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November 11, 2011


Crossing the great barrier…

Over at St Joseph’s Vanguard, there have been some conversations about the orthodox faith, you can view them here:

Orthodox Question: Immaculate Mary


The 6 Attractions of Eastern Orthodoxy

and here (read down for a good irenic discussion of contraception):

The Achilles’ Heel of Orthodoxy

I like Devin, I like his Apologetics and he writes about topics that interest me. I don’t always get involved, but I do read every post. The three discussions above have sparked an interest in checking out the Orthodox faith, during our personal conversion Michelle and I did talk about it, but could only find one little tiny church way on the other side of town. So in essence we skipped it, and ended up going Catholic.

I’m happily Catholic after years of evangelical nonsense, but there are Catholic issues that have always bothered me, I’ve been open and honest about that. There is an interesting discussion in the second and third link about contraception and the Catholic belief. From my viewpoint the Catholic position is far too legalistic to make any kind of sense when you bring Grace into the picture. The whole idea of any barrier method of contraception being a sin (and a mortal one at that), and then allowing NFP (Natural Family Planning) which is just a different form of natural barrier contraception is a real problem. Catholic Apologist will bend over backwards to say the two are different, but let’s be honest and admit that the point of contraception, and the point of NFP is to prevent pregnancy. You can argue successfully that contraception has other ramifications, but that misses the core purpose. In my opinion trying to disassociate the two so you can say one is licit (NFP) and the other is not (barrier contraception or BC) is dishonest at best. Just to be clear I’m only referring to non-abortive contraception here, anything else I agree %100 with the church on.

I’ve long held that the Catholic position on BC is nothing more than an idealized view of sex in marriage, with little basis in reality. Apologists will say that the pleasure found in sex is a gift from God and that the sole purpose of sex is procreation, that’s a statement that only someone either celibate, confused, or trying to stake out a theological position would make. I’ll put this as plainly as I can: there is nothing on this earth that feels better than sex. Can anyone truly argue with this statement? (I’m sure someone could, but I’d ignore them as being a crank), and if my premise is true (which for me it certainly is), then why would God make it so? Why take something so exquisite and turn it into a secondary? If your married, can you deny that intimacy in marriage makes it stronger?, if you deny that then how do you explain the Song of Solomon? If there ever was a book that bordered on religious porn, it’s that. Obviously our desires for our spouses is a good thing, so why deny it and subvert it’s obvious purpose?

I’ve heard arguments that the church is obsessed with sex, and in a way I suppose that’s true. To be fair however it is an important topic, and one that the bible constantly refers too, so the church is not out of line addressing it. The problem I have is that their position is so entrenched that they are not capable of taking modern science into view, the church states that it values science, but in this area it will not be budged by any revelation science can bring.

The Orthodox position is actually very closely aligned, with small allowances made for couples who having children could pose health issues, for either the parents or child, or other factors. While still restrictive, the very fact that they are willing to consider alternatives in a valid marriage is very attractive. In what little reading I’ve done, they have a more realistic view of sex in marriage, and yet it’s still very close the Catholic position. One big difference is that they do not believe the ONLY reason for sex is procreation, a view which I wholly agree with.

One issue I want to point out, is that in reading Catholic material on the topic, and listening to various Catholic apologist (Catholic Answers Radio is a constant source of frustration for me ;), it becomes clear that many who write about sex from the Catholic viewpoint, either don’t understand it, or live in a world run by the Disney Animation team. I’m not sure how to say this without offending someone: Sex in marriage is not about angels, candles, and saying a prayer while participating (and if it is, your doing it wrong, trust me on this). Sex is physical, animalistic in some parts, and a very base activity (for both Humans and Animals). That doesn’t make it unholy, God is not interested in our view of how he created things, and to deny this very physical part of sex is just wrong. It’s taken me years, but during our conversion I’ve come to the conclusion that what many people think about things that are holy, are just plain wrong. We are disgusting beings, we sin, we make messes, we are anything but pure and white in our physical being, and yet God loves us. So applying a biblical standard to the common human needs just doesn’t seem to align with a God who would create us this way. Just bear this in mind, can any believer deny that Christ in the incarnation, didn’t have to go to the bathroom like the rest of us? (trying to be polite here). I’m not trying to be disgusting, but to point out that if he was truly incarnate, then he had to do the same disgusting things we do as humans. Meaning that holiness has little to do with our physical nature, if that is the case, then why treat sex (which is pretty darn physical) as something different?

