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04/10/2005

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denis

The Church does not allow the withdrawal method. The rhythm method is an obsolete and ineffective form of what is now called Natural Family Planning, which has an effectiveness rate in avoiding pregnancy far superior to condoms and comparable to oral contraceptives. It involves abstaining from sex during the woman's fertile period, which with training any woman can identify with considerable accuracy. Therefore, the above post about the Church accepting that sex is not just for procreation is based on faulty premises.
In Catholic teaching, the sexual act is a bodily expression of our reflecting the image of God - therefore it is only to occur in a committed love relationship (marriage) and must be at least creative in intent (non-contracepted). Partners engaging in sexual activity must not by an action they take change the meaning of the sexual act so that it no longer is true to its divine meaning.
I find it bizarre that, in all the discussion in this thread, no one has yet bothered to either find out or express why the Church teaches what it teaches. Believe it or not, there is a rationale for these teachings. They didn't just drop from the sky!

Palooka

"The Church does not allow the withdrawal method."

That was my understanding. Perhaps I am wrong. What's the best way to find out?

"The rhythm method is an obsolete and ineffective form of what is now called Natural Family Planning, which has an effectiveness rate in avoiding pregnancy far superior to condoms and comparable to oral contraceptives."

It's obsolete and ineffective yet it is more effective than condoms? You seem confused.

"It involves abstaining from sex during the woman's fertile period, which with training any woman can identify with considerable accuracy. Therefore, the above post about the Church accepting that sex is not just for procreation is based on faulty premises."

If the Church allows individuals to have sex but to use the rhythm method to prevent pregnancy, then I think that's a pretty clear indication the Church feels non-procreative sex is morally permissable. What else could it mean?

Palooka

Correction of last paragraph of my recent post:

If the Church allows individuals to have sex and allows them to use the rhythm method to prevent pregnancy, then I think that's a pretty clear indication the Church feels non-procreative sex is morally permissable. What else could it mean?

Palooka

Furthermore, a consistent application of believing non-procreative sex is immoral would require that individuals who physically cannot have children to abstain from sexual activity (elderly, sterile, etc). Does the Church take this position? If it does, then maybe my view of the Church needs some examination.

flaime

Sex was a primary commodity before Constantine brought about his slaughter in the name of conversion. If we are allowed to step away from the overbearing grip of theocracy and fundamentalism, we might again see sex become a commodity; the need for pleasant sexual contact is nigh universal. And there are always person who either are willing to do anything for money (bad/untalented at the act, often) or who have signficantly less fundamentalist views and seek to use sex for an improvement of their and others' worlds.

denis

My apologies if I was unclear in my previous post, palooka. It is not the 'rhythm method' (more fully, the 'calendar rhythm method') that is superious to condoms/comparable to oral contraceptives, but the modern methods of natural family planning (NFP) which are the Billings Ovulation Method, and the Sympto-Thermal Method. They have an effectiveness in the 92%-95% in avoiding pregnancy and are even better in helping couples trying to have a baby conceive.
Of course non-procreative sex is permissible - it would be ridiculous if every sexual act resulted in pregnancy. Sex is an expression of covenant love, which by its nature is creative and open to life. The key to the Church's teaching is that the individual sexual act of the partners must not be deliberately altered by either of them so as to render it essentially infertile.
Simply choosing not to have sex on a given day, or choosing to have sex on another day, does not change the nature of the sexual act. Wearing a condom, taking a pill, using spermicides or IUDs does change the act itself so that it no longer communicates the human meaning of sex to express God's creative covenantal love.
Additionally, older or infertile couples have, again, done nothing to change the nature of the sexual act to make it infertile. Their sexual intercourse is still an expression of covenant love, to which they have done nothing to falsify it.
Is this clearer? You may not agree, but have I expressed it better? Pax.

denis

Sorry for the spelling/grammar errors in the above post(the preview button is my friend!). Also, the authoritative source for Catholic teaching on this and any question is The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

AST

This is all very interesting, but all it proves is that an economic analysis isn't always relevant. Missing from the discussion is whether God exists and what his(?) views on the matter are.

