Dialogue w Several Non-Catholics on Contraception

Dialogue w Several Non-Catholics on Contraception July 26, 2019

The following exchange took place with an Orthodox friend of mine (his words in blue):

As for the question of contraception. This is viewed as a pastoral matter.

Do you deny that Christians universally opposed contraception until 1930?


I would like to see this documented — if you are motivated to do that research.

And I deny that the Roman Church opposes it now — because NFP [Natural Family Planning] is a form of contraception. Since well done NFP is at least as effective as the use of condoms, how is it tying God’s hands any less? Condoms are not 100%, and so their use does not exclude the possibility of a conception nor tie God’s hands any more than NFP. I have a little brother who was conceived despite my parents use of condoms. Natural family planning is preferred, but this too is contraception, no matter what it is called — when properly understood and followed it can be as effective as any other means of contraception.

There is a clear moral distinction between NFP and contraceptives. It has nothing to do with “effectiveness” (abstinence is 100% effective, so is that a contraceptive act, too?). It has, on the other hand, everything to do with the will, an “anti-child mentality” and the separation of the unitive and procreative functions of marriage and sexuality. Contraception goes against natural law. NFP respects the natural order of things, especially when couples abstain during fertile periods for various reasons.

In fact, this is precisely the clarification which caused me to start opposing contraception — the first step in my conversion. To contracept is to willfully exclude the possibility of a conception and so “tie God’s hands,” so to speak. It is to go against natural law. Have you read Humanae Vitae or other orthodox Catholic material on this subject?

Spacing of children and limiting of children for good reasons are not contraception, according to Humanae Vitae and Catholic moral teaching. E.g., in our case, my wife has had three “problem” pregnancies, three miscarriages, post-partum depression, has a considerably difficult time coping with the stress of three very demanding children (mild autism and strong will), and is now almost 39 years old. We have one income also, which is relatively modest.

Thus, we have enough children on the basis of health, emotional and perhaps financial reasons. Our sin came in contracepting up until 1990 and starting our family too late. But NFP is not contraception. It is neither “anti-child” nor selfish for us to not have any further children.

Having said that though, I would hasten to add that not having children for selfish reasons is sinful. This was pointed out to me by my spiritual father while I was still a new convert. His admonition is why I now have two beautiful little girls.

Of course. This is the “contraceptive mentality” which is fostered by the widespread availability of contraception and the tolerance of it by Christians (including, sad to say, the Orthodox). Only Catholics have opposed it in the strongest terms in our sex-crazed era. And I found that fact compelling, along with many others in my quest for apostolic Christianity.

A pious Orthodox Christian abstains more than half of the liturgical year anyway — because the fasts (roughly 180 days a year) also include fasting from marital relations. As one Orthodox priest put it, the Orthodox don’t need contraception, we just need to keep the fasts. :)

Well then, the week-long abstinences of NFP ought to be easy work for you guys! :-) Why not be totally consistent on this score, and in line with unanimous Christian Tradition prior to 1930?

I fail to see how using condoms under such circumstances would be any more immoral.

Because it is a willful act of seeking to prevent a possible conception: a deliberate frustrating of God’s possible purpose of conception. Every marital act must be open to possible conception. On the other hand, to abstain from the fertile periods involves no separation of the unitive and procreative functions, because couples are abstaining from the unitive function as well, thus honoring the coherence of the two.

To not engage in intercourse for morally acceptable reasons is essentially different than engaging in intercourse with the express purpose of frustrating the procreative potential, because the sin is not in the licit limiting of children (Catholics aren’t obliged to have 12 kids!), but rather, in the deliberate, willful prevention of conception by contrived, unnatural means.

And we see the fruit of such sin in the clear correlation between contraception and abortion in virtually all the non-Muslim countries of the world. Contraception implies a radical individualism, rather than a bowing to the natural law of God. This individualism and the mindset which produces it leads — in sinful minds — to the notion that the terminating of a newly-conceived life is permissible.

It’s all diabolically consistent. We can see the link and so have maintained the traditional Christian prohibition. We strike at the heart and root of the problem: an anti-child, sexually liberal attitude whereby free sex and convenience is placed on a higher level than human life itself.

That is the anti-child mentality. It has not however been tolerated by the Orthodox.

I accept your word on that, yet Orthodox laxity on contraception leads me to believe that your communion hasn’t thought this issue through properly (not to mention its having departed from Christian Tradition on this matter).


The following extended essay was posted on my Apologetics / Ecumenism public e-mail discussion list, in response to a Protestant member’s remark:
[name] wrote:
    “Those who believe in artificial birth control also accept abortion!”

This is not true on its face. Perhaps you meant to say, “those who believe in artificial birth control have accepted principles that lead to acceptance of abortion,” but even that is a very difficult argument to make.

Quite the contrary; I believe it (the revision) is positively demonstrable. As has often been noted, no Christian group accepted the moral legitimacy of contraception until 1930. From that time, due to the influence of people like Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood (and who was neck-deep in Nazi-type eugenics), radical feminism in general, and the Sexual Revolution (and — I would add — an excessively materialistic and narcissistic brand of “Baby Boomer” capitalism), there has been a steady push worldwide (with notable exceptions, such as within Islam) to have less children and to promote contraception.

This is, frankly, an “anti-child mentality,” and I make no apologies for saying that. Let’s call a spade a spade. And virtually all Christian groups (except you know who!) have enthusiastically joined in this irrational, utterly non-Christian denigration of children, and the formerly self-evident biblical notion that children were a blessing. The sanction of religion was absolutely necessary for the nearly- worldwide triumph of contraception and legal abortion to occur.

One hears arguments about the industrial revolution, urbanization, etc., and the relationship of those societal trends to family size. I appreciate those analyses for what they’re worth (as a sociology major myself), yet what we are seeing today goes far beyond that. Formerly “Christian” countries aren’t even replacing their populations.