The other issue that bothers me deeply, is just how little some Catholics think about these issues. While in RCIA, a friend was going on about a Catholic speaker who made the statement that “Ladies, remember that birth control was invented by a man!!”, She offered this little gem as is if it surmised a whole and successful argument. I didn’t challenge it at the time, but this type of inductive reasoning makes the Catholic position less defendable (and I’ve heard that kind of nonsense a lot). I could take the same premise and make all kinds of wild statements based on supposition and bad syllogisms. I could have countered: “Ladies think about this: Only MEN have ever been to the moon, remember that next time you feel its romantic effects ladies!!”. Its the same with statistics, every generation claims that they are the worst, or that some moral issue is destroying the fabric of their lives from the last generation. When I was Baptist, it was atheism and darwin. Those evils where destroying everything, but with just a *little* research one finds that the Atheists have a point about how stupid believers can be, clinging to anything that furthers their message, and jettisoning anything contrary to their theology. My point is not to defend Darwin or Atheists, but to point out that in our desperate search for the truth and information that supports our theology, we ignore all those little issues that could cause us to question.

So where am I headed with this, well a couple of things really…

1. While I agree with %98 of what the Catholic church teaches about sex in marriage and contraception, there is a small percentage I think they get wrong.

2. Again we need people in our day and age who challenge what they are told, I am so amazed when people say we live in the information age, you couldn’t tell tell from how little people know about core issues or even think about things and just follow what they are told.

3. I’m finding that on some issues, I am in alignment with the Eastern Orthodox church’s.

Not sure where that will lead, but its an interesting development nonetheless…

Make with it what you will…


P.S. I didn’t cite a bunch of sources, which I probably should have. But doing so takes time and more effort than I have in me right now. There is a logic test next week, and as usual I have to get studying or fail 😉

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 11 2011

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for reading my blog and responding with your thoughts here. Interestingly, due to infertility, my wife and I don’t have the same difficulties with fertility awareness (aka NFP) that most couples do (since most couples have high fertility, the normal state of things).

    For us, we’ve been able to conceive and also get to the root of some health issues, by using fertility awareness, so it has only been a positive for us. What shocks me is how few people outside of Catholics know about it. We’ve heard sad stories from many couples who have had trouble conceiving or had multiple miscarriages and their doctors have no clue at all about how to get to the root of the issues, something NaPro and the Pope Paul VI Institute can do. We inform anyone like this about these organizations so they can get help.

    That said, I can see how Orthodoxy’s position(s) on contraception could be appealing. It’s less strict than the Catholic Church’s. And the Catholic arguments, while I find them convincing, are not slam-dunks (something you allude to). I see the whole framework of the theology of the body to be a positive explanation of the Church’s teachings, which often come across in a negative way. To me, Orthodoxy’s positions reveal a lack of institutional capability of responding to a new moral and theological problem.

    In any event, I’d say read over this article, which takes a slightly different tack in presenting the arguments for the Church’s teachings in this area, and let me know what you think:

    God bless!

    • Nov 11 2011

      I’m glad you and your wife found a way through infertility, I’ve had both family members and close friends who have suffered through the process. It can easily destroy marriages, or at very least damage them.

      You raise a good point I should have mentioned, I think the Catholic position is very strong, but it’s nowhere near a slam dunk. I would be OK with that, if it was presented in that light. But read anything on Catholic Answers or Catholic Apologetics sties and you find that the response given many times is so black and white, that I wonder how couples struggling with the issue can stay Catholic. It’s why I for the most part don’t trust Apologists of any stripe (there are exceptions, but not many), I spent years getting pounded on the KJV only issue, then I discovered when pressed for an honest detailed answer, they couldn’t give one. That was the beginning of my grumpy skeptical personality 😉

      One of the local parish priests talked about this recently in a religious ed class, it’s one thing to offer an apologetic removed from the humanity of the decision, it’s another to sit and share in the pain of a couple who have valid reasons for not conceiving. He mentioned a couple who’s only option left was IVF, his point was that what the Church teaches is doctrine, not Dogma and at the end of the day it’s really their decision, consequences and all. He explained what the church teaches, and offered any spiritual assistance they needed, and as much compassion as he could. How you view the issue I guess depends on your experience (gasp, I need to careful and not start quoting Hume!!!)