The role of a church is to teach about God and his commandments and to preach repentance or otherwise provide guidance on how to live. If issues like fornication and adultery, which are well established as sins in Judeo-Christian-Islamic scriptures are relegated to mere options, either God has changed or the church no longer speaks for him. Maybe the willingness of many churches to follow social trends on matters such as ordaining women, acceptance of the gay lifestyle and gay marriage, and downplaying the seriousness of sexual promiscuity is what has caused the numbers of their adherents to plummet.

The Catholic Church's response to the priest-pedophilia-pederasty scandal has had that very effect in Ireland. I wouldn't remain in a church that behaved so hypocritically. I'd feel the same about a church in which sin becomes permitted behavior merely because of a change at the top. This isn't democracy, after all. It's supposed to be a connection to deity. Once it is seen as just another human institutions like the BPOE, the only reason to belong is the bingo nights, gambling having already been accepted.

denis

Billsaysthis - Well, there's nothing wrong, and nothing against the teachings of the Church in 'preventing pregnancies' in a particular situation. The Church explicitly calls on couples to practice 'responsible parenthood' in Humanae Vitae, which is the touchstone document on this matter.
The Church's teaching is not primarily about goals and intentions, but about methods. Not to repeat myself, it is about disallowing methods of preventing pregnancy that falsify the nature and meaning of the specific sexual act.
This focus on the specific act is, in itself, a reflection of the fundamental Catholic view of reality which is sacramental and incarnational: invisible, spiritual realities mediated and made visible by concrete, embodied acts.
This comment is overlong already, so in regards to the Church's desire to eradicate pain and suffering, not all tools to do this are acceptable. A gun ends suffering... and the life of the one who is suffering. Its the old end-means thing; either you get it that a good end doesn't justify an evil means, or you don't.

BillSaysThis

Denis, my point is that the Church is focusing on one aspect of its doctrine and not another (which to my non-Catholic POV is more important) to the serious detriment of the flock. Perhaps if the Church spent the energy instead on preventing adultery and corruption, also serious spiritual problems, people such as myself would see things in a more favorable light.

denis

Bill, I understand the perception that the Church is 'hung up' or even obsessed with sexual matters. According to the MSM, one would think that this is all the Church ever thinks about, writes about, or is concerned with.
This reflects the preoccupations of the MSM and the general culture of the West, not the Church's own emphases. I have no hard data to back this up, but I'm pretty plugged into the Vatican and its writings, and sexual ethics is quite low on the list of subjects the Vatican regularly addresses. I would say that, in no particular order, global peace, alleviation of poverty, responsibility of the rich nations for the poor, ecumenical and inter-religious initiative, and spiritual matters such as the Eucharist and prayer are the primary focusses of the Church at this time.
We must realize that, if we receive our main understanding of any institution or individual through the media, this will be skewed by the media's own priorities and biases.
Mind you, as a devout Catholic and a child of the sexual revolution, I would argue that, in fact, the crisis of meaning in human sexuality is one of the most pressing if not the most pressing problem facing the Church in the West. But that's just one man's opinion. The Church itself absolutely does not focus on sexuality to the exclusion of other topics.

Richard

Perhaps teenagers who engage in sex without contraception are making a mistake (in a positive, not normative sense).

Any teenager has a vague notion of how often sex occurs among her peers, among her adult relatives, and among characters on television, and based on that she can estimate the likelihood that one sexual encounter will result in pregnancy.

But, if she does not realize that the adults in her sample are using contraception, then this will skew her estimate (which no doubt has many other sources of error also).

Adults who privately use contraceptive methods while publically condemning them or at least never mentioning them are in a sense sending deceptive information to an unsophisticated teenager.

Palooka

"Simply choosing not to have sex on a given day, or choosing to have sex on another day, does not change the nature of the sexual act. Wearing a condom, taking a pill, using spermicides or IUDs does change the act itself so that it no longer communicates the human meaning of sex to express God's creative covenantal love.
Additionally, older or infertile couples have, again, done nothing to change the nature of the sexual act to make it infertile. Their sexual intercourse is still an expression of covenant love, to which they have done nothing to falsify it.
Is this clearer? You may not agree, but have I expressed it better?"

Yes, it's clearer. I knew there was an explanation, a distinction. But I think it's mostly a cover for something else. It just doesn't make sense. Let me point out that I think there is at least a solid distinction for the use of oral contraceptions (and IUDS). If it only prevented ovulation, I wouldn't see much difference between it and barrier methods. But oral contraptives also change the lining of the uterus, which if a woman does ovulate despite taking oral contraceptives, may cause something similar to the morning after pill (e.g. preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg). This isn't the primary function of the pill, and it's a long way from abortion, but I can see how it would make someone theologically uncomfortable.

