NFP vs Contraception

September 9, 2013 § 94 Comments

NFP (that is, selective 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.

§ 94 Responses to NFP vs Contraception

  • Proph says:

    Bingo. I hear that canard all the time and it’s just maddening. If charting fertility isn’t evil, and mutually agreeing to abstain from sex for a time isn’t evil, then charting fertility + mutually agreeing to abstain from sex for a time isn’t evil, unless accidental considerations (= intention and/or circumstances) make it so.

  • Zippy says:

    Modern people tend to think of themselves as rarified disembodied wills, ghosts in the machine controlling their bodies like a meat robot. So morality becomes all about whether the ghost in the machine is nice on the inside, i.e. has good intentions, and also on some broad ‘teleological’ calculation of consequences (despite the general unpredictability of the world).

    Traditional morality however is primarily about the concrete personal behaviors we choose as incarnate beings, body and soul. In other words traditional morality treats our lives as the lives of real people in the real world, not as cartoon characters painted across the movie screen of the mind by our arbitrary and omnipotent (in the interior space of our Being) will. Or something.

  • Kristor says:

    This may be a distinction too far (and I don’t think it touches your main argument), but I’m not sure it is true that Bob does not need to exist in order for Bob to not do something. Omission is an act, which realizes a potency. No agent, no act.

    If Bob doesn’t exist, then in no sense can the not doing be really his. Caesar didn’t call me yesterday on the telephone. But this was not Caesar’s doing. The phone call was not really Caesar’s to make, or not, as he might choose.

    NFP, on the other hand, is an act of an agent, or else (like Caesar’s email to me of last week) it does not actually exist: did not actually happen. In which case, it would not have been true that Bob and Karen refrained from sex the other day.

  • Zippy says:

    Kristor:
    I’m not sure it is true that Bob does not need to exist in order for Bob to not do something.

    Good point: we could define “not do” to mean (more narrowly) “refrain from acting when one does have the potentiality to act”. Existence is necessary for that kind of not-acting, and since existence is necessary for a moral evaluation at all it is fair to bring moral evaluation under those terms.

    For that matter we could add other criteria: knowledge, proximity, etc., which would make the distinction more morally relevant. But as you suggest, none of that touches the fundamental distinction between doing X and not-doing Y, where the latter can only be morally evaluated in terms of a positive duty to act, and everything that comes along for the ride with positive precepts.

  • sunshinemary says:

    Thank you for pointing this out.

    What might happen is that sometimes people use the words “contraception, including NFP” when they are trying to talk about having a contraceptive mentality. I am of that small (but growing – we tend to have a lot of children) set of Protestants who do not believe that having a contraceptive mentality is in accordance with God’s Word, regardless of whether one is purposefully doing or purposefully not doing something in order to bring that sterility about. When I speak of it, I try to be clear that I am speaking about the underlying mentality, not the behaviors (or avoidance of behaviors), as I recently did in this comment:

    http://sunshinemaryandthedragon.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/a-reader-with-marital-difficulties-wonders-if-now-would-be-a-good-time-to-get-his-wife-pregnant/#comment-24696

  • donalgraeme says:

    Interesting that you mention that post Sunshinemary, because it was giving me real moral angst. I agreed with those who said that bringing a child into the situation at that point would be dangerous to the marriage, and cruel to the child. But at the same time I happen to agree with the Church’s general teaching about contraceptives, and the language in 1 Cor 7 is bright line rule clear about the denial of sex. I thought about posting something concerning it, but decided to address other topics instead. Perhaps still worth exploring though.

  • sunshinemary says:

    A question, Donal – would you still have moral qualms about bringing a child into that situation if divorce were illegal, or at least highly disincentivized?

    To me, the biggest problem with such marriages, the reason why they are potentially bad for children, is the risk that one or both of the spouses will decide they are unhaaaappy and file for divorce. So isn’t it divorce we should be encouraging them – and all Christians – to avoid, not babies?

    Babies don’t kill marriages – unhaaapppy narcissists consumed with the pursuit of their own pleasure kill marriages.

