Wednesday, September 25, 2002

A Little more on NFP

I had hoped not to go here, but now am finding that this is helping clarify my thinking. I posted this comment in the thread over at Amy's discussion this morning. It was in response to a participant who argued that NFP is not equivalent to artifical contraception. As I re-read his comment, it appears I may have lumped him in with some who were denying that NFP was contraceptive at all, but my thinking here still stands in reply to that idea, if not to the (very civil and kind) gentleman to whom it was addressed.

All acts of abstention are clearly not contraceptive. And I'm not condemning anyone for what I say now but: the reality is, if a couple were contemplating intercourse this evening, and then after consulting the tables/charts/software, came to the conclusion that to do so might lead to conception, and therefore abstained from sex solely for the purpose of not conceiving, that action (abstaining in the face of unitive desire) would be contraceptive in nature.

I'm not saying that NFP isn't a better method than artificial means (barriers are messy and unromantic and intrusive, and hormones are often unpleasant) I'm merely challenging the legalism whereby one arrives at a notion that choosing to act in a certain way for the sole and deliberate purpose of altering the procreative nature of a marriage is not contraception.

That it is "natural" is a good thing, but not the best thing. Without honestly answering the question "is it or is it not really contraception," its natural qualities play into things only so far as they are aesthetically pleasing. "Coitus Interruptus" is "natural" too, in the sense that it involves no chemical or artificial barriers, but few people would argue in favor its use--partially on grounds of effectiveness, but also on aesthetic ones.

I am honestly in muddied ground on this issue. But when a teaching falls back on narrow, inscrutable legalisms, it makes me highly skeptical of its truth. Teachings that must primarily appeal to reason, rather than faith, have to meet a high standard of reasonableness (I use that last term very narrowly, not in the mushy sense of "that seems reasonable" but "able to be reasoned.") Teachings about the Trinity appeal as much or more to Faith than Reason, because they substantively involve things that exist outside our normal frame of reference, that can only be inferred and analogized. Marriage and child-bearing are essentially human activities, with spiritual overtones, and almost any man and woman can experience them directly, for themselves. So any teaching about them must rest on universal principles and truths. I do not assert that teachings on contraception fail that test, but I also cannot yet assert that they pass it.


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