Back to condoms. Thanks for giving us the official Church teachings on condom use. That's interesting. But it seems a pretty tenuous foundation. I mean, does the Church have a position on Viagra and penis pumps too? Those, too, would seem to violate the prohibition of deviation from the "natural act." What about lubrication? I mean, the list goes on and on. It also seems pretty artificial. As someone has already pointed out, the intent and result of using "natural family planning" and condoms is the same. I am having trouble believing anyone would think deviation from the natural act is a persuasive reason to prohibit condom use within marriage. I may not agree with the Church on pre-marital sex, but at least I can see some solid principle there. I can respect it (even if I think it unlikely in the age of marriage in one's 20's and 30's).

jn

Most of the comments overlook the fact that the Church IS responsive to its constituency for good or for ill. But that constituency is the growing bloc of Catholics in Latin America, Africa, and Asia NOT the West.

Hence the notion that the Church is increasingly alienated from its votaries only works for the West.

In reality, as the West shrinks in the share of the Catholic Church, it is not surprising that the Pope would take a "harder" line. Even a simple public choice analysis would say that he is simply responding to the demands from the median voter who is socially conservative by liberal American standards. Attempts by the US to "change" the church's views will only cause US Catholics to become even more cut off from the main Church.

American Mother

As brought up above, the Catholic Church does involve itself with and speak to every issue of our lives and world. That people may agree or disagree is not of any concern, for it is not the business of the Church to conform to man. When our human sexuality is separated from the original procreative intent, that is where the true "slippery slope" begins...ending with the "culture of death" which John Paul II fought against. Even the use of NFP methods may result in offspring, and a Couple must be open to the "possibility of life"- as it is a "surrender" of ourselves to God's will. Few may realise that the Church also disallows invitro fertilization--and while there are many upon the earth today who came to be by that method, there is the pesky ethical problem of all of those "extra" people waiting around in cryo...

As a study of the human condition, the Bible shows us that truly, there is nothing new under the sun. People are still tempted and have the same virtues and frailties of the past. We have remained the same. The rules and laws of the Bible and the Church are not a prison, but a foundation upon which to build a life.

If I do not cheat, lie, steal, or murder, I will not have harmed myself or anyone else by those means. If I try to keep my envy and pride in check, I will be more clearly able to understand what in my life is truly important (and will consequently be less inclined to do harm.) If I recognise the dignity of each person, I will see others as brothers and sisters upon this world... How much of this is a bad way to live out one's life? It is not as "limiting" as people seem to believe, and "cuts down" on the problems in one's life.

What is most fascinating to me is that people (who are informed of the risks) are still so promiscuous in the face of AIDS. What are people getting from sex that drives them to play this Russian Roulette? Is there something which has fundamentally changed about psychological needs not being met?

denis

Palooka, well in fact the abortifacient nature of oral contraceptives is a major issue - we hold that human life begins at conception, so the prevention of implantation is morally equivalent to abortion, even if in reality the subjective guilt of the individual is lessened by ignorance, uncertainty, so forth.
As for the second point you raise, while I prefer not to explore in detail the entire world of sexual devices and toys, I think what's needed here is a distinction between different senses of the words 'nature' and 'natural'.
Taking a pill which allows you to engage in normal (i.e. genital, open to life) sexual intercourse is an 'artifical' intervention which allows you to achieve a natural act. Ditto with various other devices or substances whose purpose is to enable or facilitate sexual intercourse.
The 'naturalness' which is violated by condoms/IUDs/oral contraceptives and so forth is the nature of sex itself - a unitive, creative expression of love between man and woman. The Church is not an anti-technological fetishist; technology is evaluated by how it serves or fails to serve the divine meanings and purposes of things.
I've already explained above how the intent to avoid pregnancy is not, in itself, immoral, and hence using the Billings Ovulation Method is acceptable.
I'm not sure I can explain the Church's position any more clearly - I guess we just have to agree to disagree on this.

Palooka

"Palooka, well in fact the abortifacient nature of oral contraceptives is a major issue - we hold that human life begins at conception, so the prevention of implantation is morally equivalent to abortion, even if in reality the subjective guilt of the individual is lessened by ignorance, uncertainty, so forth."

