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.


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  • Lliira

    Someone recently told me that she and her husband’s sex life became so much better after they started having anal sex, as she finds it far more satisfying than piv sex. (This is not a rare thing, lots of women prefer anal to vaginal penetration, and I’d guess part of the reason is there is no latent fear of pregnancy.) She’s Christian, and she said that it was horrible that so many Christian leaders teach that this wonderful, satisfying, loving thing was a sin.

    It’s not about love, it’s not about life, and it’s not about spirituality. It’s about controlling women’s bodies. That is all.

  • The Catholic position is that sex has two functions the unitive and the procreative and that these two should not be intentionally artificially severed. (Intentionality and artificialness are key here – you can still have sex even if you’re infertile even if the infertility is chemical as long as it’s a side-effect (say because you had chemotherapy) and not the intended effect of the therapy. I think someone said here a while back that for Catholicism intent really is magic. That’s not really fair (fundamental optionism is a heresy after all) but it is very important).

    A position which not only leads to the ban on contraception but also the ban on IVF since conceiving via IVF is considered to be having sex without the unitive function. Oh and if you use a donor egg or sperm that’s adultery (or extra marital sex if you’re unmarried) as well.

    It’s pretty brain breaking to think about really.

  • LL

    It is amusing to see people trying to figure out religious objections to birth control using logic or biblical, scholarly rationales. 

    There’s no logic there. It’s like trying to figure out why babies put everything they find in their mouths. 

    Because they can. That’s it. 

    If you want something like a definitive answer, it’s because religion wants to control every aspect of people’s lives. There’s the only “logic.” They have to control everything, or risk controlling nothing. 

  • P J Evans

    It would have been interesting to get her and my mother together. I don’t think there would have been fireworks, though. (I have to say that after the third kid in four years, my father got himself fixed.)

  • The_L1985

     Of course you’re supposed to be celibate!  After all, it means that precious babymaking essence of yours is ending up in the sheets instead of another man’s body!

    …Which is better, somehow, apparently.

  • The_L1985

    In many parts of the U.S., they don’t teach human reproduction as part of high school biology.

    …You know what?  I could probably have ended that sentence at “teach.”

  • Kiba

    …Which is better, somehow, apparently.

    They have that covered. Evidently it isn’t a sin because you are asleep and therefor have no control over yourself. 

  • Marta L.

    Catholics –at least the theologians/philosophers if not necessarily Catholic laypersons– point to natural law. The basic idea is that when God created everything He had a goal in mind for how it would be used. This includes semen. Semen’s telos (final purpose) is to create new humans, so if you purposefully do anything that leads to ejaculation, but where you know procreation is impossible, that’s what natural law would call unnatural. It’s like using a shoe’s heel to pound in a hammer: it may bet the job done, but you’re using the shoe for something other than its designer intended.

    When you throw God into the picture (per Aquinas), this kind of use isn’t just unnatural, it’s immoral. This is because for me to use something unnaturally I have to replace how God intended the thing to be used with how I intend the thing to be used. This in essence makes me more important than God, which is sinful (and so evil). So if you have sex while wearing a condom or with a woman who’s on the pill, you’re initiating a set of events you know will lead to ejaculation, but where that ejaculation can’t lead to conception. You’re basically taking the purpose God gave sperm when he created it and overwriting that with your own intent (sperm is now involved in sexual pleasure for its own sake rather than for contraception). This would mean it’s immoral even if it didn’t abort a fetus; it would still be putting your own sexual pleasure over God’s designs for how sperm would be used.

    To be fair, this line of thought criticizes a lot more than contraception. Sex between infertile people would also seem to be out of line, as well as anything other than vaginal sex that leads you to ejaculate. I think the Vatican has an argument for why sex is okay past menopause, but I’m not familiar enough with it to offer a gloss of it.

  • So, twenty years ago when medical science (iirc my HS bio correctly) was saying maybe, possibly, in some cases HBC might prevent implantation and evangelicals were ok with HBC. But now that medical science says there’s no evidence that HBC actually has any effect after fertilization, evangelicals are crying abortifacient? Got it.