I have a delivery route in the 3rd-richest county in the country. I see huge houses everywhere (what used to be called “mansions” – at least by me :-), and I know full well that most of them are inhabited by only one child, maybe two (or none at all). I regard that as a sad visual image for what our society has become. When I grew up in a large city in the 60s (I just turned 40 yesterday), precisely the opposite held true: we had fairly small houses with many children. Even then, 3 or 4 (occasionally 5) children per family was commonplace.

In my parents’ generation, one readily observes the vast demographic difference: e.g., my father came from a family of six; my wife’s parents came from families of five and six. My mother was an only child, but that was because of medical problems my grandmother had. Today I am teased at work because I have three boys, as if that is a huge, unreasonable amount. One female professed Christian co-worker said I should get “fixed,” and I’m sure she was only half-joking.

This is how low we have sunk, and it is absolutely commonplace: an unexamined assumption and presumption. Many couples today deliberately decide to not have children. In the Catholic Church, part of the marriage vows is a promise to bear children, as I’m sure is the case in many Protestant ceremonies also.

Such prevalent attitudes are not without serious societal and demographic effect. How could they not be, as ideas have consequences? True, it does not necessarily follow — strictly logically speaking — that a “contraceptive mentality” will lead to an “abortion mentality” (that was true in my own case — I was a zealous pro-life activist at the time). But there is a definite connection, particularly when one looks at reproductive and abortion statistics on a nationwide and worldwide basis. Here is an excerpt from my (published) conversion story which addressed this:

At this time I became seriously troubled by the Protestant (and my own) free and easy acceptance of contraception. I came to believe, in agreement with the Church, that once one regards sexual pleasure as an end in itself, then the so-called “right to abortion” is logically not far away. My Evangelical pro-life friends might easily draw the line, but the less spiritually-minded have not in fact done so, as has been borne out by the sexual revolution in full force since the widespread use of the Pill began around 1960.

Once a couple thinks that they can thwart even God’s will in the matter of a possible conception, then the notion of terminating a pregnancy follows by a certain diabolical logic devoid of the spiritual guidance of the Church. In this, as in other areas such as divorce, the Church is ineffably wise and truly progressive. G.K. Chesterton and Ronald Knox, the great apologists, could see the writing on the wall already by the 1930s.

I was utterly shocked by the facts that no Christian body had accepted contraception until the Anglicans in 1930, and the inevitable progression in nations of contraception to abortion, as shown irrefutably by Fr. Paul Marx. Finally, a book entitled The Teaching of “Humanae Vitae” by John Ford, Germain Grisez, et al, convinced me of the moral distinction between contraception and Natural Family Planning and put me over the edge.

Now, as to the assertion by Fr. Marx; I have heard that from his own lips on the radio, and I know it is true, but I don’t have the documentation at my fingertips. I’m sure it could be provided if one visited the Human Life International (HLI) site, linked to from my Pro-Life page. He has shown that in every case, a nation which legalizes contraception will soon legalize abortion. It took only ten years here. I think it was the Griswold case (c. 1963?) which dealt with private use of contraception. This was the predecessor to Roe v. Wade, as I understand it, so that even in a legal sense, the connection between contraception and abortion is clear.

“Progressive” judges utilized the very “diabolical logic” I referred to in order to sanction and legalize abortion and create a right where none had previously existed. And of course, most Christian bodies had already caved on contraception, so the social progressives could co-opt and appeal to them for their essentially non-Christian, radically secularist purposes. How convenient . . .

So what does it take for people to see the connection? The Pill became widespread starting around 1960. The push for abortion began in earnest by the mid-60s, becoming almost a consensus by the late 60s and early 70s. Is all that “circumstantial evidence” purely coincidental and of no import? Chronologically, legally (and I would say philosophically), the progression is evident for all to see, in my opinion.

Abortion could never have become legal in 1973 in America if it weren’t for the weakness and compromise of Christians (including millions of Catholics, most notably dissident bishops). And it would have remained unthinkable but for the rapid rise of contraception. For that ushered in the utterly un-Christian idea that one’s body was one’s own (as opposed to God’s — the same idea behind assisted suicide today), and that sex had no intrinsic relationship to child-bearing.

Men and women could frustrate the very “hand of God,” prohibit conception by a deliberate act of the will, and go ahead and engage in sex anyway. That was always regarded as pure paganism and debauchery in the Church, until 1930. And of course it has greatly promoted sexual hedonism, fornication, adultery et al, because the risks of pregnancy were reduced almost to nil.

The radical feminists — seeking to emulate the men they hated — liked contraception because it allowed them not to be in “bondage” to children and the sexual power plays and irresponsibility of men. Abortion became their “sacrament” because it allowed them to maintain the illusion that men and women are not distinct biologically (and psychologically), by God’s decree.

Yet Christians continue to fail to see the connection. Is this not a brilliant strategic victory for Satan? In basically 40 years’ time, he has “persuaded” most Christians on the earth (this includes the 70% of Catholics who contracept) to adopt a practice which was previously universally condemned by Christians; regarded as “murder” by Luther and Calvin, etc. (going beyond even the Catholic position). We have stopped having children, and Christians have bought this pessimistic, nihilistic, creation-hating philosophy.

If only the “conservative,” “traditional,” “orthodox” Christians had simply continued in the traditional Christian view on this, and continued to “be fruitful and multiply,” we could have transformed the world in a generation or two. As it is, Islam will now become the dominant world religion, since it still values procreation and children. Satan must be given his due. It was a very clever and effective method . . .

Now, I hasten to add that I wish not to condemn any individual. These are general philosophical, sociological and ethical observations. Like myself, I would suspect that most who contracept have never given a moment’s thought to analyses such as these. We all have to continually educate ourselves and understand both Christian thinking and Christian history.

Only then can we overcome the fads and fashions of the age and stand out as different in the eyes of the world we are only too eager to be a part of, rather than a witness and a sign of hope and transcendence. The facts I have presented, in any event, are, I think, indisputable. One may interpret the reasons and causes for that differently, but I think the Catholic interpretation is far and away the most plausible view.