Now, I can understand the moral position but do you really think it's equivalent to abortion? If a woman is taking contraceptives for medical reasons, can she not have sex with her husband? I mean, it seems that the logical thing to recommend the woman would be condom use, but since the woman can't use condoms she is SOL.

I am also fairly certain there are many drugs which are prescribed for medical ills which can change the lining of the uterine wall. Are they equivalent to abortion too? What if a woman knows her uterus cannot sustain embyronic life? Is that, too, equivalent to abortion if she chooses to have sex?

Abortion proponents often criticize the belief that a zygote is an individual (even though zygotes are never aborted). But you equating contraceptives to abortion only gives their criticism weight.

c.e.

"The legalization of abortion illustrates that it is difficult to be certain about how much of the improvement in birth control methods were a response to pressure from families wanting few children, and how much was due to technological innovations that proceeded largely independent of such demand."

dr. posner,

when speculating on the link, if any, b/w the legaliztion of abortion and the improved birth control methods, you do not consider that one begat the other. i suggest that improved contraception (as well as greater access to it)led to greater demands for legalized abortion inasmuch as recreation intercourse made accidental pregnancy made it precisely that -- accidental. moreover, the 'pill' effectively gave women greater control over their bodies, which was also one of the main arguments advanced in favour of legalized abortion.

Mike Petrik

Palooka,
Yes, Church teaching allows a married couple to have sexual relations even if the wife is taking oral contraceptives if the contraceptives are being taken for medical rather than contraceptive reasons. It is based on the principle of "double effect." The Internet has many easily searchable sources that can explain this very carefully developed reasoning.

David

Ok. I'm interested in a thought experiment. Place yourself in the new Pope's position. Accept the premises of the Roman Catholic Church on sexual behavior. How would you use economic analysis to change societal behavior so that it was inline with Church teachings?

John Smith

"It's a highly spurious argument to posit that someone will engage in pre-marital sex AGAINST Catholic teachings but refuse to use a condom while engaging in that sex BECAUSE of Catholic teachings."

No it isn't. Such people are called "Cafeteria Catholics" because they pick and choose which of the church's teachings they wish to follow. They are a substantial phenomenon, especially in the West.

Daniel Chapman

And whose failing is that? Theirs or the Church's?

This is hardly an argument in favor of forcing the church to adapt its teaching to conveniently fit their lifestyle.

John Smith

"Rather I considered the general principle that is often used to defend the pope's preachings about pre-marital sex, namely that the pope is just supporting what he believes. I then pointed out that this same principle could be used to excuse the nazi's for their crimes hence it is clearly an invalid principle."

The difference of course is that the Nazi intends to harm people, while the Pope does not. One can argue, convincingly, I think, that moral responsibility requires intent and consequences, not just consequences. The Nazi is morally responsible, regardless of whether we think (or he thinks) his actions are moral or immoral, because he intends to harm others. To my knowledge, at least, the Pope did not intend to harm others.

John Smith

"And whose failing is that? Theirs or the Church's?

This is hardly an argument in favor of forcing the church to adapt its teaching to conveniently fit their lifestyle."

That's because it explicitly wasn't such an argument. The point was only that it is not "highly spurious" to say that people can do XYZ if lots of people are currently doing XYZ. I don't really care whether doing XYZ is a failing or whether the church should promote or discourage XYZ. People do XYZ all the time, so saying humans can do XYZ is not "highly spurious", it's a fact.

John Smith

I would tend to agree with you, as a normative, not a desriptive matter, that one should not be a hypocrite, or one should try to avoid hypocrisy. That does not mean, however, that we should hold people to a standard of unrealistic perfection: that would mean that no matter how much one tries, one is doomed to failure. That is not only pessimistic, but also nihilist and fatalist. It posits a good that humans must seek out and then perpetually denies them its realization. I wouldn't start pointing fingers at either the Church or Cafeteria Catholics simply because its/their conception of absolutism fails to reach the point of nihilism. That's like Moslems who blow themselves up callling Muslims who prefer to vote infidels and atheists. I mean, how credible a charge is that? It's a fallacy -- an ad hominem -- and one Peter Abelard famously rejected hundreds of years ago, if I recall correctly.

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