Monday, August 08, 2011

NFP and False Logic

On Triablogue there's an out of context quote from Alexander Pruss and comments which should be answered...
Pruss writes:  In fact, the biological union does not even require the couple consciously to will the striving towards reproduction. The biophysiologically united man-woman organism instinctively and automatically on a biological level strives toward that end. What is required is only that the couple should not place an obstacle in its way, because the act of placing the obstacle is an act of disturbing the union. The act of contracepting is opposed to the end of the teleological process by which union is constituted. A distinction between permitting and causing is relevant here.
The couple that contracepts is the intentional cause of their infertility. The NFP-using couple, when infertile, is not the cause of the infertility: the natural cycles of the female body are the cause of the infertility, which cycles are independent of the couple’s decision to use NFP. The couple permits the infertility, and draw good from it, even though it would be wrong for them  directly to will this infertility. That the distinction between permitting and causing is a significant one can be seen in at least two other examples. One is the distinction between letting die and killing, often discussed in the context of euthanasia.

Note please, Pruss does indeed state that it is WRONG to directly will this infertility.  Thus a couple who directly wills infertility is wrong and mortally sins in doing so - by WHICH EVER MEANS they choose to be infertile.  With NFP the couple cannot willfully refuse one another - regardless of the time in the woman's fertility cycle.  They may "plan" to participate in "the marriage act" during the time of infertility - and that's the "planning" part - but I reiterate, they cannot refuse each other during the time of fertility.  If the desire is there, then they must allow "the marriage act" to go on unimpeded - by ANY means of contraception.

On to the illogic on Triablogue:
It’s odd that someone as astute as Pruss would leave it at that. It’s of course true that the distinction between causing and permitting can sometimes be morally relevant or exculpatory. But it’s easy to come up with counterexamples where that distinction is morally irrelevant or culpable.
But Pruss didn't "leave it at that!"  If one investigates the link provided by Mr. Hays they can see that Pruss indeed explained further:
The other example is that of theodicy. God never causes an evil.  However, in order to draw a greater good out of it, He sometimes permits evils. The greatest and clearest example of this was the crucifixion. God did not cause Judas to betray Jesus and Pilate to condemn Him, but He permitted it, in order to bring a greater good out of it. It is essential to the way that sexual union as one body is constituted that while willing the union one not simultaneously unwill the end (reproduction) the biophysiological striving towards which constitutes the union. However, it is not necessary that one explicitly will this end, only that one not will anything contradictory to it. The implicit willing of the unitive meaning of the sexual act, in the absence of a contradictory willing, suffices to make the teleological striving that constitutes the union be a willed striving—and hence a striving of the person, and not merely of the body, thereby effecting a willed personal union.
It is a bit disingenuous of Hays to say Pruss left it "at that."  Hays even quotes that Pruss says there are "at least two other examples" and then only quotes one of them - and has the audacity to accuse him of "leaving it at that."
In The Little Foxes, Regina doesn’t cause her husband to die from a heart attack. Rather, she permits him to die by withholding his heart medication.   In that situation, letting him to die is morally equivalent to murder, even though she didn't positively bring about his demise.
Sorry, but "withholding medicine" which is not an extra-ordinary means of keeping someone alive DOES CAUSE HER HUSBAND TO DIE!  Certainly "the cause" is the underlying heart condition - but if one willfully withholds the medicine from another against his will - that would be murder.  A clearer example of this would be a mother refusing to feed her newborn infant... that is negligence and murder for the mother has caused the death of her baby.  No rational human being with any sense of charity or concern for the helpless/innocent would simply say the baby died of starvation and leave the mother's culpability out of the picture.  Clearly in The Little Foxes, Regina does kill her sickly husband by withholding his medicine, which IS Hays' point here - but the point Hays misses is the fact that "planning" to participate in "the marriage act" during infertile times is not the same as "doing it" during fertile times and then killing the seed by some chemical or physical barrier.
Natural family planning has a contraceptive intent, and–where successful–a contraceptive effect.

This illustrates the problem with Catholics who use natural law to ratify a conclusion they arrived at by other means.
I'm sure that those who condone contraception believe this to be the case, but if the intent is contraception then the couple is in mortal sin.  The intent is to have "planned" participation in the period of infertility of the female cycle.  If either party refuses the other during a period of fertility then that person has committed a mortal sin.  Hays uses either false logic here - or demonstrates ignorance of what the Catholic Church really teaches on the matter of NFP.

