Bad Logic from Bad Catholic

Marc of Bad Catholic has offered a “rebuttal” of my post of last week criticizing that simplistic dandelion rose illustration supposedly showing the bad fruits of contraception and the good fruits of chastity. I’m not going to bother with most of his rebuttal—feel free to go over and read and critique it yourself—but I do want to point out what horrid logic Catholics like Marc are reduced to in insisting that there’s this huge gulf of a divide between “unnatural” contraception like the pill or IUDs and “natural” contraception a la Natural Family Planning (which I have addressed in the past, by the way).

Here is how Marc talks about Natural Family Planning:

From Libby Anne:

“For one thing, the idea that contraception is rooted in selfishness as opposed to generosity is wrong. One reason people plan their pregnancies today is so that they can give the children they choose to have more attention and care.”

She’s right. That people “plan their pregnancies” is hardly selfish. But “planning a pregnancy” is not the same thing as using contraception. Catholic women are free to plan their pregnancies, and through the use of effective methods of organic family planning, they do so with 98.2% typical-use effectiveness using the Sympto-Thermal method (1) or 96.8-98.0% typical-use effectiveness using the Creighton Model (2)(3) (to do a little name-dropping up in this blergh). Planning the time of a pregnancy is entirely fitting with the gift of marriage.

(I’m not getting into the numbers of the studies he cites here except to say that they have methodological problems. One study, for instance, explicitly discounted essentially every couple who got pregnant while using the method, assuming that they did so on purpose because they broke the rules of the method and had sex when they weren’t supposed to. That’s simply not how effectiveness statistics work. But again, that’s neither here nor there and not the purpose of this post.)

Here’s how Marc talks about other forms of contraception:

From Libby Anne:

Additionally, there is literally no reason that contraception would give flower to divorce.

I can think of a pretty simple reason why an increase in contraception would lead to an increase in divorce. It is a well-discussed fact that childless couples are more likely to divorce than couples with children, and, according to the study “Marital Dissolution: Divorce, Separation, Annulment and Widowhood,“ published in the Handbook of Marriage and the Family, “The likelihood of a divorce decreases as the number of children in a family increases.” I am reminded of a study of Qatari women showing precisely the same phenomenon: “For every child in a family, the likelihood that couple will divorce goes down.”

Given that contraception is an effort not have children, it’s a smidgebit optimistic to trumpet the impossibility of a link between contraception and divorce.

So let me get this straight. Catholic couples following the Church’s prohibition on birth control can still use Natural Family Planning to plan when and if to have children. But contraception (as opposed to couples following Natural Family Planning) causes higher divorce rates because it allows couples to plan when and if to have children, and couples with fewer children have higher divorce rates. In what universe does this make any sense?

Look, if you think that not having kids causes higher divorce rates, then say that! But don’t say that NFP allows you to control when and if to have kids just as much as artificial contraception does—nay, more—and then claim that artificial contraception (and not NFP) leads to higher divorce rates because couples who use it to choose to have fewer or no kids have higher divorce rates. Because that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

(To be honest, one of the things that led to my becoming disillusioned with the Catholic Church was a similar sort of double standard. Contraception left the marital act without procreative value, and was therefore morally wrong, but it was totally fine and morally good to use Natural Family Planning to render the marital act non-procreative.)

Marc needs to explain how contraception leads to higher risk of divorce by allowing couples to choose to have fewer children, while Natural Family Planning, which he claims allows couples to do the same thing, does not.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Rilian Sharp

    Because people who use contraception hate babies and will therefore never have any, whereas people who use NFP are just waiting for the right time to have forty babies.

  • Feminerd

    We shall see if my response gets posted there or not. It’s polite and personal, talking about how NFP wouldn’t work for my specific circumstances.

    • Christine

      Yeah, interestingly enough I’ve never really heard a good response to “how does 2 months of abstinence followed by 2 weeks of ‘we have to have sex now or we won’t get to’ strengthen a marriage”.

      • Basketcase

        I have a friend who was so frustrated with his lack of sex life after his wife had a baby that he told ME about it (as warning not to do it to my husband). I was too shocked at the time to remember they were using NFP and ask whether his wife had returned to normal cycles yet, and if not, then he had no leg to stand on with complaining, since he also did not want another child, since they would struggle to afford it. I know women who dont have their first period for a year after their baby – and you could be fertile any time in that. Its a long time between drinks…

      • Christine

        It’s more than just how long until you get your period. You have to re-learn how to chart, because pregnancy changes a lot of things. So you may very well miss ovulation (and even if you don’t, it’s very risky the first few times, because your symptoms might have changed).

  • Brad C.

    I can think of a dozen other reasons why high numbers of children might be correlated with a lower divorce rate, if in fact that stat is accurate:

    * They could both be correlated with more conservative faiths, which encourage more children and preach strongly against divorce (although I’ve heard that divorce among the religious is no less common)

    * Divorces that take place early in marriage naturally involve fewer (or no) children. This is just a basic consequence of the 9-month gestational period :)

    * If you’ve been married long enough to have 5 kids, you’ve probably gotten over the rough bumps in a relationship.

    I’m sure we could come up with more, and I haven’t even looked at the methodology of the study he is citing. None of these have anything to do with contraception.

    • Kristen Rosser

      Also– if the value you’re seeking is “fewer divorces” as a good in and of itself, and not “fewer divorces as a result of better marriages” — the fact that couples with kids often stay together “for the kids’ sake” does mean fewer divorces, at least until the kids are grown. But that has nothing to do with contraception actually being the cause of people getting divorced.

      • Basketcase

        This. So much smarts the others seem to miss…

      • Gillianren

        I was going to point it out myself. I don’t personally have a problem with bad relationships’ being dissolved, whether that’s before or after a marriage.

    • Jayn

      My first thought was that having children creates reasons to stay in a marriage, especially among more conservative couples–this is not inherently a good thing. Those relationships are not necessarily doing any better than those with fewer or no children, but

      1) The couple may want to ‘stay together for the children’. This has no relationship to how well they’re doing as a couple

      2) Financial constraints due to having children may make it harder to split up, especially for women for a list of reasons I won’t get into right now

      I don’t see a lower divorce rate in these situations as being a good thing, because I suspect that a number of factors are coming into play before the crucially important “should we be together” question even comes up. It may at best create more impetus to try and work through any issues you’re having. Frankly, the whole idea that a lower divorce rate is inherently better than a high one bugs me.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Has this guy never heard the phrase “staying together for the kids?” A couple without children has fewer reasons to stay together if the marriage is bad. Meanwhile, plenty of those couples with kids feel like they can’t split up even if they want to. Of course, Marc probably thinks that people staying in a marriage despite being miserable is a positive because, hey, at least it’s not Teh E-ville Divorce. Remember, marriage is not for people, people are for marriage.

      • Lynn Grey

        Divorce sounds so bad to most conservative Christians that the length of a marriage is far more important than the happiness of one.

      • Christine

        But bear in mind that Catholics have a high rate of divorce – it’s in the neighbourhood of 1 in 3. I think that the prohibition against divorce gets about as much attention as the prohibition against contraception.

      • Stev84

        Just what I thought. As if the children can’t sense if their parents aren’t happy or are fighting with each other. Sometimes a divorce is the correct decision for everyone involved.

    • Newbie

      He also suggests that a possible reason contraception hurts marriages is that it puts the burden on the woman.. But then again, so does NFP, which requires the woman to check the signals in her body and make charts, etc, etc.. Not to mention that a pregnancy would put more strain on the woman than any contraceptive on the market

      • The_L1985

        Plus, if your preferred method is to use condoms, isn’t it usually the man’s job to put the condom on? Female condoms aren’t exactly very commonly used compared to traditional condoms.

      • Aeryl

        Most men I know enjoyed it quite a bit when I put the condom on FOR them, but your point still stands, :^D

      • LL

        I was going to say the same thing!

    • The_L1985

      Here are a few more:

      1. Many couples with children who have very bad marriages and probably need a divorce will stay together “for the sake of the children,” even though an unhealthy marriage between one’s parents, and the escalated tension it causes in the home, can be even worse for the kids’ psychological development than a divorce! This fact alone has a major effect on divorce statistics, and it cannot and should not be ignored as a factor.

      2. A marriage in which one spouse wants children and the other doesn’t is pretty likely to result in divorce. Surely it’s better to divorce before you have children your spouse doesn’t want, instead of forcing said spouse to pay child support for said children? Better for you, better for your children, and better for the person who didn’t want to be a parent in the first place.

      3. If you want children, but your spouse is infertile, your only options to have that child are either to do things the Catholic church frowns upon (like IVF), take very expensive fertility drugs, or, if you can afford it, to adopt a child. A proper, legal adoption is very expensive–much more expensive than giving birth to, and raising, one’s own naturally-conceived biological child. Or, of course, you could divorce and hope that your next spouse is able to give you children. None of these options are optimal, and most of them are too expensive for the average American (to say nothing of adults in poorer countries). But there simply are no good options for infertile couples who want children, that are also affordable.

      4. Divorce is much more complicated when children are involved. Custody and visitation rights have to be decided upon, the parent who doesn’t have custody often has to make child-support payments, and of course the child has to deal with the major adjustment to living with only one parent at a time. This can also provide an incentive for a couple that would otherwise have divorced to stay together.

      None of these reasons necessarily involve contraceptive use either.

      • Monala

        There is an affordable option for infertile couples: You can also adopt a child from foster care, which generally costs very little, because the state covers most of the costs. There are risks to that option – some children in foster care may or may not be free for adoption (or their status changes, depending upon changes in the lives of their birth parents); and children in foster care often have challenges with trust and anger, based on what they’ve been through.

        But adoption of foster kids is actually a much more pressing need that adoption of orphans.

      • The_L1985

        I didn’t know that. This needs to be more widely known. :)

    • Saraquill

      Couples with large quantities of children are rarer than those with few or none at all. Hence, there are smaller numbers of couples with many children splitting up.

  • Jayn

    Okay, that rebuttal gives ma a headache after only a couple paragraphs. I do find it ironic that such a rebuttal, including defense of NFP, is being given on a blog named “Bad Catholic”. And also a little frustrating as someone who is likely a much ‘worse’ Catholic than he is.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, I’ve been wondering what makes Marc a “bad Catholic.” He seems like the perfect little Church-bot to me.

      • CarysBirch

        Libby Anne’s title makes me chuckle though, because I generally find him pretty lightweight.

    • The_L1985

      I know, right? When I used the phrase to describe myself (back when I was still Catholic), I was referring to my disagreement with a lot of official Catholic doctrine from the past 60 years or so. The “Bad Catholic” blog is pretty much lock-step with the Vatican on everything.

  • BobaFuct

    So it would seem that, in his view, infertile people are “incomplete” or missing an integral part of their humanity…that’s pretty fucked up.

    “Now the fertility of a person is an essential part of that person. I think this is seen more clearly in women, for whom the fertile cycle has far more dramatic physical, emotional, and spiritual effects, but the reality of the cyclical woman is the reality of all human beings, for whom the marvelous potentiality of making another human person is an integral part of being human.”

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “I think this is seen more clearly in women, for whom the fertile cycle has far more dramatic physical, emotional, and spiritual effects…”

      Let me just say how much I absolutely love to be told all about the supposed effects of my female physiology by a kid who isn’t old enough to legally order a beer who proudly proclaims his complete lack of sexual experience and has no medical training that I know of.

      Marc, do please regale us with more of your wisdom about my body and my sex life and my “contraceptive mentality!”

    • smrnda

      You’re right, it’s totally fucked up. I second everything Petticoat Philosopher says below, and just wanted to add that my body’s reproductive capacity is really just an annoyance. Of course, that’s just me, and I respect people who feel deeply attached to their fertility, it’s their call to make, but if you want to respect women, respect a woman’s right to decide what is essential to her humanity.

      And I mean, yeah, fertility IS kind of a bigger deal for women, which is why so many women use birth control. We’ve got a lot more invested in this.

      • The_L1985

        The only reason my body’s reproductive capacity doesn’t prevent me from being able to hold a steady job is because I’m on the Pill. My hormonal levels used to fluctuate so wildly that it had adverse effects on my physical and mental health! I could time my depressive episodes and dizzy spells just based on when I’d last purchased feminine products.

  • antimule

    >>Because that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.<<

    It makes perfect sense when you remember that pope is infallible. Anything he says must be proven true at any cost whatsoever. I seriously think that dogma of papal infallibility is cancer that is killing Catholicism the same way that Biblical inerrancy is killing Protestantism. Both dogmas ultimately leave believers with no room to maneuver so you end up having to justify every madcap papal proclamation or every Old Testament atrocity.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Well, he’s only considered infallible when he speaks ex cathedra. Not trying to be pedantic but we should at least get our criticisms right.

    • alwr

      Except that you are completely misunderstanding the doctrine of infallibility. The last doctrine proclaimed infallibly by a pope was the assumption of Mary (which had been taught for centuries prior anyway) in 1950. Some actual information on infallibility and when and how it applies:

      • antimule

        Except that discussing contraception within Catholic framework is completely impossible. Go ahead, divert form the party line and see for how long will you remain the priest in good standing. Even if formal infallibility is only invoked sparsely informal one is keeping everyone in line.

  • herewegokids

    You seem to have misunderstood NFP very fundamentally. It is never intended to be used to ‘render the marital act non-procreative’. There is no double standard. With NFP, you actually do not enter intercourse UNLESS you totally are open to becoming pregnant. Avoiding your most fertile time is a form of planning, yes. It is usually highly effective (but takes study and attention). But it is not fail-proof. Being ok w/ that is part of the deal. A situation where mom needs to not be pregnant, due to health, mental or physical, etc, requires dad to sacrifice for her. In some cases, permanently.

    • Libby Anne

      Okay then, answer me this: Why do NFP advocates insist that there are super high success rates, and that NFP is a more effective in preventing pregnancy than artificial contraception? Why all the emphasis on “no we swear, you really can plan your kids and not get pregnant accidentally if you use NFP” if actually NFP is all about being totally open to pregnancy every time you have sex?

      • LL

        Well, Libby Anne, the answer is obvious.
        It depends on the argument being made.
        If we claim that NFP carries the same desire to avoid conception that any form of birth control (or “planning”) does, then NFP = You Will End Up Pregnant Anyway, so therefore Totally Procreative and Sin-Free sex. Catholics are right and everybody else is wrong.
        When we argue that many women (or couples) cannot realistically use NFP, because it simply isn’t as fail-proof for them as any other form of birth control (err.. “planning”), then NFP = The Most Reliable Way to Avoid Pregnancy Ever, so therefore, no Totally Non-Procreative Sex the totally natural way. And Sin-Free. Catholics are right and everybody else is wrong.
        Oh and let’s just for fun add to the argument that condoms are Evil and not allowed, because they prevent pregnancy the non-NFP way (which is 100% ineffective, but totally Procreative at the same time) but yet they are completely ineffective and will just guarantee a sexually transmitted disease and a pregnancy that will absolutely result in infanticide.
        Because non-Catholics are the dumb ones and Catholics are always 100% correct.
        The End and You’re Welcome.

    • BobaFuct

      So a woman should be pregnant at all times, unless she gets a note from her doctor. Got it.

    • CarysBirch

      Requires DAD to sacrifice? Because abstinence (up to and including permanent abstinence) isn’t a hardship for mom? For crying out loud, I’m a woman and I consider prolonged abstinence a big deal.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Silly rabbit, sex drives are for men!

    • Gail

      Okay, well for one, I would like to second CarysBirch that abstinence is a sacrifice for both men and women. And second, the suggestion that permanent abstinence is the answer for women who shouldn’t become pregnant for mental or physical health reasons is kind of disturbing. I’m guessing you come from a place of privilege in being mentally and physically healthy, because the statement is basically implying that women who aren’t healthy enough to sustain a pregnancy don’t deserve to have sex, ever. This is extremely offensive to anyone suffering from such a medical condition. You’re basically saying, I get to have sex because I’m lucky enough to be healthy, but anyone who isn’t so lucky doesn’t get to have sex, ever.

      The same is true of those who argue that women who are too poor to provide for children should not have sex. It is an extremely classist view considering that some women are stuck in a cycle of poverty and will never be able to support a child, so the indication is that they should remain abstinent for life, or at least from menarche to menopause.

      • Beutelratti

        Sex can also be an effective mean of fighting depression, let’s not forget that. ;D
        Clinically depressed people should definitely not have to abstain from sex.

      • CarysBirch

        This is true. Tongue in cheek, but true nonetheless. If I map my major periods of depression and my periods of prolonged abstinence, there’d be almost complete overlap. Sex makes me healthier!

    • Trollface McGee

      “A situation where mom needs to not be pregnant, due to health, mental or physical, etc, requires dad to sacrifice for her. In some cases, permanently.”
      Or… they could use birth control and prevent risks to the mom and neither the dad OR the mom have to permanently give up their sex life. Your solution is like ordering amputation to treat a paper cut.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Let’s just hope that the Church never decides that band-aids are evil. If it does, we can expect to hear a lot of lectures about the Christ-like nobility of the sacrifice of one’s healthy limbs.

    • The_L1985

      An instance of sexual intercourse that doesn’t result in a baby is, by definition, non-procreative, because you didn’t procreate. Therefore, if you are using NFP to delay the conception of a child, then yes, you are ensuring that, for a while anyway, you are engaging in non-procreative sex. Whether that means PIV during non-fertile days, or the use of other sex acts, it means non-procreative sex.

      And quite frankly, many of us who use artificial means of birth control understand that there is a chance, however slim, of failure. We understand the level of risk, and are willing to take responsibility in some fashion if a baby “happens” anyway. If that’s all it means to be “open to the possibility of procreation,” then I honestly don’t see how informed contraceptive use affects that openness at all.

      “A situation where mom needs to not be pregnant, due to health, mental or physical, etc, requires dad to sacrifice for her.”

      I agree. And for some people, the form of sacrifice that “Dad”* is willing to make is in the form of less physical sensation caused by wearing a condom. However, sometimes “Mom” also has to make a sacrifice, depending on the specific circumstances. I take medication for various mental-health issues that, according to my doctor, would cause severe, life-threatening birth defects if I got pregnant while taking the medication. Were I not willing to temporarily sacrifice my own fertility for the sake of my mental health, I would not be able to hold down a job whether I was sexually active or not.

      Furthermore, women, on average, want and enjoy sex just as much as men. If abstaining is a “sacrifice” for a man, then it is equally a sacrifice for a woman.

      * If he doesn’t have any kids at present, can we really call the man a “dad?”

      • Lucreza Borgia

        This person also totally misses that lack of sex is a sacrifice for the woman.

      • The_L1985

        Didn’t you hear? Women are incapable of enjoying sex; we just lie back and think of England.

      • Baby_Raptor

        You’re forgetting the magic out here, Ms. L: Intent.

        They don’t *intend* to be avoiding procreation, they’re “open” to it. So it doesn’t matter that there’s basically a negative chance at a pregnancy because they’re boning on a non-fertile day. They’re “open” to a pregnancy, so the sex is procreative.

        …My head hurts from trying to say that seriousface.

      • James

        That’s not how the Catholic Church defines “procreative”.

        The Catholic Church speaks Latin, not English and some of the nuances are lost in translation.

        In Latin, “procreative” refers to the act, not the result. It doesn’t matter whether or not it leads to a baby. What matters is that the couple has completed, all-natural, PIV sex.

        If the act leads to a pregnancy, the act is procreative (Latin) and procreative (English).

        If the act does not lead to a pregnancy, the act is procreative (Latin), but not procreative (English).

        Of course the teaching seems absurd. It IS absurd in English. But English is wrong language.

        The issue isn’t making babies, but why all-natural PIV sex is so important.

      • Sgaile-beairt

        but it doesnt in latin or english say WHY yr ”All natural” sex is different!! unless yr being deliberat ely obfuscatory w yr word choice….which is what they used, to call, ‘casuistry” for a reason….

      • James

        Short answer: That’s the way the parts fit. Is any other act as intimate as all-natural PIV sex?

        Longer answer: In marriage, couples are to give themselves to each other, fully, freely, faithfully, and fruitfully. The couple holds nothing back. He gives all he has to her, she gives all she has to him.

        This is the meaning of sex: A total gift of self. This total self-giving is an all-or-nothing thing. Go big, or go home.

