Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eradicating the theology of the bawdy

Not long ago, Simcha Fisher held an interesting discussion of NFP over at her wonderful blog. Unlike many such discussions, the comments tended toward the honest, thoughtful, and encouraging, but there are always at least a few Catholic commenters, when NFP is the subject, who are eager to decry NFP as "Catholic contraception," to interpret "just cause/grave reasons" as "you'd better be on your deathbed before you even talk about it," and to insist that it is the positive duty of every Catholic wife to give birth as many times as is theoretically possible or--quite literally--to die trying.

In responding to one commenter who seemed to be of this sort, I used the phrase "Theology of the Bawdy" to refer to the philosophy of the sort of Catholic gentleman who appears to believe that his wife is generally supposed (according to ancient Catholic traditions) to be a maid, cook, nanny to their many children and all-around household servant, but who is absolutely required to drop these things and pay the marriage debt whenever he requests this; it is, in fact, his just recompense for having to work at a dull office job and spend too much of his free time in home maintenance and other husbandly chores instead of living the ideal, untrammeled masculine existence which is his birthright, and which involves plenty of masculine recreations and entertainments (e.g., hunting, sporting events, video or computer games, the perusal of medieval literature or the collection of antique smoking jackets, etc.) and none of that messy "husband and father" stuff. I will freely grant that this person is a caricature, and that I originally intended to exaggerate the notion of the adherent of "Theology of the Bawdy" ideas for humorous effect.

Today, however, I read Deacon Greg Kandra's discussion of the Guttmacher Institute's statistics claiming that 98% of Catholic women use artificial contraception. Let's stipulate up front that the Guttmacher Institute is hardly an impartial body, and that by including Catholic women who only bother to go to Mass once a month or so they haven't necessarily captured the precise statistic of active, practicing, otherwise faithful Catholic women who fail to follow the Church's teaching against artificial contraception. That said, though, the most eye-opening thing I read was in Deacon Kandra's comment box, where a commenter (and I hope she won't mind me quoting her here) said this: "I think it takes a lot of courage and faith in God to use NFP during a marriage. I say this with deep trepidation, but the biggest draw back I’ve encountered is an unwillingless on behalf of my husband to abstain. I think a lot of men who grew up in the Post Pill era have never been told that they can’t have sex, ever. It’s really hard to get someone to change in a marriage..."

It struck me that the sort of man Deacon Kandra's commenter describes, and the man who insists that it's much, much easier for his wife to give birth to a dozen children than for him to have to suffer through periodic abstinence, are brothers in a way. Both are believers in the Theology of the Bawdy; that is, both think that sex within marriage is an absolute right, and that no considerations of his wife's health and ability to care for their children on the one hand, or his wife's immortal soul on the other, are good enough reasons for him to lay aside his own physical desires and subordinate his recurring need for sexual intimacy to a higher good. In a way, each is ready to objectify his wife instead of seeing her as a total person; the one wishes to exclude her fertility by means of a chemical or other artificial attack against it, while the other, deep down, thinks of her sufferings during pregnancy or her desperate need for space between baby number six and baby number seven as mere trivialities exaggerated by the female tendency to make a fuss about trifles.

I think that Catholic men of this kind do suffer, as Deacon Kandra's commenter says, from the effects of a dysfunctional culture's disordered sexual appetites. Already going against the cultural mainstream by rejecting promiscuity and striving to live according to chastity, they are then told that, should a need for the spacing or regulation of the births of their children occur, they are to use moral means all of which involve periodic abstinence. Again, the one man rejects this notion by demanding his wife use birth control; how dare the Church tell him he has to give up sex occasionally if there are serious reasons for his family to remain at its present size? The other rejects the notion by attacking NFP altogether; how dare the Church buy into this modernist, Vatican-II, weakness by letting married couples shirk their responsibility to have big families--and how dare they expect him to accept the sacrifice of periodic abstinence to bring this about?

The reality is that neither men will take "No," for an answer. The graver sin, of course, is the one that involves the demand for artificial contraception, which is intrinsically evil; but the man who insists his wife keep bearing children despite some extremely serious health problem or other pressing need is hardly blameless.