      I get a little grumpy when people start glossing over important information to make their point, but I do it as well, so I’m certainly not any better. I like the Orthodox position, but that isn’t enough to cause a jump to the other side. It would take something really drastic to do that.



      • Nov 11 2011


        Yeah there’s a temptation in the apologetics world to have all the answers, or at least act like it, as if the slightest hint of uncertainty or weakness would make the whole thing collapse.

        What’s funny is, I was a relatively unknown Catholic guy who in his spare time did apologetics. Still am, thankfully. But now that Catholic Answers is going to publish my book, suddenly there’s a pressure to have The Answer to every question and to know everything. I don’t know everything. I have a lot to learn. And I plan not to hide that. One of the things I think God has shown me is that He wants everyone to know Him in truth, and He made it so that you don’t have to have a Ph.D, or be a know-it-all Apologist, to do so.

        Regarding the human aspect, you are right. I can affirm that same-sex relations are immoral. But it’s another thing to stand in front of someone (as I have) who struggles with same-sex attraction and meet them as a person, to have a real discussion with them and learn who they are and what their difficulties are.

        God bless!

  2. Nov 13 2011


    Regarding the article, there are a number of problems with it that I see…

    Their main point is this (if I may surmise)…

    The Conjugal act has two main parts:

    1. The unitive function, of bringing the couple together.
    2. The procreative function.

    Pleasure is a side effect of these two as a whole, and anything that subverts either part is invalid. To truly give all of oneself in marriage you must have both parts.

    Interesting, but it’s just as damaged as the Churches position, in the notes they make a reference that couples who cannot knowingly concieve still fulfill both 1 and 2 because they are ‘open to life’. So the authors want to have it both ways:

    On the one hand they want to say that you either intend to create, or the act is meaningless and neither 1 or 2 is fulfilled.

    But on the other hand if you can’t conceive (say a hysterectomy), you are still fulfilling both parts because you are open to 1 and 2.

    What I find more interesting is they do not go to the mortal sin level, if you’ve gone this far, why not follow this to it’s logical conclusion. That being if you use ANY contraception, OR if you have coitus and knowingly can’t conceive. You have broken your union with God, and will go straight to hell if you don’t confess before your death.

    But to say that the unitive function is broken because some philosopher or theologian states that you have to have both parts, is an inductive argument at best. The author provides zero evidence for his conclusion, which is based on his premise that you can’t have one without the other.

    When I was attending the RCIA this question came up by a gentlemen who was older, he wanted to know what the church thought. Because they where both past the child bearing age, but still wanted to be intimate. The Fr. did a great job and told them that the church believed in love in marriage and that it was shared through intimacy.

    If we where being truly honest, and if God really wanted a couple to have children, he would find a way. He did so with Abraham, and my oldest who was born despite my wife being on birth control at the time.

    I think in our quest for piety have assumed that God works like we do, and have applied a standard that we can’t fully support. To make matters worse, when confronted with the harsh reality of where logically that position takes us, even the best among us detract from being hardline.

    Empirically I can tell you that the unitive function of sex works even without the procreative portion. Before I converted, I got the V surgery, and my wife and I’s love for each other grows as the years go by. I can also say with certainty that when we struggle in our relationship, intimacy always and I mean ALWAYS restores our bond. No matter what the church says..

    Good article…



  3. Nov 15 2011

    “He mentioned a couple who’s only option left was IVF, his point was that what the Church teaches is doctrine, not Dogma and at the end of the day it’s really their decision, consequences and all. He explained what the church teaches, and offered any spiritual assistance they needed, and as much compassion as he could.”

    IVF is the “only option left” like abortion would seem to be the “only option left”. That is to say, it is NOT the only option.
    IVF involves self abuse (masturbation), almost always results in the murder of unused embryos, and a faulty view of humanity… that we “deserve” to physically be parents. In SOME (not all) ways it is no different than having a sex change operation. Doing moraly wrong things to have an end result that in itself is a good (being pregnant, being male or female).
    So the priest you mention is not being compassionate, because he needs to tell the people that what they are doing is evil. He can say it in a nice way, but lying to people about the Church’s moral teaching is the opposite of compassion.