  • donalgraeme says:

    The answer Sunshine would be no. The concern is divorce, not children. The bible is clear that children are a blessing from God, and I have to agree (yeah they can be a PITA, but I have seen few joys like that of new father’s among some of my friends).

    I am very much worried that TM is being set up for a frivorce, with the kid(s) being used as either hostage or monetary asset. The behaviors that TM is describing about his wife.. they are worrisome, to say the least. If she wasn’t able to blow up the marriage on a whim, or at least couldn’t benefit from it (and thus less likely to do it), then I would have no (or fewer) qualms about their having a child.

    Unfortunately, discouraging divorce isn’t enough. The Catholic Church teaches that divorce isn’t permissible, but that doesn’t stop many Catholics from divorcing anyways. The legal regime ultimately controls the matter of divorce these days.

  • Elspeth says:

    What might happen is that sometimes people use the words “contraception, including NFP” when they are trying to talk about having a contraceptive mentality.

    Yes, that is what I mean when I conflate the two. A young, healthy fertile couple who goes 5, 6, 8 years without a baby while using NFP is not that different from a couple using contraceptives.

    That’s completely different from a couple who uses NFP to space children out for a year or two.

  • Zippy says:

    A lot of modern errors in the area of morality arise from overemphasis on subjective matters (“contraceptive mentality” and what have you) at the expense of real, actual behaviors. And while it is true that the subjective parts of morality are crucial – a person can choose a behavior which is good or neutral in itself, but do so with evil intentions, and sins in doing so – the real foundation of the moral law is in the concrete behaviors we choose. Someone with an ill will or evil intentions will also pretty consistently choose evil behaviors; someone who chooses good behaviors consistently will find it difficult to sustain an ill will.

    (The sacraments – received validly under the requisite conditions – are kind of an ‘ultimate’ expression of this: an outward sign of an inward grace).

    So morality really is rooted primarily in the ‘object’ of our acts, that is, the behaviors we choose. Behave well and the rest will follow. Behave poorly and any interior good will will be frittered away.

  • sunshinemary says:

    So morality really is rooted primarily in the ‘object’ of our acts, that is, the behaviors we choose. Behave well and the rest will follow. Behave poorly and any interior good will will be frittered away.

    But it is not behaving well to be a fertile married couple who voluntarily lives in sterility. The command is to be fruitful and multiply. Not doing something which is commanded is still a sin even though we’ve refrained from engaging in any action. You wrote:

    In general, we have a moral obligation not to choose evil behaviors.

    This is true, but we also have a moral obligation to choose to do behaviors which we have been commanded to do.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    A lot of modern errors in the area of morality arise from overemphasis on subjective matters (“contraceptive mentality” and what have you) at the expense of real, actual behaviors.

    This is true. We can’t just think the “good” thoughts and have the right mentality.

    Someone with an ill will or evil intentions will also pretty consistently choose evil behaviors; someone who chooses good behaviors consistently will find it difficult to sustain an ill will.

    This is too simplistic a view of how works work. People can and do form opposite habits in this regard; consistently good behavior here (going to mass, giving alms, etc.) and consistently bad behavior over there (birth control, gossip, provoking children to wrath). The mentality matters just as much.

  • Zippy says:

    Did anybody actually read what I wrote?

  • Cane Caldo says:

    I certainly did.

    People keep misunderstanding you, and you keep saying this. There are what we might call dialects of writing, though, and sometimes this causes trouble understanding you–even by those who want to be gotten through to; like myself.

    I know, I know: You don’t care what people think. Fine. Then don’t wonder if people actually read what you wrote.

  • sunshinemary says:

    I read the essay several times, Zippy, but I disagree with this:

    NFP involves a choice to refrain from certain licit but not obligatory behaviors at certain times.

    NFP involves a choice to refrain from obligatory behaviors. Sex and procreation are not optional behaviors for married couples, according to God’s Word.

