Avoiding Fallout from Theological Time Bombs

Avoiding Fallout from Theological Time Bombs May 6, 2009

George Weigel has famously described John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as “a kind of theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences . . . perhaps in the twenty-first century.”  Weigel and John Paul II’s diverse analyses of bombs generally notwithstanding, I have the suspicion that Weigel is right here.  Theology of the Body fever is sweeping through the Church.  Conferences are held with increasing regularity, a secondary literature is flourishing and the Catholic e-community simply cannot restrain from singing the praises of TOB on blogs and social networking sites.

As a supporter of John Paul’s work in the area of human sexuality this movement gives me hope for the Church and for the future.  Nevertheless, I want to suggest that both the credibility of the Church and the spiritual health of individual Christians depend on our ability to be discerning in communicating Church teaching in this area.  Too often, TOB is presented in an emotionally charged manner that is high on solidifying Catholic identity over against a corrupt culture and low on practical advice and support for Catholic couples.

One of the key planks in the TOB platform is the rejection of artificial contraception and the promotion of Natural Family Planning.  John Paul II himself was careful to make this connection explicit.  Anyone who has read TOB with care can pick up John Paul’s frustration that many of the faithful seem to have misread the argumentation in Humanae Vitae.  One of his goals in producing the Theology of the Body was to clarify that argumentation and ground it in a Christian anthropology that was credible to the modern reader.

Without suggesting that condemnation of artificial contraception is the sole aim of TOB, it is this topic that I want to focus my comments on in this piece.  My wife and I use NFP in our own marriage and I have had extensive conversations with other practicing couples.  I have also been able to talk to those who have worked in NFP education for decades.  From such experiences, I am confident that there is overwhelming evidence that the way in which NFP is promoted by the TOB cheerleaders is producing casualties.

Too often, Natural Family Planning is presented as a cure-all for marital ill.  We’ve all seen the stats.  Couples using NFP have dramatically lower divorce rates than the culture generally and, given appropriate caveats about proper teaching and motivation, NFP is as effective as anything else for those trying to avoid pregnancy.  But there are other statistics that would be useful for helping us diagnose our presentation of NFP to the faithful.  What is the percentage of couples that start their marriage using NFP but, after frustration and guilt, switch to artificial contraceptives?  What is the percentage that are forced into long spells of abstinence because they can’t discern fertility and don’t know of any resources available to help them?  If you’ve worked in the area at all, you know that those numbers aren’t negligible.

The groups promoting the Theology of the Body need to be more honest in their presentation of Church teaching about what Humanae Vitae referred to as the “difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples”.  In some situations NFP can be very difficult, bringing anxiety to the love lives of Christian couples.  Sometimes the only solution is continence but, at other times, recourse to a certified teacher can help to clear up the issue.  In every case, the support of the Christian community and the solidarity of other struggling couples would serve to ease the burden of the couple.

The trouble is that, because we spend so much time celebrating our moral superiority and waxing eloquent about NFP’s advantages, couples who are caught in a tough spot feel isolated.  They don’t know that there are other couples in their own parish with the same problems and with whom they could find support.  They don’t know that the successful practice of NFP can require regular recourse to professional teachers, especially during illness or after a baby.  They feel guilty when NFP makes their marriage tougher rather than easier.  And, often enough, they abandon Church teaching.

When I bring this problem up, I am often told that we can’t talk too loudly about the struggles of NFP or we’ll never be able to sell it.  In my view this is entirely backwards.  The Christian life isn’t about magic benefits, but about discipleship.  We are far better off if those with an aversion to sacrifice ignore Church teaching from the outset than if we leave a trail of people whose faith has been shaken because Church teaching wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

On a practical level this means a few things.  When we promote NFP at conferences and marriage prep classes, we need to be clear about providing resources for people who struggle.  People need to know they’re not alone and that help is available.  This also means actually making help available.  Start support groups for NFP users.  Start them in your parishes.  Start them online.  (We’d love to hear about and promote such groups here at Vox Nova.)

Groups that teach the actual nuts and bolts of NFP need to be clear that help is available to couples in difficult situations.  The rest of us need to teach people that, when they can’t discern their fertility, they need to keep calling for help until they get an answer.  We can’t let those who struggle suffer in guilt and silence.

