like you to think about the fact that we all consider the sexual use of a child to be extremely tragic, extremely destructive to the psyche." Why? So can emotional violations, or violent violations of a non-sexual nature.

Yes, I do believe our nature is "almost entirely malleable and we can just choose by sheer force of will what our happiness will be." The key word is "almost," since men can't grow wombs and women can't grow beards. But there is nothing intrinsic about maleness that says men can't nurture children, or that women can't reject the role of nurturing children and instead aspire to competitive jobs.

David said...


I read your bit about nature, and I can't help thinking of the unintentionally wise Humpty Dumpty and words meaning whatever you want them to mean, nothing more or less.

It's a convenient however transparent defense for your positions, because the same axiom of "natural" (whatever it means at the moment and whim of the author or Catholic) is used to argue against same-sex relations and other contexts, and I all see are the goalposts shifting whenever someone like Siarlys tries pegging it down with a workable, applicable idea of "natural". When the topic is switched, "natural" expands so perfectly like a balloon to fill the next niche, looking nothing at all like it was before. It would be comical if it didn't have such serious ramifications for peoples' lives involved.

L, I wish you all luck in convincing people of similar mind to Erin that men and women don't have a pervasive essence or intrinsic quality of their gender (never defined but broadly assumed), one embedded to the root of the soul. I've been down that road many times, however silent and lonely the walk becomes once traveled.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

David pretty much said this, but just breifly, Rebecca has qualified what she meant to the point that there is no objective standard left to judge by. It is in our nature as humans to be... just as Rebecca thinks we should be. Artificial measure are fine, if I approve, and contrary to our nature, if I don't. Rebecca, you could still be right, but this analogy doesn't add clarity.