Other comments on this article (at the time of the publication of this article/response):

BBB said: 
One of the main proponents of John Paul II's "Theology of the Body", Christopher West, uses this kind of reasoning as well.

He says that some people ask "What's the difference between causing infertility, and just waiting for the woman to be infertile?" His response is "what's the difference between killing grandma, and just waiting for grandma to die?"
The same illogic as above and has already been explained/dismissed.

James said: 
Most Catholics (1) don't abide by the Church's stance on contraception anyhow. In any rate, (2) there's no substantive difference in intent between contraception using a calendar or with a piece of rubber (or a pill). (3) Doesn't the Church keep reminding us that contraception is "ineffective"? If it is, then there's not a greater likelihood of preventing pregnancy with a condom than with NFP.

(1) What this undocumented "most Catholics" may or may not abide by is not relevant to the moral position of the Church.  If a Catholic does not abide by the Church's stance - then, all rationalizations aside, they are in mortal sin.
(2) On this point James MAY be correct - IF the INTENT of the couple is contraception AND they have deliberately refused one or the other during a fertile period.  THE point here is INTENT.  If the couple PLANS to only participate in "the marriage act" during infertile periods - but "the mood" arises during a fertile period - then they cannot refuse each other without committing a mortal sin.
(3) Whether or not artificial forms of contraception are "effective" or not is NOT the point!  Again, THE POINT is that it is a sin to artificially prohibit conception and it is still a mortal sin if the couple engaging in NFP refuses one or the other during a fertile period.

Tom R said: 
Well, yes. And the Spartans didn't practice infanticide, strictly speaking - they just left imperfect babies exposed on the hillside overnight. 
The irony is that in other spheres, "Catholic social teaching" is scathing of the "just leave people alone" thrust of Whig Protestant capitalism. Governments, say various Popes, have an affirmative duty to ensure that their subjects have healthcare, food, etc. You can't just ignore them while they starve, like Dives with Lazarus, or the "goats" on Judgment Day. Yet when it comes to methods of contraception, the Vatican has copied Judith Jarvis Thomson's "live and let die" defence of abortion and moved it a stage earlier in the life-cycle.
Well, J.J. Thomson's "violinist" analogy (the "unplug and let die" analogy) is 1) not taught by the Catholic Church in NFP and 2) how this violinist "gets connected" is not the same way most women "get connected" to their babies - in fact - the only possible comparison would be to that of where pregnancy resulted from rape (very few abortions are because of rape).  The obvious difference here is that an innocent child dependent upon his/her mother is not the same as a presumably not-so innocent violinist who him/herself could choose not to remain connected - regardless of how this person (male or female) may feel about it. Tom's comparison is fatally flawed.


  1. It just seems to me that the attempt to compare NFP--used with the correct intent--and contraception is just an excuse to justify the fact that they want to use contraceptions. Those "christians" who use contraception, I believe, know deep down they are morally wrong. The FACT that the majority of contraceptives are abortifacient doesn't matter. The FACT that contraceptives (the pill) causes cancers and infertility for thousands of women doesn't matter. The FACT that the legalization of the pill, historically, led directly to the legalization of abortion doesn't matter. Those "christians" must find a way to justify their disobedience of God's will by "taking down" the Church's moral stance--like the bully on the playground making himself feel better by making the others feel bad. Why else would this ignorant (in the dictionary sense!) argument keep coming up?
    My husband and I do use NFP, however, as you pointed out, our intent is not to be closed to the possibility of life. I am almost 50 and have 5 children. I don't know if my body could handle another child, but I tell you what, I trust God enough to believe that if I were to become pregnant He would have it all under control! And, I refuse to commit a mortal sin by using other artificial means to kill my baby or slowly kill myself.

  2. Oh, and I plan to get back to St. Augustine soon, ;-)

  3. I thought I should add some support to my statement that few abortions are due to rape so here's a couple references for now...

    NY Times reports 1% of abortions are because of rape.

    See Table 2 in this Guttmaker Institute reports 1% as well.

  4. cathmom5,

    Careful, I think you may be burning down a few straw men there. Questioning whether they are christian--or adequately so-- by surrounding the word with quotation marks and claiming that they don't care about things like abortifacient contraceptives and the medical dangers involved is hardly a fair or charitable representation of them, unless, of course, they said they don't care about such things and I missed it.