To let people suffer in silence because of a misplaced fear that telling the truth about NFP will scare away potential users is inexcusable in a religious tradition that has always affirmed both the scandalous nature of its own message and that truth is the essential prerequisite for freedom.  The bomb is exploding.  We must do all we can to eliminate collateral damage.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.  He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go?  A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.

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  • Dale Price

    Bravo–well stated. NFP is too often presented in happy-clappy, therapeutic terms.

    It is neither. As someone else put it, it often involves a dying to self, with all that implies. A lot more support for and understanding of that is not merely nice, it’s necessary.

  • Dale Price

    Bravo–well stated. NFP is too often presented in happy-clappy, therapeutic terms.

    It is neither. As someone else put it, it often involves a dying to self, with all that implies. A lot more support for and understanding of that is not merely nice, it’s necessary.

  • Great post! There is definitely a pastoral need here!

  • Great post! There is definitely a pastoral need here!

  • Well said. It’s a difficult balance to strike, I guess, because, on the one hand, it’s important in a contraceptive culture to show enthusiasm for NFP, and explain the rich theological underpinnings of TOB. On the other hand, my wife and I have had reservations about some of the over-the-top claims made in the service of NFP. The good news is that NFP and TOB are being more widely taught, at least that is my anecdotal impression. The bad news is that sometimes they are not taught well.

  • Well said. It’s a difficult balance to strike, I guess, because, on the one hand, it’s important in a contraceptive culture to show enthusiasm for NFP, and explain the rich theological underpinnings of TOB. On the other hand, my wife and I have had reservations about some of the over-the-top claims made in the service of NFP. The good news is that NFP and TOB are being more widely taught, at least that is my anecdotal impression. The bad news is that sometimes they are not taught well.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    Outstanding post. I, too,started talking about the difficulties of bringing NFP into the marriage and was told I would “make people cynical.” If people are bluntly told what the situation is I believe they will make good decisions.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    Outstanding post. I, too,started talking about the difficulties of bringing NFP into the marriage and was told I would “make people cynical.” If people are bluntly told what the situation is I believe they will make good decisions.

  • Liam

    This is part and parcel of the fact that deep preparation for extended periods of spiritual dryness and desolation has long been at best perfunctory (“offer it up”) or non-existent for the vast majority of Catholic in the USA. This is perhaps the deepest root of many of the problems we attribute post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc to other things.

  • Peter John

    When NFP is just proposed as the Catholic alternative to artificial contraception (without addressing the contraceptive mindset that is so deeply embedded and taken for granted in our culture) and NFP is promoted like its the most amazing life changing thing that could possibly occur within marriage, expect to find a lot of dissalusionment .

    Sorry, NFP is not and never can be “Catholic birth control”. It is not meant to be the norm within a marriage, but the exception as serious circumstances warrent. Selling it as an equal alternative to artificial contraception is shortsighted, damaging, and is not presenting the full teaching of the Church.

    I have three boys 4 and under. The second one almost died shortly after birth and was on heart bypass for 2 weeks. Our third has Noonan Syndrome. So I could be jumping around talking about how wonderful NFP could be in our current situation, but the fact is that Love+Gift of Self=Sacrifice and is hard as hell no matter what. But it is also beautiful and deep and robust. So if baby number 4 happens upon us we’ll whisper an Ave and carry on. Children are the Gift.

  • Brett, I think you are right; honesty means we talk about the problems and not just the positive points of NFP. We are not sorry that we used NFP during our fertile years, but there were definitely times when it was very difficult to discern fertility. Especially during weaning and perimenopause.
    Peter John, I hear you!

  • JB

    Good post Brett!

    My wife is in the process of being trained to teach NFP, and we have also had conversations with several couples doing the same.

    I think you are right on, but I think it is also much broader. The way some “retreat-types” talk about abstinence until marriage and other related issues can lead teens to think that the wedding night will be all fireworks and no hiccups. They are told that sex is awesome, but worth waiting for. When they experience sexual frustrations they are likely to feel too ashamed to talk about it and to learn that that is fairly normal.

    We desperately need to reclaim both the sacredness of sex, as opposed to its filthiness. Doing so will enable us to talk about it more easily and openly and thus more experienced couples can offer help and advice to those who need it.