    I understand that contraception and NFP differ in the sense that one involves doing an action and the other involves not doing an action, but I guess my question is so what? Sin is sin. Is this just a semantics exercise or is there a reason we should be concerned about this distinction? (My question sounds snippy but is not meant that way.)

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:
    Fair enough. I just don’t have the faintest idea why “the mentality matters just as much” is contra to anything I actually said.

    Sunshine:
    Is this just a semantics exercise or is there a reason we should be concerned about this distinction? (My question sounds snippy but is not meant that way.)

    It isn’t just semantics. Lets discuss alms instead of sex, because it is possible that the subject matter itself is obscuring things.

    Christians have an obligation not to steal. This is a negative moral precept. It is always morally wrong to steal. [*]

    Christians have a positive obligation to give alms to the poor. This is a positive moral precept. It is not always morally wrong to fail to give alms in a specific case. Giving alms, as with all positive precepts, involves prudential judgement weighing for example other priorities. Furthermore it is always necessary to distinguish between specific instances (finding a beggar and giving him $20 right this instant – the ‘not obligatory behavior’ in the bit you quote) and generality (going one’s entire life without giving alms).

    Now it is true that a “greedy mentality” generally speaking might lead one to steal, and it might lead one to fail to give alms in either a specific case or a general case. But it is a fundamental error to conflate them.

    It is also true that a habit of stealing fosters a “greedy mentality”, as does a failure to give alms. But someone who never steals and frequently gives alms will find it difficult to maintain a “greedy mentality”.

    Having children is very much like almsgiving, and contraception is very much like stealing. From whom much is given much will be required.

    But be careful about condemning the poor man for not giving a widow’s mite. The measure you use, etc.

  • Zippy says:

    Note that “find it difficult” is a gradient word – of course there are people who give alms and never steal and yet still have a stingy heart. But long practice in giving alms generously and never stealing does have a tendency to reform a stingy heart.

  • Mike T says:

    A lot of modern errors in the area of morality arise from overemphasis on subjective matters (“contraceptive mentality” and what have you) at the expense of real, actual behaviors. And while it is true that the subjective parts of morality are crucial – a person can choose a behavior which is good or neutral in itself, but do so with evil intentions, and sins in doing so – the real foundation of the moral law is in the concrete behaviors we choose.

    In the case of NFP, assuming the position of the RCC is correct, then the only morally licit use of NFP for most couples is to space out children. Otherwise, if you are charting fertility with the goal of having unprotected, fertility-risk-mitigated sex then your intention is identical to a couple that uses a condom.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    In the case of NFP, assuming the position of the RCC is correct, then the only morally licit use of NFP for most couples is to space out children.

    I’m frankly not sure that it is morally licit to use NFP to space out children – certainly not as a general matter. I am much more sympathetic when (say) the wife has a disease that makes pregnancy deadly.

    Otherwise, if you are charting fertility with the goal of having unprotected, fertility-risk-mitigated sex then your intention is identical to a couple that uses a condom.

    No it isn’t. The intention to spend your own money rather than give it to the poor is different from the intention to steal. Either can get you to Hell; but they are not the same.

  • Mike T says:

    For the sake of discussion…

    7 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

    The general argument from those opposed to contraception about having sex when you cannot afford kids is “well just be abstinent.” So the argument seems to be contra paul that if you cannot afford to have kids, it is better for you to be at risk of sexual temptation than find sexual relief in sterile sex with your spouse.

  • Mike T says:

    Either can get you to Hell; but they are not the same.

    In the sense that knifing someone to death versus shooting them are qualitiatively different methods of murder, you are correct. Though I’m not sure God is going to give you any mercy for “mercifully” double tapping your victim versus turning them into a pin cushion with a hunting knife.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    In the sense that knifing someone to death versus shooting them are qualitiatively different methods of murder, you are correct.

    Not at all. In the sense that stealing and failure to give alms are qualitatively different ways of expressing greed.

    In order to draw a valid comparison you have to set violation of a negative precept against violation of a positive precept. And negative precepts (e.g. don’t steal) are fundamentally different from (though not more important than) positive precepts (e.g. give alms).

