Memory vs. Hobby Lobby: Evangelicals and contraception and why Denny Burk is not a conservative

In a post discussing her “Religious hopes for 2013,” Carol Howard Merritt struggles to reconcile what white evangelicals are saying today about contraception with what they were saying until just a few years ago:

Growing up as a teen in a conservative Christian culture, I read Passion and Purity. I was advised to take the pill for medical reasons and refused because I thought it would make sex more tempting. I also thought that using a condom would be like premeditated sin, because you would have to have to buy them beforehand and plan on having sex. But there was no sense that birth control was somehow tied to abortion.

This is a radical act, the act of remembering when the powers that be are telling you not to. Merritt remembers what evangelicals taught when she was a teenager and she remembers that it was the opposite of what evangelicals are teaching and saying and fighting legal battles over today.

But even though Merritt isn’t old, and her teenage years weren’t that long ago, one still doesn’t have to remember back that far to remember a time when what evangelicals thought and taught about contraception was very different from the position they claim in their current political war against health care.

You only have to remember the Bush administration. Not Bush 41, Bush 43. Less than 10 years ago. If you can still remember the OutKast song “Hey Ya!” then you can still remember the days when the evangelical leaders disagreed with and disavowed the claims about contraception that they’re now fighting to defend in court.

And if you can remember all the way back to those bygone days, then you can not only remember when evangelicals were saying something different about contraception, you can understand why and how they changed. As Merritt writes:

The Religious Right took up the cause of birth control because the Roman Catholic Church is against birth control. Since the Religious Right evangelicals and some Catholics could join forces and become more powerful in their shared quest to defeat Barack Obama, then they decided to add birth control as an issue. We began to hear the pill referred to more as an “abortifacient.”

See, the Catholic bishops were able to make birth control into a point-scoring political issue because Catholic teaching prohibits all use of contraception. Protestants, including white evangelicals, had never found the Catholic argument against contraception persuasive, but then this argument wasn’t designed to be persuasive to Protestants. It’s a baroque and irreducibly Catholic argument. It doesn’t translate.

This presented a challenge for white evangelicals opposed to health care. If they were going to join the bishops in making contraception a political wedge-issue, then they would need some new pretext for their new position.

They might have easily pieced together such a pretext from the foundation of chastity and purity culture that Merritt recalls from her teenage years in evangelical youth groups. That might have been semi-plausible.

That purity argument, after all, provided the basis for white evangelicals’ political opposition to the HPV vaccine. The vaccine offers real health benefits for women — preventing cancer deaths — but for evangelicals, any such health benefits were outweighed by the theoretical potential of such a vaccine to turn women into slutty sluts who slutted around like, um, sluts.

White evangelical political operatives opposed the HPV vaccine because it works — because by effectively protecting women from a cancer-causing STI it removes one potentially lethal consequence of potential extramarital sex. Sure, that would save lives, but only the lives of sex-having women. And it would save those tarnished lives at the cost of making extramarital sex less risky and therefore, possibly, theoretically, semi-plausibly (if not at all actually) slightly increasing the possibility that more good Christian daughters might become sex-having women rather than saving their unspoiled virginity as a precious gift from father to husband.

Evangelical opposition to contraception on that basis would have been consistent with previous evangelical thinking and teaching about sex. It may be callous and inhuman in the way it elevates virginal purity above the health, safety and well-being of women. And it may be based on patriarchal assumptions about male control of daughters and wives that would have seemed horrifyingly backwards even in Jane Austen’s day. But it would have been compatible with other things those same evangelicals had previously argued. It would not have been a radical break that contradicted decades of previous, public, documented evangelical thought and teaching.

And let’s be very clear: the “abortifacient” nonsense now embraced as a political weapon by white evangelicals — the false claims about contraception being argued in court by Hobby Lobby, Liberty University and even Wheaton College — is just such a radical break and contradiction. It is both untrue, factually, and a stunning reversal from what those very same evangelicals were saying, teaching and believing publicly less than 10 years ago.