        When married couples alter their bodies to prevent conception, such as with birth control pills or a vasectomy, what is given is different. One spouse deliberately changes their own body to be a less full gift. (It’s also not a good idea to deliberately make a healthy body unhealthy. Fertility is a sign of health, even though it may be inconvenient.) When they put barriers between them, well, that’s not the same sort of intimacy as unprotected sex, is it? Sex with a condom feels different for both men and women.

        Engaging in an act that says “I give all of myself to you” when you are holding something back is dishonest.

        When a married couple comes together on an infertile day, they give each other everything they have ON THAT DAY. They hold nothing back. It says, “I am willing to give you everything, including my fertility.” That the couple knows that their level of natural fertility on that day is zero does not change the nature of the gift. It is still EVERYTHING they have. Infertile periods in a normal fertility cycle are part of nature’s design. They are not due to any alteration or holding back on the part of the couple.

        When they abstain on a fertile day, there is no gift. This is honest. It says, “I am not willing to give you my fertility, therefore we will not engage in the act of total self giving.” While honest, a couple should not withhold from each other without good reasons. That’s not good for a marriage. Such decisions are between the couple and God.

        But I think the real difference is not the Catholic view of sex, but the Catholic view of children. The Catholic Church believes that people are good (created in God’s image) and that children are people, therefore, children are good. They are good by their own nature. The attitude of the parents does not change the goodness of the child. If you don’t believe that children are good, then Catholic teaching isn’t going to make much sense.

      • tsara

        Nope; the difference is the Catholic view of sex, not the Catholic view of children. That view of sex is completely alien and bizarre to me.

        Sex is an activity that many people like to do because it i fun. It has many benefits and many drawbacks, and so proper caution should be exercised before, during, and after engaging in it and everyone should have the knowledge and ability to make free and fully informed decisions at all points.
        Some people consider it to be very special and intimate; others don’t. Neither view is inherently better or worse than the other, as long as both (or all) parties engaging in sexual acts together have communicated their views and decided that any differences are resolvable and it’s worth participating anyway.


        Children, once born, are full human beings deserving of everything that entails. However, as they are dependent upon adults, it is our (collective, as well as individual) responsibility to ensure that every child receives everything it needs (and, therefore, you should consider very carefully whether or not you are prepared to bring one into the world).

      • The_L1985

        “Is any other act as intimate as all-natural PIV sex?”

        Yes. Anal sex, oral sex, and handjobs can all be exactly as intimate as PIV if you’re doing them right.

        “Sex with a condom feels different for both men and women.”

        Not that different. Have you ever even used a condom?

        “If you don’t believe that children are good, then Catholic teaching isn’t going to make much sense.”

        I believe that children are wonderful people, and very much want to have children of my own someday. But that doesn’t keep me from believing that Catholic teaching on contraception is complete bunkum.

      • James

        I have been there and done that. I’m hardly a saint.

        Was it fun? Yes, at the time. Was it the same? No.

        Believe what you want, but I have used contraception in a relationship and lived the Catholic teaching. My EXPERIENCE tells me that Catholic teaching on contraception is absolutely right.

      • The_L1985

        Really? Have you ever experienced a pregnancy scare and wondered how you were going to care for a baby if you had one? No, because you don’t have a uterus. Have you ever been told, to your face, by your own father, that he didn’t even want to look at you because he couldn’t believe that his own daughter was stupid enough not to use contraception? (Dad grew up pre-Vatican II, and doesn’t appear to know about Humanae Vitae. Opposition to birth control does NOT automatically follow from any Catholic teaching prior to 1968.)

        I am strongly opposed to Catholic teaching on contraception because of my lived experience and the nightmare I went through.

      • James

        Pregnancy scares? Yes. No, I don’t have a uterus, but when you are involved with someone who does, that DOES affect you.

        That is absolutely terrible what your father said to you. He was wrong.

      • Eamon Knight

        ….which is exactly how every argument with my Catholic friend (even back in the days when we used to argue Protestant vs. Catholic stuff, in a friendly way) used to end. I’d rebut her every point, back her into a logical corner, and she’d play her trump card: “My EXPERIENCE tells me it’s right!!”

        Bully for your experience. Run your marriage any way that works for the two of you. Seriously — everyone is different; their relationships will be different, the way sex works for them will be different. I can even imagine that there’s a certain frisson in imagining one’s fertility as a “thing” and visualizing giving it to one’s partner during love-making. I no longer recall the details, but I’m pretty sure there was an extra thrill there the times we were actively trying to get pregnant. Sex is like that — it’s as much in the mind as in the nerve-endings.

        But the moment you insist that your EXPERIENCE represents some sort of universal moral law, that “nature” affirms your personal choice and deprecates everyone else’s, and you *will*, deservedly, be called an arrogant, condescending ass.

      • James

        So if I talk about how the teaching is reasonable, I am wrong for ignoring experience. If I talk about how my experience shows it is reasonable, then I am being arrogant.

        I get it: Heads you win, tails I lose.

      • Jayn

        You’re arrogant when you talk about your experience as if it proves that your way is better for everyone and not just you. You’re arrogant when you assume that anyone who has trouble with NFP doesn’t have a full understanding rather than that it simply doesn’t work as well for them as it does for you and your wife. And you’re damned arrogant when you speak as if you know the absolute truth of what is good or bad and use that as a reason to treat other people’s opinions as less valid, less informed, or just plain wrong because they don’t match yours.

      • Eamon Knight

        Oh good grief, was I that unclear? (A: No.)

        Unless I am very much mistaken, you are claiming, not merely that NFP works well for you and your wife, but that it is founded in some sort of objective morality — that the universe is so constituted that NFP is the One Best Way for all couples.

        You cannot infer the latter from the former. Your subjective experience does not necessarily generalize — it does not show that the principle is “reasonable” in the sense you are trying to establish. And yes, asserting that unjustified generalization *is* arrogant — my subjective experience as arbiter of cosmic reality.

        Seriously: this is like, Logic 101.

        (Aside @LL: Infidel. Everyone knows that KITTEHS are the Path To Salvation.)

      • James

        Yes, you are very much mistaken.

        I am claiming that Catholic teaching is founded in objective morality.

        Here are two different defenses of the teaching. One from a psychological/personalist perspective:‎

        One from a natural law perspective:

        Our experience supports it. Does it prove it? Of course not. Logic 101.

      • Eamon Knight

        I don’t have time to read the references just now, but are you sure you read my comment correctly? Because I *said* that you are claiming that NFP is founded in objective morality. So how, exactly, am I mistaken in my interpretation of your position?

      • James

        That I am basing this position on experience alone.

        If you think I am taking this position based on obvious bad logic, then I am insulted.

        If you think I am arrogant for taking the Catholic position that this is a matter of objective morality, then I take that as a compliment.

      • Eamon Knight

        No, I don’t think you are taking it on the basis of experience alone. I think you are basing it on Catholic teaching, which I happen to think is itself based on obvious bad logic. I think that you are further confirming it on the basis of experience, which is just a way of papering over the cracks in the logic. Your experience on this has no probative value outside the confines of your own skull. It “supports” it to no one except yourself and your brethren.

      • LL

        Nobody said that you’re taking it on experience alone. Nobody. You’re taking a position, claiming it’s true, and then using YOUR experience to prove that this position is true while ignoring the countless experiences that would “prove” otherwise. That is different.

        All your experience does is show that this particular way of living works for you. It doesn’t make the teaching even remotely True for humanity at large, and it doesn’t make the experiences of others invalid.

      • Arakasi

        Your experience proves that it works FOR YOU. It says nothing about how NFP works for me and my wife

      • Captain Cassidy

        You really have no idea how this logic thing works, do you?

      • Anat

        Your experience says nothing about my experience (and vice versa). As for the reasonableness of the teachings- only if we accept the assumptions behind the teachings, which most of us do not. And whatever the teachings say, if people’s experience says otherwise, then even if the teachings are right for some people, they are not universally right.

      • LL

        You mean that my personal experience and preference can’t be used to control and dictate what others can and can’t do without burning in hell for eternity?

        Darn it.

        For example:

        I have found that having a teeny tiny Chihuahua and a small Yorkie is so much more satisfying than having a large dog. Therefore, it is absolute Truth that anybody who has a large dog isn’t REALLY happy and can’t possibly love their large dog. I mean, how could they? I happen to prefer tiny rat dogs to large ones, so everybody, if they want any kind of satisfying life and happy dog-love (and to not burn in hell) MUST only have tiny rat dogs. The End.

        See? That was fun! AND totally full of logic.

      • Anat

        Look, in my experience there are some acts I like better than PIV. That’s my taste. You have your preferences. That’s fine. But your experience is not universal.

      • Jayn

        “When they abstain on a fertile day, there is no gift. This is honest. It
        says, “I am not willing to give you my fertility, therefore we will not
        engage in the act of total self giving.””

        This logic still feels really tortured to me. You’re giving yourself fully…but only when part of yourself isn’t there to be given. You’re still limiting what you give to the other person. The only difference between NFP and other ways of preventing pregnancy is how you keep from sharing that part of yourself.

        As far as the wisdom of making yourself ‘unhealthy’, you do realize that there are both drawbacks AND benefits to hormonal BC healthwise? There are certain conditions women are more prone to BECAUSE of their cycles.

      • Anat

        The parts fit in many ways. 69s are very very intimate. As are many other ways. (Non-PIV was what we used while I was breastfeeding, some 2 years. Worked excellently.)

        My experience is that in some 25 years of sexual activity with the same partner, the one year in which we were open to pregnancy was no better than the rest. Nor is there dishonesty when both partners know that contraception is being used. (That is an exceptionally ridiculous argument on your part.)

        When pregnancy is not desired the gift of non-procreative sex is better than a ‘gift’ of sex that is associated with anxiety over whether or not pregnancy will happen. Also, a gift of non-procreative sex when sex is desired but pregnancy isn’t beats the ‘gift’ of abstinence.

        The rest is similarly BS. Fertility at certain ages can be a marker of health, but some infertile (whether temporarily or permanently) people are healthier than some fertile people.

      • smrnda

        My body odor is part of my self, though I cover that up. I guess I’m not giving my total self to anyone.

        I guess I think the whole ‘give everything or else it’s dog shit’ just seems silly to me. The body is this package we get that might not always suit our own purposes. It’s like getting something ‘bundled’ with stuff you don’t want and don’t feel like using that only take up space or cause problems.

        Holding stuff back is what some couples want. Giving a person what they want rather than what is defined as “everything” is just move loving. Sometimes neither person values their reproductive capabilities, and so both parties want the other person to support them in suppressing these. Instead of a one size fits all, couples decide what they value, and then act on it.

      • OneSmallStep

        **Engaging in an act that says “I give all of myself to you” when you are holding something back is dishonest.**

        Then, under Catholic teaching, I’d flat-out never have sex with my husband again. Without contraceptives, I’m not giving all of myself to my husband, because I’m mentally too freaked out about getting pregnant. I’m too distracted by whether this would be the time that my life and marriage are ruined (I don’t want kids — being pregnant and having one would ruin both my life and my marriage). I’m not able to focus on him, I’m not able to focus on the act, and I am holding something back — something a hell of a lot more important than my fertility and something that defines “me” so much more than my fertility. I am who I am whether I’m fertile or not. Whether I’m on birth control or not.

        Your experience tells you that NFP is right — FOR YOU. It is not right for everyone.

      • sylvia_rachel

        But I think the real difference is not the Catholic view of sex, but the Catholic view of children.

        I don’t think I agree, and here’s why: Judaism (the religion and the culture both) is very pro-children. Our first commandment (of 613) is p’ru u’ervu “be fruitful and multiply.” Even not-very-religious Jewish families, in my experience, are more likely than the average family to have three kids rather than one or two, and among the very very religious there are families with slightly unbelievable numbers of kids; my religious-but-not-crazy-religious friends have, on average, about five kids each. There’s practically a whole tractate of the Talmud devoted to when couples can and can’t have sex, and the “can” times are obviously intended (although they won’t always be, because everybody’s different) to be the most fertile times. Israel’s public health care system is willing to fund as many IVF cycles as it takes for a woman to have 2 children.

        And yet … most rabbis, even really religious ones, are totally down with diaphragms and IUDs and birth-control pills (just not condoms, because of silly [IMO] technicalities related to the story of Onan), because their worldview has room for people to plan their families, to decide they have enough kids now, and to have sex because they want to even if it’s (medically or psychologically) not a good idea to get pregnant right now.

      • The_L1985

        Quite frankly, I think it’s absurd to insist that semen has to end up in the vagina.

      • James

        What makes you say that?

      • The_L1985

        Because I know from experience that semen ending up in other places doesn’t make sex any less intimate. Furthermore, if “nightly emissions” are OK, despite semen ending up in the sheets instead of in a woman, then it is hypocritical to act as if semen ending up in a mouth or condom or on someone else’s body is morally wrong. The fact that Onan is so often twisted into being about birth control rather than property control (if Onan’s dead brother had kids, which is what him fathering a child on said brother’s widow would legally accomplish, then he wouldn’t get the inheritance) just makes the whole thing LESS consistent and MORE hypocritical.

      • James

        That’s not our experience, especially hers.

        From your reasoning, I can tell you don’t know as much about Catholic teaching as you think you do. You have a lot of hurt and anger in your past. I’ll pray for you.

        There is really no point in continuing this conversation.

      • smrnda

        Maybe what works for you personally does not work for everyone. It could be possible that there isn’t one solution that is best for every single person on the planet.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Why is it so hard to accept that people have different experiences to yours, and that those experiences aren’t inferior? I use an IUD, but I accept that people have positive experiences using NFP. I’m an atheist–and consequently don’t give a fig about Catholic teachings–but I accept that people have positive experiences going to church. I’m genuinely curious–why are you so invested in telling people that their experiences are inadequate and their choices are wrong?

        Denying the validity of someone’s lived experience, and dismissing someone as “hurt and angry” because they don’t agree with you, is supremely uncharitable.

      • James

        I said she had a lot of hurt and anger in her past because she described how she had been hurt in her past in another part of the thread. No other reason.

        Second, several people on this thread have dismissed my experience. I have been called crazy and many other things.

        Third, I do believe in the idea of absolute right and wrong. So no, I am not going to say all choices are equal, because they are not.

        It is the third point that offends people because if there is right and wrong, it means that one might be wrong. I accept this possibility and will change my position if I am wrong. But I will not say that all beliefs are equally valid.

      • LL

        No. You lie. You are trying to use your experience to dictate what you think is right or wrong and what you and your church think other people should do.

        Nobody cares that you are happy with your current experience. Actually, it is good that you are. But stop telling other people that they are wrong and that their experience is invalid because it isn’t yours.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Saying, “You’re obviously hurt and angry and I’m going to pray for you” is a tactic commonly used to silence people. It’s obnoxious. If you don’t want to sound obnoxious, I suggest you don’t do it.

        Further, that’s predicated on the belief that feeling hurt and angry invalidates someone’s experiences and opinion. Negative experiences are equally valid.

        No one would have a problem if you’d simply said, “My wife and I have positive experiences with NFP.” I believe you. I also believe people who say they have negative experiences, because I trust people to interpret their own life experiences. Your positive experience does not invalidate their negative experiences. Their negative experiences do not invalidate your positive one.

        The problem is that you’ve repeatedly asserted that your way of doing things is “the better way,” which is dismissive of everyone else. People generally don’t take kindly to having their own life experiences dismissed. As I said before, I don’t care about Catholic teachings, as long as they don’t infringe upon my ability to access the full range of reproductive technologies and make the best decisions for myself. What I do care about is this:

        I’ve read numerous stories from women who’ve had bad experiences using NFP within the Catholic Church. Their negative experiences were dismissed out of hand by people who dogmatically held to the belief that NFP was always the best option–the only moral option–for everyone, all the time. They believed they were sinful, that they just weren’t trying hard enough, that they had to keep going even when unplanned pregnancies seriously threatened their family’s finances and their own physical and mental health. Rigid adherence harms real people. Dismissing negative experiences harms real people. And I, for one, think that the needs of real people should always take priority.

      • James

        Perhaps that was phrased badly. What I was trying to say is that there is no point in trying to have a discussion when someone is clearly upset about personal issues that have nothing to do with the discussion.

        What I take issue with is the idea that if I disagree with someone, I am invalidating their experiences.

        We had a very bad experience with NFP earlier in our marriage. For us, the problem was not due to the teachings of the Catholic Church, but due to (1) problems with a specific method and (2) a gross misunderstanding of Catholic teaching.

        When someone says that the Catholic Church is wrong, then gives the reason why as the same misrepresentation of Catholic teaching as I heard before, then yes, I will say that interpretation is wrong. That’s like saying a cake recipe is terrible because you used baking soda when the recipe called for baking powder. It’s not the recipe’s fault.

        Yes, I have read the stories of couples who had bad experiences with NFP. I have also read the stories of couples who have good experiences with NFP. I believe one study showed the large majority of experiences were good, but the bad ones were reason for concern.

        Reading the stories closely, I have found that over 90% of the bad experiences with NFP do involve (1) problems with a specific method (2) a gross misunderstanding of Catholic teaching or (3) medical issues.

        It’s not sin, it’s not selfishness, it’s not “lust”, it’s not a “contraceptive mentality”. (We got ALL of these.) It’s poorly trained instructors, territorial NFP organizations, misrepresentations of Catholic teaching, and the weirdness that is the pro-life movement. (I am pro-life. I am NOT pro-pro-life movement.) None of this is due to a deficiency in the actual teaching of the Catholic Church.

        Most often this misunderstanding IS an overly legalistic, overly dogmatic view of what the Catholic Church requires. I agree completely that rigid adherence harms real people. I agree completely that dismissing negative experiences harms real people. The reason why I initially posted is to say that this overly legalistic and dogmatic view is wrong. Cutting couples just a little bit of slack makes a huge difference between success and failure. Moral development is a lifelong process, not about following a rigid series of rules.

        It’s wrong to dismiss negative experiences as invalid, but it’s also wrong to dismiss positive experiences as invalid. And it’s a uncurious not to look at why the experiences are so different and to just throw up your hands and say “everyone is different”.

      • Conuly

        James, you claim that other forms of sex cannot be as intimate as your preferred form, on the basis of no evidence, and when told other people disagree you say they have “personal issues”?

      • James

        The personal issues were family issues, not sexual ones. They were on another thread and not relevant to this discussion.

        As for intimacy, I have covered the reasoning behind that in other posts. Short answer: How do you think the reproductive systems were designed to interact?

      • tsara

        For myself, I don’t think they were designed. As far as I can tell, “natural law” has no basis in reality.

      • Anat

        The reproductive system was not designed. It is a product of evolution, and evolution is a tinkerer, not a designer. Its products work well enough to do on average, and it isn’t interested in individual well-being. It is blind to the needs of individuals. Tinkering takes place via random processes and any one of us may harbor a random change to the better or worse from the current typical structure and function.

      • The_L1985

        They evolved to make babies. But here’s the thing.

        The purpose of the mouth is for eating food. This is the natural function of the mouth. But humans also use the mouth to talk, sing, chew gum, whistle, kiss, etc. and nobody seems to mind.

        Ergo, to argue that my vagina can only be used according to its procreative function, and not for other purposes, without similarly restricting the use of my mouth to eating food, is inconsistent, hypocritical, and illogical.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        But “personal issues” have everything to do with this discussion, James. This issue is very personal. That’s why I argued that it should be about the needs of real people, and that’s why the emotions of real people matter.

        “What I take issue with is the idea that if I disagree with someone, I am invalidating their experiences.”

        It’s the way you do it. If you assert that your way of doing things is superior, you’re going to come across as dismissive of others’ knowledge and experiences.

        I hope you bring your objections about dogmatism to the attention of people in a position to make a difference.

        “It’s wrong to dismiss negative experiences as invalid, but it’s also wrong to dismiss positive experiences as invalid.”

        Yes, that’s precisely what I said. Neither invalidates the other. I’m not arguing against fertility awareness. I’m not trying to convince you that you should use another method. I’m arguing against NFP being considered the only moral, allowable option, because I think that does hurt people. Not everyone is going to get along very well with NFP, and it’s not just because they’re misunderstanding Catholic teachings.