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    I just don’t have the faintest idea why “the mentality matters just as much” is contra to anything I actually said.

    This sentence:

    NFP (that is, sexual abstinence) is a fundamentally different kind of thing from contraception.

    is what bugs me. As far as I can tell, NFP is different from temporary abstinence (per your linked post) precisely because the mentality of NFP was meant to be contraceptive for the sake of expediency and indulgence. Temporary abstinence is not.

    Before NFP, people already knew that temporary abstinence caused a cessation in conception. In my (brief) look at the history of contraception, it seemed to me that NFP itself was developed with the mentality of how to have sex but frustrate conception, and that NFPwas meant to be food, not medicine.

    If I’m right, I think this mentality at the conception (hey-oh!) of NFP taints the whole practice in all but the most serious cases. If child-birth is likely to result in the death of the mother then I could make a case for it; as I could make a case for stealing to eat.

    Our situation is there is a whole bunch of literature out there on CRUM (Collecting Resources in an Unobtrusive Manner), which was developed by people who believed others should not have to work. I’m looking at it and saying, “Hey! CRUM is meant to be stealing!” Otherwise, they’d be touting work, or even begging.

    I see no reason to make a distinction between CRUM and stealing because those who created it meant it to be so.

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:
    If it is actually true that you can’t see a difference between NFP – taking temperatures and reading a book instead of having sex – and contraception – mutilating a sex act with a condom, chemical poison, or what have you – then we aren’t likely to be able to communicate on the subject; not even if I were the most erudite writer in existence.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    Fair enough.

  • sunshinemary says:

    Thanks for alms example. That’s clearer to me.

    Of course, for the analogy to be correct, what we perhaps ought to say is that it might be morally licit for a man to avoid going to work so as to make sure he hasn’t any money to give as alms. Why, he could even chart it out – he can plot when he gets paid versus when the collection for the poor is taken at church each month and then simply avoid going to work for the pay period before the collection. Ingenious!

    OK, the morality of NFP isn’t the point of this essay, so I’ll stop going on about that now.

  • sunshinemary says:

    Rather, thanks for *the* alms example.

  • Zippy says:

    Sunshine:
    I’m not unsympathetic to your sarcasm, FWIW. I’ve been quite critical of abuse of NFP in the past myself. That’s all the more reason for to me to be sure I’ve got it right.

    That’s part of the point though: it is possible to abuse NFP because it isn’t always morally wrong. Contraception, in contrast, is always morally wrong.

  • Mike T says:

    In order to draw a valid comparison you have to set violation of a negative precept against violation of a positive precept. And negative precepts (e.g. don’t steal) are fundamentally different from (though not more important than) positive precepts (e.g. give alms).

    Fair enough. However, I wouldn’t make this distinction with most people because they’d be inclined to say that they can use NFP for contraceptive purposes because it’s not a contraceptive. For most people, what they really need to know is that their likely use of NFP is functionally the same thing as using a contraceptive because the intent is the same.

    If it is actually true that you can’t see a difference between NFP – taking temperatures and reading a book instead of having sex – and contraception – mutilating a sex act with a condom, chemical poison, or what have you – then we aren’t likely to be able to communicate on the subject; not even if I were the most erudite writer in existence.

    I think most of the divide here is that most of us are not convinced that most people can engage in NFP without having contraceptive intentions. Hypothetically, it is possible but how often does it really happen? Probably a lot less than you imagine.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    For most people, what they really need to know is that their likely use of NFP is functionally the same thing as using a contraceptive because the intent is the same.

    The intent isn’t the same at all, unless under a very sloppy and inaccurate use of the term “intent”. The vice of greed may lie at the root of both stealing and failure to give alms, but even so it is at best very sloppy to say “the intent is the same in stealing and failure to give alms”.

    No, it really isn’t.

  • Zippy says:

    An intention to keep my stuff and not share isn’t the same thing as an intention to steal someone else’s stuff. They may (or may not) both be founded in the same vice in particular instances; and the former isn’t always a morally wrong intention. It is, again, just a sloppy category error to treat them as “the same thing”. They aren’t the same thing at all.

