Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Contraceptives – An approach from a Christian Ethical Perspective

As Catholics, we see abortion as a great moral evil in our world because it is the murder of an innocent life. But we go even further than that because we also believe that contraception is intrinsically evil. The Catholic Church’s stance on contraception is not a popular one in the thinking of today’s world – even within Christian circles. Nowadays, most non-Catholic Christians freely practise contraception in one form or another; and sadly there are even Catholics who do not accept the Church’s teaching in this regard and blatantly ignore it.

What most Christians don’t realise is that before 1930 all Christian denominations were opposed to contraception because they understood that it was sinful. There are several reasons why the Catholic Church, as the pillar of truth, has maintained such a strong position on this most important and ancient of Christian teachings; not least of all that it is contrary to God’s purpose for married love i.e. the complete giving of the one to the other so that the two become one flesh, resulting in the “one flesh” of a child. This is why contraception is so aptly named – “contra” = against; “ception” = giving.  

Many Christians in support of contraception will claim that it is surely allowable because just as God has given us doctors with the ability to make medicines to help us with various types of sickness and ailments, so too He has given them the ability to make contraceptives that allow us to be “prudent” in spacing our children, or even preventing them altogether if need be.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were talking about this issue and she actually came up with a gem that defeats this argument at its very root. She pointed out that medicines are morally acceptable because they help us to overcome things that entered the world as a result of the Fall i.e. they help us to alleviate the curse resulting from the sin of our first parents.

The difference with children is that they are not a curse, but a blessing. Before the Fall, God gave His blessing to Adam and Eve when He told them to be fruitful and to multiply – that is, to have children in abundance. Throughout the Scriptures, an abundance of children is seen as a blessing. So, the use of medicine is ethically and morally acceptable because it helps us to overcome a result of the Fall; but the use of contraceptives (irrespective of whether they are abortifacient or not) is intrinsically evil because it works against the blessing of God and His purpose for marriage.

After an insight like that, I have considered asking her to take over the blogging from me because that is about as theologically profound as you can get.


  1. Dont wanna step on any toes or anything, but with all the differences between the New and Old testament, how can anybody be so sure. Adam and Eve were kicked out the garden for one mistake, and throughout the old testament, the punishments received were severe, but when Christ came he abdicated turning the other cheek. Surely a few other things have changed as well.

    Unfortunately in todays time, a baby is not always a blessing, its unfortunate but true.

    Besides a large family throughout history has be looked upon as a blessing, but with overpopulation and the resulting rape of the mother earth's vitality (mining, pollution... Look at China or India)that has changed.

    If contraception is used to have pre marital sex then yes it would be sinful due to the time and circumtance. But expecting married people to just accept that they will conceive a child every 1 or 2 years until menopause is a bit wrong, but like I say just my opinion...

  2. So in other words you have just begun having children!?! :)

    But seriously, Michelle and I took a decision based on this very reason back in 2004 (I think it was) to stop contraception and to trust God.

    I would be interested to learn your stance on the husband having an "operation/procedure" done to no longer have children?

    We are at a crossroads now where we have (almost) come to the conclusion that we don't feel like we can/should have any more children.

    So I'm keen to hear what your stance is as I am sure that it is something that you and Ingrid must talk about now as well?


  3. Sorry guys, I should have made it clear that the purpose of my post was only to touch on a small part of the ethical question of contraception. I really should have known that to post on such a controversial topic such as this one would require a disclaimer that this is not all that the Church has to teach on the matter. Whilst the Church teaches that contraception is wrong because it is not open to life...she also teaches that where circumstances warrant it, that married couples can practice forms of natural family planning. This is because in natural family planning every intimate marital act (i.e. sexual intercourse) is always open to giving and receiving each other completely and is thus open to the gift of life.

    So, Barry, I hope that that would provide a bit of an answer to a person (man or woman) having a procedure to prevent more children. By doing so, one is participating in an action that seeks to prevent being open to God’s blessing of life.