        People are different, James. They have different bodies, different health issues, and different plans for their lives. I think we’re very fortunate to have a plethora of modern contraceptives that can accommodate those differences. And I do operate from an ethical system that respects those differences. I want people to be informed and able to make the best decisions for themselves, in the context of their own lives. And that might be using NFP! Or it might be oral contraceptives, or an IUD, or sterilization, or all of those at different points in their lives.

      • James

        Thank you for having such a civil discussion. Tone can be lost in internet discussions. It’s easy to make the other side seem far harsher than they are trying to be.

        I think this shows the philosophical difference between you and I and it is not going to be resolved in a combox.

        I understand the importance of story and experience, but I also understand its limitations. When we put feelings before logic, we can justify anything that might make us feel better at the time. This is the “tenderness that leads to the fumes of the gas chamber” as Flannery O’Connor once put it.

        The Catholic Church is run by Vulcans.

        I do believe in objective right and wrong and I do believe that this objective right and wrong extends to issues of family planning.

        So yes, I do believe that NFP is objectively the best way. Do some couples have individual situations where NFP is difficult to impossible. Yes. Do I judge couples who struggle and fail? No, and this is where I agree with Marc that the graphic in the article is offensive and inappropriate. WE don’t even get it right most months. (Yet another problem I have with NFP promotion. Couples who use NFP are placed on a pedestal. It’s like telling people who need Couch-to-5k they need to be just like the triathletes right now.)

        But, as Flannery O’Connor also said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” Simply knowing the teaching has helped us tremendously, even with our failures. Put another way, you don’t make it easier to run a marathon by shortening the race to 20 miles.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        And I thank you for taking the time to construct a thoughtful reply. But I hope you don’t think that I make decisions about contraception based on feelings. On that point, I was arguing both that dismissing “negative” emotions is unfair, and that we should recognize the emotional aspect to a subject that’s very intimate.

        After a couple years using oral contraceptives, I decided to switch to a different method. I did thorough research–yes, including on fertility awareness–and decided on the copper IUD. I intend to use it until we decide it’s time for a baby. It’s basically part of our 5 year plan. It’s a considered, rational choice. I take my health seriously, I take my relationship seriously, and I take our life planning seriously. I think fertility awareness can be a logical choice, but I disagree that it’s the only one. Obviously we do have philosophical differences on that point.

      • James

        Not at all, only that our respective philosophies give different weight the emotional component.

        We used to use a Copper IUD. Seemed like a very rational choice (almost too good to be true). It ended up giving her PMS from hell and it took forever to figure out what was wrong. YMMV.

      • Jayn

        “WE don’t even get it right most months.”

        Am I the only one who finds it amazing that someone would spend all this time and effort telling everyone that NFP is great, that it’s 98% effective, that it will work for almost everyone if they just know what they’re doing, and then admit that their great experience includes struggling to get it right nearly every month?

        Honestly, this whole conversation has done little but convince me that, yeah, I want an IUD.

      • James

        Not the method, the Catholic teaching.

      • The_L1985

        “The Catholic Church is run by Vulcans.”

        If that were the case, then Joan of Arc would have died of old age.

      • The_L1985

        “I said she had a lot of hurt and anger in her past because she described
        how she had been hurt in her past in another part of the thread. No
        other reason.”

        Horsehockey. You said that in order to imply that every single point of disagreement that I have is entirely emotional in nature and has no connection to logic. You are playing into the old stereotype of “those silly, weak women can’t be trusted to think for themselves, because they’re too emotional!”

      • James

        Wow. I thought this thread died days ago.

      • Libby Anne

        It seems you thought wrong.

      • James

        I’ll leave you with this.

        “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

        - Fulton J. Sheen

        You were taught many incorrect things and you were hurt by people who claimed to be “good Catholics” or acting in the name of the Catholic Church. But what you claim the Church teaches not what the Church teaches. You get bits and pieces of Catholic teaching, but miss the big picture.

        This ISN’T logical. It’s is a logical fallacy—the straw man fallacy.

        You hate what you wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.

      • Beutelratti

        No. Period. The pope and the former pope and the pope before that are absolutely despicable human beings for me. That’s why I don’t like the Catholic church. They represent the church, they pretty much ARE the church. I do not wrongly perceive how absolutely vile, deluded and bigoted the popes are and were.

      • tsara

        I read the Humanae Vitae, the Address to Midwives on the Nature of Their Profession* by Pope Pius XII, Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, and,, and this:

        The Catholic Church is definitely worthy of hatred.

        *fun fact: that one made me throw up. Triggers, triggers, everywhere. I also laughed, so…

      • Niemand

        I find this one interesting: “Organ transplants are in
        conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers
        and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the
        recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and
        is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not
        morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit
        consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the
        disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay
        the death of other persons.”

        This seems to me to implicitly endorse abortion. Organ transplant is morally acceptable IF AND ONLY IF the donor or his* proxy gives explicit consent. Does this not include the donation of the uterus for the purpose of incubation of a new human? How is it permissible to force one person to donate her organ to the incubation of a fetus while denying that another could be forced to give up his organ to another, even if it is his child?

        *I presume they are using the “generic he” here, but maybe they do mean it to apply to men only, in which case I suppose my claim is invalid. And the Catholic church further sunk into immorality than I ever imagined.

      • tsara

        Also this:

        2321 The prohibition of murder does not abrogate the right to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. Legitimate defense is a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good.

      • Composer 99

        I don’t really care who Fulton J. Sheen is and why you think Fulton’s quote is of any value.

        What I do care about is whether you have anything better than either Fulton’s quote or your own unsupported assertion to back up your claim that people criticizing, disliking, or hating the Church are perceiving it wrongly.
        Because as it stands, you don’t.

      • James

        This is what the Catholic Church teaches. Read it for yourself and decide.

      • Composer 99

        The chain of inference you appear to be using is:

        1. Here is a link to the Catechism.

        2. Therefore, people criticizing/hating the Church are perceiving it wrongly.

        Well, I’m convinced.

      • tsara

        I read that. I still think the RCC is pretty despicable.

        EDIT: I didn’t read the whole thing, but I did read enough.

      • Beutelratti


      • Libby Anne

        You do understand that I find the idea of hell to be amoral and absolutely sadistic, and your religion teaches that doctrine, right? Linking to the catechism isn’t going to help you here. I didn’t misunderstand anything. (And yes, I know your church lets nonbelievers go to heaven, but only if they’ve never had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Which of course means I’m screwed.)

      • James

        You say you didn’t misunderstand anything, then promptly proceed to give me a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching.

        The Catholic teaching about hell is that hell is real, but that hell is a choice. (Mortal sin requires FULL knowledge of the evil and FULL consent of the will.) Nobody winds up in hell by accident. The gift of salvation is available to all, but we are free to refuse it.

        Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue of hell.

        “Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell.”
        Benedict XVI grew up in Nazi Germany, and his examples seem to be a clear allusion to the evils of the Nazis. Do you find the possibility that Hitler may be in hell to be amoral and sadistic? Do you think Hitler would WANT to be in heaven? These are serious philosophical questions.

        There are also saints, but most of us are neither completely good nor completely evil. According to Benedict XVI, most people wind up in purgatory to complete our purification and eventually wind up in heaven.

        As for non-believers, you seem to have a fundamentalist misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about non-believers.

        This document addresses what the Church actually teaches about non-believers and even those who leave the Church.

        The Catholic Church doesn’t teach that you (or anyone else who leaves the Church) are “screwed” or going to hell, only that you have made a serious mistake.

        Probably because you never really understood what the Church teaches.

      • Niemand

        Do you find the possibility that Hitler may be in hell to be amoral and sadistic?

        Interesting question. Because if there is a hell then Hitler doesn’t deserve it. All he did was push people off into the afterlife a bit early and if most people, except the most immoral, go to heaven, what was wrong with that? OTOH, if there is no hell then Hitler took everything from millions of people and nothing is too horrible for him. Kind of a dilemma.

        Do you think Hitler would WANT to be in heaven?

        Absolutely. I think Hitler thought he was doing the right thing. This should give you, me, and everyone else pause any time we start to want to use immoral means to justify any ends, no matter how moral we believe the ends are.

      • James

        Which begs the question, “What is moral and what is immoral?”

        Another philosophical question: If Hitler believed he was doing the right thing, then by what reason can we say that Hitler was wrong?

      • Feminerd

        Hitler used immoral means to get to his ends. We judge him on what happened, not on what he wanted to happen. And what happened is he started WWII and murdered over 12 million people in his attempt to create a better humanity.

        Have you heard the saying, “the road to Hell is paved in good intentions”? I’m sure you have as it’s very common. Intentions matter, but actions and consequences matter more- we judge Hitler as doing the wrong thing because we judge murdering people to be the wrong thing, no matter what the end goal is. We judge the Tuskeegee syphilis experiments immoral because we judge deliberately not alleviating suffering, when we have the means of alleviation at hand, immoral even if we might learn things that would help future human beings.

      • Niemand

        Hitler’s ends were pretty immoral too IMHO. His ends included domination of the world by one culture, keeping women in their “place”, protecting the country’s culture from outside influences, a return to traditional values…a lot of things that quite a number of conservatives would find appealing, actually. But all wrong. Even without the genocide, not good values.

      • Feminerd

        Oh, I completely agree. But even if those end goals appeal to some people (and they do *shudder*), I don’t think anyone approves of Hitler’s methods. I find that pointing out Hitler’s actual goals as really fucking bad doesn’t get me as far as pointing out that they didn’t matter, because his methods were so immoral. Strategic argumentative choice more than anything.

      • Niemand

        Sad, but true.

      • James

        “Have you heard the saying, “the road to Hell is paved in good intentions”? I’m sure you have as it’s very common. Intentions matter, but actions and consequences matter more.”

        So is a well-intended, humanitarian plan that goes horribly, horribly, wrong and causes massive suffering moral or immoral?

        Are you saying that in the actions of all people, one judges by the result?

      • Feminerd

        I’m saying you judge by both. A well-intended humanitarian plan that goes horribly wrong winds up being immoral, yes. In the actions of all people, one does take intentions into account, but one judges by results. Clearly that humanitarian plan was ill-conceived and should have taken extant conditions into account or changed earlier when things started going wrong. There are times when incompetence crosses into immorality: the UN failure at Srebrenica is widely considered both an effective and moral failure.

        Another example is Mother Teresa. She built hostels so that the poor would suffer and die; she provided no actual care and actually told dying people their pain was good for them. She wanted them to go to heaven and consecrate their suffering to God, but what she actually did was torture desperate people who came to her for help. She promised to help and didn’t. Her intentions do not excuse the suffering she caused.

      • James

        How do you know whether your well-intended plans will go horribly, horribly wrong?

        As for Mother Teresa, you may want to look more carefully at your sources.

      • Feminerd

        You don’t. But you have the responsibility to plan as best you can, take stock often, and change/end those plans if they’re going badly. I can’t think of a single catastrophic well-intentioned plan that didn’t have lots of warnings beforehand or lots of signs that it was going poorly for a long time before things fell off the rails, but people refused to pay attention to those signs for a variety of reasons.

        Can you be accidentally immoral, or carelessly immoral? Absolutely. One of the earliest lessons we teach kids is that “I didn’t mean it” doesn’t mean you didn’t do wrong, and you still have to apologize and fix it. We are responsible for all of the consequences of our actions, no matter our intentions.

        I have read both criticisms of and defense of Mother Teresa before; I read yours too. I find it sorely lacking in evidence- there are claims made that she spent vast sums of money and provided adequate care, but those are very carefully sans any links (the rest of the article is studded with links). Yes, people were bathed and touched; yes that is important. No, that does not constitute medical care. I have seen videos of Mother Teresa in several of her clinics- they certainly didn’t look like modern, multi-million dollar facilities. I find the accusations that she neglected people more credible than the claims she helped people, but I am willing to state that that is a tentative claim and can be changed by additional evidence (preferably not from Catholic apologists who have a very clear incentive to, ah, spin things).

      • James

        And this is the difference between your moral universe and mine.

        While carelessness can be immoral, I do not see honest mistakes as such. A problem that needs to be fixed? Yes, but not a moral failing. We cannot see the future, nor can we always predict the consequences of our action.

        Your moral universe is quite literally impossible.

        As for Mother Teresa, it seems like the issue is what she had vs. what she did. If she didn’t have multi-millions of dollars, she would have had a very good reason for not setting up multi-million dollar facilities.

      • BringTheNoise

        We cannot see the future, nor can we always predict the consequences of our action

        But when the consequences start happening, we can stop doing the thing that causes them if it is harmful.The problem is NOT that she did something that had bad consequences, the problem is that she kept doing it after this was pointed out to her and made no effort to make up for the damage caused.

      • Feminerd

        Ah, I see the disconnect. You see honest mistakes where I see gross incompetence. Take, for example, UN peackeepers introducing cholera into Haiti. The UN personnel were there for the best of intentions. They wanted to keep the peace and help a country rebuild. However, they built such terrible sanitation facilities that they wound up contaminating drinking water with a disease that has killed thousands of people and may become endemic. Did they mean to make things even harder on an already impoverished country? No. Does that outcome negate the good the bluehats did or all peacekeeping ventures? No. Is building terrible sanitary facilities something that is known to be problematic? Yes. Does that contingent of UN soldiers bear personal moral responsibility for the cholera outbreak? Yes. Does the UN as a whole bear moral responsibility for the cholera outbreak? Yes.

        This was an honest mistake- the UN soldiers did not mean to spread cholera and they were only trying to help. It was also gross incompetence, as latrines are known to be incredibly important in sanitation. My moral universe is one where we take responsibility for our actions, and bear the burden of accidental adverse results, because it is the universe that exists. Not only is it not impossible, it can be the universe in which we live. It also gives us moral, as well as practical, incentive to try to figure out the consequences of our actions. Think before you leap; what a novel concept!

        Mother Teresa clearly did have multiple millions of dollars. People donated multiple millions of dollars to her. That is well documented. What is poorly documented is what happened to that money- we’re pretty sure it went into RCC general funds, which is not why people donated. They donated so she could set up clinics with doctors and nurses and modern medicine; they didn’t donate to make the RCC that much richer while she continued bathing people’s brows with water.

      • James

        I wasn’t talking about a specific instance, but a general principle. The idea that mistakes are sins creates an impossible moral perfectionism.

        As for your paragraph about Mother Teresa, it sounds like another variation of pretty much every other bit of anti-Catholicism since the Reformation. Your use of the term “RCC general funds” gives this away.

        Yes, Catholic Church government leaves much to be desired, but that’s nothing new either. The Church has been run by the incompetent since Jesus left Peter in charge. Yet it’s still here nearly 2000 years later.

      • Feminerd

        But I don’t believe in sin. I just believe in moral culpability. Sin’s a useless idea that creates shame and guilt but no positive change. Why do you equate morality and sin? Would you understand my points better if I used the term “ethics” instead of “morality”?

      • James

        I understand your points, but I think we’re caught up on terms. A sin is simply a three letter word for a moral failure.

        I believe that a mistake is not a moral failure and that believing that a mistake is a moral failure creates an impossible moral perfectionism.

        How would you define a moral failure?

        If shame and guilt are “useless” and “create no positive change”, then how should one react when one has had a moral failure? What about when one has failed in a way they cannot fix?

      • tsara

        “”how should one react when one has had a moral failure? What about when one has failed in a way they cannot fix?””

        You do your best to fix it without stepping on anyone’s toes and making things worse.
        You apologize, sincerely (because if you had a moral failure, you should be sorry — if you’re not, stick with just recognizing it), and ask what you can do to make up for it.
        And you fix the thinking that led to the failure, and do everything you can to make sure it never happens again.

        EDIT: self-flagellation, suffering, and sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice (when useless) are pretty stupid.
        EDIT II: torture for the sake of reparation is pretty stupid, too. Horrific and terrible and cruel, but pointless on top of that.

      • Feminerd

        Mistakes are not moral failures. Failure to think things through that hurts people, gross incompetence that hurts people- those are moral failures. The moral failure is in *hurting people*, not in making a mistake. The greater moral failure is, of course, failing to recognize and try to rectify the mistake. One of the worst moral failures? Refusing to acknowledge that things have gone wrong and continuing on the current path. Letting pride and ideology take precedence over reality.

        Does this mean that there is an impossible goal of never hurting people? Yes. It is impossible. It is, nonetheless, worth striving for, and even with inevitable failure would make the world a much better place because at least people would be thinking of others.

        How does one react? What tsara said. You apologize and you try to fix it. You learn from the mistake and try not to do it again. To go all the way back to your original example- humanitarian plans that go awry never do so suddenly and all at once. The moral failure is not the mistake, it is failing to see the mistake.

      • James

        And what happens if you choose not to be moral?

      • tsara

        Then someone should stop you before you hurt anyone else (reasonable force), and also you’re an asshole.

        EDIT: general you, not you specifically.

      • Feminerd

        You’re a bad person and people say mean things about you? You might have broken laws and should be duly punished if so. You might lose your job for cause. You might lose friends, relationships, and even family ties if you turn out to have done bad enough things.

        And then, after 20 or 40 or 70 or 110 years, you die. Your consciousness ceases, your body feeds the worms and plants and bacteria, and the repercussions of your actions continue to reverberate through time/history/other people.

      • Niemand

        If Hitler believed he was doing the right thing, then by what reason can we say that Hitler was wrong?

        Personally, I feel pretty secure in saying that enslaving people, committing mass murder, overthrowing an elected government via a manufactured “crisis”, and starting multiple aggressive wars is wrong. But I’m an atheist. Perhaps a Christian would find that sort of thing morally acceptable. Indeed, they have, as the most superficial examination of the Medieval period reveals.

      • Libby Anne

        Oh? How do explain this, then?

        PS: Yes, I think sending Hitler to hell is amoral and sadistic.

      • James

        I just sent you a document containing a nice summary about what the Catholic Church believes from a Catholic source.

        As for the article, why are you looking at atheist blogs to find information about what the Catholic Church believes? That makes as much sense as looking at Catholic sites to find information about what atheists believe.

      • Libby Anne

        I just sent you a document containing a nice summary about what the Catholic Church believes from a Catholic source.

        I read it, and it seems to state that the only people who can go to hell are those who know full well that the Catholic Church is true and yet choose not to be part of it. It seems to me that if that is the case, the Catholic Church ought to be focusing on hiding it’s existence. After all, if no one knew about it no one could ever be sent to hell. Problem solved! (And no, I’m not being snarky, I’m being serious.)

        As for the article, why are you looking at atheist blogs to find information about what the Catholic Church believes?

        I’m not. If you had actually read the post, you would see that there’s a quote there from a Vatican representative contradicting what you’re saying the Church believes. Here, since you can’t stand to open the link since it’s an atheist site (or something), I’ll give you the quote:

        On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”

        The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

        You know, I’m not surprised that so many people “misunderstand” Catholic doctrine if your own spokespeople can’t get it right.

      • LL

        Sorry, you beat me to it :)

      • James

        You still view Catholicism like a former fundamentalist. The Catholic Church doesn’t teach that salvation is about knowing the right doctrine or being a member of the right club.

        I did read the post. That’s how I knew it was an atheist blog written by someone who is going by out-of-context media soundbites instead of any understanding of Catholic doctrine.

        Ok, so tell me, Libby Anne, if you understand everything, then what do you think that the Catholic Church teaches about heaven and hell?

      • Libby Anne

        How interesting. A post in which you spend the time attacking me personally and yet don’t actually address anything I said in my comment. Nice.

      • James

        That you view Catholicism like a former fundamentalist? That’s not a personal attack. It’s an explanation of why you seem to insist that the Catholic Church believes that you’re going to hell.

        That view of heaven and hell is far more fundamentalist than Catholic.

      • LL

        This is what the representative of your church explicitly wanted the world to hear:

        ”The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

        So please forgive the world if that’s what they heard (and what atheist bloggers wrote down) while assuming that is what Catholics believe, since… you know, the Vatican spokesperson said so.

        I actually find the excerpt regarding non-believers to be pretty darn amusing.

        First, this:

        “If people leave in bad faith–if they leave knowing full well the Catholic Church is the one founded by Jesus and that they ought to be members of it and believe all its doctrines without exception–then they have adopted for their motto what Dante put above the gates of hell: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” No one knowingly abandoning the truth and failing to repent can be saved.”