  • Scott W. says:

    I think most of the divide here is that most of us are not convinced that most people can engage in NFP without having contraceptive intentions. Hypothetically, it is possible but how often does it really happen?

    I think we have to remember Pope Pius XII when he said, “Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.”

    We are constantly harangued by people who love to quote that “x% of Catholics contracept.” (x was at 70% when I first heard it, then over time it was inflated to 90-95% despite no new surveys to that effect). No doubt one couple contracepting is one too many, but when Catholic couples have even heard of NFP, and are using it in an earnest attempt to live in conformity with Chastity, a little benefit of the doubt is in order I think lest NFP becomes the Catholic equivalent of “demon rum”, where people try to turn a licit act into a negative prohibition through the back-door of practically-impossible-to-have-proper-intentions.

  • slumlord says:

    @Scott W

    The intention instantiated through an act of non-procreative NFP is infecund coitus. The whole problem with NFP is that whilst the couple is meant to be engaging in a sexual act that is open to life they are instantiating an intention which is contrary to this.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    For the sake of argument towards understanding:

    Suppose I agree that the acts of NFP and the acts of contraception are different things. What, if any, would your comments be on this statement of mine:

    [I]t seemed to me […] that NFP was meant to be food, not medicine.

  • Mike T says:

    The intent isn’t the same at all, unless under a very sloppy and inaccurate use of the term “intent”. The vice of greed may lie at the root of both stealing and failure to give alms, but even so it is at best very sloppy to say “the intent is the same in stealing and failure to give alms”.

    You’re assuming that if most people who use contraceptives suddenly switched to NFP that their hearts would change with the act. I make no such assumption because most of the time humanity doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

  • Scott W. says:

    @slumlord

    No, because the infecundity is natural. The primary purpose of marriage is procreation, but it is not an absolute purpose.

  • Scott W. says:

    You’re assuming that if most people who use contraceptives suddenly switched to NFP that their hearts would change with the act

    Well if there hearts haven’t changed, why would they switch?

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:

    What, if any, would your comments be on this statement of mine:

    “[I]t seemed to me […] that NFP was meant [by those who developed it historically] to be food, not medicine.”

    It looks to me like you are committing the genetic fallacy. Stipulate for the sake of argument that it is possible for Technique T to be abused, and that the person who developed it developed it for the purpose of abusing it. It doesn’t follow that everyone who uses technique T is abusing it.

    More generally the morality of an act doesn’t depend on who else has done something similar in the past and why.

    For example, concretely, someone might develop a new martial arts technique in order to facilitate robbery. It doesn’t follow that it is morally illicit for someone else to use that technique to defend himself from thieves.

  • Zippy says:

    Scott:
    No, because the infecundity is natural.

    Exactly. If folks think that sex during the infertile period instantiates an evil intention it follows that they think it is always evil to engage in sex during the infertile period. So everyone has a moral obligation to track the fertile period and abstain from sex outside of it.

  • slumlord says:

    So everyone has a moral obligation to track the fertile period and abstain from sex outside of it.

    Yes, if you want to be open to life. You’re not open to life if you choose to have have have sex deliberately at a time when life is not possible.
    (logical contradiction)

    From HV

    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

    I thought I would highlight the important bit.

  • Mike T says:

    Well if there hearts haven’t changed, why would they switch?

    Legalism.

    I think that is what you and Zippy are missing out on. Most people are legalistic in their religion. They would look at NFP and instantly say it is a form of contraception acceptable to the Catholic Church and no amount of philosophizing with them will get them to grasp the errors in their reasoning.

    In short, a minority of special snowflakes may use it for the right reason and understand that, but the majority will simply drop the condoms and pills and use fertility charting to actively avoid fertility so they can have as much risk-mitigated unprotected sex as they want. You are two clever by half for most people and don’t even realize it.

    For example, concretely, someone might develop a new martial arts technique in order to facilitate robbery. It doesn’t follow that it is morally illicit for someone else to use that technique to defend himself from thieves.

