Does the End Justify the Means? A Quote from “How Far Can We Go?” for Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

Does the End Justify the Means? A Quote from “How Far Can We Go?” for Natural Family Planning Awareness Week July 22, 2012

In support of the USCCB’s National NFP Awareness Week, I’d like to share this excerpt from a book I co-authored with my dear friend and colleague Leah Perrault titled How Far Can We Go?  A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.

For many people, the Church’s distinction between the moral status of NFP and that of artificial contraception is difficult to understand.  “If Catholics have a good reason to avoid pregnancy,” they wonder, “then why does the Church care whether they use Natural Family Planning or an artificial means, such as the pill or condoms?” . . .

We can start by noting that the question in the previous paragraph presumes that the end justifies the means.  In other words, it works on the assumption that if your goal is a good one, then whatever way you try to achieve that goal is also good.  The funny thing is that neither the Church nor many people in society accept that reasoning for any other question.  We don’t accept it for making money, or for losing weight.  We don’t accept it for winning political office, or for helping the poor.  We don’t even accept it for getting violent criminals off our streets.  According to the moral reasoning used by virtually everyone in society, an act cannot be okay simply because it tries to achieve a goal that is legitimate, or even urgent.

The moral difference between artificial contraception and NFP must lie in how they work, not in what they try to achieve.  The real question is “How does artificial contraception function differently than NFP to achieve the same goal?”  To put it simply, artificial contraception removes the procreative potential from sex.  In doing so, artificial contraception fails to respect the integrity of the persons and their life-giving actions.  Natural Family Panning, which can be used both to avoid and to achieve pregnancy, works by teaching couples to engage in their sexual activity with reference to their fertility and God’s call to parenthood.  When it is used to avoid pregnancy, NFP has the same goal as artificial contraception, but it demands a change in lifestyle.  Artificial contraception, meanwhile, hopes to accomplish the same goal with as little reference, or change, to the rest of one’s life as possible.  One option demands discipline and sacrifice, while the other rejects these attitudes as unnecessarily difficult.  In most other areas of life, such as maintaining a healthy weight, it is easy to see that not doing things (such as eating junk food) when we don’t want their consequences is simply common sense.  The Church reminds us that such logic applies to our sex lives as well.

Perhaps the most concise way to express the difference between NFP and artificial contraception is simply this:  NFP alters one’s lifestyle to accommodate the nature of sex, while artificial contraception alters the nature of sex to accommodate one’s lifestyle (pp. 92-94)

If you liked this post, you might also be interested in:

What Openness to Life Does NOT Mean

Is Sexual Compatibility a Myth? Some Thoughts on Cohabitation

An Interview With the Authors of How Far Can We Go?  A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating

UPDATE:  This post seems to be getting a very regular stream of steady traffic indicative that someone somewhere has linked to it.  Would anyone mind dropping us a line and letting us know just where this link is?  Thanks, Brett.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (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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