I have two questions for those Christians who accept the moral propriety of contraception:

1) Is it really plausible and likely (let alone possible) that the entire Christian Church, in all its branches, could have gotten a moral teaching wrong for its whole history up until 1930? Even then, when the Anglicans adopted contraception as an option in their Lambeth Conference, it was for “hard cases” only (where have we heard that rhetoric before?). One could, I suppose, dismiss this difficulty by taking a position that Church history and the beliefs of the mass of Christians, Church Fathers, saints, doctors, Protestant Reformers, great pastors and evangelists, Councils, etc., are entirely irrelevant to Christian truth, but I think most knowledgeable Christians would be reluctant to take that avenue.

2) Is there another example of a teaching which was botched for 1900 years, and then the “light” went on and the Church came to its senses and got “reasonable?” A cynic (myself, in this case :-) might add that with regard to the Anglicans in 1930, the societal context was one of rapid secularization, religious nominalism, moral relativism, increasing sexual laxity, rampant spiritualism, Fabian socialism, head-in-the-sand pacifism (soon manifested in the Chamberlain appeasement mentality), etc. (in other words, the trend was overwhelmingly away from traditional, orthodox Christianity). One need only read Chesterton or C. S. Lewis (who were opposing it) to realize the English mindset in that period (a lot like ours in America today). Strictly from a sociological perspective, this is not an environment in which one would expect a shining new revelation of Christian truth!

I will anticipate one reply: that this itself is not an argument per se for or against contraception. I agree, strictly speaking. Yet for one who values Church history at all, and who realizes that Christians are not isolated, atomistic individuals, “condemned” to come up with all theological truth on their own apart from the witness of millions of their brethren in the faith (e.g., Heb 11:1-2; 12:1; Jude 3), such considerations ought to be highly troubling.

For me they were well-nigh compelling, although I did do some philosophical / ethical study on the topic as well. I respected Church history too much (as an evangelical) to accept such a scenario, which I find ludicrous.

The irony and utter implausibility and “historically illogical” nature of all this is compounded when one considers how Catholics are routinely (and falsely) accused of “introducing” doctrines late (e.g., the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, papal infallibility), which are thought of as “late” or “novel” merely because they were dogmatically defined late (a very important distinction). That is believed to be a self-evident argument against the Catholic Church, yet it is easily and adequately explained by the notion of development of doctrine.

With contraception, however, there is no development whatsoever. All Christians opposed it till 1930, then the Anglicans “woke up,” and virtually all other Christians (including – sadly – the Orthodox, who claim to be the most “traditional” of all) have since followed suit. A sheer reversal of a belief is not a “development,” by any stretch of the imagination. Why is that not at least as troubling to non-Catholics as, say, the definition of the Assumption of Mary in 1950?

It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility . . . The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast – to themselves. (G. K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935, 233)

As regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument. (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York: Macmillan, 1947, 68-69)

* * * * *

An Anglican priest wrote on my discussion list:
I think I should make come kind of reply to your “Can the Entire Church be Wrong?” because I am one of those thoughtless Anglicans whose church started the modern disaster at Lambeth in 1930. I should be pleased in a negative sort of way at your suggesting that something “began” at Lambeth. I am a conservative Anglican priest (there are a few of us around) who believes that our Council of Bishops, which meets at Lambeth every ten years, actually never “BEGINS” anything. They usually “FOLLOW” the leads of society.

Isn’t this precisely the problem (Romans 12:2)? Shouldn’t you, rather, be the salt of the earth and light of the world, so that society will follow you, rather than vice versa? What shouldn’t be begun is a doctrine that was never taught by the Church! How is that a debatable idea? I thought Anglicans were the ones who claim to be the legatees of the early Church to begin with (before it went “Roman” :-).

But you are correct in saying that this action did represent the Church striking out in a new direction, and a departure from historic church teaching.

I rest my case — and you appear to strikingly confirm it. This simply can’t happen in the Church (see 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 1 Tim 3:15; Jude 3). Sure, new technology raises new particular issues and moral dilemmas, but the principles from which we formulate our opinions cannot change because the Moral Law itself does not change.

Now the problem today is of gigantic proportions, and, as you know, affects all of Christendom. The Roman Catholic Church, almost alone in the Body of Christ, still promotes large families as one of the main aspects of Holy Matrimony.

It is not, however, Catholic teaching to have a million kids, come hell or high water (I exaggerate for rhetorical effect):

In relation to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth. (Humanae Vitae, 10, Pope Paul VI, 1968)

But the Roman Catholic Church has endorsed family planning, and has endorsed certain methods of birth control such as the rhythm method among others. Any method of birth control is just what the name suggests, the planning of the family and the limitation of the number of children that are born.

In one sense, yes. The important thing to note here are the motives and methods by which this is done. That brings in the moral questions which unfortunately divide us. Birth control does not equal contraception. This is what our society today cannot “see.” We Catholics interpret the “contra” part of “contraception” very literally. We believe it is anti-child, anti-conception, anti-procreative purpose of marriage and sexual relations, anti-nature, in a harmful and sinful way.

There are crucial distinctions to be made here. NFP, on the other hand, does not violate the natural order, because if the woman is fertile, and the couple wishes to avoid having another child (MOST IMPORTANTLY: for the “grave motives” Paul VI referred to, not frivolous, materialistic, or humanistic ones), that couple respects the natural order of things (and each other) and abstains.

The contracepting couple has sex anyway, and deliberately, by an act of will, thwarts the natural process and in effect prevents God from allowing a conception to occur if that is His will. It “ties the hands of God” and perverts natural processes in an attempt to manipulate them. NFP does no such thing, because it respects the natural order and natural law as created by God and doesn’t entail deliberately separating the procreative and unitive (pleasurable) aspects and functions of marital sex.