        I mean, WHO does this? Who KNOWS that The Church, Her Teachings, Her Authority and Her Way of Salvation is true and then intentionally leaves? Seriously. No one. Not ever.


        “Still others leave in good faith, thinking–wrongly, of course–that the Catholic faith is untrue and some other faith is true. If they and the others don’t realize their actions are wrong, they remain related to the Church spiritually, even though they cease to be legal members of it. They still may achieve justification and salvation, but these are harder to achieve the further one distances oneself from the complete truth, found only in the Catholic Church, and the ordinary sources of grace, the sacraments. Leaving the Church, even with the best of intentions, is a great blunder because, all things else being equal, the move diminishes one’s chances for heaven.”

        First of all, it never clarifies what one must do in order to be saved or not. One would assume that if somebody left the church, they would still have to follow quite a few church rules in order to be saved. But if they left without believing the church correct, then they aren’t likely to do any of that, therefore losing virtually all chances of salvation. If they left the church while at the same time believing in its truth enough to seek its guidance in order to find salvation, then they left the church knowing that it was true, which, by the statement above, is nothing more than an instant, automatic VIP ticket to hell. Huh.

      • James

        It’s so helpful to have a non-believer instructing me on my faith.

      • Libby Anne

        This is a violation of my comment policy, which requires people to address arguments rather opting for personal attacks or focusing on a person’s individual characteristics. How about you actually explain what of what she said is wrong?

      • James

        She puts too much weight on a Vatican spokesman who was most likely quoted out of context, as I said earlier.

        “I mean, WHO does this? Who KNOWS that The Church, Her Teachings, Her Authority and Her Way of Salvation is true and then intentionally leaves? Seriously. No one. Not ever.”

        I agree. If it happens, it’s rare. (Arguably, Judas Iscariot did, trading the Kingdom of Heaven for 30 pieces of silver, but even this is debatable.)

        The problem with her argument is that it assumes that getting into heaven is a matter of “following quite a few Church rules”. This is a heresy—Pelegianism. Catholics do not believe that anyone earns their way into heaven. Salvation is not a matter of following the rules, but of accepting God in our lives and letting him change us.

        But if one doesn’t know about God, then this is going to be harder.

        It seems like most of the people on the thread, yourself included, want to believe that the Catholic Church thinks they are damned. But this isn’t the case at all.

      • LL

        If I’m wrong, just tell me I’m wrong. I’m ok with that. But rather than just attacking us for using those words, why not find the full article and point it out to us. It’s so much easier that way.

        But first of all, I suppose I think of things this way: Isn’t accepting God (the Catholic version, specifically) and being open to his guidance in order to reach salvation a “Church rule?” I look at anything the Catholic Church has decided must happen in order for a person to be X, Y or Z a “Church Rule.”

        Non-believers do not share the idea that things simply are what they are and then the Catholic Church deciphers The Truth for its followers to understand. Non-believers see it as entirely made up by the Church. In other words, they create “Church Rules.” If this is defined by Catholicism as heresy, well, that is simply another “Church Rule” to me. We see these things in entirely different ways. Am I right in thinking that you see the world as created by God to be a certain way and the Catholic Church has simply interpreted and laid it out for you to understand? Not making the rules, but simply explaining them?

        Here is the Father’s quote:

        “This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”

        I’ll concede that his words were different than what has been circulating. However, there is, again, this thing with seeking God. We are atheists. We aren’t seeking God and particularly not to do “his” will. We don’t believe in God. Many of us were Catholics and thoroughly rejected the Church and its God. By Catholic definition, is this somebody who knows the Church’s Truth, but left it anyway? Do Catholics think that we’re idiots, because anyone who has studied Catholicism and has half a brain in their head must see it’s glorious Truth and by virtue of our idiocy we might accidentally be saved? Can we ever be saved if we aren’t seeking or accepting your version of God? If we don’t believe in God, can Catholic God intercede with our free will and make us follow him anyway? Can we choose to follow God while rejecting his existence at the same time? It is still pretty darn obtuse.

        If I were to read his paragraph anew, without any background, I would interpret it to mean that the only non-Catholics that are saved are the ones who were never exposed to it in the first place but still followed (quite accidentally) what Catholics deem to be close enough to their version of God. I know it’s not that simple, but that is what these words imply. I’m guessing most people who read that are looking at it in the same way. You can’t fault the world at large for not understanding exactly what you all mean when it is never clear.

      • Composer 99

        “This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.” [Emphasis mine.]

        See this bolded sentence? Virtually all non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians would categorically reject it, non-Catholics on account of the presumption that the RCC has any unique claim to being “founded by Christ” or “necessary for salvation”, non-Christians on account of rejecting the entire edifice of the Church’s belief structure.

        (This is not meant as any sort of response to LL personally, I just felt like it was important to highlight this in this particular portion of the comment thread.)

      • James

        “Am I right in thinking that you see the world as created by God to be a certain way and the Catholic Church has simply interpreted and laid it out for you to understand? Not making the rules, but simply explaining them?”

        Yes. This is correct.

        Do you believe that there is a natural moral law? For example, do you believe that premeditated murder is always morally wrong, even without a civil law or Church to tell us so? What do you believe would happen to a person or a society if they ignored this natural moral law—i.e. if murder were made legal?

        In other words is murder inherently wrong or is it merely a prohibition created by society to maintain order by keeping us from killing each other?

        “However, there is, again, this thing with seeking God. We are atheists.We aren’t seeking God and particularly not to do “his” will. We don’t believe in God. Many of us were Catholics and thoroughly rejected the Church and its God. By Catholic definition, is this somebody who knows the Church’s Truth, but left it anyway? Do Catholics think that we’re idiots, because anyone who has studied Catholicism and has half a brain in their head
        must see it’s glorious Truth and by virtue of our idiocy we might accidentally be saved? Can we ever be saved if we aren’t seeking or accepting your version of God? If we don’t believe in God, can Catholic God intercede with our free will and make us follow him anyway? Can
        we choose to follow God while rejecting his existence at the same time? It is still pretty darn obtuse.”

        The problem is that when asked to describe the Catholic concept of God, nearly all atheists give an incorrect description of what Catholics believe about God.

        In order to truly reject the Catholic Church and the Catholic concept of God one must first understand what they are rejecting. One does not reject God when one rejects a false concept of God.

      • Feminerd

        The problem is that when asked to describe the Catholic concept of God, nearly all atheists give an incorrect description of what Catholics believe about God.
        In order to truly reject the Catholic Church and the Catholic concept of God one must first understand what they are rejecting. One does not reject God when one rejects a false concept of God.

        I’m responding to this section because I’m surely one of the posters James is obliquely referring to. He keeps getting annoyed at me for calling the Christian god nasty names and ascribing to him some pretty nasty tendencies, arguing that God is Love and Goodness and that rejecting a “false concept” that is sadistic and amoral is not rejecting the Christian god, who is clearly all-Loving and Good.

        What he doesn’t seem to understand is I judge God’s supposed actions on my own ethical code. The actions written down in the Bible (the Word of God) are not loving or good. They are evil. I don’t understand how an all-powerful being who orders genocides, condones slavery, accepts and sometimes orders rapes, and created eternal torture for anyone could possibly be Loving and Good. Am I rejecting a false concept of God? Or is James accepting a false concept of God by ignoring the horrible things ze’s done and said?

      • James

        Christian and Jewish theologians have been discussing issues of God approving of nasty things in the Bible for years. Some say such passages are metaphorical, describing struggles against various enemies of Israel. Others say that these passages can be understood outside of the context of constant slaughter-or-be-slaughtered tribal warfare.’

        Here is one piece on a difficult issue.

        Neither Judaism or Christianity believes that God approves of genocide.

        As for hell, the idea of hell as a place of torture is not necessarily a Catholic view. Hell is simply eternal separation from God, which, to a believer, is a pretty terrible thing. (But some people would fully know and understand God, but would rather not be with Him. Their choice.) There is no one “official” description of hell nor is there any teaching that any specific person is in hell.

      • Feminerd

        Actually, Jews firmly believe that God did order genocides. Once upon a time. Since he clearly gave the orders for them. But he doesn’t now, and hasn’t for a long time. Of course, Jews don’t believe in a perfect God either. God is jealous and angry- he says so himself, multiple times. In the Noah story, he makes a rainbow which is a promise that he won’t ever flood the Earth again; in other words, he apologized for a mistake. Abraham and some later leaders argue with God, sometimes even winning the arguments- see the Sodom and Gomorrah story and how many good people have to live there to spare the cities.

        Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot wrong with Judaism too, not least that their God is just as nonexistent as any other. It just really pisses me off when Christian apologists misrepresent Jewish teachings to try to back up their arguments.

      • LL

        No, I don’t believe in a natural moral law, and no, I don’t believe that all pre-meditated murder is “wrong.”

        As for atheists and the Catholic God, it hardly matters, and that’s the point. We reject the existence (or likelihood) of any god. For those of us who are agnostic, we can believe that a god may exist, but that doesn’t mean “therefore, Catholic God.” We’re curious about the Catholic take on the salvation of an atheist – partly because we reject any and all gods.

        For more help, assume for a moment that we did understand Catholic God completely, and yet rejected Catholic God’s existence because the likelihood of any god existing is virtually nil. What then?

        And while we’re on the matter of not understanding Catholic God, I beg you to explain him to us. Truly. If “nearly all atheists” don’t understand him, us included, then this discussion would be a million times easier on both sides if you just explained it. Give me a universally Catholic understanding of God. Please. I’m not the only one interested, and if you’re the one who’s going to insist we don’t get it, then help us get it.

      • James

        God is, to a certain degree, unexplainable, but here is what we do know about him.

        God is infinite. He (which no way implies maleness) is eternal. He is transcendent. God is. (He introduces himself to Moses as I AM)

        God is not an “angry sky daddy”. He is neither anthropomorphic nor wrathful nor “in the sky”.

        God is love. God is truth. God is just.

        Since I do not have time to describe God in a combox, here is a link to the Catholic Encyclopedia on the nature and attributes of God.

        And here is the encyclical God is Love, which addresses some of the misconceptions about God being an “angry sky daddy” or otherwise malevolent.

        As for atheist vs. agnostic, if one has absolutely ruled out the existence of God (as opposed to not being convinced of it) is this not as dogmatic as blind religious faith?

      • tsara

        Butting in again, please let me know if I’m bothering anyone.
        Strong atheism=believes God (and anything like that) does not exist.
        Weak atheism=does not believe God (or anything like that) exists.
        Weak atheism (one can, by the way, very strongly hold the position of weak atheism) is mostly distinct from agnosticism through emphasis, with agnosticism specifically emphasizing the lack of knowledge.
        I, personally, call myself an atheist because I don’t think the idea of God (as commonly used) makes enough sense to even be considered on the level where knowledge matters — I’ll call myself an agnostic when something God-like (that meets my criteria for Creator-ship and for caring-what-I-call-it) seems like a thing that could exist, rather than like an idea worthy of ridicule and heading for the dustbin.
        Very few people have “absolutely ruled out the existence of God.” Even Richard Dawkins is quoted somewhere as saying that he wasn’t completely sure (the fundies had a field day with that, obviously). The thing is, we* just don’t see any reason to believe.

        *making assumptions here, but I think it’s reasonable.

        EDIT: show me a good definition (and philosophical defence) of a concept of God, plus a few pieces of evidence or ways of reexamining the existing evidence, and I will reevaluate my stance on the ‘God’ issue. I believe in that which has evidence to support it. I don’t believe in that which doesn’t.

      • James

        Thank you for explaining the difference between weak atheism and agnosticism.

        In my previous post, what you call “weak atheism”, I would have called “agnosticism”.

      • tsara

        No problem. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between weak and strong atheism (most people I’ve asked directly have been weak atheists) because “God does not exist” seems like a reasonable enough shorthand for explaining things and/or assumption to make when your position actually is “the evidence does not adequately support the hypothesis ‘God exists’” or “God? Why would I believe in God? The whole concept makes no sense!” or something.

        (my experience has been that weak atheistic positions tend to be more nuanced than strong atheistic positions. Assuming the labels as referring to areas on a spectrum, with strong atheism as one endpoint [like 'black' or 'white' on a greyscale spectrum] and weak atheism as a section of grey, this seems intuitively correct to me, but it may be a function of my definitions, which I can’t promise overlap perfectly with everyone else’s.)

      • Beutelratti

        We all have heard and read that a thousand times before. We understand those descriptions and we flat out tell you: We do not believe this. We understand your concept of a god and reject it for its obvious flaws. You are the one who is not understanding something. You are condescending because you think the only way we could reject your god-concept is by not understanding it.

      • Composer 99

        James, you state:

        As for atheist vs. agnostic, if one has absolutely ruled out the existence of God (as opposed to not being convinced of it) is this not as dogmatic as blind religious faith?

        No, even granting that it’s not, strictly speaking, possible to absolutely rule out the existence of anything. We can, however, rule out, with very high – even near-absolute – degrees of confidence, the existence of phenomena which have effectively no supporting evidence. At such degrees of confidence, taking the step to absolute certainty may be logically frowned upon, but it’s simply not dogmatic to the same degree accepting, on the basis of faith, the existence of phenomena which have effectively no supporting evidence.

        For example, we have multiple, independently-verifiable, converging lines of evidence supporting our understanding of say, the existence and behaviour of electrons and of electromagnetic radiation (thus powering the Internet hosting this discussion). We have multiple, independently-verifiable, converging lines of evidence supporting our understanding of infectious diseases and cancers. We have multiple, independently-verifiable, convering lines of evidence supporting our understanding of biological evolution. And so on, and so forth.

        Can you point to multiple, independently-verifiable, converging lines of evidence supporting (a) the existence of a creator deity, and (b) that such deity’s properties as are discernable match up with the claims of the Catholic Church?

      • James

        Aquinas had a classic “five proofs of God”, which are described here along with argument from morality and universal belief.

        Scientifically, the Big Bang theory seems to support the “first cause” argument of Aquinas. If neither space nor time existed before the Big Bang, then something outside of space and time must have caused the Big Bang.

        But such a proof only gets us to Deism. (One could also argue about a sort of naturalism where the universe is the first cause, however, belief in a spontaneous creation is as much an act of faith as belief in a deistic creation.) An absent God is little different than no God at all.

        So how to show that God is a personal God?

        We know the universe exists. But why does it exist? What is the purpose of the universe?

        Well, the purpose of any creation is to serve the purposes of the creator. The purpose behind the creation of my laptop is to serve the purpose of Apple Computer, which was to make more money and to “put a dent in the universe”, as Steve Jobs once said, by giving people powerful yet easy to use computing tools.

        The Catholic Church’s answer is that the purpose of the universe is to bring all souls (people) into a freely chosen union with the creator. It is for us to love God and love cannot be true love without the choice to decide not to love. (This is free will.)

        What I would ask atheists is what is your theory as to why
        the universe exists. What is the purpose of humanity? Why are we here?

        Can one “prove” this is the purpose of the universe? No. It is essentially a theory. But all theories have evidence to support them.

        The evidence is that the creator continues to work in the world for His purposes.

        This is not an “invisible dragon in the garage”, but documented events, that have not been explained by natural phenomena, that are consistent with the purposes of the creator as described above.

        The most notable one is the Resurrection, but there are others.

        (The continued existence of the Catholic Church after nearly 2000 years of being run by fools is a miracle in itself.)

        But let’s look at one such miracle: Our Lady of Guadalupe.

        You can read about the story here.

        But let’s look at what we have:

        1. A well-documented series of extraordinary events.

        2. A 500 year old garment made of material that normally decomposes after only 15. (It’s on public display.)

        3. An exquisitely detailed image that cannot be explained by the technology available at the time.

        4. The events and image contained symbolism that was highly relevant to the culture of the native peoples.

        5. The result of this event was the conversion of millions of Indigenous Mexicans away from the violent religion of the Aztecs (which involved human sacrifice) to Catholicism.

        Now, this may be a series of coincidence or explainable by natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. But you have to admit that it is a rather remarkable coincidence and a very unusual phenomenon. Explain it however you will, this is no “invisible dragon in the garage.” It is, at the very least, a cultural reality that demands an explanation.

      • tsara

        “”What I would ask atheists is what is your theory as to why the universe exists. What is the purpose of humanity? Why are we here?””

        My answer is that it doesn’t matter whether or not we have free will, or whose purpose we’re here for or what that purpose is; it’s the difference between particles interacting in a carefully set up science experiment, or particles interacting by chance.

        You do what you can, make your own purpose, and enjoy the ride because it’s probably all you’re going to get.

        (Also, the fact we’re here is not really evidence one way or another; we’d have to be here in order to observe ourselves being here, and therefore we can’t draw any conclusions from that.)

        re: the Resurrection (kinda quoting myself from some past thread)
        The hypothesis “Roughly two thousand years ago, somebody died (complete cessation of electrical activation in the brain) and was reanimated (and walking and talking and apparently still himself) three days later” has some very weak anecdotal evidence (which counts as rational or legal evidence) on the ‘yes’ side and a level of prior improbability (i.e., the complete lack of any scientific evidence suggesting that there’s even a maybe sorta kinda way something like that could have happened) that is almost absurdly high on the ‘no’ side.
        That quick and dirty Bayesian demi-analysis puts the probability that we live in a world where the above hypothesis is true at, oh, some probability indistinguishable from zero.

        (I didn’t include any mechanisms for reanimation in the calculation: note Occam’s razor.)
        The evidence we have does not support the belief, and we do not currently have any means of improving the quality of our evidence.

        (I’m generally of the opinion that Jesus and King Arthur are roughly analogous, in terms of actual historical content and mythologizing elements. This is not a completely uninformed opinion, though it is also not an expert opinion.)

        re: the continuing existence of the Catholic church

        Hierarchies, functionally, exist to perpetuate themselves. See, as evidence, the Catholic church prioritizing its reputation over molested children.

        It isn’t particularly special; the optimal strategy for those in a hierarchy is nearly always to comply with the hierarchy (at least on the surface), protect the hierarchy, and try to climb it.

        re: a miracle

        Are you aware of any cognitive science research that’s been done into perception of miracles? I’m not on my computer, so I don’t have any links handy, but it’s pretty fascinating stuff.

        Plus, there are many sociological/psychological/anthropological explanations for #’s 1, 4, and 5.
        And Occam’s razor suggests fraud for #’s 2 and 3.

      • Feminerd

        I have heard Catholic doctrine. I have rejected it wholeheartedly. I have rejected your idea of a God as amoral, sadistic, abusive, and frankly evil. I reject the notion of any God at all as illogical and unfalsifiable.

        Am I damned?

      • James

        You’re not dead yet, so it’s a bit premature to talk about damnation. Besides, a stranger on the internet isn’t going to know the status of your soul.

        The Catholic Church teaches “God’s very being is love.” CCC 221.

        Do you believe that love is “amoral, sadistic, abusive, and evil”? Do you believe that love is illogical and unfalsifiable?

        Of course not.

      • Feminerd

        I believe that the actions you attribute to God, the attitudes you attribute to God, the actions the Church takes, and the statements the Pope makes are not consonant with any definition of “love” I’ve ever heard. I judge by action, not intent, as you know- any God that denies women control of themselves, orders genocides, accepts and encourages slavery, tries to deny people families for loving the wrong people, and condones spreading lies that help spread a fatal disease is clearly not very loving. Anyone can say “I am X”- it is actions that prove it. The actions attributed to God don’t exactly prove it. While I don’t think any god exists at all, I think the Christian version is a fairly horrific version of the magic sky wizard.

        So no, I don’t think love is amoral, sadistic, abusive, and evil. I think the Christian god is. Clearly I don’t accept this whole god=love thing.

      • James

        “I think the Christian version is a fairly horrific version of the magic sky wizard.”

        If I thought the Christian God were a “horrific version of the magic sky wizard”, I wouldn’t believe in him either.

      • tsara

        So you have no evidence for his/its existence and could just stop believing if you realized how disgusting and terrible he/it is?

        Not being a great advocate for your Truth ‘R Us religion, there.

      • James

        I’ve seen no evidence for a “horrific magic sky wizard”, therefore, I would not follow a religion that called such a being “God”. You?