    I suggest that in your disillusionment with the Catholic Church you consider where the keys are located. That is what keeps me in the Church. If the Catholic Church IS the one true Church, then issues like contraception can be submitted to. Heck, that issue seems liek it should be an obvious one to me. I was convinced contraception was evil even as a Protestant.
    The Church Fathers also profoundly disagree with your assesment of contraception:

    “You can argue successfully that contraception has other ramifications, but that misses the core purpose.”

    The “other ramifications” are quite important, and do not miss anything. Preventing her from conceiving makes a wife a whore, and a father a pimp (St. Augustine said this). NFP (which I have used for 11 years) does not prevent anything. In fact ~7 or my wifes ~9 pregnancies were conceived while practicing NFP, and some of them were POSITIVELY concieved that way (we used NFP to concieve). There is no guarantee NFP will work, and the practitioner is still leaving things in Gods hands.

    Also, you seem to skip over the requirements for someone to use NFP. There needs to be a valid reason. Your point reminds me of the Protestant who claims a Catholic can just sin and go to confession as much as he wants. As you know, thats not true. It ignores the need fr a firm purpose of amendment. With NFP, there must be a good reason.
    Example: If my wife conceives a few months after giving birth she will have miscarriages. During that time, I am grateful to the Church for alowing the option of either abstaining or using NFP. Although the intent is that she not concieve, the ultimate intent is that she have another healthy baby a few months down the line. NFP could potentially help us to have MORE babies. This is a good reason. NFP is illicit if it is for a bad reason.

    “In my opinion trying to disassociate the two so you can say one is licit (NFP) and the other is not (barrier contraception or BC) is dishonest at best. ”

    Then you are calling the magitserium of the Catholic Church dishonest at best. Will you submit to the mind of the Church on this issue or not?

  4. Nov 15 2011


    Thanks for the response, I did not mean to imply that IVF is a good option, it certainly has some very serious problems as you noted.
    We never had any problems with conception, but my brother did and went through a long an painful process, I’m not sure there are any good options. We have had close friends who have suffered as well.

    I can’t say what the good Fr. told them or did not, he did not share at that detail, his point (which I agree with) is that sometimes doctrine written in black and white terms isn’t always a compassionate thing when it runs directly into real situations.

    NFP has been proposed to us as an alternative to contraception, I’ve seen this in two parishes. We didn’t attend because I had a vasectomy long before we converted so there’s no need (btw it’s not something I would do again, given the choice), but there was no mistaking the intent. As Devin pointed out it can be used for conception purposes, this isn’t something new or unique. Those techniques have been around for a while, but if that’s the main goal then it’s certainly not being proposed that way.

    “Preventing her from conceiving makes a wife a whore, and a father a pimp (St. Augustine said this).”

    And if you are past child bearing years, then what? Are you now just using each other? Since I had a surgery are we now supposed to stop having intimate relations?

    The issue I’m pointing out and that Augustine made is that these black and white positions don’t work in the real world. So as a convert who cannot conceive am I now just prostituting my wife when we are intimate?

    Also your statement that using NFP after your wife gives birth is licit, but (and I’m assuming here) that barrier contraception is not in this situation. Is a perfect example of how weak the churches position is, NFP used this way is no different than barrier contraception. Both have the same goal, but one is considered a mortal sin for no other reason than what? whats the rationale?

    “Then you are calling the magitserium of the Catholic Church dishonest at best. Will you submit to the mind of the Church on this issue or not?”

    Not dishonest, but mistaken. I don’t think that the church or the magisterium has bad intentions, but I do think in some areas it has entered into non-essentials.

    Days of obligation is another good example, there are 6 that are considered core to the church. The rest have been added on, and are different based on your country, but all are considered mandatory and if you don’t attend mass your committing a mortal sin. I can’t find any teaching other than the Catechism to back that up.

    I still attend and do as asked, but I don’t agree, and until someone can make the case I will continue to disagree. At least I’m willing to talk about it :)




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