This is what I came to see, while still a Protestant, in 1990, and was the first area in which I changed my mind (slippery slope? LOL) on my road to Rome. There is a real, legitimate, non-trivial, moral distinction between contraception and NFP. What do we think of a junk food junkie who eats merely for the pleasure of it, and disregards nutrition? Some decadent ancient Romans participated in “ritual vomiting,” so to speak:

Stories of Roman orgies with the participants throwing up during the meal are described in Roman courtier Petronius’ Satyricon, from the 1st century AD, but no specific room is designated for the act. Cassius Dio in his Roman History and Suetonius, secretary of correspondence to the emperor Hadrian, in his On the Lives of the Caesars also provide plenty of stories of imperial excess and vomiting while dining. (“What was really a vomitorium?,” Archaeology.Wiki, 1-27-17)

Likewise, what do we think of a person who goes to the other extreme, and eats for nutrition, with disdain for the pleasure (extreme health food nuts, Scrooge-types)? We intuitively sense a perversion of the natural order and of a rational approach to food and life in general. God gave us taste buds; he also ordered food as a necessary agent of bodily (and even psychological) health. We might call the two elements Function and Feeling . . .

Yet when it comes to sex, we wish to separate the two functions with impunity and utter disregard for the personal and societal consequences. Some Puritans, Victorians, and certain types of truly “repressed” Catholics and other fundamentalists throughout history have minimized or denigrated the pleasure of sex, thinking it a “dirty,” “shameful” thing, apart from it’s procreative purpose. Some couples never even saw each other unclothed. This was absurd, but of course, that is not our problem at all today.

Now we have sex at will with no willingness to procreate at all, in many cases. We wink at this perversion, as long as it is confined to marriage (apparently, even that is changing, what with the disturbing level of public acceptance of, or apathy over, President Clinton’s promiscuous escapades).

But this profoundly misunderstands the very purpose of marriage. As soon as God made Eve (and hence began marriage), what did He say?: “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Luckily for the human race, Adam and Eve weren’t feminists or “progressives” who decided not to have children. These things used to be utterly self-evident, but they are no more. We also find the unitive element, suggested in Genesis 2:18,24-25 (cf. Song of Solomon). This is Catholic teaching: we freely and joyfully acknowledge both aspects.

All we are saying is that they shouldn’t be separated in ways which violate the natural order of nature. There is nothing in Catholic teaching., e.g., which forbids sex at times when it is determined that the woman is infertile, or in the case of a post-menopausal woman, or one who cannot bear children at all, or a sterile man. That’s fine, because it doesn’t involve a deliberate decision to ignore fertility and frustrate its natural course.

Whether one family has more children than another family is hardly a point to argue.

On its face, no. One has to examine motives and reasons. Hopefully, each couple can do that on their own, but we see how little that takes place these days.

The main principle is that our churches, the Roman Catholic as well as the Anglican, agree that it is possible and desirable for a Christian family to plan the birth of their children.

Again, we differ in motives and methods to do so, and in fundamental moral theological rationale.

Our churches both agree that the indiscriminate birth of children is not only undesirable, but under many circumstances a sin.

Not sure about sin, but close enough.

Our churches both agree that for a couple to give birth to a child out of Holy Matrimony is a sin. We both agree that giving birth to a child which is abandoned is a sin. We agree that giving birth to children with a succession of different fathers and multiple marriages is compounding sin. And of course we agree that having the benefit of Holy Matrimony with the couple agreeing not to have children is contrary to the stated principles of the sacrament.

Agreed 100%.

We now know more about the ways to regulate the birth of children in the family than we knew 100 years ago. Like other knowledge which man accrues through the ages, the church adjusts to the new knowledge, always thanking God from whom comes all wisdom and all knowledge.

But none of this new knowledge affects the moral argument about the will to contracept, as opposed to spacing births in respect for natural law and female reproductive cycles. This is not simply a matter of technology and more minute biological knowledge. That could either help facilitate NFP (as it does) or lead to sinister and diabolical abortion methods and fetal monitoring used for evil ends (such as killing female or Downs Syndrome preborn children).

The fact that we are able to plan our families today, and could not do so 100 years ago, does not of itself mean that such knowledge is evil.

I agree, but it cannot mean that we forsake traditional Christian morality, simply because it is “easier” to do so with our marvelous technology.

It means that we must use this knowledge to the glory of God. The sacrament of Holy Matrimony states that the purpose of the sacrament is for the procreation of children. The new knowledge of family planning does not mean that we have negated the meaning of the sacrament. It means that we use this new knowledge to the glory of God. I believe both of our churches have agreed on this principle.

Why, then, does contraception lead to far less numbers of children, if you think nothing has changed in principle?

We may have endorsed different methods of birth control, but the principle is the same, and we both agree on the content of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

No; the principle is not the same, as I have been arguing. And the “content of the sacrament” clearly differs, as we see the tremendous difference in birthrates. Why is it that, in the richest country in the history of the world (USA), we now feel that we don’t have enough money to raise the numbers of children we used to? It is flat-out insane!

Now the problem in society today involves people living together without the benefit of Holy Matrimony. It involves the complete disregard of Holy Matrimony as a lifelong union of man and wife. Divorce is as much of a disgrace to the Roman Catholic Church as it is to the Anglican Communion, and indeed to all of the Body of Christ. Children are brought into this world in a sinful manner. Many never know their real parents.

Of course we agree with all this. But you imply that these are the “real” problems, whereas contraception is not. We, on the other hand, assert strongly that contraception is a contributing cause to many or all of these ills, by the mentality it fosters.

We must renew our efforts to support the sanctity of the Christian family.

Of course. Amen.

I do not think we will serve the Church of our Lord by spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the types of birth control which may be used in Christian family planning,

This is because you don’t yet grasp why all Christians regarded contraception as evil up to 1930. There was a very good reason for that, and the denial of same has been a key reason why we are in the mess we’re in today. You have yet to address my whole argument of historical implausibility.

when the real problems that need our attention are:

Again, you imply that contraception is not a “real” problem . . .

Support the sanctity of Christian marriage as a lifelong union of man and wife. Oppose the rampant divorce and remarriage in our society. Oppose cohabitation of unmarried couples. Oppose homosexual practices and other acts of perversion and teach our children that they are sins and not alternative life styles. Oppose abortion as murder and seek to have our laws so indicate.