      • tsara

        I’ve seen no evidence for any kind of God (beyond a potential for a wishy-washy deism), and so I will not follow any religion.
        You have decided to follow the Catholic God (who is, in my and many other people’s opinion, a horrible incarnation of the idea [note that "magic sky wizard/fairy" generally means 'God']). You have indicated that you would not follow the Christian God if you thought he/it were a “horrific version of the magic sky wizard.”

        …Let’s try this again.
        You said that if you thought [Christian/Catholic God] were [negative description applied to Catholic God], you would not believe in him.
        Given that you have also indicated belief in the Catholic Christian God, this points to your belief in God being a moral, rather than evidential, belief — and that you’d change your mind if shown sufficient evidence of your God’s evil.

      • James

        I have seen no evidence that there is a “horrific magic sky wizard”.

        Therefore, I do not believe in a “horrific magic sky wizard”.

        The Catholic concept of God is NOT a “horrific magic sky wizard” (You don’t seem to understand this.)

        Therefore my disbelief in a “horrific magic sky wizard” and my Catholic faith are not incompatible.

        The Catholic Church teaches that there can be no conflict between faith and reason. If there appears to be, this is due to misunderstood faith or flawed reasoning. It’s quite a reasonable faith.

      • tsara

        You seem to have missed the ‘if’s in my comment.

        This was a hypothetical.

        If you thought that the Catholic concept of God was, in fact, a horrific magic sky wizard, then you would not believe in him.

        “”The Catholic Church teaches that there can be no conflict between faith and reason. If there appears to be, this is due to misunderstood faith or flawed reasoning. It’s quite a reasonable faith.”” –>completely irrelevant. Also hilarious.

        “”The Catholic concept of God is NOT a “horrific magic sky wizard””” –>I disagree with you there, but this is also irrelevant.

        “”Therefore my disbelief in a “horrific magic sky wizard” and my Catholic faith are not incompatible.”” –>I never said they are incompatible. I just said that your faith is weak and based on your judgment of the Catholic church’s picture of God and the universe as, basically, pretty and Good, rather than on anything like the objective Truth the Catholic church claims it has (and I say this because you have said that if the Catholic God were a horrific magic sky wizard, then you would not believe in him.

      • James

        I see the disconnect here.
        You seem to think “faith” means belief without questioning.

        I believe that faith needs to be tested. People DO need to question. Truth will answer such questions. Myths will not.

      • tsara

        This is how I define faith:

        “”Faith is willfully committing (whether explicitly or implicitly) to a relationship (or relationships) of trust, loyalty, hope, and/or belief (a) beyond perceived rational warrant, (b) against perceived predominance of counter evidence of untrustworthiness, and/or (c) against all possible future counter-evidence that may undermine currently perceived evidence of trustworthiness.””


        How do you define it? Because you’re not making much sense to me. Truth will answer questions of faith? What does that even mean? Does that mean you ask deep questions and the answers appear out of thin air and you attribute that to God? Because that’s what it looks like from here.

      • tsara

        (Also, it may be relevant that I was mostly being facetious with that comment.)

      • tsara

        My definition of love? Or the Catholic Church’s definition of love? Because I can tell you that they don’t look very similar.

        (although mine does cover versions of love that are amoral, sadistic, abusive, and/or evil, because I find that limiting the definition to types of love I like is not useful.)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Do you find the possibility that Hitler may be in hell to be amoral and sadistic?

        Yes. And all but three members of my grandmother’s family (of which she was one) were murdered in Auschwitz and the effects of that atrocity are felt in my family today. So, just in case you were planning on explaining to me how horrible Hitler was, you can skip it.

        There are few absolutes which I am willing to stand by but one of them is that torture is evil–always evil. It’s evil when it’s done to innocents and it’s evil when it’s done to mass murderers. It’s evil when it’s committed by humans and it’s evil when it’s committed by deities. It’s evil when it lasts a short period of time and it sure as shit is evil when it lasts forever. And if there is a God who has been sending millions upon millions of people to that fate for millenia, he makes Hitler look like the kindergarten bully.

        And my grandmother would agree.

      • tsara

        (I wish I could give this more than one upvote.)

      • sylvia_rachel


      • James

        So what would you consider justice for what was done to your family at Hitler’s order?

        Do you believe that Hitler and your grandmother both ended up in the same non-existence upon death? The same “heaven”? Something else?

        Second, the Catholic Church does not teach that God SENDS anyone to hell. Hell is a conscious choice. As John Milton’s Lucifer famously put it “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Some people prefer hell.

      • Anat

        As an atheist, yes, everybody ends up in the same non-existence upon death, as far as the evidence we have supports. The brain just stops. Either justice happens while people are alive, or it never does. Justice is a human matter.

        (As for the accepted Jewish view, it entails limited punishment, lasting no longer than one year, followed by either heaven or non-existence.)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Some people prefer excruciating suffering that never ends? Is that what you tell yourself to make it seem okay? That there are humans who exist outside of the human condition, that do not experience suffering as suffering like you do? Attitudes like this are how people justify all manner of atrocities against others. If you torture anybody, it doesn’t matter who they are or what they have done. When you torture the most virtuous person in the world and the most evil person in the world, in that moment, they are the same–they are helpless and they are suffering. Both of them. You not only think that that moment should last forever for millions of people (most of whom are not Hitler, btw), you also think that at least some of those people are so fundamentally different from yourself, so “other,” that they “prefer” it. That is horrifying.

        And you can throw all the semantics at me you want but, yes, your version of the Christian God absolutely sends people to Hell. He designed the whole system including the punishment and he enforces it. Reality is what he makes it and this, according to you, is the reality that he has chosen and continues to choose. Would it make sense to say that the US government does not send people to execution, that rather those people choose execution by committing crimes that are punishable in this country by the death penalty? No, of course not. The continuing legality of capital punishment in this country is a choice by those in power. Every instance of its use is a choice by those in power. Everyone who is executed is “sent” to execution by those in power. They are not exempt from responsibility because they are perpetuating a system that is already in place. They have the choice to not perpetuate that system. That is infinitely more true of an all-powerful being that designed the whole system and has supreme, singular, unchecked authority over it. (I’m pretty sure there is no teaching about God having to work with some kind of Celestial Congress, of whom he needs 75% to approve of any of his proposed amendments to the original system, is there?)

        Justice for what was done to my family? I don’t know what that means. Nothing can ever make it right. All of us grieve for what was lost, not just the family, but for the distinct Jewish subculture in which my grandmother grew up (90% of all Jews in her particular region of Europe were killed) which is almost gone. Germany has done its best by issuing an apology, paying reparations to the victims, setting up a liberal democratic government, and being vigilant in various ways about this ever happening again. Others do other things–they set up historical archives, like the one that holds my grandmother’s recorded testimony, making sure it will never be lost. It was important to my grandmother that she give her story–and the message about human rights she found in it–to the world and this opportunity they gave to her. Or they work to strengthen human rights, to try to make a world in which this truly never happens again. They comfort and help those who have been brutalized because we do not yet have that world.

        What could Hitler suffering eternally possibly mean to me? What would it do? Who would it help? My grandmother neither desired nor approved of retribution, certainly not of the kind that comes in the form of neverending torture. That was no justice to her, or to me either. What would justice be for my family? There can be no justice for my family. Nothing can ever restore what was destroyed. But maybe there can be justice for other families. Maybe this can never happen to them. That is what my grandmother wanted and that is what I want. And for that to come to pass, we must do the work ourselves. Your God, with his Heaven and Hell, is not much use.

        And I don’t know where Hitler or my grandmother is, if they are anywhere. I do not believe in Heaven or Hell. I think it quite likely that consciousness does not merely cease to exist upon death, but I don’t know what happens to it or if it continues in a recognizable form. I am fine with not knowing–Jews as a general rule are more concerned with what happens during life than what does or does not happen after death. I loved my grandmother and she loved me. She is with me still because she is within me. That is enough.

      • Niemand

        As John Milton’s Lucifer famously put it “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

        Neil Gamien’s Lucifer quotes that line then follows it with “Milton was an idiot.” Since they’re both fictional characters, I’m not sure which can be said to be more right.

        Second, the Catholic Church does not teach that God SENDS anyone to hell.

        So then Hitler and Pol Pot and the Salvadoran supreme court can all go to Heaven if they decide to choose it? What sort of justice is that?

      • Composer 99


        You keep going on about how people “don’t really understand” what the Church teaches vis-à-vis Hell.

        But it’s quite clear that people here do understand. Almost every atheist here will state, as per the PDF article you link to:

        I know quite well that the Catholic Church is [claims to be] the true Church, which [Catholics assert that their] God obliges me to join, but what of that!
        [modifications mine, since as far as I am aware no atheist would willingly call the Church "true".]

        which the authors indicate means they are Hell-bound:

        then you deserve Hell

        What that means is that the Church believes some portion of humanity is set to receive infinite punishment for finite wrongdoing. And that is evil – and by extension so is a deity that would command or allow it.

      • The_L1985

        And there you go again, insisting that a person cannot simultaneously understand Catholic doctrine and oppose it. That’s extremely condescending of you.

      • James

        No, I’m not saying “a person” cannot understand Catholic doctrine and oppose it.

        I’m saying YOU don’t understand Catholic doctrine. YOU have gotten it wrong. (As have many others on this thread.)

        I’m saying this not because you disagree with me and certainly not because I believe you are an “emotional woman”, but based on what you have written in your posts about the Catholic Church that are clearly WRONG.

        You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.

      • The_L1985

        Frankly, if a Catholic doctrine is written to be so incomprehensible that a MENSA-eligible woman doesn’t get it, then it is automatically TOO convoluted and therefore, wrong.

        For a rule to be good as a universal (catholic!) principle, it should be easy for those following it to understand said rule. The Catholic teaching on birth control appears to be based in the natural-law fallacy and uses convoluted logic to explain how NFP is somehow different from all other means of birth control. This automatically makes the Catholic teaching on birth control suspect.

      • The_L1985

        There is hurt in my past. The Catholic church hurt me.

      • Eamon Knight

        Am I the only one who thought, when James went off on this Latin hair-split: “This has to be a joke. He’s taking the piss out of the Catholic side of the argument”? ‘Cuz….damn.

        Yeah, then I read more of the thread, and realized…good grief, he’s serious.

    • grindstone

      A situation where mom needs to not be pregnant, due to health, mental or physical, etc, requires dad to sacrifice for her. In some cases, permanently.

      Says someone who clearly isn’t facing this (you) to someone who is (me). So from me to you: f$ck off. F$ck royally off. Please, by all means, go f$ck yourself. I have no intention of living in a non-physical marriage when simple contraception fixes that issue. What an ignorant, despicable statement, you horror of a human being.

      • Mogg

        I hate being a metoobie, but YES!!!!

      • grindstone

        I apologize for my outburst, but not Debi Pearl’s “book”, not Marc, not the MRA trolls on….nothing has made me angrier than herewegokids’ comment.

      • Kat

        Personally, I don’t see anything in that outburst that you need to apologize for. As someone who is not you, has never met you, and is not in the same situation as you, I’m pretty damn angry on your behalf. Everything about that comment you responded to was revolting.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Call me crazy, but other than complete removal of organs, no contraceptive method is fail-proof.

      We are not misunderstanding NFP. You and other NFP proponents are living in an alternate reality where you can have your cake and eat it too. You use NFP because you do not want children. Otherwise, why use NFP at all if you are so open to being pregnant all the time?

      • Meg

        Yes, every contraceptive has A chance of fertility.

        Anyone who has an “oh, shit, my period is late even though I’m on the pill/he used a condom” moment then continues to have protected sex after the scare of a late period has come full circle.

        The voodoo of no barrier or hormones is really strange b/c what’s the difference, other than a really complicated, laborious task for women? If they both have success rates of over 98% (wink, wink), what is the distinction outside of making a woman a slave to charts, thermometer, and pulling cervical fluid between her fingers regularly?

      • Sgaile-beairt

        also,isnt digging around in yr vagina to get discharge to play with awfully close to the forbidden, “touching yrself”?? i know i was surprised to find out that it was now all the sudden godly & ok for us catholic kids ((IF we were married, of course!!)

      • The_L1985

        And they make the argument that it’s more “natural,” because of course women have been examining their own cervical mucus for signs of fertility since the dawn of time!

    • Baby_Raptor

      What, women don’t have sex drives? I wouldn’t suffer if you asshats got your wish to force abstinence on everyone?

      Hey, reality called. You haven’t visited in awhile and it misses you.

    • James

      You have totally misunderstood Catholic teaching. See my response to The_L1985.

      • The_L1985

        We understand Catholic teaching. We believe it’s a load of horse-hockey. The only thing I don’t “understand” about Catholic teaching on contraceptives is how otherwise-intelligent adults can go along with it.

      • victoria

        The poster has not misunderstood anything. Everything posted above is completely in line with Catholic theology.

        It’s 100% true that NFP is not intended to render the marital act non-procreative; see Catechism #2366 and Catechism #2370.

        It is 100% true that, when practicing NFP, one must be open to becoming pregnant. One may not be *intending* to become pregnant, but because each marital sex act is ordered towards procreation (#2366) and because personhood is held to begin at conception (#2270-#2274) this means in practice that the faithful Catholic is accepting pregnancy as a possible consequence from sex *every time*. Even when pregnancy is unlikely because of physical factors like known infertility or because of the use of the infertile period.

        It is 100% true that avoiding the fertile period is a form of planning (see above) and, I’d say, between 75% and 98.2% true that it is usually highly effective :). And clearly true that it is not fail-proof.

        It is 100% true that in a situation where the partners deem a pregnancy to be irresponsible, the only solution acceptable in Catholic theology is abstinence. That may be periodic abstinence like NFP, or as the above poster correctly notes, it could be permanent (at least until menopause).

        For example, consider a situation where the couple has good reason to believe a pregnancy would be deadly to the wife with no chance of carrying the pregnancy to term. They have discerned that to intentionally take that risk would be contrary to the Catholic prohibition against suicide (#2280-2283), but NFP for whatever reason does not work for them. What other option but a chaste marriage do they have? I would only add that it’s not only a sacrifice on dad’s part but mom’s too.

      • James

        Sex during pregnancy is perfectly acceptable, even though there is absolutely no chance of another pregnancy.

        It is acceptable after a woman has had a hysterectomy for medical reasons, even though there is absolutely no chance of another pregnancy.

        The idea that sex is acceptable with NFP because there couples accept a small risk of pregnancy misrepresents Catholic teaching. The idea that NFP is acceptable because it is unreliable is simply wrong.

      • victoria

        But that is not what the poster above you was saying. That’s a point that other people have made in this discussion, but it’s not what the post you responded to said. Reread their post.

        Yes, Catholics are allowed to have sex when becoming pregnant is impossible. (You’re not allowed to change the *marital act* in those situations, though. For example, suppose a pregnant or post-menopausal woman had a blood transfusion and contracted HIV. While there are well-respected theologians who disagree, the party line is that use of a condom in this circumstance is unacceptable.)

        They’re talking specifically about circumstances where pregnancy *is* possible. Your choices are to be open to pregnancy, even if you are intending to avoid it, or to abstain (through the fertile period or perhaps indefinitely).

      • James

        Yes, that is correct.

        But I have heard people say that the reason NFP is allowed is because there is a small chance of pregnancy and that menopausal sex is allowed because there is a small chance of pregnancy (think Abraham and Sarah).

        This is incorrect and what I read the parent post to be implying.

      • victoria

        So, may I ask you a couple of semi-personal questions?

      • James

        Go ahead, I’m semi-anonymous.

      • victoria


        1.) Do you think your satisfaction with NFP as a family planning technique has more to do with the way NFP works as a method, or with the fact that you perceive yourself to be living in harmony with the Magisterium?

        2.) What are your thoughts on people who want to follow the Catholic teachings on sexuality but really can’t be open to conceiving a child for medical reasons? In those situations couples often find that they have three options to them that are all difficult for various reasons: a.) You use NFP and continue your sexual relationship with your spouse during the infertile times, knowing that if you get pregnant you’re likely to die/be permanently disabled, perhaps even orphaning the kids you already have; b.) You abstain from sex until the health crisis passes. Which may be until menopause, if the crisis is something that is related in some way to pregnancy itself; c.) You use a very highly effective artificial contraceptive method (like sterilization or Essure) or obtain a hysterectomy, obviously against Church teachings. (I guess also d., use abortion as a backup, but if you’re someone for whom using contraception is not an acceptable option for religious reasons I don’t think abortion would be in your realm of conceivable options). Is there a “less bad” option? How should a couple balance their desire for marital unity with the desire to protect life?

        3.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but having read your posts in this thread and the other one it seems like you are quite invested in the idea that most people, if they tried NFP, would find it to be a better option. It seems — again, correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not trying to put words into your mouth! — that a large part of the reason for that is that when you applied the Catholic teachings in your own marriage you found that they increased marital harmony. Yet it’s seemed from the outside looking in that when other people have shared their own experiences, you’ve not considered them valid (thinking specifically of Libby Anne herself, who has used NFP). Why is that?

        Because I think it’s relevant, I will say that before I left the Catholic church (for entirely unrelated reasons) I was in the position described in #2.

      • James

        1. If we were not Catholic, we would still use NFP. It was our success in using NFP that got me interested in what the Church teaches on the subject. Looking at magisterial teaching and doing our best to follow it has helped our marriage.

        2. That is a very difficult situation. I have not been in this situation, but I will leave you with the thoughts of others.

        Atheist->Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler has had to deal with this situation (life threatening clotting disorder) and discusses it in full on her blog.

        Here is another article from a woman who chose option C after suffering from debilitating hyperemesis gravidarum.

        We trust NFP enough to choose option A (although we would be more conservative than we are now), but option C would be very tempting. Anyone in this situation would be well served by working closely with a faithful priest or spiritual adviser.

        3. I certainly believe Libby Anne’s experience is valid. We had a very bad experience with NFP earlier in our marriage. Much of the bad experience was due to (1) wrong method and (2) many of the same misconceptions
        about Church teaching that are here on the thread and that Libby Anne describes. The teaching was presented as a “checklist” of things we couldn’t do under pain of mortal sin. It was heavily implied that married couples shouldn’t need sex at all, unless they wanted to make a
        baby. This is incorrect and heretical.

        What I now know is that presenting only the rules only tells half the story. There’s a lot more there that’s being left out. We were fortunate enough this time to get a well-trained teaching/mentor couple (former Protestant ministers) to help us and that made all the difference in the world.

        We do our best. This does not mean we do everything perfectly. All God requires is that we do our best. We cannot hope to do any better without God’s help. THIS is the point that Libby Anne and others (on both sides) seem to be missing.

        Put another way, Libby Anne’s experience is valid, but her explanation of it is flawed.

        Some Catholics try to hide the drawbacks of NFP, then couples wind up hurt and disappointed when things don’t work out as expected. But what we have found is that problems with NFP are often signs of other underlying problems that need to be addressed. Bringing this to the surface is never easy, but it’s better than leaving it under the rug.

        (This blog also does a great job of distinguishing between “NFP culture” and actual Catholic teaching and is HIGHLY critical of some NFP organizations and methods.)

      • victoria

        Thanks. I wrote a response to you along these lines earlier this afternoon, but it seems to have been eaten by Disqus, so I’ll try redo it.

        Jen Fulwiler is one of the two Catholic bloggers I read regularly, and I was already aware of her situation. But I had never come across the HG post before — thanks for sharing that. Severe HG was one of the three major complications I had with my pregnancy and postpartum; it wasn’t the one most likely to kill me, and it wasn’t the one that left me semifunctional for the longest time, but it was without a doubt the most horrendous to live through. I feel for her. On a related note, I think you’d find this series interesting if you haven’t come across it:

        I am no longer Catholic (for reasons that have nothing at all to do with Church doctrine on this subject), but I deconverted after I had my child so I have grappled with these issues. And it is my considered opinion that there are serious, serious flaws in the philosophy behind the Church’s teachings on NFP. Not because of my own pregnancy, which I will be the first to say is not representative, but because of the natural history of pregnancy. Because on the whole it is contrary to marital harmony.

        If a couple follows the Church’s teachings on fecundity within marriage — by which I mean they decide to delay conceiving a child only for extremely grave reasons, discerned prayerfully and with a desire to be open to life if that’s at all possible — one of two things is likely to happen. Either they will end up with enough kids that there really aren’t enough resources (financial, emotional, or otherwise) to go around, or the woman’s body will get to a point that another pregnancy would be dangerous.