For purely political reasons — opposition to health care reform — white evangelical leaders chose to embrace a Catholic-like position against contraception. But, not being Catholic, they could not embrace the Catholic basis for that position. So instead they abruptly latched onto a long-discredited falsehood — a delirious, bogus theory that was once only the property of the American Life League and its cohorts on the gothic, lunatic fringes of the anti-abortion movement. “Contraception is abortifacient” the folks from ALL would shout, and evangelicals in the mainstream of the anti-abortion movement would roll their eyes. “You’re not helping,” evangelical pro-lifers would tell the folks promoting this abortifacient nonsense. “False claims and fabricated science and a misunderstanding of human biology are not good for the cause.”

But now, apparently, the cause has decided that such false claims and fabricated science and fractured biology might be politically useful. The bogus fringe theory is now mainstream. Not just Liberty University mainstream, but Wheaton College mainstream. It’s Hobby Lobby Appreciation Day mainstream.

Southern Baptist bishop Denny Burk posted a mendacious defense of Hobby Lobby’s anti-contraception stance, describing contraception as “chemical abortions.” Burk doesn’t care that this is not true. Nor do the more than 102,000 (!) evangelicals who “liked” Burk’s post on Facebook seem to care that this is a lie and that it contradicts what he and they all believed about contraception just a few years ago. What evangelicals very recently knew to be a lie is now the mainstream, semi-official evangelical view.

This is a radical change. And even more radical — and very, very dangerous — is the pretense that it’s not a change. The audacious and frightening aspect of all of this is that Burk and Hobby Lobby and Wheaton seem to have convinced thousands of their fellow evangelicals to abolish their own memory of what they were all saying and teaching and believing just a few years ago.

Not history, mind you. Not tradition. Not the sort of thing that anyone needs to research or to dig up in musty archives somewhere. We’re talking about recent, living, personal memory.

That’s downright creepy.

Burk and the Hobby Lobbyists and the others all describe themselves as “conservative,” but there is nothing conservative about this denial of memory.

I don’t mean that they’re not conservative because they’ve changed their position. Anyone is allowed to do that, even conservatives who are normally averse to change.

But these folks aren’t just trying to change their position, they’re trying to change the past. Progressives like me seek to make changes from the past. Conservatives might resist such changes, or might seek changes in order to make the present more like the past.

But trying to change the past itself — to abolish or rewrite memory — is neither progressive nor conservative. I’m not sure what to call it. “Orwellian” would seem to fit, since exactly this was Winston Smith’s job in 1984. “Romneyesque” might also seem apt.*

Consider what this all means for those evangelicals trying to follow these radically anti-conservative leaders. Contraception is “chemical abortion,” they say, although science and human anatomy tell us this is not at all true. So these leaders are not bound by facts. We have all always opposed the chemical abortion of contraception, they say, although your own memory and theirs both recall that this is not at all true. So these leaders are not bound by memory.

What does it mean to follow leaders who are not bound by fact or memory?

It means that they might tell you anything — absolutely anything — and expect you to follow along.

You may wake up tomorrow only to learn that all right-thinking evangelicals now believe in transubstantiation.

But wait, you’ll protest, we’re evangelicals — most of us are not even sacramental, this is a contradiction of what evangelicals used to believe. And they will tell you that evangelicals have always believed in transubstantiation, that the fries and Coke we consume at the Eucharist literally become the body and blood of Christ. You’ll start to say something about bread and wine, but they’ll cut you off, reminding you that evangelicals have always believed that the Last Supper was fries and Coke, and that anyone who doesn’t agree with that isn’t really a true evangelical or a good conservative.

Absurd? Sure. But once you rule out all regard for fact and memory, then there’s no avoiding the absurd. If evangelicals let their leaders get away with this “abortifacient” lie and with the Orwellian pretense that it’s not a contradiction of their past teaching, then those leaders can get away with anything.