Agreed on all. What you fail to see is that contraception (far from being irrelevant)fosters and promotes every one of these sins:

1) It undermines marital fidelity and monogamy by making it easy to commit adultery without the “shameful” consequences of possible offspring.

2) It promotes divorce by making more possible the promiscuity which undermines stable lifelong marriages in the first place. Fear of pregnancy and the societal stigmas which used to be attached to illegitimacy was previously sufficient motive to prevent much infidelity.

3) Likewise, cohabitation is “encouraged” by making “convenient,” “consequence-less” fornication possible. If such couples faced the possibility of children, they would be far less likely to live together and fornicate. But as it is, we have both artificial contraceptive methods and abortion – both perfectly legal! What a wonderful world for the playboy and “(sexually) liberated woman” to inhabit!

4) Homosexuality is similar to the contraceptive mentality, in that, by its very nature, it is non-reproductive. It is sex for pure pleasure and selfish motives, and an “alternate lifestyle,” just as being married with no children, or being in serial “marriages” are “alternate lifestyles” these days. What all these views have in common are their un-Christian and untraditional (and immoral) nature.

5) Abortion is clearly linked to contraception. Apart from what I have already said, the “diabolical logic” works (in a hypothetical average woman today) like this:

a) I can control my own body and whether I conceive or not, according to my own whims and fancies;

b) I must fornicate, as it is too strong of a desire to suppress [even more so the case with men :-) ], and why do that, anyway, as it is natural?

c) Whether God desires for me to conceive or not is irrelevant, as I am the captain of my own destiny;

d) If I don’t want a child [for whatever reason], I can prevent that by various chemical or “mechanical” means. Abstention is too difficult, if not impossible, so that is not an option;

e) I think it would be a “bad” thing for me to bring a child into the world at this time;

f) [often]: The world is overpopulated as it is;

g) If I become pregnant, that was not my will and was a “mistake”;

h) I can abort such a “mistake” because it is my body and I have the right to do with it whatever I please, according to the reasons above. I tried to prevent this conception, but that didn’t work, so I will exercise my legal option of abortion, to achieve the same end: no child. [It’s not yet a child anyway, etc. etc. ad nauseam; it feels no pain; it’s just a blob of tissue, I’m too young; what will my parents say?, etc.]

This is the mentality of a typical, non-religious or nominally religious person. Abortion is legal, therefore right and moral; it is a back-up for the Pill, when the Pill fails, etc. No one is happy to abort, blah blah blah. Most evangelical and committed, conservative Orthodox and Catholic and Anglican Christians do far better, as they are taught that abortion is evil (to more or less extents), but most except Catholics have been taken in by the very pagan and humanist philosophy which made widespread abortion possible and actual in the first place.

It is very clear, especially once it is pondered and thought-through, and when all the facts are in. But our society just can’t “see” it. It doesn’t want to see it. And the churches which have caved and compromised with the spirit of the age are at the forefront (by means of their sanction and legitimizing function) of the worldwide return to paganism and pagan sexual practices and attitudes. It is difficult to miss the connection between contraception and the sexual / abortion revolution which it was instrumental in producing, and which couldn’t have happened without it.

Thus, the “preventive wisdom” of traditional Christianity in this regard (continued only by Catholicism and some small Protestant sects and Orthodox jurisdictions) is made manifest today beyond all refutation. As always, God knew what He was doing, and He has spoken unambiguously through His Word and through His Church, and via the Vicar of Christ, heroically, in 1968, at the very height of the Revolution and rebellion against tradition and Christianity. We ignore the warnings and spiritual wisdom and sound moral theology, backed up by the events of history and rise and fall of empires, at our own peril.


A Protestant on the list wrote:
I agree it is somewhat implausible but I’d presume the pre-1930 view to exclude NFP too?

We understand reproductive biology better, but that is irrelevant to my argument and the traditional condemnation, which has to do with the deliberate will and intent to thwart the natural process of fertility and possible conception (which has always been possible, whether NFP was understood or not, e.g., Onan and the withdrawal method).

People used to have large families of course, and many of the children would die before they reached adulthood, thus I suppose the family wouldn’t have had to financially provide for all the children conceived. I sometimes get the impression that NFP is just a modern compromise too in the sense that it is now financially a lot harder to take the old view, since infant/childhood deaths have been so much reduced, and hence having a totally non-intervention view would usually involve having a large family.

The Catholic Church allows for various considerations, as I showed in my quote from Pope Paul VI. It is the frivolous, truly “anti-child” reasons that we repudiate.

Can you please explain why this has changed if indeed it has? And why your view, allowing for NFP is morally better than having no method?

It allows couples to have more knowledge, and hence more stability in their marital and sexual relationships. As I said, it is not our view that every couple must have 10 children. But if they can do that, we rejoice, rather than mock. I know of at least three couples who have nine children. Since children are a “blessing” in the Bible, we ought to be “envious,” right? :-) Our very reactions to that mental image betray our modern philosophies to some extent, don’t they? If a person has $900,000, we count them more blessed than if they had 9 children . . .

And despite the apparent financial difficulties, considering probably all people on this list are in relatively ‘wealthy’ countries, with obviously okay standards of living ( having computers is a good sign), where has the line at ‘large families are too expensive’ been drawn?

Well, I would argue that it should be drawn at a point which is at the least similar to the “line” past generations drew. My dad’s family was relatively poor, but they made out fine. Human beings are extremely resilient. True, they didn’t have central air, 4 TVs, 3 VCRs, 3 cars, only the best clothes, boats, etc. Money ain’t everything . . .

As I have mentioned before I do know of Presbyterians and Anabaptists who take the no-intervention approach, have large families, and seem to be doing well, and I presume some others on this list know such examples as well.

Praise God for them! In a sense they are even more “traditional” than Catholics who used the rhythm or NFP methods of spacing.

And to suggest that such an approach is a sin of irresponsibility or something seems to me to be a very good example of the ‘contraception’ mentality you keep mentioning.

Yes. It’s sad, isn’t it?

After all, that’s the same thing my father says about having more than two children! It’s all a matter of perspective isnt it. Let’s not forget God’s sovereignty in all this either.