        I am not claiming that is always the case, of course — some women seem to thrive with pregnancy; some women go through periods of infertility or they marry later in life such that they don’t end up with more children than their body can handle. But I think we in the First World tend to underestimate today just how very dangerous it is and how many things can go wrong. In areas where access to medical care is spotty or nonexistent huge numbers of women die in childbirth or suffer conditions leading to lifelong morbidity. (I can provide stats on this; suffice it to say, the numbers are galling.)

        What I’m getting at here is that when a couple gets to a point where pregnancy becomes dangerous they are in an impossible position with respect to the Church. If you do put yourself in a position to get pregnant you’re not acting morally with respect to your children, your spouse, or your own rightful need to preserve yourself. If you choose to abstain indefinitely to avoid that possibility you are, in general, harming your marriage. And you’ve already noted that the Church teaches against sterilization in all circumstances. Some priests will absolve you but it is indisputably against the catechism.

        You’ve pointed to natural law as the justification for the Church’s position on NFP and I agree that it’s the justification I’ve always seen too. But I think the Church has this 100% wrong. Any moral teaching that means that the people who follow Church teachings most faithfully are the ones who are most likely to find themselves either harming their marriage through undesired celibacy or committing a mortal sin cannot possibly be justifiable on natural law grounds.

      • James

        I’m having trouble replying to your other comment, so I’ll reply here.

        I actually have read the Women in Theology series. I’ve read the good stories and the bad. I’m not discounting the bad stories at all. Many NFP promoters only show the good without showing the bad. Many opponents make the same mistake the opposite way.

        If you like Jennifer Fulwiler and Leah Libresco, you’ll probably like Rae at Rae is very well educated about the faith. She doesn’t blog much, but the archives are excellent. She believes NFP
        (which she learned as feminist fertility awareness) is a “liberator of women”, but is also realistic about what couples can actually do, and VERY jaded about Catholic NFP organizations and the pro-life movement.
        Lots of info about the Pill for medical reasons, too.

        “But I would submit that any teaching that runs such a high risk of putting the most faithful Catholics in a position of either committing a mortal sin or harming the fabric their marriage cannot possibly be based on a
        universal principle of morality.”

        That’s common sense, which is why I decided to investigate further. Why would the Catholic Church be
        wrong (and dangerously wrong) on just one thing?

        The conclusion I came to was that couples were being given the “rules” without being taught about individual culpability for sin, moral development, or grace. People were obsessing about sexual sins, while forgetting all the other sins that can lead to marital disharmony.

        Here’s a response to another commentator that is relevant here:

        We had a very bad experience with NFP earlier in our marriage. For us, the problem was not due to the teachings of the Catholic Church, but due to
        (1) problems with a specific method and (2) a gross misunderstanding of Catholic teaching.

        When someone says that the Catholic Church is wrong, then gives the reason why as the same misrepresentation of Catholic teaching as I heard before, then yes, I will say that interpretation is wrong. That’s like saying a cake recipe is terrible because you used baking soda when the
        recipe called for baking powder. It’s not the recipe’s fault.

        Yes, I have read the stories of couples who had bad experiences with NFP. I have also read the stories of couples who have good experiences with NFP. I believe one study (Dr. John Marshall – don’t have a citation)
        showed the large majority of experiences were good, but the bad ones were reason for serious concern.

        Reading the stories closely, I have found that over 90% of the bad experiences with NFP do involve (1) problems with a specific method (2) a gross misunderstanding of Catholic teaching or (3) medical issues.

        It’s not sin, it’s not selfishness, it’s not “lust”, it’s not a
        “contraceptive mentality”. (We got ALL of these.) It’s poorly trained instructors, territorial NFP organizations, misrepresentations of Catholic teaching, and the weirdness that is the pro-life movement. (I am pro-life. I am NOT pro-pro-life movement.) None of this is due to a
        deficiency in the actual teaching of the Catholic Church.

        Most often this misunderstanding IS an overly legalistic, overly dogmatic view of what the Catholic Church requires. I agree completely that rigid adherence harms real people. I agree completely that dismissing negative experiences harms real people. The reason why I initially posted is to say that this overly legalistic and dogmatic view is wrong. Cutting couples just a little bit of slack makes a huge difference between success and failure. Moral development is a lifelong process, not about following a rigid series of rules.

        It’s wrong to dismiss negative experiences as invalid, but it’s also wrong to dismiss positive experiences as invalid. And it’s uncurious not to look at why the experiences are so different and to just throw up your hands and say “everyone is different”.

        Now, May I ask a semi-personal question of you?

      • victoria

        Heh, I just reposted because I checked this evening and it looked like my previous comment disappeared.

        Yes, ask whatever you like.

      • James

        Yes, I saw that comment, but couldn’t reply to it. Disqus is being weird. :-)

        What led you to decide not to be Catholic anymore?

      • victoria

        I wouldn’t call it a “decision.” We can choose our practice, and we can say what we would like to believe, but I don’t think we choose what we believe.

        To me there are really four linchpins on which the Catholic faith rests.

        1.) There is a God that created the universe in some fashion and holds some sort of dominion over the world.

        2.) At some point, God made his rules known to mankind and man chose to disobey those rules, thus putting man in conflict with the will of God.

        3.) God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, who died and was raised from the dead in order to redeem the conflict set up in #2.

        4.) Jesus then established a church on Earth, which has continued in an unbroken line as the Catholic church.

        My single biggest sticking point is #2.

        I think it is to the Church’s credit that their response to emerging scientific discoveries wasn’t to automatically argue that science had to be wrong (cf. Creation Museum). But at the same time I think the tension between the idea of original sin/the fall of man and the idea of theistic evolution is irreconcilable, and I don’t think any of the ways the Church has attempted to bridge that gap are truly successful. The Catechism relies on aspects of a literal Genesis in establishing the idea of original sin (see sections 398-412). I think given what we know about the universe and human evolution, there is absolutely zero chance that the Genesis account is literally true.

        I tried very hard to figure out a way to make things work with original sin being a metaphor in some way (I come from a very Catholic family, so as you can imagine I had a strong incentive to hold onto that belief), but I couldn’t square that circle.

      • James

        I think Disqus ate my other reply.

        What reasons lead you to leave the Catholic Church?

      • tsara

        “Why would the Catholic Church be wrong (and dangerously wrong) on just one thing?”
        [emphasis mine.]

      • victoria

        I’ve been thinking about your formulation of this problem and I don’t think I can agree with you, but I want to make sure I am working with what you actually mean to say and not how I’m interpreting it.

        Are you saying that the way to resolve the conflicts between what NFP (and Catholic sexuality teaching in general) asks of people and what people can or can’t realistically do in their marriages with respect to those teachings is to be mindful of where those prohibitions turn into legalism?

      • James

        That’s definitely part of it, but it’s more than that.

        NFP is fertility awareness + Catholic sexual teaching. Many Catholic groups are in it to promote Catholic teaching and have not given the fertility awareness/women’s health component the attention it deserves. Some groups get very territorial, trying to lock couples into their particular system even when it isn’t best for them. (Creighton is awful about this.) Medical support for fertility issues is often lacking. Being able to trust the method makes a huge difference. But this is a problem with the organizations, not the Church itself. One day, we’ll all detect fertility with medical tricorders and won’t need to learn a method.

        Anyway, the way that Catholic sexual teaching is presented, including NFP, is often “Thou shalt not—or else”. It’s presented as a series of rules and the expectation is that Catholics follow them perfectly, right now, or they risk eternal damnation. (Notably, Benedict XVI warned against presenting the teaching in such a negative light.)

        When couples can’t follow them perfectly, because, well, self-control is hard, they get frustrated, feel guilty, feel ashamed, and eventually burnout and give up. Others follow the teaching through unhealthy patterns of behavior, either starving their marriages for intimacy to avoid “sin”, or having children at an unhealthy/unwise rate thinking that risking pregnancy is an acceptable solution to sexual frustration.

        (This also means recognizing difficulties with intimacy are serious problems, not “virtues”, but that’s a different discussion.)

        The solution, as I see it, is to treat Catholic sexual teaching as more of a “goal” to aspire to than a “requirement” to do now—or else. Most people struggle with sexual self-control. The Church recognizes that this is a life-long struggle (CCC 2342), so why not treat it as one?

        Many non-Catholic couples combine NFP and condoms or other forms of sex. This is not acceptable under Church teaching, but it’s a lot better from the Catholic perspective (and healthier) than the pill. It’s OK to say this is better. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Sometimes the best you can do is meet God halfway and it’s OK to say that.

        (I found an pamphlet from 1968 defending the teaching, yet hinting very strongly that occasional condom use is not a mortal sin. Many NFP promoters are well to the right of a VERY conservative cardinal of a generation ago. )

        At the same time recognizing that condom use isn’t OK (still a sin, just not a mortal one) does push the couple to look at why they want to use them. What are they looking for in sex? What’s going on? What does sex mean to them? Sometimes the underlying issues take time to work through. Couples who do this do need spiritual and relational support.

        But the big problem—and not just with sex—is that so often religion, Catholic and fundamentalist, expects people to will themselves to be good. This is the heresy of Peleganism (or as Protestants call it, “works righteousness”). Secular society does it too, although in a different way. It is impossible and it will only make you miserable.

        Instead, moral development is about letting God change you. This is grace. Grace has been forgotten because we don’t want to be “soft” on people, but that’s the only way people ever change.

      • victoria

        I think your formulation is very humane, but ultimately not in concert with Catholic doctrine.

        Everywhere authoritative I’ve seen — the Catechism, Humanae Vitae, Casti Connubii, etc. — is 100% clear with no wiggle room that contraception use is always and everywhere a mortal sin. Which kind of removes grace from the equation, doesn’t it? If you are committing a mortal sin *without a sincere desire to repent* you are turning away from God and by definition rejecting grace; that’s the very thing that differentiates mortal sin from venial sin. It might be a matter in which the Church ought to give couples support, but the official doctrine really *is* “thou shalt not–or else.”

        If you’re arguing that your average Catholic couple can eventually be moved through their worldly objections, through gentle and humane correction, towards a state of grace in which they are living in ever-greater harmony with doctrine, then that’s a much easier argument to make. If the Church said something along the lines that NFP has the strongest possible recommendation for couples who do wish to plan the number and spacing of their children because it leads to spiritual gifts and marital harmony, but with pastoral dispensation other forms of family planning might be considered acceptable for people in dire circumstances, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

        However, we’ve been talking about whether the prohibition against contraception is based in natural law and universal moral principles. Which means it *must* apply to “the least of these.” To people in the most dire straits medically or financially. That’s where I think it fails, and if it fails there it *can’t* be universal.

        This is the absolute most problematic scenario I can imagine, and it is indeed unusual, but I think it gets to the issues with this teaching. Consider a couple in which the wife has severe pulmonary hypertension — among the most dangerous conditions one can have with respect to maternal survival during pregnancy. The husband is career military and is often deployed for months at a time. They have adopted three small children with special needs who are quite attached to their mother.

        If they use NFP for the express purpose of trying to conceive a child, they are not committing any sort of sin. Nor are they sinning if they are providentialists and use no family planning whatsoever. Indeed, in either of those situations their faith in God to not give them more than they can handle would be viewed as praiseworthy. (At no point in any official Catholic document I am aware of does a couple undertaking a risky pregnancy come under any censure no matter the circumstances. I am no theologian, of course, so I may well be missing something.)

        Suppose, on the other hand, they assiduously use NFP to avoid the wife’s fertile period, and because they are aware that a pregnancy would likely orphan their needy children they take the further precaution of a vasectomy. They do not wish to “have their cake and eat it too” by enjoying marital relations when they would otherwise be abstaining, but at the same time they believe they have made the decision that is in the best interests of their family and they are in agreement that the vasectomy was the prudent thing to do, and they feel no remorse whatsoever. This couple is in a state of mortal sin.

        How is that possibly moral?

      • James

        THIS is the very misunderstanding of the faith that is so common.

        You talk of mortal sin as if it is a case of “break a rule, go to hell”. Such a system is immoral and any “God” who acted this way is evil.

        Fortunately, this is NOT Church teaching.

        Mortal sin requires serious matter (objective), as well as full knowledge, and full consent (subjective). CCC 1857. Unfortunately, many materials call any sin that is objectively serious matter “mortal sin”, but that’s not accurate.

        Your analysis ignores the effect of the circumstances of the act.

        “The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.” CCC 1754

        While bad circumstances do not make a bad act good, they can diminish responsibility for the act. In this case, the couple would be getting a vasectomy under duress due to the bad circumstances of the health problems. It would probably not have the full consent of the will required to be true mortal sin.

        It also seems that the couple does not have a full understanding of why the vasectomy is sinful, meaning that they would probably not have “full knowledge”, either.

        This is still a bad act and a sin, but under the circumstances it would most likely be a venial sin. CCC 1862

        Nevertheless, the couple should still go to confession, because it is an objectively serious sin. Do they have to regret the vasectomy? Not specifically. You forget the concept of imperfect contrition. A couple could be sorry for violating the laws of the Church or even afraid of the consequences of sin and be forgiven. The Church does not require couples to reverse sterilizations.

        So why doesn’t the Catholic Church allow the couple a vasectomy? Because sterilization remains wrong.

        If the couple cannot risk pregnancy or even the risk of conservative NFP, the moral law requires they abstain until menopause.

        Such abstinence is difficult—it would require heroic virtue—but it is not impossible. Priests and religious abstain for life. Denying that such heroic virtue is possible denies the possibility for couples to attain such heroic virtue. It also denies the power of God’s grace to give couples this virtue.

        As for the matter of pursuing a risky pregnancy, there is nothing objectively wrong with a married couple pursuing pregnancy. It could subjectively be an act of faith or an act of foolishness. The Church teaches that spouses have a duty to responsible parenthood, but such issues are between the couple and God.

    • Captain Cassidy

      It’s not part of my deal. You’re welcome to make it part of your deal. But it’s offensive that you’re so blithely expecting us all to think like that. Yes, it is a double standard. That’s exactly what it is. I’m not going to ask my husband to never have sex with me again just because a bunch of delusional misinformation-spreaders think I have to be “ok w/” pregnancy as part of the marital deal.

  • Mel

    It’s like being back at family picnics where my aunts with a billion kids would stop complaining about how hard having a billion kids is long enough to explain that everyone else should use NFP like they do. My take-away from those conversations were that some people lack a sense of irony.

    • Kate Monster

      Our yearly abstinence speaker in high school had a similar deal. After the “sex is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad sin” spiel, we’d get the “birth control renders your marriage a SHAM!” one, complete with tales of how well NFP worked for him and his wife. But, somehow, every year, his wife wasn’t touring with him “this time” because she was at home. Pregnant. TELL ME MORE ABOUT HOW WELL NFP WORKS, DUDE!

      • The_L1985

        What do you call people who rely solely on “natural” methods of birth control?


      • Captain Cassidy

        Hey it works great… for him.

  • katerina

    Contraception is bad because it puts the responsibility and risks primarily on the woman, but pregnancy, which does the exact same thing, isn’t? Does not compute.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Pregnancy is what women are for. It’s our job; we’re walking incubators. So of course that responsibility isn’t bad.

  • alwr

    Here is another and opposite response to the purity culture issues from another Catholic blogger. She must not have received the memo that we all must think alike about all things:

  • Hat Stealer

    Marc subscribes to the philosophy that if you can say something in a long, rambling word salad peppered with bits of poorly reasoned philosophy and faux-hip graphics, then what you’ve said will actually have a point.

    I’ve read some of his posts. They’re all badly thought out attempts at reason (which is to be expected from a Catholic blog) made all the more insufferable due to his attitude that he’s actually exploring deep, though provoking issues, and providing answers that actually mean anything in a cool, hip, 20th century “lol im so modern but catholic” way.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, he definitely lays it on thick with the attempts at “hipness.” This is kind of a nitpick but “up in this blergh?” And one of his earlier attempts at a rebuttal of one of Libby’s posts was called, as I recall, “Rebuttal up in hurrrr.” Dude, please stop. You sound like a doofy dad on a sitcom embarrassing his teenage kids by trying to be “cool” in front of their friends. It’s making me cringe.

      As for his bad reasoning, well, I suppose I should cut the guy some slack since he’s, like, 20. (Although it should be noted that plenty of people that age do a much better job of putting two thoughts together.) But I’d probably be more inclined to do that if he didn’t seem so utterly taken with his own perceived intellectual and rhetorical abilities.

  • KarenJo12

    The weirdest thing in his rebuttal was his statement that chastity was having ones sexuality in accordance with one’s “true self” and not simply refraining from sex, but that the only way to demonstrate chastity was by refraining from the wrong kind of sex. Chaste people aren’t refraining from non-marital or improper marital sex becuase they have their sexuality in accordance with their “true selves,” but no one’s “true self” could possibly want sex other than in a straight, monogamous marriage with contraception, because all of our “true selves” agree with the Catholic heiraechy about sex.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Don’t forget about all the forbidden “improper” sexual acts! One’s “true self” can also never truly desire to participate in a sex act which involves ejaculation outside the vagina.

    • Christian Stillings

      I don’t know exactly what he’d say if you asked him what he meant by “true self”, but my guess is that your definitions don’t match at present and that it’s causing some confusion. My guess is that it maps more with his Catholic ideas of sexual teleology and less with popular cultural ideas about sexual expression. If you’re working from different ideas of what’s meant by “one’s true self”, his ideas are going to sound pretty weird. Were you to understand what he means by the expression (assuming that you don’t already), you’d probably find that it makes more sense in his sexual ethics framework, even if you still ultimately disagree with him.

      • Stev84

        Probably something about nature, which is another way for “how god made you” and “how the church wants you to be”

      • Christian Stillings

        Stev84, what do you personally think Marc means by “true self” in this case? Instead of saying “it’s probably stupid anyways”, could you tell us how you understand it? If you don’t have a solid picture of what you think Marc means, on what grounds are you dismissing it so flippantly?

      • Aeryl

        True self means slave to your biology. We’ve been to this rodeo with anti-contraceptive Catholics before.

  • Stev84

    I have yet to see a sane Catholic blogger on Patheos.They are as batshit crazy as any Protestant fundamentalist.

  • tsara

    Leaving aside all of the other issues I have with his position, how is something I decide to do to or with my body somehow less “my true self” than something my body does without my knowledge or consent?
    Or should I stop taking vitamin D supplements and spend more time in the sun without sunscreen to get my vitamin D the natural way, exposing my extremely high-risk, precancerous skin to UV radiation because my “true self” is dead of skin cancer at fifty?
    Or should my sister have refused her surgery to correct a congenital condition, because her “true self” belongs in a wheelchair at thirty?

    Yeah, no.

    • Christian Stillings

      Please see my response to Karen Cox’s comment two above yours- I think Marc is speaking teleologically, which means that the two of you are using different ideas of “true self”. That would probably be why his expression sounds sort of ridiculous to you.

      • tsara

        Oh, I know we’re using different definitions. I just think his definition makes no sense.

        (EDIT: plus, naturalistic fallacy like woah.)

      • Christian Stillings

        It’s fine if you think his definition makes no sense, but you should be willing to acknowledge that it (probably) works within his own framework of reference. If you think his framework is internally inconsistent, could you point out how so?

        I really don’t think that his idea of your “true self” includes your acquiring skin cancer ASAP. If you agree, then I’m not sure what the driving idea was behind that part of your original comment. If you do think that fits his idea, could you flesh you what you personally think his idea is when he uses the term “true self”?

        How so with the “naturalistic fallacy”?

      • tsara

        “The Church teaches that sex is essentially a unity of persons. It is total self-gift, self-donation, a sacramental offering of the human person’s entire, infinite subjectivity to another. ”

        “Now the fertility of a person is an essential part of that person.”

        BadCatholic’s position, as I understand it, is that the fact that I have functioning ovaries and a uterus automatically makes those body parts and the fertility they give me essential parts of me regardless of the facts that I did not ask for them, I do not want them, and I intend to get rid of them as soon as I can. Further, he seems to be saying that denying them is denying my true self — just because I happened to be born with them (hence the appeal to nature*: a claim that what is natural is inherently good or right, and that what is unnatural is inherently bad or wrong). The two examples I gave in my first comment seem to be the logical extension of this position.