And they probably will. These folks have already demonstrated that if they see some potential political gain to be had from saying anything, then they’ll say it. Even if they know it’s not true. And even if saying it requires them to contradict what they themselves used to teach.

We can’t expect them to stop because of facts or because of memory or because of truth in any other form. The only hope is that eventually they’ll realize that this particular political lie isn’t working well and that it’s time to move on to the next one.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* What this attempt at revisionist memory really reminds me of is the Omphalos hypothesis — the “apparent age” variation of young-earth creationism sometimes mocked as “Last Thursday-ism.”

Omphalos means belly-button. According to this theory, Adam was created by God as a fully grown man — complete with a belly-button despite never having been born. So too, the theory says, the universe was created fully grown. It was actually created only 6,000 years ago, but created in such a way that it appears to be billions of years old.

The Omphalos theory has the virtue of being irrefutable. By claiming that what is apparent can tell us nothing about what is, it defies the very possibility of counter-evidence. By the same reasoning, though, it can provide no evidence for its claim that the universe is “really” 6,000 years old and not, instead, actually only 6,000 minutes old, or even just six seconds old.

You may think you have memories of a time before six seconds ago, but those memories — like Adam’s belly-button — might have been created six seconds ago along with the rest of your apparently older-than-six-seconds body, the semi-digested breakfast in your stomach, and the light from distant galaxies already reaching our brand-new, but 4.5-billion-year-old seeming planet.

The flexibility, unreality and unreliability of fact and memory that the Omphalos theory encourages is quite similar to the denial of fact and memory now being advocated by evangelicals suddenly claiming that contraception is “chemical abortion.”

So I suppose my question is this: Does Denny Burk have a belly-button?

I’d guess not. But please, please do not send any shirtless photos confirming or denying this.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Meta on the malleability of historical memory, on the personal and institutional level.

    It wasn’t so long ago that founding myths of the USA such as “George Washington chopped down the cherry tree” were woven into the national consciousness and were cited as fact and not as stories.

    And in terms of more recent events, I’ve heard of people who in all honesty tell you they were using such-and-such a thing years before its use was widespread.

    It is surprising how subjective memory can get, and this is why it’s so important to remind ourselves and others of what the actual event(s) are or were.

    As one example of a consequence of this, it goes back to the incredible inertia against a mass movement to reinstate 1950s taxation levels in the USA: even people who remember that era can’t make the personal connection to the high tax rates on the rich because the majority of those who lived in that era simply took it as a fact of life and not as a necessary social equalization tool.

  • frazer

    Isn’t the crux of the matter whether fertilization or implementation is considered the start of pregnancy?  I just took a quick look at Wikipedia, and it seems like both views have had adherents in the past.

  • Launcifer

    Weird thing: I’m now wondering when the people at the helm will just start forcing their fellow adherents to take Voight-Kampff tests and read the results in reverse. If the test subjects show any emotional response to questions about relatively recent social and political stances supported by senior members of their subculture, then they fail and are therefore not real true whatevers. And possibly replicants.  

    ‘Course, I’ve probably just given someone an idea. Whoops.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    No. No it’s not. Because birth control doesn’t prevent implantation. Which has been explained at least once on each of the 35849270965 threads on this matter.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “The Religious Right took up the cause of birth control because the Roman Catholic Church is against birth control. Since the Religious Right evangelicals and some Catholics could join forces and become more powerful in their shared quest to defeat Barack Obama, ”

    Ring-a-ding-ding.  But no worries.  As long as it presents the Religious Right coalition in whatever form as heroic underdogs single-handedly rescuing corrupt modernity from itself then it’s still true. 

    As an aside; every first-born child in my Catholic family’s own generation was a premarital accident.  Every branch.  All of us.

  • AndrewSshi

    What I’m interested in seeing is what happens to evangelical families who are perfectly happy with 2/3 kids, thanks very much. Condoms? Pop out the first two and then a vasectomy?

