NFP vs Contraception
September 9, 2013 § 83 Comments
NFP (that is, sexual abstinence) is a fundamentally different kind of thing from contraception. Sitting on the couch reading a book is a fundamentally different kind of act from donning a condom and engaging in sterile sex. This arises from the more general fact that doing something is fundamentally different from not doing something.
Doing something is incarnationally real; refraining from doing something is not real in the same sense. This can be shown by observing that if Bob does something, Bob must exist at the time of the doing. But for Bob to “not do” something, he doesn’t even have to exist at the time of the not-doing. [Note: see Kristor's criticism of this paragraph here.]
In general, we have a moral obligation not to choose evil behaviors. The prohibition of contracepted sexual acts arises from this kind of moral obligation: a negative moral precept.
We also, and distinctly, have positive duties to do certain things. The fact that NFP can be immoral – depending on the intentions and circumstances of the couple – arises from the positive duty of parents to be open to children. Like all positive duties – and unlike negative prohibitions – this depends on circumstances and intentions. This is a positive moral precept.
Whatever one may think of NFP – and I’ve been critical of triumphalism about its use in the past – it is clear that it is an entirely distinct kind of thing from contraception. Contraception involves the deliberate choice of a concrete behavior in violation of a negative moral precept: the mutilation of an ontologically real act. NFP involves a choice to refrain from certain licit but not obligatory behaviors at certain times.
So when someone claims that NFP and contraception are the same kind of thing he has made a fundamental category error.