        My fertility is not any more a part of me than I want it to be.

        (more here:
        “When an act of sex up and gets contracepted, the language of sex changes from “all of you” to “all of you except your fertility.” For the Catholic, contraception is wrong not because it allows too much, but because it doesn’t allow enough, namely, the participation of the entire person, which includes their potentiality for the creation of new life, as terrifying as the fact may be. Despite the happy assurances of condom ads, contraception prevents ecstasy, because ecstasy is a total moving-from-the-self, and contraception makes sure a vital part of the self is suppressed and controlled.This is the selfishness which the Church speaks of, this reservation of self via the suppression of fertility via the glories of ethinyl estradiol.”)

        *Wikipedia pointed out my error. I was talking about appeal to nature, not the naturalistic fallacy.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        “When an act of sex up and gets contracepted…” Wow, I missed that on the first reading.

        Would that I were still innocent of the knowledge that anybody ever came up with that combination of words…

      • tsara

        Addition because I forgot to take my methylphenindate and am more terrible at communicating than usual because of it:
        I think BadCatholic’s position makes no sense and is internally inconsistent because it makes a special case out of fertility and sex.

      • The_L1985

        Pretty much every “logical” argument that Catholic apologetics makes is based on “natural law:” the idea that what occurs naturally is what God intended to happen and therefore right, and that cirumventing those natural functions is always wrong.

      • LL

        Exactly. And they only use this argument when it comes to sex and contraception. In any other area of their life it is completely irrelevant, and avoiding naturally occurring events is extremely normal and good. Yet they simply choose not to see this internal inconsistency. Never mind that god didn’t exactly create human beings with thermometers and cycle-tracking APPs in their hands… but I’ll ignore that one for now :).

  • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I honestly have no idea why he would link to that Qatari study. It talks about how wealthy Qataris simply hire full-time nannies, housekeepers, and drivers because:

    “Overwhelming responsibilities, sleep deprivation and stress associated with raising babies and running a house usually take their toll on the physical and emotional health of a married woman and her daily schedule leaves her with little time for anything else.

    Over time, this shift in focus from playing the role of a wife to one of a mother that packs overwhelming responsibilities can hurt even the strongest of relationships as the husband increasingly begins to feel neglected by his wife.”

    So, they’re actually saying that taking care of kids can be stressful and boring and can destroy a marriage (because the husband feels neglected, of course), and this is used as an argument in favor of having more children/not using contraception? Also:

    “Family laws and traditions also play an important role in preventing unhappy spouses from seeking escape from an unhappy or bored existence in divorce. Having to provide for the ex-wife and the kids often leave the husband with little money to remarry and start another family. Because of this obstacle, many would rather stay in an unhappy marriage than undergo a financial hardship or stay single for the rest of their lives.”

    Plus, kids from divorced parents are really stigmatized. So they might stay in a marriage, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.

    Wait, what does this have to do with contraception again?

    • Lucreza Borgia

      That study also neglects to mention that it’s extremely cheap to hire help in Qatar to the point that these employees are virtual slaves.

  • smrnda

    NFP just seems like a shit-load of work to me, far more work than other modes of contraception, and it seems most of the stats meant to prop up its success rates are using *rather unusual methodology* to say the least.

    The other thing is, people are free to decide what works best for them, because not everybody is the same and any method of doing anything has different pros and cons that individuals don’t value equally. NFP seems to assume a desire for obsessive levels of biometrics assessment, from cervical mucous to temperature, and this *really* seems like a huge drawback.

    • Niemand

      And even those studies admit to a 10% or higher drop out rate within one year. I’ve seen chemotherapy trials with lower drop out rates. This is one poorly tolerated method.

    • Jayn

      I think some people like the idea of having more knowledge of what’s going on with their bodies–the lack of horomones can certainly have it’s appeal as well (the main reason I even considered using it myself, especially after my experience with the Pill). But yes, it’s all pros and cons, and frankly to me the constant vigilance about whether or not I’m fertile is a huge con to NFP–if I’m trying to avoid conception I’d rather use a method that works the same way no matter when I’ve having sex.

      • LL

        I agree. I actually think that we should all be more educated about our bodies. It’s easier to know what to do with them, what’s wrong with them, and how to fix it if we’re educated. That is the one, single concession I’ll give to the Catholics obsession with NFP. For that reason, I’m currently tracking changes in my cervix, mucous, temperature, symptoms, etc., and trying to match my symptoms to hormones, etc. I’m on a mission to balance my hormones, so I’m simply curious and interested at the moment.

        However, I have absolutely zero interest in using it as birth control (and even more shockingly don’t feel like forcing other women to use it as birth control). I don’t want to be obsessive, 100% diligent and worry every moment whether or not I interpreted my signs perfectly. Besides that, I tend to want sex the most during my fertile periods and Not. At. All during my most infertile times. And since I’m an actual human being (shhhhh… don’t tell anybody!) and not simply a servant to my husband’s penis, we don’t have sex if either one of us really doesn’t want sex. That either means years and years of abstinence or condoms. Therefore, a condom during my fertile times it is! Squeee!! I feel so evil!!

        I’ve used nothing but condoms for well over a decade now and not had a single sign of pregnancy. I actually find that extraordinarily odd, considering that the Reproductive Specialists over at Bad Catholic Land and the Vatican claim that condoms don’t work, and we all know that the Vatican is always right. I mean, they’re used most frequently during my fertile periods and they don’t work…. Wait. What? Huh, so, incredibly weird. Where did all my babyyeeeez go????

      • Christine

        Honestly, we should be teaching every teenaged girl how to chart her cycles. Let’s re-institute the practice of a celebration when a girl reaches menarche, and use it as an excuse to give her a thermometer & instruction. Because honestly, it’s more likely that this will happen then doctors (and others) will stop pretending that it’s reasonable for people to expect their periods.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Teaching fertility awareness to teenage girls is an intriguing suggestion but, omg, I’d rather have died than have had my first period celebrated when I got it. My mom was relaxed and nonchalant about it and that’s exactly the way I wanted it! :-P

      • Feminerd

        A friend of mine told me about red parties, which sound intriguing. They’re an American pagan/Wiccan thing drawn from a bunch of different religious/spiritual/ethnic traditions.

        Basically, after the period’s over, the girl’s mom and friends and mom’s friends all get together and have a party. Decorating scheme is red, of course, with red-wrapped gifts and food and such. The “facts of life” are discussed and the girl is congratulated on taking a big step towards adulthood/womanhood. It seems like a potentially good way to take a source of stress and shame (and pain and ick) and turn it into a more positive experience, but I can also see some pretty amazing recipes for disaster. It’s pretty much what Christine suggested, though I’m not sure about the whole thermometer and instructions thing.

      • Christine

        The benefit I see of the “red parties” isn’t actually the party itself. It’s the culture it creates which makes the parties possible. If you’re going to have a party like that, it’s a lot more difficult to see getting your period as such a horrible thing that you’re going to be stuck with for a while. Far too many girls (and women) don’t talk about anything regarding their bodies, and a culture of openness would help fix that. There was a grown woman in my gender studies class who had never heard of a menstrual cup. It’s not just ovulation that we need to discuss more openly.

        I don’t know that I would actually want to make it a present upon reaching menarche, but I think that the basic “here’s how you tell you’re ovulating, it’s useful if you need to know when you’re going to menstruate” would be a good addition to the “birds and the bees” for girls at least (probably not bad to let boys know it either).

      • Sgaile-beairt

        why not ‘take a dump” parties too?? i mean we dont talk abt digestion in detail socially either….far too many people suffer from constipation & bowel cramps!!

      • Conuly

        It’s precisely because some people like to conflate menstruation with “dirty” things like pooing that some people have these parties.

        (Of course, not all cultures have historically treated poop the same way either. Communal toilets were the, uh, the shit in Rome, weren’t they?)

      • Christine

        Honestly, I would have died too. I’m just still horribly bitter that I was in my twenties before learning how to know when I’d ovulated (and how easy it was – I could manage on temperature alone fairly easily).

      • Baby_Raptor

        Cool. You managed to find a way to Other women who aren’t regular, reduce women to their body parts, AND make religious claptrap the default.

        That’s some talent.

      • ako

        I really don’t want to push charting cycles too heavily, because some people just don’t want to and aren’t interested (me, for instance). Most people here seem to agree that women who want to have sex shouldn’t be obligated to put up with the chore of charting all of the relevant biological processes if they don’t want to, and I think the same thing is true for women in general.

        (It’s like the “Feel good about menstruation!” thing – some people feel all connected to the Earth or empowered or impressed by their biological processes, and that’s cool if that’s their thing. I just don’t want the standard to be that everyone’s required to feel a certain way about their biological process, or take an interest beyond the level necessary to not actively create problems for other people.)

      • Christine

        I HATE the “feel good about menstruation” thing, but it does have its uses. (For the record, putting down people who ask if anyone has ever heard of a cloth pad service that works like a diaper service is not one of them). Same thing with charting – I think that, just like every woman should know that it’s ok to talk about how her body works, and know what options are available for dealing with menstruation (as opposed to just “pads or tampons”), every woman should have an idea of how to predict when she’s going to menstruate.

        I agree that we shouldn’t be telling women they have to, but I would like it to be normal enough that girls know it exists. So that when the doctor says “these pills work best if you take them early, so take them the morning you expect your period” they know that there actually are options, they don’t have to put up with inadequate pain relief. Or if the pad they carry at all times starts to wear out, they can figure out when they’re more likely to need it, so they only have to carry it some of the time. (You don’t even need to take your temperature for that, most women can get a guess based on mucus alone).

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Eh, there are smartphone apps that are really good at this stuff.

      • Dez

        That’s what I do. I just click on a date and the options menu pops up. I either select “Had sex”, “Start Period”, “End Period.” The program calculates the times I’m fertile and when I get my period next. Or I use a calendar on the wall and circle the dates I get on and off my periods.

      • ako

        I tried tracking my cycle with an app, and the main thing I learned is that if you’re irregular enough, tracking the days gives no useful information. (Now I could break out a thermometer every day and add in the temperature as well, and maybe do a self-examination, but that’s a lot of work which wouldn’t achieve anything I actually want.)

      • Conuly

        Many, many women don’t have terribly regular cycles. My mother was four months along before she realized she was pregnant with me because to her, going three months or more without bleeding was within the normal range, especially as she had been traveling.

      • Christine

        Maybe part of why I think we need to make charting better known is so that we can break the narrative of irregular cycles being a rare exception. I know that the majority of women have regular cycles for most of their fertile years, but you’d expect doctors, and especially midwives, to be better about recognizing that a lot of women continue to be irregular for a long time. Instead I’ve always been treated as some sort of special case that they aren’t quite sure how to handle. (Also, I am so lying the next time I apply for midwifery services, and claiming to have regular cycles, and just give the length that cycle would have been if I hadn’t gotten pregnant. You would not believe how hard it is to explain that you know exactly how far along you are.)

      • Jayn

        I’ve heard of women who got pregnant while charting simply telling their doctors/midwives a LMP date two weeks before ovulation to avoid the whole conversation. You’d think that people who work with women’s reproductive systems for a living wouldn’t be so hard to explain that to :/

      • Christine

        I brought my chart in to show the midwife and still had to go with an artificially early due date. (My temperatures are a little erratic, I know how to read my chart, but she said because there was possibility of error she had to go with the earlier date, because it was more conservative. It was the closest to my actual date she was willing to go – the ultrasound was horribly late, and was off by 8 days, so this was an improvement)

      • ako

        The thing is, once you’ve worked out you’re irregular (and I mean seriously irregular, not within a day or two), what’s the benefit of charting?

      • Christine

        A lot of women who are irregular do still ovulate, so charting would still give the approx. 2 weeks and the 1 day warning for getting their period. I’m not quite sure I understand how it wouldn’t be useful. It’s women who are regular who I can see not finding it very useful, actually.

    • The_L1985

      I consider constantly checking one’s internal mucus levels and the like to be FAR more invasive and “unnatural” than taking a pill or sliding on a rubber. And that level of intense and complicated self-monitoring is necessary for NFP to be at all effective; otherwise you’re just using the old-fashioned “rhythm method,” which is barely any more effective than not attempting to control your fertility at all. (Or as the old joke goes: What do you call people who delay childbirth using the rhythm method? Parents.)

  • The_L1985

    To be honest, one of the things that led to my becoming disillusioned with the Catholic Church was a similar sort of double standard. Contraception left the marital act without procreative value, and was therefore morally wrong, but it was totally fine and morally good to use Natural Family Planning to render the marital act non-procreative.

    Exactly! If your concept of moral sex requires you to be “open to the possibility of pregnancy,” then using NFP as a method of preventing or delaying pregnancy is not moral sex by your own definition. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

    • Stephanie

      For serious. My husband is catholic (I’m Jewish) and when we went to the required Natural Family Planning seminar I was dying to hear them explain this in a way that made sense.

      I was sorely disappointed that there is no good answer. If you think pills are bad, why don’t you outlaw advil too. And if you don’t have a problem with medication but contraception, then how is NFP different from any other contraception?

      My favorite is that they say “you are still open to procreation” but then say NFP is 98% effective. If its that effective, you’re not open to any such thing. But of course the reality is that you are probably open to procreation because it IS much less effective in typical use. Contraception is only ok if there’s a real chance of accident babies apparently.

      • Jayn

        The best explanation I’ve heard is that with NFP you’re not ‘breaking’ the reproductive system, while most others in some way alter the way it functions. Still, I struggle to see why condoms are also not okay in this framework, and I do find it weird that some methods of repairing fertility are okay–we can only alter our bodies if it’s to the way God intended? How can we be so damn sure what God intends?! (There’s a part of me that thinks that if the ‘Fall’ broke things, maybe one of the things that changed was our fertility went up from how it originally was–we really have no way of knowing. But I don’t hold to the Fall doctrine anyways, so…)

  • sylvia_rachel

    So … does this mean that I’m not allowed to have sex at all, ever?

    I mean, I haven’t had any ovaries for the past 13 years, so there’s a literally zero chance of my ever getting pregnant from having sex, which would make all the sex DH and I have had since January 2000 non-procreative …

  • James

    “Contraception left the marital act without procreative value, and was
    therefore morally wrong, but it was totally fine and morally good to use
    Natural Family Planning to render the marital act non-procreative.”

    It appears you have an incorrect understanding of the Catholic definition of the word “procreative”.

    The Catholic Church speaks Latin, not English, and sometimes nuance is lost in translation. As the Church defines it, “procreative” refers to the act, not the result. The sex act is procreative when the man finishes inside the woman and they do nothing to prevent pregnancy. Whether a pregnancy results or not is irrelevant.

    Natural Family Planning does NOT render the act non-procreative. The fertility charts tell the couple that pregnancy is unlikely, but the act itself is unchanged. Same with sex during pregnancy or post-menopause. Preventing pregnancy by abstaining during the fertile period does not render the marital act non-procreative because there is no act.

    Contraception either changes the act or changes the body. It is in changing the act that the act become non-procreative.

    The Catholic Church’s message is simple: Don’t mess with the marital act.

    • tsara

      “The sex act is procreative when the man finishes inside the woman and they do nothing to prevent pregnancy.”
      So NFP is doing nothing to prevent pregnancy?

      • James

        NFP prevents pregnancy by abstaining during the fertile days. It’s preventing pregnancy through well-timed abstinence.

        Abstinence on the fertile days is exactly DOING NOTHING in order to prevent pregnancy.

        Does charting prevent pregnancy? No, it’s just information.

        Does sex on an infertile day prevent pregnancy? No, pregnancy is not possible on those days. There is nothing to prevent.

      • tsara

        I define “doing something” as any expenditure of energy. Am I exercising willpower? I’m doing something. Am I measuring things? I’m doing something. Do I have to remember to do something at roughly the same time every day? That’s doing something.

        So, yanno, I disagree, but that’s some mighty fine hairsplitting the Catholic Church has going on there.

      • James

        The Catholic Church says altering the act is immoral. Timing sex to periods of infertility is not. Define that how you will.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        If I’m using science to make sure that the sperm cannot possibly meet the egg, I am altering the process.

      • Captain Cassidy

        It’s not the alteration that bugs them, it’s that it’s too effective. Better to use a totally labyrinthine, ineffective method that is based on faulty science and misinformation–that way you’re throwing the dice with every encounter so it’s nice and terrifying. Hey, maybe it’ll become so scary that you either stop having it unless you’re totally wanting parenthood.

      • tsara

        What does the Catholic Church think about my altering my body in such a way that would alter The Act if I have no particular desire to have sex, and am expecting to (and quite pleased with the prospect) never have sex or get married?

        The reasons for the alterations (in no particular order) would be:
        i. Rape happens.
        ii. Pregnancy is fucking terrifying (and, in my case, would end in either abortion or suicide).
        iii. I’d rather not have the ladybits at all, to be honest, and exerting control over them makes having them a little more bearable.
        iv. Meh, why not? I go see the doctor, have a thing put in, and get to ignore it for the next five years.

        (Incidentally, my biggest issue with promoting NFP as the be-all and end-all of contraception/family planning is that it seems tailored to stable, non-rapey sexual relationships and doesn’t really seem like much use in other circumstances [e.g.: no barrier preventing fluid exchange, as people who like having casual sex kind of need for safety]. Knowing the RCC, this is probably a feature, not a bug, but it is worth remembering that many people aren’t into [or are currently not part of] the ‘couple’ thing, and that many relationships/encounters do have sexually coercive elements.)

      • Scott_In_OH

        I would define it as bullshit. More floridly, it is mental gymnastics to make the ridiculous seem sublime.

        NFP, properly used, allows couples to avoid pregnancy. Its intent is precisely the same as the intent of using a pill, condom, or vasectomy.

        The difference is that with NFP, the couple may need to abstain from sex when they would both rather not. The reason that matters to the Church is that it believes (a) the natural, and therefore good, result of sex is pregnancy and (b) avoiding that outcome should involve an appropriate sacrifice, which they have decided is abstinence (or, in their preferred term, “continence”).

      • tsara

        Bleargh. Christians and sacrifice. *shudder*

        So creepy.

      • Laceagate

        I think you are misunderstanding what the Church actually teaches, and what Catholics think the teachings are.

        In reality– there is nothing in official Church teaching about “openness to life.” The Church has never taught that there is anything inherently wrong about avoiding pregnancy. The Church even acknowledges that there are times where it is justifiable to avoid having children. The Church has never taught that women are just baby making machines who are obligated to birth a minimum of 4 children or anything like that.

        Really, the Church teaches about the means used to avoid pregnancy. ABC actually shuts down your fertility. I know that people here have argued that your fertility doesn’t make you any more a person or less, and I agree. The Church agrees that one’s fertility is not the very definition of a person’s being. From a theological standpoint, the Church does teach that fertility is part of the wholeness of a person. People aren’t “spiritual” bits or “sexual” bits, or the like. People are considered on a holistic level, which is behind the idea of NFP.

        I anticipate that there will be disagreement with what I’ve said, or even the accusation that it’s mental gymnastics but it’s not. People make it out to be a lot more complicated than it needs to be. In short, the Church teaches that people are to be regarded holistically as an entire being– sexuality, spirituality, intellect, personality, etc. We aren’t supposed to shut off one in order to do something. People aren’t parts.

      • Laceagate

        In addition, some couples would benefit from the effectiveness of NFP. There are people who should for medical reasons– or even financial– use NFP to avoid a pregnancy. The Church teaches that this is prudent. The Church also teaches that NFP is morally licit because it does not change any mechanism of sexual intercourse. If you believe in the theology of the Church, that is significant.

      • Sgaile-beairt

        so i guess yr against antidepresseants and blood thinners too huh??

      • Laceagate

        Actually *I* am against the immediate use of anti-depressants. Have you looked at the stats of how much anti-depressants are used in this country? Not to mention, research has shown a combination of medication AND cognitive-behavioral therapy is a better course of treatment. How do anti-depressants and blood thinners fit into the discussion of contraception, btw? You are talking about completely different things. Like I said– the Church teaches prudence in general with medical care, so painting a wide brush using this issue isn’t going to cut it.