    Or will they follow the route that Roman Catholic laity do of quietly disregarding the institutional Church’s proscription of birth control?

  • Magic_Cracker

    The Omphalos theory sounds like something from a Philip K. Dick story, a sequel to “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” wherein we learn that the REKAL in really a front for godlike trans-dimensional aliens who created the universe 6 seconds before you started reading the story.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

     Isn’t the crux of the matter whether fertilization or implementation is considered the start of pregnancy?

    I assume you mean implantation as the second option.  The thing is, there’s no evidence that birth control prevents fertilized eggs from implanting.  So either no egg is released to get fertilized due to the birth control working or an egg gets released in spite of birth control and has the same chance of fertilization and subsequent implantation as an egg being released because no birth control was used.

    While this source primarily deals with emergency contraceptives (i.e. “morning after pills”), it’s my understanding that the same holds true of other contraceptives as well.

    As such, I don’t see how the argument about whether pregnancy starts as fertilization or implantation is relevant.

  • Carstonio

    What is exactly the Catholic basis for the opposition to contraception (the tl;dr version) and what are the theological reasons that evangelicals would normally disagree with the basis?

  • frazer

    I understand that the medical community defines pregnancy as beginning with implementation, and I’m fine with that.  And I understand that the evangelical position on this has not been consistent. The point I was making was that there have historically been differing definitions of when pregnancy begins. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beginning_of_pregnancy_controversy 
     And, apparently, IUDs can prevent implementation of a fertilized egg, the 35849270965 posts notwithstanding. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/americans-get-reacquainted-with-iuds/

    To be clear:  I’m pro-choice, and I’m glad the ACA includes birth control in its health care requirements.  I don’t support Hobby Lobby’s position.  I’m just trying to get the fullest understanding of the context of this controversy. Peace.

  • fredgiblet

    I think we have a problem here in America, not just with the Right, of memories getting dangerously short.  Combine that with the resistance to evidence that develops once an idea takes root and we are facing some serious issues.

  • Ashley P

    As an alumnus of Wheaton, I was shocked and horrified that my alma mater would tread these (ridiculous) political waters. I wrote a letter to President Ryken detailing my anger and don’t plan to donate to the college until they change course.

  • Mark Z.

    What is exactly the Catholic basis for the opposition to contraception (the tl;dr version)

    That disabling a natural function of your body shows contempt for your body, and thus is Gnostic.

    and what are the theological reasons that evangelicals would normally disagree with the basis?

    Because evangelicals are totally fine with Gnosticism.

  • LL

    Stupidity.  Stupidity is the context. 

  • Sunday Shopper

    In my memory of the mid-80s, back when Hobby Lobby was just an arts and crafts supply store and not the flagship of the religious-right retail movement, Hobby Lobby was open on Sundays. Presumably its founder (not his son, who runs the joint now) understood that his staff could go to church and still get to work by 1, which is when most stores down here in Hobby Lobby Land used to open on Sundays.  I suppose I could be misremembering this, and that those quiet days I remember were just Saturdays that felt like Sundays. But I could swear I remember times in college when I went there to get last-minute art supplies for a project that was due on Monday. Does anybody else remember shopping there on Sunday? And also, what do you think is really behind the Sunday closing? Because I’m pretty sure it’s not really so that staff can go to church with their families.

    In any event, I quit shopping there last year sometime, when I got fed up with the annoying music and the surly employees (hey, I’d be surly too if I worked for Hobby Lobby, but their employees are so consistently hostile that I have to think it’s a corporate mandate) and the cheap crap (all made overseas for Hobby Lobby; you’d think that if they *really* cared about their community, as they say they do, they’d make sure their crap was made in the good ol’ U.S. of A. instead of outsourcing it all over the world. Globalization is evil, after all… unless it helps you turn a buck on a resin garden plaque with a Bible verse on it).