    @ Anon – thank you for taking the time to post. Your comment serves as a reminder that the Scriptures do not interpret themselves and that the Church is required as the interpretive authority. As St. Paul taught, it is the Church (and not the Scriptures) that is the pillar and ground of the truth.

    However, it really is a sad thing that in today’s culture, children who are born as a consequence of our own selfish desires for gratification are seen as a nuisance or an inconvenience. May God have mercy on us if we ever think that about any human being, because every human being is ultimately created in God’s image.

  4. Oh, and I thought that I should add one more disclaimer...

    This blog isn't about trying to point fingers at anyone in particular (or in general for that matter). The Church's teaching on contraception is clear, and as a Catholic I will stand by it. As mentioned above, the intent of my post was simply to look at the Church's teaching from one vantage point - not to try to convince anyone to change their opinion or to point fingers at anyone. Call it food for thought...

  5. Justin, you imply the Church’s teaching here should not be questioned when it is really not that clear.
    Quick review of the 3 groups of contraceptive approaches. (i) Abortive – this is a “killing” issue where many oral contraceptives induce menstruation at a set time irrespective of conception having occurred or not. (ii) Artificial prevention of conception – spermicidal substances , condoms & vasectomy fall into this group. (iii) So called natural methods such as abstention or Billings Method which are approved by the Church
    There is little difference between (ii) & (ii) both of which can fail through God’s will and therefore the couples remain open to the gift of children, although in both cases trying to avoid it.
    I simply do not see the rationale for the Church approving (iii) but not (ii).
    Thankfully the Church acknowledges the primacy of conscience on matters such as this.

  6. Anon – firstly being a faithful Catholic does not mean that we blindly follow the Church’s teaching without question. But it does mean that we accept the Church’s teaching because we believe that it is the Holy Spirit who guides and leads the Church into all truth. There will be times when we struggle with this, but that is when we must apply ourselves to seeking to understand the Church’s teaching so that we can accept it – St. Augustine called it our faith seeking reason.

    You say that the Church’s teaching is not that clear; however, I would respectfully disagree. Here is the excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which deals succinctly with your point(s) above:

    "2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil: Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality."

  7. Mmmm me thinks a bit too slick an answer.

    It is easy to quote the catechism, but that is not in and of itself an argument.

    The Catechism is open to interpretation and it’s different sections lend somewhat different perspectives to many questions. In its wisdom the Church recognises this and gives us 1766 to 1803 for us to work through.

    You say we must apply ourselves to seeking to understand the Church’s teaching so that we can accept it This sounds a bit like you being willing to discuss it until I agree with you.

    As for the Church being succinct (is it ever?), the key phrase is “proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil”. Here in lies an ambiguity which you may not to see. Does the use of a fallible form of contraception render procreation impossible? Failure statistics would suggest not.

    Also there is a blind spot in “the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. “ It seems to me that if you apply this point then any and all contraception is forbidden.

    Is the requirement of “giving oneself totally to the other” not precluded by the very restrictions of rhythm methods which fail to fully “encourage tenderness between them” by placing artificial limitations on tenderness?

    The Church recognises the primacy of conscience for a reason.

  8. My name is Greg LeCoultre,

    Well done Justin in having the courage to make a post on this topic. I beleve in everything the Holy Catholic Church proposes for our belief and I would encourage people to look into the Church's teaching on contraception with much pray, diligent study and humility.

    Thank you Justin for posting on this topic.

  9. Anon – it is not about agreeing with me. I am simply trying to hold faithful to what the Church has taught all along. The quote from the Catechism was only one example of the Church’s teaching. There is also Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae?

    With all due respect, I think that you are presuming a “blind spot” in the Catechism that isn’t there. Note that the Catechsim refers to what is PROPOSED to render procreation impossible. It has nothing to do with the level of effectiveness, but with the intent.