Preach it, sister! Didn’t God say something about providing our needs?

If NFP is new and no intervention was considered good in the past shouldn’t that bother you too?

No, because that is a function of knowledge, not a fundamental change in morality. Knowing more about natural biological cycles helps to enhance a respect for the natural order, provided one has that willing attitude in the first place. NFP can be abused and used with a contraceptive mentality. Method and purpose and respect for God’s moral law must work together for NFP to be a moral and spiritually beneficial practice.

Okay, which gets back to the point of anything except intercourse (which is the function) is wrong issue. To which [Catholics on the list] gave conflicting answers. Which is the correct answer?

In my understanding — I’m open to correction on this — (this will be rated PG-13 :-), any act which results in deliberately-induced ejaculation/orgasm (including the woman’s), totally apart from intercourse (i.e., as a self-contained end in itself), is sinful and contraceptive, as it is equivalent morally to masturbation or Onanism, which is also regarded by the Catholic Church as a mortal sin. Short of that, expressions of affection which may be part of foreplay, leading up to intercourse(including a woman’s orgasm, induced by manual stimulation, before or after intercourse), are fine, as long as intercourse is a part of the complete experience.

Also permissible is non-orgasmic physical affection in the course of everyday life, particularly during the fertile periods when the couple wishes to abstain from intercourse, for good reason. The point is not to take away all “togetherness” and pleasure!, but rather, to enhance it and make it more meaningful and complete, and in accordance with total self-giving and mutual love: and to never exclude the procreative aspect of sexuality deliberately, so that pleasure alone becomes the end. All of the above presupposes a lawfully married couple, of course.

We understand reproductive biology better, but that is irrelevant to my argument and the traditional condemnation, which has to do with the deliberate will and intent to thwart the natural process of fertility and possible conception.

But you are telling the story here, those in the past aren’t. If the old view was that any intervention was morally wrong, then it is indeed relevant.

I don’t think what you call the “old view” (wrongly implying a change in essential teaching) was that any intervention was wrong. If that were the case, NFP would be impermissible today. The rhythm method goes back a ways. There must have been some knowledge of reproductive cycles, if only by deduction, from time immemorial. We tend to think today, e.g., that the ancients had no notion of artificial contraception, but that is dead wrong (there were many, many methods).

Likewise, I highly suspect that there was a lot more knowledge about reproduction back then than we would assume today. But granted, with high infant mortality rates and the absence of a perverse and selfish mentality against children in most professed Christian societies throughout history, these things weren’t thought about much.

And it does thwart natural processes in the sense that it aims to control them.

Here you confuse utilization of the increased knowledge of the reproductive cycle for the purposes of spacing children (for grave and proper reasons, per Humanae Vitae) with “thwarting.” The latter attempts to deliberately disallow these processes to achieve their ends freely (which might result in pregnancy). It is a manipulation of nature, whereas NFP respects nature, by not separating the procreative purpose of the female cycle from sex, as the contracepting couple (during fertile periods) does.

Those who believe in NFP and Catholic teaching abstain during fertile periods if they don’t desire a child. There is an essential difference here. It is frustrating (but not surprising at all – I used to think the exact same way) to observe so many list members fail to grasp this fundamental distinction. Perhaps us Catholics are doing a poor job of explaining our position.

Trying to ‘avoid’ conception though is thwarting the natural process by trying to control it and having it at one’s whim.

No, I strongly disagree, according to my above reasoning. What you and so many Protestants and Orthodox fail to understand is the evil involved in willing a non-conception. Let me quote at length the book which was instrumental in my own change of opinion on this topic. I’m sure it will explain NFP and the wrongness of contraception much better than I could:

The Teaching of “Humanae Vitae”: A Defense, by John C. Ford. S. J., Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, John Finnis, William E. May, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.

—The following excerpts are taken from the chapter, “Every Marital Act Ought to be Open to New Life: Toward a Clearer Understanding” (pp. 35-116: all emphases in original), by the last four authors above —

The Church has never taught that marital intercourse is good only if the couple desire to procreate; indeed, couples known to be sterile have never been forbidden to marry . . .

It is wrong for those who engage in marital intercourse to attempt to impede the transmission of life, which they think their act might otherwise bring about. For if they do try to impede that to which their act of itself might lead, they close it to new life . . .

‘Contraception’ signifies only the prevention of conception, but the contraceptive act seeks to impede the beginning of the life of a possible person. The distinction is only conceptual, but we think it is important, for the explicit reference to new life calls attention to the fact that contraception is a contralife act. (35-6)

While contraception is wrong for several reasons, it is wrong primarily and essentially because it is contralife. (39)

Contraception aims to impede both the initiation of life and the being of the individual whose life would be initiated if not impeded . . . They imagine that a new person will come to be if that is not prevented, they want that possible person not to be, and they effectively will that he or she never be. That will is a contralife will. Therefore, each and every contraceptive act is necessarily contralife. (42-43)

An essential condition of the immorality of deliberate homicide is that it involves a contralife will . . . deliberate homicide is immoral primarily because the contralife will that it involves cannot be a loving heart . . . Our thesis is that the contralife will that contraception involves also is morally evil, although we do not claim that it usually is as evil as a homicidal will. (45-47)

Objection: Contraception does not attack a real person; it only prevents a merely possible person from coming to be . . . Answer: . . . All human acts affect only the future. Homicide does not destroy the victim’s entire life; the past and present are beyond harm. Homicide only prevents the victim from having a future. The homicidal will, like the contraceptive will, is only against life that would be, not against life that is . . . homicide is wrong not only because it involves an injustice but also because it carries out a nonrationally grounded, contralife will – a will that the one killed not be. That is why deliberate suicide is wrong. (61-62)

We concede that NFP can be chosen with contraceptive intent. But we hold that NFP also can be chosen without the contralife will that contraception necessarily involves. (81-82)

The choice of NFP need not be immoral. It is merely a case of something common in human life: choosing not to realize something one has a good reason to choose to realize, but whose realization would conflict with avoiding something else one has a good reason to avoid. (86)

There is a real and very important difference between not wanting to have a baby, which is common to both [1. contraception] and [2. the noncontraceptive use of NFP], and not wanting the baby one might have, which is true of (1) but not of (2). (89)

Just because increased knowledge now gives an option of avoiding conception by choice without interference of the act, it doesn’t mean it is automatically acceptable.