  • Carstonio

     (looking up Gnosticism) Salvation by knowledge? I could see why both Catholicism and evangelicalism would regard that as another version of salvation by faith, although this may be misreading.

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    We have always been at war with Eastasia, right?

    Doublethink at its finest.

  • The_L1985

    I can pretty much quote Humanae Vitae on this one.  Sex is supposed to be “unitive and procreative.”  Birth control means you’re not allowing for the possibility of making babies and is therefore Wrong.  A physical barrier (like a condom) would somehow prevent the sex from being an intimate union* and is thus Wrong for that reason as well.

    The Vatican is also officially against any form of non-PIV sex as anything other than foreplay–things have to end in a way that could possibly make the woman pregnant, or it’s Wrong.  This is why NFP is pushed so enthusiastically by some Catholics–it’s literally the only form of birth control that the Vatican allows.

    Protestants normally disagree with this because it was put forward by a Pope, and is thus crazy Catholic stuff that no RTC ought to have any truck with.

    * I still don’t understand the logic here.  It’s pretty much impossible to have sex without a good portion of your bodies touching–how is covering a few inches here or there supposed to be that big of a difference?

  • Chrissl

     I’ve been hearing that the Newest Thing in IUDs is a type that releases a small dose of hormones. Drawbacks: it needs to be replaced periodically (once a year I believe) and requires a doctor’s appointment ($$) to install, so not everyone can afford it. Pros: not only does it alter cervical mucus to prevent fertilization, for many women it also suppresses ovulation and *virtually eliminates* or greatly diminishes monthly bleeding.

    (sarcasm)But of course, we can’t have THAT because everyone knows that women have a deep, primeval NEED to menstruate.(/sarcasm)

  • Antigone10

    Catholic position seems to be that if you are not open to new life, you don’t actually love the person you are having sex with.

    I’m not kidding.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/12/why-are-catholics-still-whining-about-the-hhs-mandate.html#comment-758128111

  • P J Evans

    I still don’t understand the logic here.
    I think the logic is that it prevents pregnancy,which is a sin or something (if you think that the world needs more peasants, which is the only way I can justify it).

  • Becca Stareyes

    But the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t condemn post-menopausal sex AFAIK, which has even less chance of conception than heterosexual PIV sex while the woman is on oral contraceptives.  (And for that matter, aren’t NFP methods designed to avoid having sex during times when conception is likely?  Is it just allowable because there’s a high enough error rate to make the priests happy it isn’t thwarting God’s will, or because it works around female fertility, rather than trying to halt it?) 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    It, along with painful childbirth, is their punishment for original sin. (This is actually what fundy Christians believe).

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    Fair enough.  And if Catholics and evangelicals only opposed IUD’s, I’d actually find their position slightly more believable(*).  But they are not.  They are opposing all forms of birth control and are using arguments that are severely misinformed or intentionally dishonest about the other forms of birth control.

    (*)  Only slightly, because as Libby Anne has pointed out on more than one post lately, their callousness toward the massive number of zygotes that fail to implant even when IUD’s are not involved demonstrates the even bigger inconsistencies in their position.

  • Lunch Meat

    WOW. From that link:

    When a couple has sex while using contraception, they are telling each
    other, “I like you enough to have sex with you right now, but I don’t
    love you enough to risk having children with you.” The “romantic love”
    you espouse, when paired with contraception, is love with specific
    limitations, which therefore is not really love at all.

    I can play this game too! When
    a couple has sex without one of each of their feet tied to the detonator of a
    bomb, they are telling each other, “I like you enough to have sex with
    you, but I don’t love you enough to risk being blown up with you.” After
    all, love with specific limitations is not really love at all.

  • Lunch Meat

    But the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t condemn post-menopausal sex AFAIK,
    which has even less chance of conception than heterosexual PIV sex while
    the woman is on oral contraceptives.  (And for that matter, aren’t NFP
    methods designed to avoid having sex during times when conception is
    likely?  Is it just allowable because there’s a high enough error rate
    to make the priests happy it isn’t thwarting God’s will, or because it
    works around female fertility, rather than trying to halt it?)