    In any event, I think that it is sad that there are Catholics who pick and choose which Catholic teachings they will accept based on their own preference. I have no doubt that from a pastoral perspective the primacy of conscience should always be taken into consideration, but at the same time there is still the official Church teaching, which is not like a cafeteria which we can pick and choose according to our own whims.

  10. Hi Greg - thanks for the encouragement. It looks like I have opened up a can of worms here... :) :) :)

  11. Justin, take care with your replies: I think that it is sad that there are Catholics who pick and choose which Catholic teachings they will accept based on their own preference. Primacy of conscience is certainly not merely a preference or exercised on a whim, but based on much prayer, reflection and discussion with ones spiritual director. Many a critic of the use of conscience – given primacy by the Church itself – diminishes it by denying the personal significance of taking a position opposed to the Church and the hard road to such a point.
    The Pope himself raised the question of conscience in his recently expressed view on the use of condoms – a decision of conscience to mitigate harm.

    Should we all be like Greg and believe in everything the Holy Catholic Church proposes for our belief ? I think that is a dangerous path to follow.

    It is essential that Catholics, in good conscience, be able – even encouraged – to take positions different from current teaching after due study and reflection. Without those who go beyond where Greg is the Church would not grow and evolve. It would be a sorry Church stuck in the dark ages – the sun would still revolve around the earth and mass would still be in Latin; Vat II would not have happened and married Anglican clergy would not be part of our Church etc ... etc.

    One of the strengths of the Catholic Church compared to say Islam or fundamental Christian denominations is that we are a church of change. Unlike those who are sola scriptura and believe the bible to both literal and inerrant we are able to interpret scripture and our tradition within the context of our society. Fortunately the Church is slow to move, not a follower of fashion, but it does move. It is that movement that gives me hope that the Church will still be relevant to future generations.

  12. Anon, I acknowledge that the Church does change and has changed over the centuries – but only in how and what she practices; not in respect of her dogmas. In respect of faith and morals, the Church’s teaching always remains constant. Granted, the Church may come into deeper understanding of these dogmas, but they will not change at the core.

    I personally don’t think that Greg’s comment is a dangerous one. Rather, it reflects a full trust in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ when He said that the Holy Spirit would always guide the Church into all truth. Again, this is not necessarily a blind following...but like I said previously “faith seeking understanding”. As a Catholic you will probably be familiar with one traditional “Act of Faith” which includes this little gem:

    “...I believe...all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived”.

    You may disagree, and you are free to do so, but for me this is a matter of staying true to a doctrine that the Church has upheld since her inception.

    In the matter regarding condoms, the Pope did not abrogate the Church’s traditional teaching by saying that the use of condoms was now acceptable – that was the spin that the world’s media tried to put on it. In context, he was talking about lesser and greater evils...the use of condoms BY PROSTITUTES being a lesser evil than being completely reckless in their risk of the spread of AIDS . He wasn’t condoning the use of condoms any more than he was condoning prostitution. He was simply putting things into perspective. He also never said that the use of condoms as a contraceptive was acceptable to the Catholic faithful. The point is that our Holy Father still maintained the Church’s teaching that the use of contraceptives is intrinsically wrong.
    Now, I know that there are going to be pastoral concerns regarding these sorts of matters; which is why I have been careful NOT to say that the use of contraceptives is a mortal sin; because that then gets into matters of conscience, culpability, etc. which is different for each different person in their given circumstances.

    In any event, this discussion has digressed somewhat from the original point of my blog...I wasn’t intending to get into a debate over contraception and moral culpability, primacy of conscience, etc. I’ll leave that to the moral theologians, and to the priests who hear confessions.

  13. Anon - quite providentially, this weeks edition of The Record (the Perth Catholic newspaper) included an article which deals with why artificial contraception is different to natural family planning methods. It also reiterates the Church's official position against all forms of contraception.