    Can you clarify something for me? You said that a couple practicing NFP cannot refuse each other. Do you mean, by this, that if either of them get "turned on" they must perform he marital act? Or did you mean that if and only if one of them actually wants to act on those desires?

    Secondly, what if the spouse in question has other reasons for refusing the spouse--say they're tired or something or just aren't in the mood--would that still be mortal sin in the Catholic view? Just curious. Thanks for your time.

  5. BBB,
    First off, thank you for the respectful challenges.

    Second, in defense of cathmom5, from a "Catholic" perspective - those who would reject such fundamental teachings on the sanctity of the human life - especially the innocent unborn - well, it's difficult to consider such as "Christians." FWIW, many non-Catholics share the "Christian" view of Catholicism - and many "Catholics" stand in opposition to Catholic teaching on this matter (and they are, IMHO, dead as in mortally wrong).

    Thirdly, in your first question to me - yes, if either party gets in the mood then the other should respect their desires and their mutual agreement as a sacramentally married couple and not refuse the other.

    Fourthly, on the surface this appears to be splitting hairs, but I'll take it as respectful requests (I have no reason to take it otherwise). You've really asked two separate questions so I'll answer them separately. The first about being in the mood has two perspectives:
    1) Not being in the mood is not a valid reason to refuse your mate, so yes - that could be a mortal sin.
    2) The one who is in the mood bears at least some responsibility to try to get the other to the mood too.

    The second part regarding being tired, again, there are two perspectives here (at least).
    1) Seldom is someone really too tired to perform the marriage act. God knows the heart - and this could be a mortal sin.
    2) If one party truly is too tired then the other should respect this and not force the other into a mortal sin - which, if they were insistent and the other still refused, tired or not, this would be a mortal sin.

    The bottom line is - IF one or the other is insistent upon engaging in the marriage act then it would be a mortal sin for the other to refuse. I do reiterate the point though, BOTH PARTIES should be respectful of the feelings (and mood) of the other. I would also add, I am not a confessor - these are MY OPINIONS and if any Catholic has questions regarding whether or not they are or have been in mortal sin - then they should talk to their confessor.

    In JMJ,

  6. First off, thank you Cathapol for your defense of my comments and, more importantly, NFP and the Church's moral stand on openness to life.

    Secondly, my intent was not to insult anyone. I find it ironic that certain things I say are taken personally by some protestant readers of this blog. I think it may be my style or my passion, but it is my intent to support the truth of the Church's teaching not offend Protestants. I think if we were to talk to each other face to face there would be less misunderstanding of motive or intent.

    As Cathapol explained, some find it hard, I admit including me, to call those Christian who do not follow Christ's teaching. The sacredness of life was one of His core teachings. I believe that Christ's Sacred Heart is wounded every time a woman who claims to be a Christian puts a birth control pill in her mouth. She is not only injuring her own God-given body but could be killing an innocent life--both mortal sins.

    Third, I don't believe I created any "straw men." I was a Protestant for over 30 years. I went to a Protestant, Bible-based College. I heard and I know the attitude toward and acceptance of contraceptives in that arena. My own mother, a wonderful Christian mother took ABC for 20 years--she no longer does, thank God, for personal reasons.

    Now, just because a lot of women in the Catholic Church have been talked into accepting this easy way of "family planning" does not make the Church's moral stance on sanctity of life wrong. Nor does the fact that I accept and agree with the moral and Scriptural stance of His Church on this matter make my passionate defense of it necessarily make me wrong.

    Those who try to say that NFP is the same as ABC are just plain wrong. In my experience, those who are the loudest in their protest against NFP or try to pretend NFP and ABC are the same thing are the ones who know the least about NFP or ABC. They, for the most part, want to justify their use of ABC by saying that NFP is the same--trying to take down, so-to-speak, His Church's moral stance on the sacredness of the marriage act. I don't believe that is a straw man--that is from my perspective and my experience.

    Having practiced NFP for years, I know that it is not an easy course to take. A couple who practices NFP must communicate with each other, they must be "in tune" with each other morally, they must be in agreement on being open to life, and they must work, as a couple, to make NFP work. In my experience, a couple who is practicing NFP can hardly be doing it with the wrong motives. With so relatively few couples practicing NFP, I would hardly think motives are the problem.

