Friday, July 24, 2015

NFP Awareness Week: The Great NFP Debate

The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is When I started writing about NFP, it was from the standpoint, basically, of “something is wrong with NFP”.  There were a couple of things to do with methodology – the lack of modesty associated with the teaching of it and even the practice of it; and the apparent failure of the movement generally to address the fact that NFP is to be used only for “serious reasons”. When these points are brought up to NFP promoters, the debate degenerates into a serious of clarifications and straw-man arguments. NFP promoters say: 

  1. NFP is licit, and anyone who argues against the use of NFP is a dissenter at best, a heretic at worst.
  2. NFP is not the same as contraception, so there is and can be nothing sinful in it.
  3. Only the couple themselves can decide, after “prayer and discernment” whether they have a serious reason to postpone conception.
But these are not, in fact, the important issues, because in reality, these are not the issues that lie beneath the intuition of many faithful (and usually traditionalist) Catholics that there is something wrong with the NFP mentality, the NFP “way of life”.

The issues listed above can be dispatched quickly:

  1. I agree that NFP is licit; that does not mean it is required, nor does it mean it is virtuous.
  2. I can agree that there is a difference between contraception and birth control; NFP, technically, may not be contraception, but it is certainly, unequivocally, birth control.
  3. The “conscience” argument can be refuted on a number of points; however, for the sake of argument, and to make the point that there’s something wrong with NFP, let’s simply allow any reason to stand as valid.  I’m not arguing about precise definitions of “serious reasons”; I’m aiming to show that there is something inherently wrong with the promotion of intentionally sterile sex as a means of birth control.
The issue lies more with the attitude underlying the promotion of NFP. Take, for instance, the USCCB’s expressed desire that every diocese have an NFP program, and that all couples seeking to be married in the Church be required to take an NFP course. Are the bishops assuming that every married couple will have serious reasons not to welcome all the children God desires to send them? Consider also a program called “The NFP-Centered Parish”, which is problematic in its very name: why would we want a parish to be centered on a method of regulating births that should be used only for serious reasons?

There is good reason to believe that such an attitude reflects the Church’s attempts to become more “modern”, to address the current issues in secular society, and to appear as a compassionate Mother who takes into account Her children’s trials and tribulations, rather than a Holy Mother who insists on certain standards of behavior, on a willingness to sacrifice, that will get Her children to Heaven. Pope Pius XI saw the dangerous potential of artificial contraception entering the Catholic world when the Protestants hesitantly allowed its use for their own congregants, and he promulgated Casti Connubii in order to combat it.

But not too long afterwards, with the world (especially the US) clamoring for “population control”, and with women seeking more and more to have jobs and careers outside the home, and with financial affluence becoming more attainable and therefore more desirable for many families, the question became, “How can Catholics limit the number of babies they produce without violating Church teaching?” Indeed, the “Majority Report” of the Papal Commission that was convened to discuss the issue of birth control was of the opinion that Church teaching on this issue should be changed. And of course, the outcry and the dissent waged against Humanae Vitae and the upholding of Church teaching against contraception made it clear that in the US, Catholic theologians and clergy had been convinced that the large Catholic family should become a thing of the past.

Pope Paul VI made some dire predictions – all of which certainly seem to have come to pass – regarding the consequences of artificial contraception being loosed on the world. General moral decline was one of those predictions, and there can be no doubt that that has occurred. And really, that moral decline focuses largely around the issue of sex – and mostly this concern with sex revolves around a perceived “right” to engage in the sex act without having to worry about the naturally-intended consequence of that act: the conception of a child. Divorcing procreation from the pleasure of the sex act has resulted in a perceived “right” to have sex in whatever way one chooses: pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, homosexual “sex”. And talk of recognizing the “legitimacy” of sex with minor children and even animals has become far from rare in the media. Society today is consumed with the apparent need to talk about, and engage in, sex.

Before things reached their current state of moral corruption, though, Catholic theologians were trying to figure out how to ensure that married couples could engage in the marital embrace without having babies. And today, the moral disasters of the secular culture notwithstanding, the Catholic world can also be said to be divorcing procreation from the sexual act itself. Only, in the Catholic case, we call it “natural”.

I don’t think NFP is “natural”; I think it’s a concession to concupiscence and (typically) an excuse to limit the number of children a couple “chooses” to have. “Natural” would be a married couple loving each other and expressing that love in the conjugal embrace regardless of whether that happens on a “safe” day. “Natural” would, in most cases, mean a large family. We need more of those!

1 comment:

  1. What you write here is mostly excellent. I would like to submit two caveats, however.

    1. I wish you would not refer to Humanae Vitae in a positive way. HV is the cause of everything that you are fighting against. HV did not defend Catholic teaching on marriage. HV provided the magisterial support for NFP. HV attacked the traditional Catholic view of accepting children from God. HV followed the outline provided by the Majority Report which you mention, with one exception, while rejecting entirely all the thinking of the Minority Report.

    I'm pretty sure you are aware of all these things already, but sometimes it seems easier to make concessions to the audience. But each positive reference to HV is one brick in the wall of the new Theology of the Body.

    2. What is the reason for the wholesale promotion of NFP by the USCCB? You start to allude to some reasons, but then don't finish the thought.

    I think that NFP is not a unique case. The reasons for the promotion of NFP are the same reasons for the promotion of the New Mass, the new morality, new doctrines, etc.

    All of these things are being done because the leaders of the conciliar church are not trying to lift man up to God, but are trying to bring God down to man. Man is not to be made holy, but God (in the person of HIs Church) is to be made vulgar. We must put clown noses and rainbow banners (and hammer-and-sickle) on everything that is sacred in order to eliminate the sacred and to glorify the profane.

    Modern man is obsessed with sex, sex, sex, and if Catholics aren't also glorifying sex, then they will feel deprived. Traditional Catholic teaching whose purpose is to create saints prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven tells people that chastity is the only way to achieve that goal. But the new approach does not seek to lift man up out of the mire of concupiscence and lead him to the beauty of purity, but instead it seeks to drag down the sacred into the realm of the boudoir.

    Traditional Catholic teaching says that for those who do not choose the higher calling of celibacy, accepting many children from God will give them a chance to suffer for their sins and to win the crown of holiness even though they took the lower road. The sacrifices that are demanded by having children -- especially those which are not "planned" -- will ennoble man and let him rise above his mundane station. And when I say "man" we recognize that this applies especially to women as St. Paul stated explicitly, "Women shall be saved through child-bearing."

    The new approach, in contrast, tells us that heaven is willing to come down to us and accommodate our selfish desires for sexual gratification without any commensurate burdens. We do not have to be transformed in order to enter heaven, but heaven will be transformed by us so that we can enter in with all the dross of our concupiscent souls unpurified by the fires of suffering.

    In the first version, God sets the rules and we either follow them or we do not. In the new version, we set the rules and we assure each other that God is only too pleased to follow them.

    The question is, "Which of these two approaches is true?" When we die and are judged then we will learn whether God wanted version A or version B. Does God desire the sanctification of men's souls, or does He want to make life easy and pleasant for us while we ride the luxury cruise line to heaven?

    By the time we are standing at the judgment seat and learn the truth that way, it will be too late to do anything about it.

    - John G.


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