  • I think we’ve been over this before, but, as briefly as I can manage, Catholic theology holds that  sex is meant to serve several purposes (I think it’s four. Strenghtening the matrimonial bond; an expression of love; conceiving children; I’m not sure what the fourth is but it might actually be “fun”). It’s okay if any particular bit of sex you have fails to meet all of those purposes, but, says their Aristotle-steeped medieval philosophy, it is wrong or “disordered” to actively and deliberately avoid serving those purposes in a sex act. (Note the specificity in that — it is not immoral per se  to avoid serving those purposes by not having sex. Which is why periodic abstinence is an acceptable method of family planning: you’re not “trying to avoid procreation while having sex” — you’re trying to avoid procreation by *not* having sex)

  • The way I’ve heard it said is that Republicans want to live in the 1950s while Democrats want to work in the 1950s.

  • MaryKaye

    ” 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. ”

    Mostly true, though they are not new (the Mirena came out in 1990 and was not the first), and they need to be replaced every 5 years, not 1 year.  The hormone in question is a synthetic analog of progesterone.

    I have a Mirena.  It performs very much as described:  hardly any periods, maybe no ovulation (I used to get depressed at ovulation and that seems to have stopped).  Having it put in hurt a *lot* but on the balance I’m very pleased.  (Especially as I got it to keep me from bleeding to death, which is what I was busy doing, and it worked.)  I cannot take oral birth control due to an awful reaction to estrogen; Mirena is definitely the method of choice for me.  (Not all women tolerate it, though.)

    There is one more drawback, which is that you’re supposed to get it out by tugging on its little strings, but sometimes–as in my case–they can’t be found.  The taking-out process is therefore going to be nasty, though I’m told it’s still not as bad as the putting-in.  I hope to go through menopause before I would need another one!

    Wikipedia notes that women with and without Mirena underwent tubal flushing to detect fertilized eggs, and no fertilized eggs were found in women with Mirena; therefore it is believed to stop fertilization.  It does not stop ovulation in all women.  There is no evidence it stops implantation.

    I tell this story partly to add one extra bit of weight to “contraception is health care.”  It saved me from needing a hysterectomy.  This is not to downplay the point that avoiding pregnancy itself is, for many of us, an essential component of health care.

  • JD

    It’s called Mirena and has been around for roughly a decade. It needs to be replaced every 5 years. It works primarily by killing sperm and suppressing ovulation.

  • Gnosticism is an early Catholic heresy inspired by neoplatonism whose basic idea boils down to the idea that the creator-God was actually a different being from God the Father, who, by creating corporeal existence, did a Very Bad Thing, because Physical Existence sucks ass.  The next thousand years of Catholic theology evolved out of a rejection of gnostic dualism: the idea that the “real you” is an incorporeal soul , and the physical body is a gross, icky meat-prison to which we are all enslaved.

    Elements of gnosticism implicitly hung around in lay-theology pretty much to the present day, which is why the theologians obsess so much over rejecting it.

    To a certain extent, I think it may be true that, in rejecting the Catholic scholarly tradition, evangelical traditions did end up sucking up a lot of the residual elements of gnosticism — particularly the stuff about meat-bodies being icky and body-soul dualism.


    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

    Pretty much. There’s no mandate to be open to new life at all times, only when having sex. So if you’re not open to new life during the fertile days, it’s not only okay to abstain, it’s actually the Catholicly correct thing to do.   When you go to have sex, you say to yourself, “This might lead to a new life. Am I cool with that?” and if you say “No,” you don’t have sex. If you say “I think new life happening is unlikely because this is a Safe Week, but I am okay with it happening if it happens,” then you can go ahead with it.


    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.

    Which is when OBGYNs calculate the beginning of pregnancy.

    Y’know, the same ones who count implantation, not fertilization, as the beginning of pregnancy.

    Why, it’s almost as if they’re trying to have it both ways.

  • Hah, yes, you summed up the whole Gnosticism thing far more succinctly than I was going to, though I lost everything I’d written when I accidentally hit backspace while focus was off the text window.

    As I recall, a lot of the reason for Catholic rejection of the Gnostics wasn’t merely their divergent theologies, but the fact that the Gnostics carried their material-hostile dualism forward to anything they saw as trappings of the material world… and that included things like hierarchical power structures, which the early Church was busy turning itself into.

    So it wasn’t merely that you had two different sects taking each other on, it was that one of them (the Gnostics) considered the entire structure of the other (the Catholics) to be indicative of the whole fallen sickness of the world and completely antithetical to what Jesus taught. But the ones caught up in the trappings of the material prison were the ones with organization and power, so, uh, guess who lost out…

  • J_Enigma23

    If life begins at conception, then we need to arrest chimeric embryos for murder.