    We can also turn it around. NFP, practiced correctly, can also HELP a couple conceive which is one reasons why it is called Natural FAMILY PLANNING and not birth control. Couples have used NFP to conceive a new life, the same cannot be said for ABC.

    I have spoken in as general terms as possible. I have not insulted anyone personally. I have expressed how I feel on the subject of NFP--From my personal experienc on BOTH sides of the "church" fence. If one feels personally insutled by anything I have said on the matter, I think they must look to themselves and wonder why what a perfect stranger says strikes such a nerve.

  7. Dave,
    Thank you for your comments. I am sorry I was not more clear in my comments. I have explained what I meant in subsequent comments.

    In your first message Aug 12: 8:56AM)you disagreed with my using "Christian" in quotes. I honestly wasn't trying to insult all Protestant Christians. The members of the blog Scott was adreessing show little Christian Charity and if putting "Christian" in quotes was lacking in charity that is my fault, and I have and do apologize.

    Dave said: "Whether they know they are wrong is a very complex matter. Most are simply ignorant about the matter: having never been taught anything differently."

    I agree and I have clarified this very point in my latest comment on Scott's latest post on NFP. I completely agree with you on this point. I think part of the problem in the comments section is trying to be clear, and address every nuance of your argument and be succinct.

    I will continue later...

  8. Fair enough, Cathmom5. I thank you for accepting my criticisms in the right spirit, without being offended, and I'm very happy to see that you are clarifying and even issuing some apologies. Excellent. Kudos to you.

    I have made a paper about this, and will soon include your latest comments as well:

    In my paper I also critique what is a big misunderstanding of the nature of Steve Hays reductio ad absurdum reply, which is more directed to Scott.

    It's good to discuss all these things openly. Thank you again for taking my strong criticisms without anger. I admire that. My remarks weren't intended as "personal" either, just as you are clarifying that this wasn't your intention. It's always good to amiably discuss and clarify.

    I also have put together just now a list of resources concerning the Pill as an abortifacient:

  9. And I am well aware, believe me, that the folks at Triablogue show little charity: having been the target of their vitriol many times myself (including very recently).

    But that is beside my entire point. If they are uncharitable, all the more reason that we should be Christian examples of charity and turning the other cheek and speaking the truth in love. Let's not do to them what they do to us.

  10. I agree Dave. I will try my best to word my comments differently in the future. I am disappointed not angry. Disappointed that my words could be perceived by Catholic apologist who I respect in such a way. My apologies to anyone I offended with my words. I guess I will stay out of this discussion in future.

  11. cathmom5, you don't owe anyone any stinking apology. People who use any kind of birth control know they are trying to prevent the conception and birth of another human being. I remember when I was a teenager, I understood what the Catholic Church taught, and I wasn't very religious at all.
    The bigots over at Triblogue know what the Church teaches and why we teach it. They also know that their "reformers' taught against it and why they taught against it. They are self-willed and they're going to do what is pleasing to them, no matter what the Fathers and the reformers taught. That's why Hays had to make those filthy remarks about the Popes. He can't bring himself to admit that the Popes and his own reformers were right about this, so he has to defame the bearers of the truth to keep his own conscience from bothering him.
    Don't allow Mr Armstrong's claim that you insulted a whole group of people in mass keep you from criticizing a whole group of people. When a group does wrong they deserve to be criticized. If they feel insulted, tough cookies! Jesus did it all the time, Paul did it several times in his epistles, so go and do likewise!

  12. scotju is wrong on several counts, but I'm not gonna get into that.

    I have issued apologies to cathmom (for being too harsh) under my paper on the topic, that was also massively rewritten, to remove all reference to her or Triablogue, in light of her apologies (hence the deletions here of my remarks, too). I've also strongly urged her to continue apologetics and to not be discouraged because of my critique.

    We should now hold the folks at Triablogue to their own stated standards of charity, in light of cathmom's remarkable and humble apologies. She has acted in a profound Christian fashion. Now let's see how they act.

    So far it is dead silence over there, in "reaction" to my noting her apologies and pointing out that we would be observing what they do now.

    They can either do the right thing and graciously acknowledge an apology or commence to now resume more blasting of cathmom, Scott, and yours truly: a long tradition on that site.


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