    Let’s suppose that guns were in fact overwhelmingly used in all periods of their existence for criminal acts, not legal ones. Morally licit gun use was in fact a small minority of the occassions for their use. Would that not cast the whole right to keep and bear arms debate into fundamentally different terms? Even as someone who right now fully supports the right to own actual military-grade firearms I would have to concede that the RTKB is fundamentally dangerous if moral uses of it were a distinct minority of all gun ownership and use. Allowing it would be something we’d be wise to prohibit on prudential grounds.

  • Zippy says:

    Slumlord:
    The HV citation, of course, means that acts of intercourse must not be mutilated in some way so as to make them intentionally infertile. It doesn’t mean that sex during the infertile periods is always immoral.

    It is true though that by attempting to frame NFP (tracking the fertile periods and choosing when to have sex based on them) as always immoral, you’ve managed to make it always obligatory.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    That fact that stupid people are wrong about stuff doesn’t really move me. Of course stupid people are wrong about stuff.

    Let’s suppose that guns were in fact overwhelmingly used in all periods of their existence for criminal acts, not legal ones. …

    You are trying to reframe a moral question as a legal question. Even if it were prudent to ban guns as a legal matter, that wouldn’t make using guns always and intrinsically immoral.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    For example, concretely, someone might develop a new martial arts technique in order to facilitate robbery. It doesn’t follow that it is morally illicit for someone else to use that technique to defend himself from thieves.

    Agreed.

    However; if I were the chief of police I’d always have a man posted outside known Technique T martial arts dojos because I know the people inside are almost all thieves

    Conversely, if my son asked for advice on self-defense, I’d never suggest Technique T martial arts because I know the sort that wield it, and lie with dogs and get up with fleas, etc. He might retort that it doesn’t matter what sort use it as long as he uses it for good. I’d be forced to counter that by saying something like what you said.

    “Someone with an ill will or evil intentions will also pretty consistently choose evil behaviors; someone who chooses good behaviors consistently will find it difficult to sustain an ill will.”

    But I’d add a note that it works in reverse, too: Choosing bad behavior (even with good intentions) will make it difficult to sustain good intentions.

    “Bah!”, he might say. “Technique T is just a Box of Tools, Dad!”

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:
    You are doing the same thing Mike T did: attempting to reframe a question of intrinsic morality as a question of legality or prudence.

    (Unless you just agreed that contraception is intrinsically immoral and NFP isn’t.)

  • Mike T says:

    Zippy, to paraphrase James, someone who hates his brother has functionally committed murder in the eyes of God. Simply hating someone is literally not murder, but God says to Him it puts you in the same camp as a murderer. Different things to us, but God cares nothing for the difference.

    NFP, when combined with pure motivations, can be moral. However assuming contraception is intrinsically immoral and the motivation behind the use of NFP is in any way to acquire what is off limits with contraception then the spirit of the prohibition has been violated.

    That fact that stupid people are wrong about stuff doesn’t really move me. Of course stupid people are wrong about stuff.

    If contraception is intrinisically wrong and you know most people will misconstrue you on NFP to mean they can be contraceptive through it, then it is of no value to teach them that NFP is OK for them. We don’t teach very small children to play with fire out of the hope that some of them will use fire responsibly. We make it off limits to them because the possibility of its correct use is simply too remote to justify anything else.

    You are trying to reframe a moral question as a legal question.

    I was trying to make a point that if something theoretically neutral is overwhelmingly used for evil that any moral teaching or legal policy concerning it must take into account the fact that most people simply cannot be trusted with it.

  • Mike T says:

    It is true though that by attempting to frame NFP (tracking the fertile periods and choosing when to have sex based on them) as always immoral, you’ve managed to make it always obligatory.

