The tyranny of the subjective and “contraceptive mentality”
September 13, 2013 § 10 Comments
Hence, those many people are in error who today assert that one can find neither in human nature nor in the revealed law any absolute and immutable norm to serve for particular actions other than the one which expresses itself in the general law of charity and respect for human dignity. - Persona Humana
Modern Christians are very enamored with the notion of doing things with a pure heart. There isn’t anything wrong with that in proper context. But like all truths it can be emphasized so much that it takes up all the oxygen in the room, building a tower of lies by policing the intellect and crowding out essential truths.
Thus the overemphasis on “contraceptive mentality”. Contraceptive mentality is something that lives in the subjective world of our minds, and in the subjective world of our minds we reign supreme. No other person can tell us what takes place there as we live our omnipotent lives in the subjective realm, projecting ourselves as the tragic hero on the IMAX movie screens of our interior existence. Furthermore we can assume what we like about the subjective states of other people without the possibility of falsification, creating movies for them in our own minds, movies which follow our own script. Modern Catholics and Protestants alike tend to treat subjective “mentality” as the fundamental playground for morality. When juxtaposing contraception and “natural family planning” the subjective playground is simply assumed, and dispute rages over whether the latter can or need not be employed with the same subjective “contraceptive mentality” as the former.
This overemphasis of the subjective interior life over choices of objective behavior turns morality upside down, and the implications are far-reaching.
In this regard the Council declares that the moral goodness of the acts proper to conjugal life, acts which are ordered according to true human dignity, “does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” – Persona Humana
Contracepted sexual acts are not immoral first and foremost because of a subjective “contraceptive mentality”. Contracepted sexual acts are immoral because they are unnatural sexual behaviors like sodomy: they involve using the human body in a manner contrary to its telos, contrary to the truth about Man and his fundamental nature and meaning as an embodied sexual person.
That of course doesn’t mean that subjective “mentality” (what moral theologians sometimes call the “fundamental option”) and whatnot make no difference or are unimportant. But it means that people who attempt to separate them from the choice of specific concrete acts – and choices to refrain from acting, especially in areas where our moral discretion as rational men made in the Imago Dei is wide – are making a basic error in their moral reasoning.
In reality, it is precisely the fundamental option which in the last resort defines a person’s moral disposition. But it can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts. Whatever the case, it is wrong to say that particular acts are not enough to constitute mortal sin. – Persona Humana
So now that we understand that what makes contraception always gravely morally wrong – intrinsically immoral – is not “mentality” as something distinct from behaviors but rather the choice of concrete behaviors contrary to the telos of the marital act, we can conclude:
The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. - Humanae Vitae