I have focused on men in this blog post because the two recent incidents I came across, along with a few others I've heard about both on blogs and in real life, involve Catholic men who refuse to accept the fullness of the Church's teaching in this area, and who involve their wives by demanding that they use artificial birth control on the one hand, or who disrespect their wives by absolutely refusing to consider moral means of birth regulation on the other. But I'm sure that there are Catholic women who also refuse to accept limitations on their desire for physical intimacy and collude willingly in the sin of contraception; that is, there are women who are influenced by the Theology of the Bawdy, too, and who view sexual intimacy in marriage as something that does not relate in any way to the gift of a child and the vocation of Christian parenthood. The trouble with a dysfunctional culture is that it infects everybody, and can make it difficult to know how to begin to deal with problems like these.

One thing is sure: if 98%--or anywhere even close to that amount--of Catholic women are using artificial birth control, then they and their husbands are equally participating in intrinsic evil, in grave sin. The failure of the Church in America to proclaim the truth about human sexuality and the true human freedom that comes from living in accordance with God's law is a great shame; it is also something the Church must address, if the Theology of the Bawdy is to be eradicated once and for all.

14 comments:

Alice said...

Wait a minute! The study says that 98% of Catholic women who have had sex have used contraception at some point in their lives. In other words, 2% of all Catholic non-virgins have never, not even once used contraception. I'm not surprised since many Catholics came to accept Catholic teaching after their first sexual encounter.

If you look at the PDF report, it says that 3% of married Catholic women currently use NFP to avoid and 72% are using "effective methods" (sterilization, shots, the Pill, IUD) of birth control. In other words, 75% of Catholic married women are trying to avoid pregnancy currently and 3% rely on NFP to do so. Of the remaining 25%, 14% are trying to conceive, pregnant, or postpartum. That leaves ~11% in an "other" category, some of whom are just letting nature take its course. It would be nice if 100% of Catholic women followed Church teaching, but it's not quite as bleak as it seems at first glance.

Of the women surveyed, 30% went to church weekly, fwiw.

Patrick said...

"I think that Catholic men of this kind do suffer, as Deacon Kandra's commenter says, from the effects of a dysfunctional culture's disordered sexual appetites. "

Yeah; but so does every other type of Catholic man. Really; between modern sexual mores and pornography, chastity's pretty difficult for the unmarrieds, too. Add in a recalcitrant Mrs., and I could see a fellow sipping Scotch by himself until the wee hours, bored out of his mind with life.

As far as "husband and father stuff", it sure doesn't help that most men go somewhere else to work. What I mean is, until recently, most families farmed or had a trade and men could do "fathering" while they were working; teaching the kids how to do things (and of course, mothers could do "mothering" then, too.) Now, they go do a job, come home and want to relax but they have to do "fathering" and "husbanding" instead; their "fathering" usually deals with something they don't quite understand (unless it's "discipline"), and their "husbanding" also deals with something they don't quite understand: "who cares what kind of place-mats we have? Get whatever place-mats you want." Really, men and manliness is so little called for in the modern world it's no wonder some men get snippy if the Mrs. doesn't want to have sex. It's not the right thing to do, obviously, but I'm not surprised by it.

Red Cardigan said...

Alice, I appreciate your breakdown of the stats--I didn't have a chance today to look at them in detail (termite control company #3 due out tomorrow...)

Patrick, that was sort of my point: our culture makes chastity so hard for everyone that I think some Catholic men think "Well, at least when I'm married..." (and you can fill in the blank with whatever unrealistic expectation you like).

LarryD said...

Red - you've been tagged at AoftheA.

Your analysis is a lot less snarky than mine...

Rebecca in CA said...

Red, very, very perceptive post. The other side of the pendulum is something I don't see addressed often but in my experience it is *major* among orthodox Catholics, though varying in different degrees of course from your caracature. I would love to see this talked about more often, more openly, and people trying to figure out what to do about it. We need to think about how isolation of families plays into this, and the emasculating of men,as has been mentioned by Patrick, as well as general attitudes about sex and about love.