No, but as just shown, simply avoiding conception of a baby is ethically distinct from willing that this particular potential child not come to be.

Well, doesn’t the number of children Catholics have today compared to the number they used to have before NFP demonstrate that there is an anti-child mentality?

Yes, because there will always be Catholics who have been taken in by the fashions of the age, as is the case with all Christian groups. We know that 70-80% of Catholics contracept. On the other hand, in some instances there are legitimate and grave reasons to avoid further children (as in, e.g., my wife’s case, where there are two very good reasons), and NFP makes that more possible, and as such, is a great blessing of our time. Again, motivation and intent and will are central considerations in determining the morality here.

An attitude of “at least we don’t have to have ‘heaps’ of kids like they used to”?

That is an improper attitude. If there is serious reason to limit one’s family, then no need to mock those who are in a different situation should exist. If resources and physical health permit a large number of children, then the couple should seriously consider that. In either case, the above mindset is silly and uncalled-for, and borders on “anti-child” thinking.

I still think to be consistent you should have no-intervention at all, since to make use of NFP is to seek to control your fertility and limit the number of children.

Exactly (2nd part). There is no inconsistency because the Church doesn’t teach that every couple is forbidden from planning their family, within a non-contraceptive framework and understanding. If we held that everything should be “just left to nature,” then you might have a point. It is not morally-grounded planning which is suspect, but the contraceptive, contralife will.

Knowing more about natural biological cycles helps to enhance a respect for the natural order,

and also obviously helps MOST Catholics to limit the number of children to only 4-5.

Would that everyone who was able could have 4 or 5 children! That’s a lot today, after 70-odd years of contraceptive and pro-abortion propaganda! But the Catholic average – I suspect – is probably about 2.5 to 3; probably not much different than the general population, sad to say.

Here is a verse I have been thinking of during this discussion.. [NIV is more clear on this particular point…] “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” John 1:13 I guess the ‘husband’s will/human decsion’ bit there could support some kind of planning as opposed to none whatsoever. What do you think? Are there any biblical passages/verses you see as relevant to this discussion?

1) I don’t regard John 1:13 as particularly relevant, as it refers to spiritual rebirth. But if I understand you correctly, you are saying that it indirectly refers to human decisions in matters of childbirth. Well, that is Catholic teaching. It is only the act and willing of contraception which is evil. Neither family planning nor avoiding a conception is necessarily contraceptive in intent and approach, as has been explained many times over on this list.

2) One need not oppose human will to God’s will, as if the former didn’t exist. Some forms of hyper-Calvinism might tend to do that, but I don’t believe that Calvinism entails the obliteration of human will altogether, as if God’s sovereigntyrequired it (at least this is what I have been told by many educated Calvinists). In any event, Calvinists accept the notion of free agency and deny that Calvinism is a form of fatalism.

3) Personally, I have approached the issue of contraception more from an ethical and historic standpoint than from a biblical one. Many others have done the latter. Kimberly Hahn changed her mind on the issue from a biblical perspective alone, long before she became a Catholic. There is a book entitled The Bible and Birth Control by Charles Provan, a Lutheran. I have links to such material also, on my Life Issues page.

Perhaps it’s just not as clear cut as you think?

I think it is very clear. I do grant that there are real subtleties to the discussion, and that it requires deep ethical and spiritual reflection. In the final analysis, however, I think the best way to describe the widespread reluctance or inability to even understand, let alone adopt NFP and acknowledge the wrongness of contraception, is because modern man simply cannot hear these things any more. It is not necessarily a matter of obstinacy or ill will; rather, I would suspect that we have been so inoculated with the “contraceptive mentality” for 70-odd years, that our whole structure of plausibility — in the West, particularly- – has been transformed.

One therefore needs to undergo a “paradigm shift,” to borrow a phrase from social psychology. I went through two such shifts in 1990 when I changed my views on contraception, and later accepted the previously unthinkable proposition that the Catholic Church was the apostolic Church which Christ established.

In both instances, reason and history played key roles in my change of mind. But both of those things are now much frowned-upon by our current culture of relativism, hedonism, post-modernism, a-historicism, narcissism, and radical individualism. I would also make so bold as to say that Protestantism as a whole has historically placed less of a premium on both reason and history than Catholicism has.

The Orthodox also constantly chide us for our high view of reason: they call it “rationalism” or “Scholasticism” and too often tend to frown upon St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas because they were exemplars of the use of the mind and reason (i.e., in the “Western” fashion). Again, I reiterate: both reason and an understanding of Church history are necessary in order to fully grasp what we say about NFP and contraception.

I should think that the knowledge that all Christians opposed contraception until 1930 would be sufficient to give any conscientious Christian serious pause. The fact that it doesn’t is, I strongly believe, illustrative of the problem I just described. I ramble some, but it is all part of a larger point I am attempting to make, directly related to the question of how “clear cut” our view is.

Those who have a strong view of the sovereignty of God think that if God truly desires them to have a child at the time, then they will conceive, regardless of whether or not they are using contraception.

This is very confused thinking. The thing to do is to determine whether contraception is wrong or not. Obviously Calvin, and all the Protestants following him (until the Arminian Anglicans changed the teaching :-) thought the traditional prohibition was consistent with Calvinism and/or God’s sovereignty. Even if one thought that God could override any human attempt to “tie His hands” (which is true, although the miraculous is always the rare exception), it is still wrong even to attempt to deliberately thwart His will, and to possess and exercise a “contralife” will.

Therefore they are not ‘anti-life’. The ‘possible person’ scenario simply does not exist in strict Calvinism, there are no ‘possible/would have been’ scenarios.

