|Hello, smiling NFP Couple with your one child||!|
How This is not Applied to Any Other Bodily Function
Or Catholic Sex Theology 101 for the Uninitiated: So I Can Critique the Actual Teaching and Not a CaricatureThe Catholic Church teaches that sex was created by God for two purposes, the primary purpose is unitve and the secondary purpose is procreative, or as a certain pop NFP teacher likes to say "babies and bonding:" From Humanae Vitae:
12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.
The logic goes that both the unitive and procreative aspect must be present in every single marital act, rather than holistically present throughout the entire marriage life. In other words, it's not enough that I already demonstrated the procreative aspect of sex by having a child (or 10 children), each continued sex-act must be open to the possibility of further children. Artificial contraception thwarts the procreative aspect of sex by suppressing it, leaving only the unitive aspect. This is contrary to the nature of sex (as established by Thomistic Natural Law theory), and there is therefore sinful.
There are two problems with this view. The first problem is easy to spot and is an argument often made by providentialists, the Quiverfull Types of the Catholic Church, who believe that any birth control, even NFP, is a sin against God.
NFP, as supporters like to boast, when used perfectly has a 99% success rate. This means, if a woman is able to track her signs perfectly and plan her intimate relations accordingly, she should never experience a surprise pregnancy because she will only have intercourse when she is infertile. If a couple plans their sexual relations during infertile periods, by carefully taking the woman's temperature, measuring cervical position, and keeping track of vaginal discharge, they are clearly and intentionally wanting to have sex for purely unitave and non-procreative purposes.
The second problem with this argument is that the Catholic Church does not turn other bodily process matters into philosophical issues when the primary and secondary aspects of an act are separated. To illustrate, I'll borrow from an analogy that Catholics like to use--consumption of food and drink. The Catholic argument used to endorse NFP goes something like this:
*Eating has two purposes.
*The primary purpose of eating is to obtain nourishment to sustain life. The secondary purpose of eating is one of sensory pleasure. (Food is yummy.)
*It would therefore be sinful for someone to eat only for pleasure, only to throw up their food to be able to eat more.
I'm going to leave aside the obvious lack of culpability for one suffering from bulimia, and instead focus on how this syllogism compares to separating the unitive and procreative aspects of sex.
The eating/bulimia syllogism uses an extreme case, but leaves aside normative examples of pleasure-eating. The person eating a nutrient-poor piece of chocolate cake is for dessert is not sinning. Indeed, it is not sinful, albeit unwise, to eat food solely for pleasure, without giving any thought to nourishment.
The counter-argument to the chocolate cake example is that a piece of chocolate cake still has some nutrients, and therefore it is not totally cut off from its primary purpose.
OK, I'll grant that.
At the same time no artificial birth control is 100% effective, as pro-NFPers like to point out when arguing for the effectiveness of NFP. Any contraceptive will come with an insert stating its effectiveness rating, calculated from clinical studies and multiple trials.
The chocolate cake may be 95% devoid of nutritional value, when considering sugar the ability for certain foods to block nutritional absorption, but the piece of chocolate cake is still considered morally neutral. A birth control method with a 95% effectiveness rating, however, is still sinful.
BUT...The pro-NFPer argues, the cake is still designed to be consumed and designed to always allow a little bit of nourishment. Contraception is designed to thwart the procreative aspect of sex, and in as much as it fails, shows that it is working against its intended design.
OK, I'll grant the Pro-NFPer that argument too, although pragmatically speaking, this is a stretch.
But what about wine tasting? Many forms of wine tasting require the taster to expectorate, spit out, the wine after swishing it around in his/her mouth. Thus, the wine is only tasted for pleasure. It is never consumed for nourishment, and the intention is to absolutely NOT receive nourishment from it. But this form of wine tasting is not considered always and everywhere a grave sin. This would be absurd.
I conclude that it is also absurd to say that unitive and procreative aspects of sex must be present in every single sex act, in order for the act to be moral. The logic of seperative out the primary and secondary aspects of bodily acts is not applied to any other natural human function, apart from sex.
Happy 45th Anniversary Humanae Vitae!! And Happy NFP Awareness Week. Consider yourself "aware."
* **Note, I have no problems with a couple practicing NFP. Indeed if a couple finds that NFP helps their relationship, it is a good thing. My problem is imposing NFP upon all Catholics, and as recent political events show, all people. This blogger actually believes that charting one's female cycles is a great way to track reproductive health. For a non-Catholic family planning model, look into the Fertility Awareness Method, which recommends a backup method in addition to cycle charting. Taking Charge of Your Fertility is an excellent resource.***