  • I wrote the following reflection a while ago:

    Suppose, hypothetically, I told you I’m going to be giving a talk as part of my local parish’s pre-marriage training program. The topic would be a sensitive issue that many couples face, and one on which the Church’s teachings differ greatly from the practices of a secular society. I would tell the young couples that this practice involves the temporary cessation of a good thing, with the hope of restoring it as soon as it would be possible and beneficial. I would tell them that some couples who have endured this have found that it afforded them a better understanding of themselves and each other in the final analysis. I would tell them that it doesn’t involve any risky medical procedures or drugs. I would remind them that it should only be undertaken in cases where there is grave reason, as determined with the help of a spiritual director. They would hear that it should be temporary and of short duration if possible, and that the necessity of it would be considered regrettable according to Catholic teaching – and not to be regarded as a panacea.

    Suppose I then told you my talk would be about marital separations. Would that be surprising?

    Excellent post. I wish more Catholics were discussing the points you make.

  • Just last night, my wife and I were talking about the difficulties of NFP and we are getting top notch expert help.

    A friend of ours who used to teach NFP agrees with Dale that it ought to be given straight and not with a shovel full of sugar.

    And JB makes a good point, if I understand him correctly, that TOB can become more about embracing the filth than about the sacredness of sex. A great post at the Dawn Patrol a while back made the point that there is little about sacrifice in TOB. That is a lacuna which must be filled.

  • Ronald King

    I was born after WW II and raised in the faith pre-Vatican II. I learned about sex from the mortal sin perspective in the faith and made confessions weekly as depicted in the beginning of the movie St. Ralph. It is the best running movie ever made. I learned more about sex through older friends and their stash of magazines. The military and my time in Taiwan taught me more about sex and more about who I truly am. I suppose I was being taught theology of the body from the experiential sinful perspective.
    I realized during those experiences that women have a value that was mysterious to me and I could not use them for my own pleasure without the use of drugs or alcohol to numb the evolving truth coming to my awareness. When the numbing effect decreased guilt and shame would look me in the eye.
    When I married in ’75 birth control was the key to freedom of sexual pleasure. Well, that did not seem to work out as I thought it would because for some reason the beautiful creature in my life started to experience feelings of disappointment with me that had nothing to do with sex and pleasure. What was her problem? Me. “Man plans and God laughs.”
    In spite of birth control we were given two gifts from God that continue to be loved and appreciated more each day.
    We never practiced in the old days the “rhythm” method and she was always the one who was responsible for using whatever method we used to control the act to prevent pregnancy. I was neurotic and consequently fearful of taking risks that would have made me a better mate in my ability to provide security for my family and my wife. I got a vasectomy in ’86 because of my failure to create security and also thinking that I could now be free of worry and really enjoy sex whenever I wanted to. Wrong again.
    The statement that still haunts me, “…no more beautiful brown-eyed babies.”, is my fault. The fear of having babies is my fault. I have not fully read TOB directly from JP II so I cannot comment with any insight but that does not stop me from commenting.
    I wonder how someone who had lost his mother at a young age and had never been in a sexual relationship can know the intimate life of a man and woman except through being inspired through the imagination and visualizing the ideal couple that is the end result of a life of struggle through the suffering that accompanies that desire to love and be loved.
    After 34 years I love my wife more than ever and it was not my effort that got me here. God showed me in 2004 after 40 years away from catholicism that women are God’s gift of His Love to this world and that as a man I could not come to that awareness on my own. Only through His Grace did I know that. As a man I now know that in the deepest heart and soul of every woman there is a human history of violence and intimidation expressed by men towards women. At the deepest level of their being they are afraid of us and they know instinctively that we do not see them nor really know them. I do not know if that is addressed in TOB or in NFP. If it is not addressed then a huge source of fear is still separating the couple from that love that gives life in the relationship.
    Any comments?

  • grega

    A remarkable post matched by a number of equally remarkable personal comments.
    For me the key is to be able to recognize and respect the many couples that for a number of reasons are NOT comfortable relying solely on NFP. I get a sense that this recognition is expressed between the lines.
    Thank you for that. Having said that.
    In my view the capital N it is not entirely justified in light of the fact that the emphasis certainly is clearly on the P -nFP anyone:)? Without getting too personal, in my experience nature steers desires towards the most fertile periods – in that sense NFP is perhaps a tad unnatural. Call it ‘difficult’ if you must.

  • John R

    Thanks for this post. I think that a lot of scrutiny needs to be applied to various methods of NFP and their advantages and disadvantages. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who were given a 2-day crash course in NFP at some marriage retreat, were handed a book and a thermometer, and basically told, “Okay, it’s now up to you!”