    If life begins at conception, and we award it the status of life and all of the rights, we need to either award corpses rights or take away our own after birth since we begin to die the minute we’re born, and thus, are already dead in the same way that a fetus is alive.

    If life begins at conception, then we need to punish babies that didn’t twin, since they selfishly live up to their full expectations by creating as many humans as possible. Furthermore, if they do twin, are they one life or two?

    And if God knew to award it two “souls” upon conception, that would mean God would know not to award a soul to a child that was going to be aborted. Or a child that would later grow up and get murdered. Thus, murder becomes completely legal since God knows it’s going to happen anyway, and wouldn’t give them souls, so that body didn’t have a soul, so your argument defeats itself.

  • Cathy W

    Yeah. Rosie the Riveter was supposed to go back home, change diapers, and mop floors, in the suburbs so there wasn’t even anything interesting to do without driving there. Can’t imagine why she might not have been really thrilled with that. 

  • @ReverendRef:disqus The whole “God can’t make you pregnant if you use a condom” thing is really far afield from the actual catholic teaching on the subject, which is more like “If you are so opposed to getting pregnant as to fiddle with your body chemistry to avoid it, you shouldn’t be having sex”, which is not really all that different in kind from “If you don’t like this person enough to marry them, you shouldn’t be having sex,” (Neither of which are in line with my sexual morality, but the latter is a fairly mainstream view among members of a number of religions and even a fair number of non-religious).

    That said,

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

    About three years ago, the woman who is now my wife and I were driving up from Baltimore to New Jersey to see her family, on Christmas Day when we passed a billboard put up by the Catholic church. It read: “Abstinence works  EVERY time”.I just stared at it until we were passed, and then turned to her and said, “Well. More or less


    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?

    It’s not that bad. You don’t actually become pregnant at your last period. When you become pregnant, the life is back-dated to your last period. You see, the human ovum is like a post-dated check.

  • Carstonio

    From your post and Marta’s, it would appear that the concept of purpose dominates the theology. Almost like Aristotle was reincarnated as Michael Behe. Natural law would seem to be anything that anyone wants it to be, because goals or purposes for natural objects amount to conjecture.

  • Speaking of. Bomb Girls, set during WW2 in Canada.

  • Antigone10

    I feel like arguing with people on the internet that I don’t love my husband is about as useful as declaring that fiction is valuable to a group of hard core money-ests.  It’s true, but I don’t really think that wasted pixels is going to help.

  • Antigone10

    I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do if I”m NEVER open to “new life” at least in the sense that I never want to have sex.

  • Makabit

    Which is when OBGYNs calculate the beginning of pregnancy.

    Which is when OBGYN’s start the count of forty weeks from, since your LMP is much easier to identify a date for than conception.

    If they appear to be off, they adjust the dates.

  • Pros: … *virtually eliminates* or greatly diminishes monthly bleeding.

    I would actually consider that a “con”. Not have a regular period FREAKS ME OUT.

  • smrnda

     All loving relationships come with limitations and conditions – honoring and respecting the limitations and conditions of your significant other is a big part of what ‘love’ is, whether it’s not setting an alarm super early and hitting the snooze button twenty times, how you fold the towels or whether or not you wear sweatpants with stains on them in public. Love is weighing and evaluating the things you have to do to meet the specific needs and desires of your partner, and sometimes that’s them not wanting to have a child right at the moment.

  • As I understand it, for some women they get such bad cramps during
    periods that taking The Pill is virtually a necessity to function,
    rather than an option.

    I hope the anti-Pill advocates realize what they’re contemplating consigning women to.

  • In that case, if you married catholic, then you lied during your vows and are in quite a lot of trouble.

    If you did not marry catholic then why do you care?

  • Sunday Shopper, I used to WORK Sundays at Hobby Lobby. That was in 1995. In 1996, the word came down we would close on Sundays. We were a once-car family and that cut me out of 5 hours of a paycheck. Of course, that was when the music was set to the classic rock& roll station.

  • The fringe groups among the Pro-Lifers have been anti birth-control since the mid 80s. I gave the older women of my church, who had embraced the idea that the Pill was an abortifacient, scientific fact-based hell. To the point my husband was asked to silence me or take me elsewhere like an ill-behave child.

  • arghous

    And Jesus took the carton, gave thanks, and broke a fry.

    ” The potato is my body given for you.  You are the salt of the earth; smack your lips in remembrance of me.”