      • tsara

        “Not to mention, research has shown a combination of medication AND cognitive-behavioral therapy is a better course of treatment.”
        That course of treatment (which I recommend, by the way. Therapy’s pretty awesome, but you won’t get much out of it if your jerkbrain’s telling you that you’re such a terrible POS subhuman thing that there’s nothing you can do to get better; your therapist will laugh at you, be revolted, or hate you if you actually tell the truth and not just what she wants to here; that not eating for three days makes a lot of sense as a coping strategy; and/or that offing yourself would really be a kindness for everyone else in your life.
        For most general-type depression/anxiety combinations (as opposed to major depressive disorder), medication can make recovery look possible. Long-term (say, five+ years), it’s a less than ideal way of dealing, but for a lot of people it’s a pretty vital part of their recovery. Please don’t discount it just because you think psychiatrists are overprescribing it.

      • Laceagate

        I did not discount it. I merely said a combination is more effective than using medication as the sole means of therapy.

        I have friends with depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorders. For some of them, medication alleviates the neurological issues BUT CBT is a valuable tool for them to make changes in their thinking, behavior, and who they surround themselves with. Honestly anyone who tells someone that they are a PCOS subhuman or anything along those lines is plain disrespectful, hurtful, and just wrong.

      • Kat

        If you read tsara’s comment, though, it wasn’t about anyone telling another person that they are a POS or subhuman. It’s about the depressed person’s own brain telling them that. In other words, some people are so severely effected by the thought processes that go along with depression that they need medication just to get to the point where therapy will be effective. It had nothing to do with insulting other people.

      • tsara

        I didn’t say that anyone said that; I said that I felt like that enough that it was a barrier to honest communication with my therapist. And I knew that the things I listed up there were not true, and they aren’t the logical extensions of anything I believe. Those thoughts started from the premise that I suck, and (as well as being terribly subjective and vague) that isn’t something I believe except when my reasoning is impaired. IOW, for my particular version of garden variety anxiety/depression, brain chemicals and life influence each other into a vicious cycle: trigger->anxiety->terrible coping skills->sleep problems->tired; triggers multiply->more anxiety->have not magically learned coping skills and now brain chemicals are displeased->this goes on for a while->depression.

        Why I said what I did:
        “Actually *I* am against the immediate use of anti-depressants. Have you looked at the stats of how much anti-depressants are used in this country?”

        It’s possible that I had a stronger knee-jerk reaction than was really warranted (in fairness, I can’t really tell what you mean by “immediate” there), but I’ve had conversations with people (including my parents) who are rude and condescending and dismissive, saying that I didn’t need to be on medication and that I wasn’t really depressed, and if I was just a little bit less lazy and stopped feeling sorry for myself, put my head down, and pushed through it, I’d realize. Some people (not my parents) shared or reaffirmed this position even after I informed them that it’s quite likely I would not be here if it hadn’t been for a few lovely people on the other end of suicide hotlines.

        Anyway, I do not have major depressive disorder. My depression is observably situation-dependent (though I do have a family history of addiction, suicide, and major depression, so that might be a contributing factor). Because I’ve been able to superficially hold myself together in public, I’ve been held up as an example for ‘we’re overmedicating!’ (bonus: I have ADHD and take a Ritalin-like medication) when, actually, it’s only thanks to medication that I can look at problems or at myself and not see only the bad.

      • Captain Cassidy

        You mean… like your religion does?

      • Anat

        But if you don’t believe in the theology, it isn’t. And this entire debate is about the rose/dandelion poster, which is used by a Catholic source to claim that the Catholic approach to sexuality and reproductive health is better than the secular approach for society in general, so an argument that only makes sense to those that accept the theology is not very useful.

      • Laceagate

        Of course. And that’s the crux of this issue here, isn’t it? Of course Catholics who believe in the theology will believe this.

      • Anat

        However Bad Catholic is using Catholic theology in debate with Libby Anne, who is not a Catholic (but was one once, and even practiced NFP). What makes him think his argument will make any sense to her?

        If he says ‘NFP is in better alignment with Catholic teachings and is therefore the preferable choice for a Catholic’ that is one kind of argument, but saying ‘NFP is in better alignment with Catholic teachings and is therefore the preferable choice for everyone’ that’s a very different argument.

      • tsara

        The problem is that what the Catholic Church teaches people to not “shut off” is arbitrary (example: should someone [i.e., my sister] have “shut off” [i.e., surgically corrected] a congenital bone deformation in order to continue to be able to walk and play sports? The RCC is silent on that point.) and impractical in the real world.

        The Church of Tsara (amusingly, I originally typed that as ‘The Church of [gender-neutral-ish name Tsara picked out for hirself that happens to be the name of an angel that figures prominently in Catholic mythology]‘), on the other hand, teaches that the ‘self’ is defined internally to each individual. I think that my way is better.

      • Laceagate

        You all do realize that these teachings are within the context of what Catholicism teaches about marriage? In a marriage, we don’t deny our fertility. That’s it and if you have an issue with that, I can’t help you. It is clear from the comments to myself and others that what Catholics believe about marriage means nothing.

      • Dez

        Yup. It means something to those who are Catholics. To non-catholics like me your belief about marriage means nothing. It’s crazy and nonsense to me, but that is your private life to do so as you please.

      • Captain Cassidy

        In my marriage, I deny fertility wholeheartedly. I’m not Catholic. I don’t have to labor under the medieval notions of what marriage should mean that you do, the rigid gender roles you embrace, or the rampant misinformation and confusion that binds and blinkers you. I am free to construct my relationship according to what my husband and I feel will best honor and nurture us both. Neither of us wants children. We live in a marvelous age in which it’s fairly easy for us to make “not having children” happen. It’s really that simple. Whatever ridiculous nonsense you believe, as a Catholic, does not matter to me in the least because you can’t even prove your god even exists, much less that you think you know what that god wants. I hope one of these days you take a bit of time to consider why you think it’s okay to impose lies and misinformation on people in the name of your goals, but that, too, doesn’t especially matter either given that the vast majority of people in your own religion know you’re spouting poppycock.

      • James

        “NFP, properly used, allows couples to avoid pregnancy. Its intent is precisely the same as the intent of using a pill, condom, or vasectomy.”

        Completely true, but it’s not the intent that matters, it’s the act. There is nothing wrong with preventing pregnancy, but how you do it is important.

        The Catholic Church teaches that sex is designed to be sacred. Yes, all-natural, PIV sex matters. Our bodies matter. Why would anybody want to make a healthy body unhealthy? Fertility is health. Inconvenient, perhaps, but that’s how the body works.

        Most people attach no particular importance to PIV sex. Most people see our bodies as possessions to do with as we choose. It’s not “bullshit” to say otherwise, that’s a philosophical difference.

        What do you believe the meaning and purpose of sex is? How do you think we should treat our bodies?

      • LL

        Actually, isn’t the intent one of the most important factors in determining whether an act is moral or immortal in Catholic theology? The INTENT is exactly the same, regardless of what method you are using – to have sex while hoping not to get pregnant.

        “The morality of any act is based on three sources:

        (1) The intention or purpose for which the act is done.

        (2) The inherent moral meaning of the act as determined by its moral object.

        (3) The circumstances of the act, especially the consequences.

        To be moral, each and every act must have three good fonts of morality. The intention must be good, the moral object must be good, and the good consequences must outweigh any bad consequences.”

        I find it mighty convenient that you guys manage to shift your argument every time we point out logical problems with your assertions. So now suddenly INTENT doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s the actual altering of the body that causes the problem?

        If you meant that you intend for the possibility of procreation to exist, regardless of how miniscule, by not “altering the sex act”, then you should realize that the exact some possibility exists with any form of birth control, save for absolute removal of reproductive organs. The pill, IUDs, patches, condoms, etc., all carry a possibility of conception, and considering the fact that one of the Catholic Church’s biggest arguments (re: LIES) is that birth control and condoms don’t effectively prevent conception, thus being directly responsible for abortions, you’d think that you’d know better than to use that argument.

        But when making your current argument, you claim that contraception is preventing conception, so effectively, I might add, that it renders a person’s ability to procreate in the moment impossible. Interesting.

        And all of us believe that you are, very much, altering the sexual act by working extraordinarily hard to time your sex to perfect moments so that procreation doesn’t happen. It is a lot of work and effort. It isn’t passive, and you saying that it is doesn’t make it so. That IS altering the sex act, particularly when you take into consideration that a sexual act for Catholics must be (1) marital, (2) unitive and (3) procreative.

        By practicing NFP, you are most likely actively (and perhaps even painfully, sometimes) thwarting the desire to have sex with each other, thus disturbing what makes for some of the powerful unitive sex that exists. And by conceding and having sex when perhaps one or both partners might not fully be up for it, but wants to take advantage of the timing, you are doing exactly the same thing – giving up part of its unitive function. There are entire bodies involved in sex, and the mind is an extremely powerful part of it. Not to mention the fact that, as Libby Anne pointing out originally, the stress that comes with avoiding pregnancy and hoping that you’re having sex at the right time can be a tremendous barrier to enjoyment, and thus, the “unifying” aspects of sex. But if the sex act needs all three of these things in order to be moral, why are you ok with diminishing its unitive properties, even a little bit? I still happen to believe that you are diminishing its procreative properties, as well, regardless of your “logic.”

      • tsara

        By the way, I wasn’t being hypothetical with that question.

        [What does the Catholic Church think about my altering my body in such a way that would alter The Act if I have no particular desire to have sex, and am expecting to (and quite pleased with the prospect) never have sex or get married?]

        It’s completely fine if you don’t feel like answering, but I do want to know (mostly out of curiosity, but still).

      • victoria

        Tthe Church seems to be opposed to amputation as a treatment for apotemnophilia (see here for a good discussion: and I know the Church is definitely opposed to gender reassignment surgery in transgender individuals.

        The Church’s opposition to bodily modification in those circumstances, where amputation/reassignment is a form of medical treatment for those conditions, coupled with catechism #2297 ( makes me pretty darned certain your case would be considered illicit.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        How is it “doing nothing” when a married couple chooses to avoid sex when they both want it in order to avoid pregnancy? They are absolutely “doing something.” They are resisting something. They are making a decision. They are making a conscious effort to prevent pregnancy. That’s what contraception is.

        I’d say this logic is ridiculous but that would imply that it even counts as logic, which is really far too kind.

      • Laceagate

        No, contraception is preventing conception during sex, when the function of sex is two-fold– it can result in a baby and it is bonding between a couple. That is what makes it different from just avoidance. Sex is supposed to work this way: sperm enters uterus. Nothing should be blocking the sperm from entering the uterus, and the uterus shouldn’t be preventing implantation.

      • The_L1985

        I take birth control pills. If I don’t use a condom, then nothing is preventing the sperm from entering the uterus.

        Since my body isn’t releasing eggs, there is nothing to implant, and in fact, given the fertilization of an egg, the implantation rate is higher on the Pill than off it.

        Seriously, with totally unprotected, “natural” sex, an estimated 50% of embryos fail to implant. On the Pill, I’ve been hearing numbers like 20% held up as examples of how the Pill “prevents implantation.” 20 is a lower number than 50.

      • Niemand

        the function of sex is two-fold

        And yet there are times when one function is desired and the other is not. For example, a couple with several existing children has a strong motive for continued bonding, but may not be in a position to have further children. So the bonding is desired, but not the reproduction. Or a couple may want to bond but not have children yet or at all. In these situations, contraception is very important to allow couples to experience the bonding desired without the risk of reproduction.

        Conversely, there may be times when reproduction is desired but bonding is not. For example, an infertile couple* may wish to have a child that is genetically related to at least one of the couple. They may want to have a near relative of the other partner provide sperm or even have a stranger provide sperm. Alternately, a woman may wish to have a child but not have met a man she wishes to form a partnership with. In either of these circumstances, artificial insemination, which removes the bonding aspect of sex, is ideal.

        Oddly, the Catholic church opposes both contraception and artificial insemination, apparently feeling that anyone who does not want both bonding and reproduction from sex is unworthy of having either.

        *Including couples in which fertility is not possible due to both partners having the same gender.

      • Anat

        Sex isn’t ‘supposed’ to work one way or another. People choose to do it any way they want to. It can work that way, it can work other ways. Using sex to reproduce is simply another option we have available to us, among the bazzillion things we can do in our lives.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Um, sperm don’t enter the uterus. Sperm enter the fallopian tubes. You know, where the egg is, if there is one there? And then if it is fertilized it will (maybe) implant in the uterus. So if sex is supposed to work by sperm entering the uterus, it’s funny that God designed our reproductive systems in such a way that it is impossible to do sex right.

        Or maybe I am just being lectured about how sex is supposed to work by somebody who couldn’t pass a middle school science test.

      • Whirlwitch

        The sperm in question do actually have to enter the uterus to get to the fallopian tubes, though. When I was undergoing artificial insemination, the syringe placed the semen in my uterus. The rest of the journey was up to them. In natural insemination, their journey starts sooner.

  • Captain Cassidy

    It’s absolutely hilarious that Catholics have trouble with the Pill and other methods of family planning, but embrace other kinds. Why the special pleading here that their method is somehow different from other forms of pregnancy avoidance? It’s so obvious that it’s not the avoidance of pregnancy that bothers them, it’s how that avoidance is done. That their “informational” method involves running around in circles with charts, dates, and misinformation about biology means nothing whatsoever. The misinformation is what bothers me the most, though. If the position was really sound, it wouldn’t need lies to back it up. And lies are what we are being told. It’s not like the info’s not out there to be had and learned. I refuse to believe nobody’s set “NFP” advocates straight on such simple matters, so at this point anybody continuing to argue about it is working under willful ignorance at best, outright deception at worst.

    The result of this campaign is quite clear: Catholics want to go back to a time when women were chained to their reproductive systems. If they make sex complicated enough and terrifying enough, maybe women will stop having it–or have it only under the terms they demand.

    No, thanks. My personal experience with family planning and contraception completely refutes, denies, and contradicts what they’re saying here about how sex works and how a healthy couple’s sex life looks. I’m thankful that I had no kids chaining me to my preacher ex when I had to flee him in fear of my life–what a nightmare that would have been! It’s disgusting to me that Marc thinks that if I’d had kids and couldn’t as easily have gotten myself out of that abusive marriage, that would have been peachy-keen by him. But I guess Catholic husbands are never, ever abusive (like my dad was)? Or that Catholic marriages never end in divorce (like my parents’ did)? Or that having sex terrified that this time you’ll encounter the Crack of Doom somehow makes a couple closer and less likely to divorce? I mean, what is the logic here?

  • smrnda

    I notice that in most discussions with Catholics, the Catholic tends to constantly assert that the other people just don’t really understand Catholic teaching, and then we get a mess of obfuscating jargon.

    Now we’ve got someone who says we need to read it in Latin to really ‘get it.’ Seriously, if you’re doctrines are so hard to understand, it might be because rather than logical arguments, they’re just a verbal fog meant to conceal the assumptions the ideology is based on.

    • Michael

      That reminds me of the Muslims who say we have to read the Quran in the original Arabic to “get it.”

  • Jacob Hugart

    I’m reminded of a point from the book _Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy_. Written by former Jesuit Peter de Rosa, he notes at one point that the Catholic church is staunchly against contraception, as it should be up to God to decide to start a new life. But he points out that allowing Catholics to use natural family planning so they can have sex during infertile times is the same thing: contraception. It certainly isn’t leaving it up to God.

    If anything, natural family planning should be used to identify the fertile period, so couples confine their sex to that time frame, in order to increase the likelihood of conception. But that’s not how it is advocated by the Catholic church.

    Now, I’m not a Catholic, and the book I read over a decade ago (maybe two), so it is possible that the church’s teachings have changed somewhat. But it sounds from this post that they still take the same stance.

    • Niemand

      I don’t understand this in terms of theology either. They say that NFP is “open to life” because there COULD be an accidental pregnancy. If god decides to make it so. But other methods have failure rates too. Why is it ok to use NFP and have sex during infertile periods but not to have sex using a condom, which could fail? God can make a woman ovulate, but he can’t burst a bit of latex? If god wants a pregnancy to happen, wouldn’t it happen, even if the couple had both had surgical sterilization, taken birth control pills and used condoms? Why is god able to thwart only one method?

      • Niemand

        Forgot to add the concluding point: Saying that NFP is open to life (because god can perform a miracle and induce ovulation off schedule, presumably), but other methods are not is setting limits on god. I’m pretty sure that’s against Christian theology. Probably Islamic and Jewish as well.

      • Christine

        I thought that “open to life” was also about the fact that you had to/got to constantly decide if you wanted to have another child or not right then. But the logic still doesn’t work. If barrier methods were included with NFP as being “open to life”, it might make some sense. Because you can, at any point, decide “ok, we’re going to try and have a baby now, we’re changing our minds”. But they aren’t. They have comparable effectiveness rates, comparable typical use effectiveness rates (I know, Serena isn’t the best source, but there are no good sources for effectiveness rages available), and they share that you can just suddenly stop using them and be fertile immediately.

      • LL

        Yes. Exactly. It wouldn’t even be quite so deliciously ironic if it weren’t the Catholics themselves who were rabid conspiracy theorists regarding condoms and birth control pills. They actually believe that Planned Parenthood prescribes birth control pills knowing they don’t work so that women will get pregnant and have abortions. At Planned Parenthood. Which is a HUGE moneymaker for them, being 3% of all services, after all. They also believe that condoms actually help transmit disease and do not effectively prevent conception, thus being directly responsible for abortions.

        But these very same methods are “evil” because they destroy a woman’s fertility and don’t allow her to get pregnant while NFP is ok because it allows you to be open to life?

        Of course, their definition of “open to life” changes every single time they reply. One minute it’s because of intention. Then it’s the actual altering of the sex act. Then it’s the fact that it alters a woman’s body while NFP doesn’t…. It’s like a rotating door of excuses.

      • Christine

        Call me cynical, but do they actually believe that sort of nonsense, or do they just say it because they hope to convince others to stop using condoms?

        And I’ve always seen the issues of being open to life, ordered vs disordered sex (not sure how else to describe the insistence on PIV) and hormonal alteration of a woman’s cycle to be three different arguments. Mainly that the open to life is used to support the idea that it’s disordered to do anything other than PIV and the hormonal cycle is a “see, look at the bad things that happen if you don’t do what’s right”.

      • LL

        There are some who truly believe this, but I think (hope) it’s pretty rare. I’ve been searching for the blog of one particular nun I used to read that wrote nothing but this sort of garbage. I haven’t been able to find it today, but it was extraordinary! As a matter of fact, I think she had even posted some sort of movie on this. Man, I hope I’m not making that up and that I find it :D. If I recall correctly (and I might not) Ratzinger himself claimed that condoms did not work and/or actively spread disease. But I need to look further into that. I will post when and if I find the information.
        I actually feel that each individual tends to look at it in their own way, but I don’t really see them as being totally separate. I don’t think most NFP Catholics do, either. I mean, isn’t the foundation of the “being open to life” argument dependent on PIV sex? In other words, “ordered” sex is required to be “open to life” and any kind of “disordered” sex renders one not “open to life.” Somewhere on these two blog posts, somebody was claiming that altering the act (or body) through the use of contraception is what made that sex immoral. They certainly weren’t arguing that contraception was bad simply because the hormones may mess up a woman’s cycle and they’re oh-so-concerned about the poor woman. They were explicitly stating that it rendered the sex act immoral (or “disordered”) through alteration of the body (or sex act). So, no, I don’t think these issues can be separate (unless it suits them).

      • Christine

        Oh, I agree that they’re all intertwined. But I don’t think that any of those are supposed to be the definition of “open to life”. That said, if it was explained what “open to life” meant it would be easier to figure that out one way or the other.

      • LL

        I think that is true :).

  • Niemand

    Off topic: You saw the Salvadoran supreme court ruling on Beatriz? They basically said “let her die”. So much for religion making people more moral. It seems it just gives them an excuse for their immorality.

    • LL

      Are any Catholic bloggers addressing this? I seem to think they completely ignored Savita’s death, and I’m wondering if they will do the same here. Just shrug it off as having nothing to do with them.

      This story made me cry a lot. We nearly lost my mother when we were kids to an ectopic pregnancy and she nearly died after giving birth to both of us, so this one just touched me a lot.

      • Niemand

        As far as I know, they are entirely silent on this issue.