    I have brought this up many, many times, and no one has ever been able to tell me exactly what “having sex while open to new life” means. If it means there has to be a possibility of conceiving, having sex when you know for a fact you can’t conceive (during or near the woman’s period) is out and post-menopausal and infertile people shouldn’t be allowed to have sex.

    If it means that the people having sex have to want kids, then the rhythm method is out, as is anyone who doesn’t pay attention to their cycle but is merely hoping to not have kids. However, anyone who is on birth control because they desperately want kids but know their bodies can’t conceive and bring to term a healthy baby (history of miscarriages or the like) or know they aren’t ready either financially or emotionally should be just fine.

    If it means that you can’t try not to have kids, then again the rhythm method is out.

    If it means that you should trust God to do what God wants with your womb, then saving money is out because we should all give it to the poor and trust God to take care of us. So is pretty much any kind of planning for or trying to affect the future.

  • Anton_Mates

     Hmm.  And when a couple has sex without contraception, they’re telling each other,  “I like you enough to have sex with you, but I don’t love you enough to risk damnation or the disapproval of my co-religionists.”  This works for everything!

  • Kiba

    White evangelical political operatives opposed the HPV vaccine because it works — because by effectively protecting women from a cancer-causing STI it removes one potentially lethal consequence of potential extramarital sex. Sure, that would save lives, but only the lives of sex-having women

    See, I don’t understand this stuff at all. Marriage doesn’t magically make HPV go away. Just because you are have sex within marriage doesn’t mean that you are now no longer at risk of getting the disease. 

    And for people that are interested in learning more about HPV: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm

  • Kiba

    From the Vatican Archives:

    Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:159

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     At the moment, their interest doesn’t seem to be in banning contraception, just making sure women have to pay out-of-pocket for it. Those traditional heterosexual married couples with their 2.5 children and a minivan can (many of them) afford that — the woman can just get money from her owner husband, who will grant it or refuse it based on whether or not he wants more children. And, of course, she won’t be working anyway, so it’ll be on his insurance.

    What Hobby Lobby’s trying to do is targeted toward single women, toward poor women, (and toward women whose medical needs are more serious than the typical case, but I think that’s more of a “You can’t make an omlet without hurting a few women,” thing where they don’t see the harm it does as being enough to sacrifice their position of dominance);  like all good aristocrats, they’re much more concerned about controlling the lives of the proles than about interfering with what Real True People With Money do.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    No.  According to some proposed laws, at least one of which I think may have passed, pregnancy begins before sex takes place.  Read that as many times as it takes and let it sink in.

    Life is considered to begin at the woman’s last period before conception.

    -

    I’m waiting for someone who believes that to realize that that would mean that abstinence is a form of abortion.  I’m not sure what they’ll say at that point, but I’m sure it’ll be convoluted.

    -

    Anyway, the arguments being made are so divorced from the reality of human biology that it makes no sense to consider them to be about human biology at all.  The crux of the matter is not to be found in human biology.

  • Cathy W

    What I’ve been told is that  NFP is okay because you’re not actively obligated to conceive a child – you can abstain from sex for any reason you choose, including “I am not open to new life at the moment”, so long as when you actually do have sex you accept the possibility of pregnancy. Playing the odds still seems a little like cheating to me, and likewise it’s very, very easy to be “open to the possibility of life” if it would take an actual act of God for you to conceive a child…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     @e8bcae4bd2d76c8ce1e733edabaca1e1:disqus :

    Isn’t the crux of the matter whether fertilization or implementation is
    considered the start of pregnancy?  I just took a quick look at
    Wikipedia, and it seems like both views have had adherents in the past.

    No. If you believe pregnancy starts at fertilization, then emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. If you believe pregnancy starts at implantation, then emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. Emergency contraception has no effect if taken after fertilization takes place.