Okay; you tell me, then: why did Calvin and Luther regard contraception as murder? And why do you feel perfectly comfortable with dissenting from them on this matter? As for “possible person” scenarios, my citations dealt with that, in their analogy to murder (how it cuts off individuals’ future lives). That analogy holds whether one is a Calvinist or a Moonie — one’s view of predestination has no relevance to the argument.

Though I would still say the stricter Presbyterians I have mentioned who take a no-intervention approach are more consistent.

We plan our lives in many, many areas, and this is pleasing to God. That is not the issue: as if intelligence and wisdom in planning one’s life somehow exhibits a lack of faith and trust in God. If someone is willing and able to have ten children, and hence refrains from any planning per se, that’s wonderful, but I don’t think that we can deduce from that that those who plan are less spiritual or righteous. They maybe, of course, but it doesn’t follow necessarily.

Well as I tried to show, for Calvinists I dont see your point as applicable.Who has the more anti-child/anti-life mentality, a modern ‘good’ Catholic family who use NFP faithfully and have say 5 children by choice, or a Protestant [Calvinist] family who though using ‘contraception’ [non-abortifacient of course], have 6 by the will of God? ;)

The Calvinist does, because they have had contraceptive sex, which is inherently “anti-life” and which separates the two functions of sex. I rejoice that they have had six children. This shows that they certainly are not “anti-child” in the most concrete sense; nevertheless, they committed individual immoral acts whenever they contracepted (as their spiritual forefather Calvin would assert).

And just as I’ve shown Calvinists would never morally think they were avoiding this baby.

Simply appealing to God’s predestination will not do. That doesn’t let anyone off the hook.

You seemed to agree with [the Anglican priest’s] comment;

“Our churches both agree that the indiscriminate birth of children is not only undesirable, but under many circumstances a sin.”

Not sure about sin, but close enough.

Indiscriminate here seemed to imply not ‘planned’ as such.

Well, the above scenario sounds like plain irresponsibility. But I didn’t want to say that childbirth itself is a sin. Each child is to be received joyfully. It is the contraceptive mentality which frowns (or tends to frown) upon the children themselves. Here I am “frowning” against the irresponsibility of “indiscriminate birth,” and then only in circumstances in which children are not provided for as they should be. In that sense I agreed with his comments.


Further dialogues on the subject:
An essential purpose of marriage is to beget children, and a big part of the problem today is what is called the “contraceptive mentality.” Children are regarded as a burden, and the goal of many couples is to “multiply” as little as they can. This is a fundamental shift in attitude from that of all – repeat ALL – Christian bodies prior to 1930. The eugenicists, humanists, and Planned Parenthood types a la Margaret Sanger have won a great victory, and made inroads into the attitudes of Christians I’m sure they wouldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.

I believe our culture today would be very different if only Christians had kept having children at the rates they used to, rather than being scarcely any different than their pagan counterparts – barely reproducing above the ZPG rate. This would have been a much more Christian culture, because “demographics is destiny.” There would be more Christians! We probably wouldn’t have abortion and the other evils we are plagued with to anywhere near the same extent. Sad . . .

The Catholic view on this does not hold that one must “leave all to God” (or nature). In the famous papal encyclical Humanae Vitae from 1968 it is clearly stated that there are legitimate reasons for “spacing births” or avoiding additional children (including financial, emotional, and health reasons). The point is that one must not have what we call a “contralife will” or deliberately thwart the natural processes as God made them for the sole intent of sexual pleasure.

Do you believe that God can circumvent birth control if His will is for someone to have children?

Yes, but that doesn’t make contraception moral or permissible. This is no reason for contraception. I could just as easily argue, “I’m gonna close up my throat. If God wants me to breathe or eat he will make a way to cause that, by osmosis or something . . .” I exaggerate, too, but both techniques are ludicrous and violate natural law and the nature of things.

But I don’t see that there is anything wrong from keeping the fertilization from happening in the first place, and God will create life when He wants with or without our assistance or our deterrence. Just my opinion. ;)

You are contravening the natural law and the natural and expected outcome of sexual intercourse. There is a reason why Christianity unanimously opposed this till this century, and a reason why things changed. Contraception had to first occur before abortion became accepted and legal almost universally. The correlation is very clear. Countries which first allow contraception always soon allow abortion as well. The evidence for this is incontrovertible.

Just look at the U.S.: The Pill began being used widely around 1960. The Sexual Revolution followed soon after (as fear of pregnancy was largely removed, and the fruit of theological liberalism upon sexual morality began to exhibit itself). Pushes for legal abortion began in earnest in the late 60s (because unrestrained sex produces certain “consequences” and these are not always wanted), and the law was changed in 1973. It doesn’t take long. Change the root assumption, and what follows from that assumption will also soon change. “Ideas have consequences.”

Now – I believe largely because of abortion – we see pushes for assisted suicide and euthanasia, and we already have partial-birth infanticide: one of the most grisly, horrible, wicked things imaginable. Even the great “hero” John Glenn favors that, along with (recently), about 36 United States Senators. God help us . . .

A Catholic friend, Alexander Pruss [now a well-known Catholic philosopher], added:

One of the questions raised [above] was by a Protestant who asked whether rhythm wouldn’t have been forbidden prior to 1930 as well. In 1880 the Sacred Penitentiary ruled that Catholics who used a rhythm-like method (the method as it turns out didn’t work at all–in fact, it had the couple abstaining during much of the infertile time and having sex during the fertile time!–but this was not known at the time and anyway is morally irrelevant) should not be troubled, provided due prudence is used. So periodic abstinence was certainly permitted.

I would explain the difference between NFP and contraception more simply by just asking the question of what the cause of the infertility is. In the one case, it’s the natural cycle. In the other case, it’s the action of the couple.

See also: Is Natural Family Planning a ‘Heresy’? [Catholic teaching as far back as 1853] (Fr. Brian W. Harrison, Roman Theological Forum, January 2003).

Many more related articles can be found on my Life Issues web page.


(originally from 1996 and 1998)

Photo credit: Chris Barker (4-16-06) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]


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