    If a couple claims to be using NFP for licit purposes, tracks fertility and then proceeds to have sex when they know that fertility is unlikely then they ought to thoroughly examine their true intent. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck chances are it is a duck. If you are avoiding fertility, enjoying sex and not having children and believe that contraception is wrong, you really ought to question whether or not you really aren’t being contraceptive in your intent. In that sense, slumlord has a point. It is nearly impossible to have sex while claiming NFP and not be in fact be do something you believe is contrary to God’s will.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    You are doing the same thing Mike T did: attempting to reframe a question of intrinsic morality as a question of legality or prudence.

    (Unless you just agreed that contraception is intrinsically immoral and NFP isn’t.)

    I’m saying you have engaged in nominalism here to distract from the essence of NFP; because NFP is not just sexual abstience. It’s nominalism RCC-style; as far as I can see.

  • Proph says:

    @Slumlord

    Yes, if you want to be open to life. You’re not open to life if you choose to have have have sex deliberately at a time when life is not possible.
    (logical contradiction)

    You seem to be using “open to life” in a manner radically different from how the Church uses it. In the Church’s usage, the sexual act is “open to life” when it is carried out in a manner that normally results in conception, i.e., intravaginal ejaculation. So for instance if I marry a woman without a uterus and then consummate my marriage, the sexual act is open to life even if life can never possibly result from it. You seem to think “open to life” refers to some kind of airy internal disposition. But obviously it doesn’t, because then the airy internal disposition could be formed in some loose sense and contraception thereby excused. I hear Catholics say all the time “I’m open to life, just not right now.”

    But even if you were right, you’d be wrong, because the Church does not require that couples be “open to life” in the dispositional sense all the time of wanting or expecting or trying deliberately to have children. Indeed she teaches there are some circumstances where it is perfectly fine not to try to have children, e.g., if wife is seriously ill or there’s an active persecution going on or neither of us have jobs or health insurance.

    So once again I have to ask, since NFP = charting fertility + selectively abstaining from sex, which of those two things is it that makes NFP immoral? Is charting fertility immoral, or is not having sex all the time immoral? Because if neither one is immoral than NFP cannot possibly be intrinsically immoral. The only thing that can make it immoral are the intentions with which or the circumstances in which it’s practiced: hence, “contraceptive mentality.”

  • Cane Caldo says:

    My desire here isn’t to change anyone’s mind, but an attempt to understand how other intelligent men sort these things out.

    @Proph

    I don’t think you’re being consistent, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding. Can you distinguish between “airy internal disposition”, “intention”, and “contraceptive mentality”.

    So once again I have to ask, since NFP = charting fertility + selectively abstaining from sex, which of those two things is it that makes NFP immoral?

    If you’re using it to try to get pregnant: Neither. If you’re using it to frustrate pregnancy (except in rare “stealing is forgivable” situations): Both. That’s my perspective, anyway.

    In general, I’m struck that your argument is that the whole is never greater than the sum of its parts.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    assuming contraception is intrinsically immoral and the motivation behind the use of NFP is in any way to acquire what is off limits with contraception then the spirit of the prohibition has been violated.

    It isn’t possible for NFP to be morally wrong on the same basis as contraception. The reason contraception is wrong is because it involves choosing a particular kind of inherently disordered behavior: a mutilated sexual act. People who use NFP aren’t choosing mutilated sexual acts.

    That (again) doesn’t mean that it can’t be morally wrong at all. But it isn’t the same species of moral wrongness as contraception, at all.

    Cane:
    I guess nominalism is just what you say it is; nothing more, nothing less.

  • slumlord says:

    Proph

    So once again I have to ask, since NFP = charting fertility + selectively abstaining from sex, which of those two things is it that makes NFP immoral?

    The Church says that the sexual act must be open to life. If you’re deliberately choosing to have sex when you know conception is impossible you’re not being open to life.

    You seem to be using “open to life” in a manner radically different from how the Church uses it. In the Church’s usage, the sexual act is “open to life” when it is carried out in a manner that normally results in conception

    Then why doesn’t the Church simply say that? I’m a bit like Scalia, in that I expect words to mean what they say. “Open to life” in any commonsense interpretation of it, would mean “possibility of fertility”, unless you take the liberal approach, where words can mean anything you want them to.