Diamantina da Brescia said...

I wanted to get married when I was younger, but did not want to have children for health reasons (my history of severe depression, fears of postpartum psychosis, fears of passing mental illness to my children, etc.). Artificial birth control was not an option for me. This narrowed my prospective choice of husband to non-existence, since men who did not want children would also not be practicing Catholics who would use NFP, while the practicing Catholic men interested in marriage wanted to have children, sooner or later.

I am content being a single person living in the world, but it took me a while to realize that was my vocation. But that is another story, Erin :-)

JMB said...

Another issue, I think, is that if you do admit to using NFP to avoid becoming pregnant, as the original comment implied, then you could be accused of using NFP with a contraceptive mentality. There seems to be a very vocal group of Catholics/Christians who disapprove of any spacing or avoidance of children over the course of a marriage. Who wants to get beat up over that?

steve said...

" but the man who insists his wife keep bearing children despite some extremely serious health problem or other pressing need is hardly blameless."

Why stop short of calling this man evil? Willing to risk his wife's life and his children's mother for sex is not as bad as contraception?

Steve

Michael Maedoc said...

Your point that the vices of our culture can infect those who are trying desperately to avoid those vices is very true. I have found many instances where the anti-modernist acts very very modern without being aware of it.

The focus of this post on the bawdy stereotype is something I find unusual. Maybe it was intended so since it arose from a desire to be comical. However, in most cases that I can pull from my experience its the woman that's pushing for as many children as possible. I found it very surprising to see you utilize the very modern stereotype that its the man pushing these large families by making NFP an evil. I'm sure it happens but I believe there's some other stronger dynamic driving many women to do this.

Anonymous said...

On the Catholic online dating website of which I am a member, there was a man who actually used theology of the body (TOB) to defend theology of the bawdy. He claimed (in his profile!)that TOB not only legitimized oral sex as long as it culminated in the full marital act, but that women had to consent to it to fulfill their marital obligations. It was an appalling thing to read, but I was grateful that at least it was in full display!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

No argument from me on the main point.

As always, I would suggest that if you deduct Catholic woman (and men) who only go to mass once a month or so, then you no longer have a particularly substantial presence demographically in the American population -- although you do have a compact mass (no pun intended) who actually believe what they are taught, and are teaching.

Anonymous said...

patrick, if you think the only way to be manly in our modern world is to grab your wife for a roll in the hay, I say, find yourself some yard work!! Play a sport! It's not always the woman in a couple who has the "headache" if you get my drift.
someone else above said that a lot of time its the woman who is driving how many kids come into a family, and I will say it's true in some families that I have seen. I have heard the term, applied to the youngest child as "her" baby. meaning, that she "got herself pregnant" "on purpose". Now we all know that people don't get themselves pregnant (don't freak. you know what I mean) and these are probably couples who aren't following all of the rules anyway...

But I think the take away is this: You don't know what is going on in any marriage except your own.

I will agree that chasity is made more difficult for everyone considering our culture right now, but pornography has always existed, just not so readily accessible. I refuse to think that men have it harder than women because in my own experience my sex drive far outstrips my husband's.

bathilda said...

Ha! Anonymous! I almost snorted out my coffee! funny. I have a theory that the prevalence of sports is because we live in a relatively peaceful world with paid soldiers, and sports allow the "letting off of steam"...if you will...

Red, I have to say that I just love your pun. bawdy... :-) I've been grinning about it for a day or two.... I'm easily amused by word play, I'll admit it.

Charlotte said...

JMB,
Which is why people need to shut their mouths and keep their sex lives, etc., private. I am sooo sick of Catholics accusing each other of things they know nothing about, whether it's the NFP Police, the "grave reason police," the "you-must-be contracepting police," or now, the "he must be damanding sex 24/7 with no concern for his wife police."

For years now I have wanted to write a blog post talking about EXACTLY what I think about NFP and statistic that claim 90% or more of all Catholics are contracepting. I want to, but I KNOW I will cause a fire storm if I do.