    In the same way he took the 12-ounce cup.

    “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  Remember my Spirit through the tingle in your nose.”

    And the looked around, and added:

    “And don’t mess this up. I don’t want to hear of my church splitting up over whether the Coke needs to go flat or not.  And none of this one-cuppers business.  Everybody gets their own straw!”

  • I’m mainly taking the pill to deal with bad acne. But, as an added benefit, it also puts me at a much healthier weight, gets me more sleep, and pretty much helps my body to function properly.

    For those of us at the lower end of the estrogen range, being on the pill is really, really good for us.

  • P J Evans

    I hope the anti-Pill advocates realize what they’re contemplating consigning women to.

    Most of them are men, so it doesn’t affect them, and they don’t care about women not in their family.

  • Lliira

     My periods are so heavy that I cannot leave the house on the first day.

    I got off the pill because I don’t need it any longer to prevent pregnancy and it torpedoed my sex drive, but if I can find something that stops me bleeding like I’m about to die and being in so much pain I sometimes wish I would die, and does not kill my libido in the process, I will be on it like a shot. Never having a period again sounds like some part of heaven.

  • Lunch Meat

    It’s okay if any particular bit of sex you have fails to meet all of those purposes, but, says their Aristotle-steeped medieval philosophy, it is wrong or “disordered” to actively and deliberately avoid serving those purposes in a sex act. (Note the specificity in that — it is not immoral per se  to avoid serving those purposes by not having sex. Which is why periodic abstinence is an acceptable method of family planning: you’re not “trying to avoid procreation while having sex” — you’re trying to avoid procreation by *not* having sex)

    As a general rule, I try to avoid moral principles that are that specific. If the rule comes down to “you have to be okay with the possibility of children, but only when you’re actually having sex, and by “okay with it” we mean that you can’t have done anything artificial and intentional to prevent it,” that basically reduces down to “you can’t use contraception.” That’s not a principle, that’s a rule. That says to me that they’re reasoning from “contraception is bad” and trying to invent a rule that keeps out contraception but includes things like infertile people having sex, which they couldn’t get away with ruling against. I would like to see a principle that starts general and is applied more specifically. I, personally, would even be okay with something that came down to “God doesn’t like it because x” as long as x is a moral principle recognizable from other areas of Christianity.

  •  It is at least partially (as someone noted above) a reaction to Gnosticism.  Some Gnostic sects held that having fertile sex was a sin because it led to the danger of entrapping a pure spirit in material flesh. (And if we believe the early church fathers at least some of them had access to a lost form of contraception that actually worked as well as modern methods.)  Arguing about the purpose of sex was one of the ways gnosticism was attacked but once that argument gets divorced from that purpose you end up with a curiously specific rule that makes little sense.

  • 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.

    Yeah, but how can evangelicals stop these gatekeepers from getting away with saying the absurd untruths they claim to stand behind?  Public shaming of these figures only works within the context of the evangelical bubble, a bubble which they tightly control the boundaries of and are the dictators of who is in and who is “controversial”.  It is not like they hold electable office that evangelicals can see them booted from for saying ridiculous crap that undermines their competence and integrity.  

    To be an evangelical gatekeeper you need to be recognized as such by other evangelical gatekeepers, and those are the only voices that seem to have a factor in this.  If they are all marching in lock-step, what could evangelicals do to break their formation and get them to own up?

  • 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.”

    See, I have always had the opposite impression of the Omphalos theory.  By taking it into the territory of Plato’s Cave, we end up being able to separate two mutually views of the world into separate spheres in a person’s mind, ultimately freeing each view to flourish without clashing with the other.  One can then believe in the story of Genesis, but also treat the Earth as though it were billions of years old.  If God has taken the effort to put you in a simulation of reality where the attention to detail is so fine that it is completely indistinguishable from “reality”, then you might as well play the game God has set before you and let yourself be fully immersed in and appreciative of that Creation.  

    Though perhaps my rationalization is ill-founded.  I am not a believer in the story of Genesis (though I appreciate its story as that of a creation-myth) so I am probably starting from a different set of postulates than a more faithful person might.  

  • Sometimes a comment can start off as a joke and turn out to be surprisingly insightful. Something I’ve seen a couple of times in recent weeks has been like that for me when it comes to reactionary views of sex: If you assume that life begins at ejaculation, then a lot of strange ideas about birth control, fertility, and the like all fall into place.