    There is no debate among medical professionals about when pregnancy begins. It begins at implantation. The exact moment of fertilization can not be determined via any medical process during natural conception (If you’re doing it in vitro, you can just, y’know, watch).  This is, incidentally, the definition pro-lifers implicitly use when they base late-term abortion bans on the woman’s menstrual cycle — they are  counting the start of pregnancy the same way OBGYNs do, a count which assumes pregnancy starts at implantation.

    People who are not medical professionals have used other definitions historically, but no actual debate can date back more than about a hundred and fifty years, since fertilization was discovered in the 19th century.

  • Cathy W

    Actually “the last period before conception” is how OB/GYNs have been dating pregnancy from time immemorial. This threw me for a loop when I went for my first prenatal appointment, years ago…

    …and calling it “life” at that point is new.

  • Lunch Meat

    These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.

    I don’t get it. I don’t see how taking a medication doesn’t respect my body. I don’t see how it doesn’t encourage tenderness to know that I can start kissing my husband any time of the month and I don’t have to worry about denying each other if we start wanting more. And I have the feeling that “authentic freedom” is just code for “true freedom means doing what I tell you.” (Shift the Ape/C. S. Lewis)

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving
    of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an
    objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself
    totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be
    open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal
    love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality

    How does whether or not I can have a child have anything to do with what I’m giving to my husband? How does it have anything to do with what he’s giving to me? What is being given? What is being held back?

    Personally, I think distraction, worry and fear about getting pregnant contribute to holding myself back from total reciprocity.

    (I know you’re just citing this, not actually defending it as an argument; I’m just saying that I still don’t think it makes sense.)

  • The_L1985

     That was the thing about reading Carrie, especially the interactions with her mother–it was just off-the-wall enough that part of me was thinking “Come on, nobody could really believe that about periods,” and just close enough to what real fundamentalists assert that it was really, really hard to not believe it.

  • Carstonio

    In fairness, that “definition” of life was probably created as a fail-safe guesstimate, although one that conveniently allows for very broad restrictions on women’s sexuality.

  • The_L1985

     So in other words, I wasn’t remembering it wrong, just incompletely.  Yuck.

  • Lunch Meat

    What I’ve been told is that  NFP is okay because you’re not actively
    obligated to conceive a child – you can abstain from sex for any reason
    you choose, including “I am not open to new life at the moment”, so long
    as when you actually do have sex you accept the possibility of
    pregnancy. Playing the odds still seems a little like cheating to me,
    and likewise it’s very, very easy to be “open to the possibility of life” if it would take an actual act of God for you to conceive a
    child…

    More and more I just feel like this is just circular reasoning. You can hate life as much as you want as long as during the actual time you are having sex you are “open” to it, and “openness” is not an intention nor a feeling nor a physical state but simply the absence of artificial contraceptives. Lack of contraceptives equals openness equals lack of contraceptives.

  • The_L1985

     And before that, even though you knew you were probably pregnant when you started missing your cycle, medically, you were only considered pregnant after “quickening,” i.e., when you could feel the baby kick.

    Miscarriage during early pregnancy was common enough that there wasn’t much point in announcing your pregnancy before that, after all.  This also had the effect that herbal abortions weren’t considered wrong, because women always took them during what we would now consider the first trimester.  The idea of the immorality of abortion is a relatively new one, and wouldn’t even be an issue without modern medicine which allows surgical abortions in the first place.

  • Carstonio

     Yes. The legislation sounds like it was drafted by someone with a faint familiarity with that dating but a disinterest in the reasoning for it. We don’t have the means to detect when fertilization or implementation takes place, and if your agenda treats women’s sexuality as shameful, naturally you’re going to favor a definition that restricts it to your advantage.

  • Mark Z.

    And when they have sex and don’t post a video of it to the Internet, they’re saying “I like you enough to have sex with you, but I don’t love you enough to let everyone in the world watch.”