    There are other methods which require multiple follow-up one-on-one meetings with a licensed practitioner (my wife is one). There a woman or a couple can ask the questions they need to in a quiet, private environment. The practitioner can help a couple spot difficulties like hormonal imbalances or even symptoms of cancer, and refer them to a doctor. The method I am referring to here is the Creighton Model, now overseen by the Pope Paul VI institute in Omaha, NE. It’s also a program that teaches all this in language that makes it friendly to non-Catholics. I can’t tell you how many of my wife’s clients are non-Catholic or non-Christian, but are practicing this method because they want to opt out of methods (the pill) that will require them to pump artificial hormones into their body.

    What I like about the Creighton Model is that the practitioners undergo a rigorous training program that basically helps them avoid this sugar-coating “Oh, it’s all roses and chocolate!” mentality. And the follow-ups mean that those learning the method, instead of getting frustrated and turning to artificial birth control, can actually get the medical care they need even during breastfeeding, pre-menopause, etc.

    Not to sound like an advertisement, but in my own personal experience, it’s a method that seems to help people around some of the difficulties the author has outlined.

    Like other commentators here, I strongly recommend that people find a group of other NFP-users for mutual support and encouragement. A couple can’t do this alone; they need to ask God for assistance, esp. during difficult times, and they need the community of believers to lift them up!

    John

  • cradlecatholic

    Peter John’s post is indicative of the deep divide among the Practitioners of NFP and within the Church.

    While he states that NFP should not be the norm, the Catholic Church has never taught that.

    In Humanae Vitae the Church spoke on responsible parenthood. Under those guidelines it is up to the conscience, state in life, ability to provide and ecucate for a couple to decide on their family size. Among the discussion of responsible parenthood physical health and mental health are also included.

    No where in Church teaching does it state that Catholics behave immorally by having small families, or limiting their family size for Just reason ‘justia Causa’.

    Of course the word ‘generous’ is used in Humanae Vitae but ‘generous’ is contingent upon the particular situation of a couple and cannot be set in stone. So, for one couple 2 children may be generous, for another 8.

    Those that disagree that NFP ‘as the Norm’ argue that NFP is being used with a ‘Contraceptive’ mentality.

    And what does that mean? Does that mean that a couple who has prayed and reflected cannot make a decision to use NFP for the rest of their marriage to avoid having more children?

    Does it mean that if scientific advances in the understanding of how more effectively to use NFP render it 99.9% effective, with less abstaining, that it would become ‘more contraceptive’?

    The very statement ‘NFP with a contraceptive mentality’ is deceptive.

    Contraception is a sin because it severs the Unitive and Procreative aspects of marriage NOT because it avoids another pregnancy.

    As long as there are Catholics and Catholic teachers that cling to that misunderstanding there is going to be a huge divide in the faithful.

    And, it makes one who has experienced much abstaining within marriage wonder if those people even understand the great burden of Marital Abstinence.

    I have never known a person who, in good faith, abstained for months on end and did not believe that it was a sacrifice and an absolute necessity for the good of their family.

  • John R

    Excellent comment, Cradle. And what about those who must abstain during fertile times for health reasons? I recently spoke with a couple who, because of a rare medical condition, must *not* get pregnant during the next 12 months or risk losing the child and the mother. I worry that some teacher will (mistakenly) tell them that they must abstain from all intercourse during infertile periods because participating in it would be “contraceptive” at this time in their lives. That’s like saying that all intercourse after menopause is sinful.

    It’s been my understanding that those who talk about NFP and a possible contraceptive mentality are often not up on the “unitive and procreative” aspects of the act. It is usually a subconscious channeling of St. Augustine’s general claim that intercourse is, after the fall, sinful but necessary for the continuation of the human race.

    John Paul’s assertion that marital intercourse is life-giving and love-giving is what’s revolutionary here. A married person has the duty to reflect deeply and often on whether or not he/she is primarily focused on his/her partner during the act and not focused so much on self. But, as he often wrote, the act is…well, good!

    John

  • M.Z.

    I recently spoke with a couple who, because of a rare medical condition, must *not* get pregnant during the next 12 months or risk losing the child and the mother. I worry that some teacher will (mistakenly) tell them that they must abstain…

    One would hope they would abstain. The idea that one would risk one’s wife’s life to to save from having to avoid sex for 12 short months is about the most selfish thing a person could do.

