Friday, April 19, 2013

On Contraception

In which Professor Lee challenges the Catholic position on contraception:

THE CONDOM CONTROVERSY: One of the doctrines of the most influential Christian denomination in the world, namely Catholicism preaches against the use of birth control, specifically the use of condoms as a contraceptive. It cites as the most telling and compelling evidence against it, the scripture in Genesis 38. It tells the story of a son of Judah named Onan who was put to death by God for continually spilling his semen on the ground whenever he would sleep with his brother’s widow, a practice now named Onanism. As to why he was punished, many clergymen believe it contradicted God's command in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply. This sounds quite petty and inadequate an explanation, and I believe, it to be an untruth and there must be reform,. my reasons being:

1. INTENT: This school of thought failed to take into consideration the intent of Onan when committing the act. The same passage in Genesis 38:9, speaks of how he deliberately spilled his semen, knowing that his children would not be his own. If he had no intention of fulfilling that duty, why would he bed his brother's widow to begin with? I believe that was the reason he was punished, and not because practicing coitus interruptus itself was an abominable act.

2. ILLOGICAL INFERENCE: To the clergy, since the act of spilling seed itself is a birth control measure, any other method which similarly hinders conception as a fruit of sexual intimacy, is just as abominable, and should not be condoned. Another such inference is that the rampant use of contraceptives promotes promiscuity and subsequently sexually transmitted disease. This falsely infers that with fewer or abolished contraceptive use, people will not engage in 'morally unlawful' sexual activity.

3. DESTABILIZATION OF SOCIETY: In a world where population growth is skyrocketing, there is a great financial burden on large families with the ever increasing costs of living, and on the larger society, a scuffle over resources to protect the economic interest of states. These conflicts usually precipitate war and famine. I doubt overpopulation was the intention God had in his grand design.

Many other reasons avail themselves when discussing the issue of birth control and whether it is morally right or wrong, and even if we do not in the least rely on reason to reach an answer, at least, let us not misinterpret an underlying law just because we cannot fully understand the full intent to which it was given.

The condom/contraceptives controversy hinges greatly on the difference between mainstream Catholic thinking and the reformed or protestant position on whether all sexual intercourse (especially that between a married couple) is of necessity teleologically driven towards reproduction or conception. For the purposes of this piece, whenever I talk about “sexual intercourse” afterwards, I’m of course speaking solely of the conservatively Christian sense of the sexual relations between a man and his wife. The Catholic position is that all sexual intercourse is designed for, or has the central purpose of, bringing about sexual reproduction or conception. This position therefore sees any action, inaction, or predilection which obstructs a reproductive teleological imperative to be simply beyond the pale; to be mortally sinful as a matter of fact. The Catholic position is evidently unlike other schools of thought, in positing that all sexual intercourse is supposed to be or designed to be procreative.  If it can be established beyond reasonable doubts that all sexual intercourse has or is supposed to have conception or reproduction as a central or core purpose then the Catholic disapproval of contraceptives would be reasonably justified.

The reformed or protestant position until fairly recently—1930 to be exact—was exactly the same as that of the Catholic Church. As I say, after 1930, the protestant position on the purpose of sexual intercourse changed. Why indeed the protestant Christian might think, should one hold that ALL sexual relations between a man and his wife ought to be directed at reproduction? The protestant position therefore, is that whereas sexual intercourse between a man and his wife may wind up being procreative, it is by no means the only use for this intimate act; that in addition to being procreative, sexual relations between a man and his wife can be recreational as the pleasure and the intimacy that come from so doing serve to essentially bind the two as one—thus fulfilling the very basic reason for a marriage which essentially propounds that a man and his wife will become ONE flesh. It is not terribly surprising then to discover that reformed or protestant Christianity is therefore not as rigidly anti-contraceptives as the Catholic Church apparently is.

The philosophical bone of contention therefore seems to be how to arbitrate on whether sexual intercourse ought really to be thought of mainly as procreative—or whether to think that it ought to be both procreative and recreational. If you believe that it should in essence always be directed towards sexual reproduction or conception, then you would readily cite the story of Onan as an example of God’s direct disapproval of contraceptives a la Onan’s coitus interruptus. Onan’s intention of preventing his deceased brother's wife from getting a child from him by ejaculating outside the woman's reproductive tract whenever there was copulation between the two was already clearly contrary to his Jewish culture and expected responsibilities. On the Catholic view furthermore, Onan's actions are deemed diametrically opposed to the telos of sexual intercourse and thus sufficient to attract divine comeuppance. This view is logically consistent in disavowing any and all contraceptive measures that seek to arrest conception as the end of the natural goal-directed process of sexual intercourse. It must also be emphasized that the fact that populations in some parts of the world are ballooning or that there is a stiff competition for food and resources is really not a legitimate argument against the Catholic position; it is actually incidental to the discourse evidenced by the fact that if one were to grant considerable purchasing power to this line of reasoning then one might as well carp at Genesis 1:28’s divine injunction to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

In other words, the Catholic position—which is primarily a doctrinal position—stands or falls on whether it is scriptural/doctrinal to think that God who ordained the institution of marriage (and subsequently sexual intercourse) holds that all sexual relations between a man and his wife should expressly be geared towards the making of offspring. This train of thought goes some distance in contextualizing the staunch Catholic opposition to abortions and gay marriages. Nonetheless, I suspect that many in the reform or protestant camp are certainly comfortable parting ways with the Catholic Church as regards the practical use/uses for sexual intimacy within the bounds of marriage.

Whatever the case may be, MILLIONS of Catholics seem to have personally evolved their own unique convictions on the matter;  for if they sincerely did believe the Church’s position, they most certainly do not live or act as though they do.

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  1. I believe it is respectful and dignified for partners to use condoms, in the sense that it prevents STI's and unwanted pregnancies. The worlds population is growing at a super sonic rate and one way to curb it is the use of condoms, expecially with the new premier in China looking into abolishing china's one child policy. Also, the decrease in birth and death rates means no few people are dying as opposed to the victorian era and the early 20th century. The resources are not just enough to sustain such exponential growth.