    This is fun!

  • Kiba

    See, I don’t get it either and I used to be Catholic. Also this same argument if often used to tell me why, as a gay man, I’m supposed to be celibate for my entire life along with the “natural law” bullshit. It makes no sense whatsoever and I’ve tried to understand their point of view, really I have, but it just doesn’t make any logical sense to me.

  • Tricksterson

    Or Terry Pratchett’s Strata where humans create planets complete with fossils

    Spoiler Warning

    Eventually it’s revealed that the entire universe was created like this by godlike aliens.

  • ReverendRef

    Southern Baptist bishop . . . As a lifelong Episcopalian, I am really having a hard time wrapping my head around these three words being used together.

    @Carstonio:disqus
    (looking up Gnosticism) Salvation by knowledge? — It’ actually salvation through secret knowledge.  That’s why the gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, et al were rejected by the Church – because they all espoused a secret knowledge that was to be given only to a select few; as opposed to the canonical gospels and epistles where nothing is secret and is meant to tell all people (evangelism).

    This whole thing with birth control is really asinine.  “OMG – we can’t allow our people to use contraceptives because it stops the natural cycle/prevents for the possibility of children/keeps God out of the equation” or whatever other argument/histrionics you want to use.

    Um . . . excuse me . . . but how little faith do you have in God that a flimsy piece of rubber, a pill or other device is able to keep the powers of God Almighty at bay?  Really?

    God allowed Sarah to become pregnant, even though she was well past child-bearing years.  And, when talking about this, Paul said, “He (Abraham) did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead . . .”*
    Furthermore, God actually got upset when Abraham and Sarah tried to go about this on their own when Sarah present Hagar to Abraham.

    God helped Hannah, a barren woman, become pregnant.

    God helped Zechariah and Elizabeth, no spring chickens there, become parents to John.

    For heaven’s sake — God helped a VIRGIN become pregnant!!!**

    To think that our little rubbers, pills and other devices are more powerful than God really is heretical.  Funny how they don’t seem to have a problem with helping God GET women pregnant.  You either take the position of “God’s will,” or you take the position that we are more powerful than God.

    I need to stop now.

    * I heard a famous preacher once describe this as, “That means he couldn’t get it up.”

    ** And, yes, I know about the issues some people have with God rape or whatever, but the point here isn’t God requiring a virgin, the point here is that God can do anything God pleases in Scripture with relation to having kids.

  • Lliira

     A whole lot of the people who were adults in the 50s are dead, too. My grandparents certainly took the high levels of taxation then as a necessary social equalization tool. (Unrelated, my maternal grandmother also said anyone who idealized the 50s hadn’t lived through them. She said they were the worst decade of her life to be female in.)

  • Lliira

     The crux of the matter is that apparently you and a lot of other people missed high school biology.

  • Lunch Meat

    I know. I just wish I could get someone to explain it to me simply, as if I’ve never heard any of it before, without using fancy theological terms and concepts. What is “personal totality”? What is “reciprocal self-giving”? What is “authentic freedom”? Even “conjugal loving.” I know what all these words mean by themselves, but I have a feeling that when I put them together, what I’m thinking is not anything close to what they’re intending.

  • Lliira

    I’m going to bypass the evil absurdity of “you don’ t love your husband if you won’t risk your life for his orgasm”, and go straight to — so? So what if you’re not in love with the person you have sex with? Are both/all of you enthusiastically consenting to what you’re doing? Good then. Love is a red herring. And it is SO no one else’s business.

  • Lliira

    Life is considered to begin at the woman’s last period before conception.

    Wait…

    So I’ve technically had as many abortions/miscarriages as I have had periods? So wouldn’t avoiding ovulating be a GOOD thing, in that case, as I would not flush a life down the toilet every month?

    Oh never mind. These assholes will say anything they can in order to punish women for being women.


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