  • David Nickol

    One would hope they would abstain. The idea that one would risk one’s wife’s life to to save from having to avoid sex for 12 short months is about the most selfish thing a person could do.

    MZ,

    Are you disagreeing with his point, which I understand to be that it would not be illicit to have sex during this time. Whether it would be worth the risk is one question. Whether it would qualify as contraception and therefore be illicit is another.

  • M.Z.

    Certainly there are seperate questions. There was just a big elephant in the room.

  • grega

    “Those that disagree that NFP ‘as the Norm’ argue that NFP is being used with a ‘Contraceptive’ mentality.”
    Well hello – of course it is used with a ‘contraceptive’ mentality – that is the whole point is it not? One needs for example a thermometer – those do not grow on trees – what is really the difference between such a methodology and for example using condoms or IUD’s? Technology involved either way. Well the difference is of course that NFP indeed requires brief periods of abstinence – and that is a big reason why celebate clergy can relate and why they reluctantly endorse.

    There is indeed much virtue in modesty and restrain.
    All religions on this planet( and often secular institutions as well) recognize this and find ways to
    guide the Believers towards a disciplined approach to life. As a result we see plenty of religious advice regarding all of life’s essentials: food and sex being of course front and center.
    No big surprise really.
    But in reality these virtues are not static.
    The fact that we as humans are immensely successful in populating our finite living space has of course profound implications. Responsible mature adults consider this and as a result it indeed might be very responsible behavior in many circumstances to limit once family size.

  • NFP needs to be presented in the context of spiritual/ascetic life, since it is part of the struggle of the Christian to master himself and his desires. It requires serious committment and sacrifice.

    But NFP is the only thing that is presented unrealistically, TOB itself presents an unrealistic picture of sex. It’s spoken of almost in total abstraction from the will and intentionality of the subjects during the act, even though it is the purity of intention, among other things, that determine what the moral and qualitative experience is like.

    You hear almost nothing at all about the very real pitfalls and dangers of sex even for married couples who are *doing* everything else right. Hildebrand, for example, spoke about the possibility of ‘swamping’ or ‘drowning’ during sex. There are moral dangers present during the whole process of the act. But you don’t hear about this from Christopher West and others (at least I haven’t). They seem to be talking about sex in complete seperation from the human will, – an impossibility.

    Does anyone else think that couples are isolated and need a place (maybe online) where they can talk to other couples about sex, nfp, and the challenges of living a chaste, holy life as a married couple?

  • cradlecatholic

    Grega,

    The Catholic Church means something very specific when it talks about Contraception. I think this is a case of theological language clashing with one’s personal understanding of ‘contraception’.

    As defined by the Catholic Church, Contraception is any act or device that breaks the two meanings of the Marital Act. Those two meanings are the Unitive and the Procreative.

    As Catholics we have a responsibility to understand what the means in her teachings. Confusion in terms often leads to confusion in understanding Church teaching.

    There is a vast difference between ivf, condoms and abstaining from sex during fertile periods. In one you participate in the sexual act with a ‘barrier’ a broken expression, the Unitive being inhibited. In the other you simply refrain from expressing marital love through the sexual act.

  • David Nickol

    There was just a big elephant in the room.

    I imagine that’s even more effective than NFP.

  • David Nickol

    In one you participate in the sexual act with a ‘barrier’ a broken expression, the Unitive being inhibited.

    cradlecatholic,

    This is very abstract and difficult to understand for those of us without advanced degrees. If a woman takes the pill for some reason other than contraception (say, to treat endometriosis), then marital sex is still licit and unitive. Apparently, it is even procreative, although the drug renders the woman infertile. If she secretly takes the pill for contraceptive purposes, sex is still unitive for her husband (I would assume). If the wife is past her childbearing years, sex is still procreative. If infertile couples should have sex, say, oral sex to completion, it is not procreative even though they can’t procreate. It seems baffling to me that all sexual acts must be “open to the transmission of life” when that transmission is impossible. How can infertile couples thwart the impossible by having what for fertile couples would be nonprocreative sex? It seems to all boil down to the “tab A in slot B” theory of sexuality — that sexual acts were meant to happen in only one way, when that isn’t even the case in nature.

    By the way, I much admired the Brett Salkeld’s original post and look forward to hearing more from him.