    It relegates the woman to a supporting role, and emphasizes male power. It allows for dismissing anything the woman might do as abortion, once the new life – that is, the sperm – is inside her body.  Really, it covers a lot.

  • Not really. Frankly, I don’t see how the Catholic position on contraception is different in kind from, say, prohibitions against premarital sex. I think the only reason that folks look at the latter and say “I understand but respectfully disagree” but look at the former and say “THat’s nonsensical crazywhack” is because the one is a common belief among mainstream american protestantism, whereas the other is something “only those weird papists believe.”

  • Carstonio

    Since I know little about the theological differences, I would have assumed that the Catholic positions on sex were typical of most generically conservative varieties of Christianity. It’s easy for me to interpret all their teachings as sex for its own sake being sinful. I didn’t know that evangelicals hadn’t historically opposed contraception until Fred explained, because for a long time I didn’t know that evangelicalism and fundamentalism weren’t the same thing.

  • alfgifu

    I had serious cramps for years and avoided going on the pill, partly because the one trial period made me extremely nauseous for about three days, but mostly because the idea of eliminating the monthly bleeding freaked me out.

    Eight months ago, convenient birth control became more important to me than not being freaked out. I now have an under-the-skin implant that functions pretty much as this Mirana IUD is described, only without spermicide properties I imagine, nestled just under my left bicep.

    Let me tell you, life without bleeding is FANTASTIC. It was briefly disconcerting, and then – well, the only comparable thing I know of is having your eyes corrected with laser surgery. In both cases, a long-standing, low impact irritation that I hadn’t even realised I was experiencing vanished more or less overnight. Life is just a little bit easier all the time.

    Of course, YMMV. Also, I have the good fortune of living in the UK, so the process went something like:
    alfgifu: What are my contraceptive options?
    Doctor: Helpful and informative discussion, cheat-sheet provided.
    alfgifu: Ok, I like this one. How do I get hold of it?
    Doctor: Make an appointment with the nurse next week. Here are some supplementary pills to cover the intervening time.

    I appreciate that it is not so easy, or free, for many people. :(

  • Ann

    I’m totally late to this party, but this isn’t new.  When I was growing up in the 1980’s (I think Fred is a year or two older than me) there were people in my church who taught and believe this.  I think Fred overstates the case when he recalls that ” 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.”

    In my recollection they would be ignored.  Part was that it is rude to contradict folks (especially if this person is in leadership), part was because you didn’t want to be perceived to be on the side of fornicators.  But the sad results, especially when combined with the growing homeschool movement, was that more and more young kids were being taught about the horrors of “abortion pills” with no one to tell them the truth.  Remember this was the 1980’s, when there was no Plan B to confuse HBC with.

    I’d also like to remind folks about how they figured out there was a viral component to cervical cancer — they found it was more likely in the wives of men whose jobs were linked to infidelity, like traveling salesmen.  There’s no indication that the women were straying any more than other groups, they most likely were infected by the husbands they were faithful to.  The woman needs to be open and unprotected from anything her husband brings to the bed, apparently.  If he’s a dud, she chose badly but still needs to risk her life rather than take a prudent step before they ever meet.

    I can’t say for sure how much overlap there is among these groups, but it feels like some are against Gardasil because it protects against STDs so girls may have sex without consequence, but others are in favor of circumcision because it protects against STDs, and boys should be protected if they have sex.

  • The_L1985

     Because God could still make a miracle happen and temporarily reverse the menopause for some inscrutable reason.

    BTW, the Catholic Church does condemn any time a man chooses to ejaculate anywhere except his wife’s vagina.  This is clearly spelled out:  all other forms of sex are to be foreplay only, because the man has to finish up in the “right” place or it’s a sin.

  • The_L1985

     Ignore the Vatican.  Most Catholics do, anyway.

  • The_L1985

     Hi there!  I’m a woman who doesn’t miss being doubled over in pain and anemic enough to be bed-ridden for a day! :)

  •  I do wonder why contraception is automatically free in the UK though when (barring low income or certain medical conditions) all other medications have a charge of £7.65 per item.

    My best guess is it’s because they reckon giving it away saves them more money than it costs by reducing the amount they have to spend on female health problems overall (which is probably true).

    But it does go to show the difference in culture between the US and the UK.

  • P J Evans

     They’re now considering HPV shots for boys, too, because they apparently can get it too, with delayed bad effects.