A reader has a question about artificial contraception

A reader has a question about artificial contraception March 6, 2017

He writes:

Thanks for all your writing. I really enjoy it and find it uplifting when I’m feeling exhausted with the world. I have found your critique of Catholics who are overly focused on abortion at the expense of other Life issues to be compelling and personally convicting. So thanks for that!

On that note, I’d be curious to get your thoughts on the use of contraception for child spacing. I was reading the Gates Foundation letter (https://www.gatesnotes.com/2017-Annual-Letter) this morning and struck by the incredible work that they are doing with vaccinations and newborn care. Then I got to the section on family planning and thought: they to be pretty focused on enabling families & life rather than tearing them down or preventing them.

Here’s my question of the Church’s teaching. The Church says that families can plan for spacing or the family’s resources. But that NFP is the only valid way. NFP is a method — often using technology, like a thermometer — that uses the ingenuity of the human mind to avoid pregnancy. Contraception is a technology created by the ingenuity of the human mind. Can’t both be used for good or evil? Couldn’t a family be open to life while spacing their children using either method?

I really struggle to understand this teaching of the Church.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

First off, thank you for caring enough about the teaching of the Church to even bother to ask. Many people don’t. So: respect.

The issue is not with the use of technology. The Church is fine with technology. The issue is with the use of technology that thwarts rather than cooperates with the course of nature and the revealed purpose of sex in marriage (namely, union and fruitfulness).

Technology per se is just part of the way human beings have always done the work of “tending the Garden” of creation as they were given to do by God himself in Genesis 2. It’s an extension of our kingly work as the creatures given dominion over creation. But dominion has never meant, “There it is boys. Do whatever you like!” So when our technology thwarts and damages creation instead of making it more of what it is meant by God to be, there’s a problem. We see this when, for instance, fracking destroys clean water sources that communities need to drink.

In the same way, the Church reminds us that that the human person is himself part of nature (“from dust you are and to dust your will return”) and that “you are not your own. You were bought with a price”. That price was the blood of Christ who bought us back from slavery to sin, hell, and death. And as creatures we both participate in the natural world and require to be in harmony with the nature God himself placed in us and placed us in. So the natural processes of our own bodies should be respect and enhance, not thwarted by technology. So there is nothing wrong, for instance with Cro-Magnon man figuring out how to build a fire and use this technology to cook his dinner. There is nothing wrong with figuring out how to use fire to make copper kettles or clay pots. There are are million legitimate uses of technology to help improve nature and even our own bodies (glasses, penicillin, surgery, pacemakers, etc.) All such things are enhancing nature and making it more itself.

But consider the difference between a) fasting from food and committing to exercise in order to lose weight and b) binging and purging (so you can enjoy the flavor of food while not absorbing calories). The former cooperates with nature–with the way your body is made by God. The latter is an attempt to thwart the way your body is made in order to strip mine pleasure while beating down the way your body actually works.

Artificial contraception is the same thing. With NFP, you are cooperating with the way nature works. It doesn’t matter that you use a thermometer here any more than it matters that you use one when you have a fever. What matters is that you are cooperating with the natural rhythms of the body rather than trying to thwart defeat the way the body is made.

Here’s a little piece I wrote on this some time back. It might help too.

God bless you as you seek to cooperate with the Creator!

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