  • Peter John

    cradlecatholic,

    It seems that you are essentially saying that NFP could not possibly be abused in a selfish or damaging way (or if it could it surely isn’t common). I grant that “contraceptive” is probably not the best term to use in the way I was using it. And it seems self-evident that NFP (speaking generally and not in every last individual case) should not be the norm for Catholic marriage.

    I am not just looking at this in a merely legalistic or mechanical way regarding the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage and whether they are being separated or not, as if that is the only consideration. I think the Church also teaches that one also has a duty to look at motives and the will, especially as to whether they are primarily oriented in a selfish (vs. self-giving) manner, or as Brian phased it above, being used with “purity of intention”.

    CCC 2368 “For just reasons …” “… It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood”. These statements suppose that NFP can be used for unjust reasons and for selfish reasons do they not?

    That is really the only claim I was making, that NFP can (and in my opinion often is) used for the selfish reasons that many might use the pill for (kids are a pain in the butt and hell of a lot of work).

    I did not once mention a minimal family size, did I? Did I ever say it was not possible for some couples to use NFP for the rest of their marriage if there were serious reasons (an obvious one would be for mental health reasons ie;. post-partum depression etc.)?

  • Peter John

    Before I’m misunderstood re: the kids are a pain in the butt comment. That is not my attitude, I am referring to the attitude of the overwhelming majority of people my wife and I come into contact with in the public sphere. The attitude is summed up in the statement “I have my #__ kids and I’m DONE!” as if one or two more children is the most disgusting thing that they could possibly imagine happening to the (still, for now) married couple. The kids are a commodity of the parents, and one or two are rarely or barely viewed as a blessing in their own right.

    God forbid another couple kids might mean a smaller shabbier house or car, a loss of that trip to Disneyland, the inability to eat out 4 times a month, or the kids going to community college instead of a Private University … … … I guess I am critiquing a world of values where mere material possessions and status are viewed with so much more worth than “one more soul”.

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  • TOB seems to be some kind of cult. It is unsurprising that African bishops are making cult-like statements in the wake of the Pope’s condom remark. What havoc Humanae Vitae hath wrought! See http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/05/a-lethal-game-pope-african-bishops-and-the-aids-epidemic.html

  • grega

    Catholics had two generations to digest Humanae Vitae – well despite the nice word mincing -at large Catholics REJECTED most practical aspects of Humanae Vitae.
    The holy musings of a livelong celibate expressed in the Theology of the Body will in my view not fare any different with the majority of Catholics – IMHO that ‘bomb’ exploded differently than envisioned in this post.
    If it takes ‘support’ groups to make NFP work – this is not going anywhere. If one has to organize special conferences to muse properly about Theology of the Body one is well on the path towards an ‘academic’ sideshow.

  • If it takes ’support’ groups to make NFP work – this is not going anywhere. If one has to organize special conferences to muse properly about Theology of the Body one is well on the path towards an ‘academic’ sideshow.

    I agree with you, grega, that the apparent significant rejection of HV by Catholics is an issue and should not be simply dismissed by those who say that morality is not a matter of majority vote. I agree that morality is not up to a majority vote, but I do think the experience of average Catholics is significant.

    That said, I disagree with the quote above. Life takes “support groups” in order to work properly. Brett’s right: NFP is not just another type of “birth control product,” but should be thought of as a way of discipleship. And discipleship in general (and in marriage) is not about isolated individuals (or isolated couples) but takes place in communities. I agree that one of the casualties of contraception is its tendency to encourage the isolation of couples from one another: the ideal romanticized north american couple set apart from everyone else.

    And the Church need not organize “special conferences” about TOB; it only needs to make sure TOB is kept out of the hands of the “cult”-types, as SVII said above and as Brett implied in his post.

  • grega

    Michael,
    I appreciate your thoughtful responds but honestly think that neither a term like ‘discipleship’ nor generalizations along the line of “Life takes support groups” can save NFP from being ever seen by most couples as something other than one option out of a good number of them.
    The question how to best incorporate the potential wisdom of a larger group has legs in many ways. This sort of thing keeps it interesting – certainly the times of “thoughtful” top down advice from the churches “Princes” coupled with the oh so convenient request for blind obedience are over.
    Religious Blogs like this with rather free discussion of all aspects of our religion being just one more piece of evidence to that point.

  • Bingo—wonderful post. One the most sober and intuitive things I’ve read for a while…