  • Zippy says:

    “Open to life” has a well established pedigree of meaning “intercourse not mutilated in such a way as to impede fertility.” It has never meant “only intercourse which actually produces offspring”.

    The Church has been marrying people who are past menopause for thousands of years. So your private interpretation makes no sense, slumlord.

  • slumlord says:

    So “Open to life” doesn’t actually mean open to life, rather intercourse performed in the appropriate manner?

  • Zippy says:

    “Open to life” – as a specification of chosen behavior – is shorthand for non-mutilated acts of intercourse, yes.

  • Dalrock says:

    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.

    The problem with this argument is NFP (or at least the part which is compared with contraception) isn’t about not having sex. There is no need for charting fertility if the goal is to not have sex; simply open a book and sit on the couch, preferably fully clothed. The reason the fertility charts are required is the goal of NFP is to have sex, but only sex which isn’t likely to result in pregnancy (not unlike sex with a condom).

  • Dalrock says:

    Just for clarity, I’m not challenging the RCC position on NFP in my comment above. As I understand it the RCC position on NFP is that it is entirely unlike using a condom. I’m not personally sold on that but if one is Catholic, following the teaching of the church makes perfect sense to me.

  • Zippy says:

    Dalrock:
    The reason the fertility charts are required is the goal of NFP is to have sex, but only sex which isn’t likely to result in pregnancy (not unlike sex with a condom).

    Sure. In general, a married couple has pretty wide moral latitude in terms of having sex when they want to and not having sex when they don’t want to. This is (as I discussed above) similar to an owner’s moral latitude in using his property as he sees fit.

    That doesn’t imply plenary latitude by any means: someone who fails to give alms at all, ever, or even generously, or in general has a stingy attitude, can definitely sin through stinginess. But the lattitude is wide as to the precise actions one chooses to take, in a context of many priorities.

    On the other hand, engaging in a mutilated sex act (contraception), or stealing, is never permitted.

    Even if you don’t buy that (though Catholics must), you can probably see that it is a fundamentally different kind of case.

    Here is the Address to Midwives on contraception:

    Our Predecessor, Pius XI, of happy memory, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, of December 31, 1930, once again solemnly proclaimed the fundamental law of the conjugal act and conjugal relations: that every attempt of either husband or wife in the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences which aims at depriving it of its inherent force and hinders the procreation of new life is immoral; and that no “indication” or need can convert an act which is intrinsically immoral into a moral and lawful one.

    And here it is on what we are calling “NFP”:

    Today, besides, another grave problem has arisen, namely, if and how far the obligation of being ready for the service of maternity is reconcilable with the ever more general recourse to the periods of natural sterility the so-called “agenesic” periods in woman, which seems a clear expression of a will contrary to that precept.

    You [midwives] are expected to be well informed, from the medical point of view, in regard to this new theory and the progress which may still be made on this subject, and it is also expected that your advice and assistance shall not be based upon mere popular publications, but upon objective science and on the authoritative judgment of conscientious specialists in medicine and biology. It is your function, not the priest’s, to instruct the married couple through private consultation or serious publications on the biological and technical aspect of the theory, without however allowing yourselves to be drawn into an unjust and unbecoming propaganda. But in this field also your apostolate demands of you, as women and as Christians, that you know and defend the moral law, to which the application of the theory is subordinated. In this the Church is competent.

    It is necessary first of all to consider two hypotheses. If the application of that theory implies that husband and wife may use their matrimonial right even during the days of natural sterility no objection can be made. In this case they do not hinder or jeopardize in any way the consummation of the natural act and its ulterior natural consequences. It is exactly in this that the application of the theory, of which We are speaking, differs essentially from the abuse already mentioned, which consists in the perversion of the act itself. If, instead, husband and wife go further, that is, limiting the conjugal act exclusively to those periods, then their conduct must be examined more closely.

    Here again we are faced with two hypotheses. If, one of the parties contracted marriage with the intention of limiting the matrimonial right itself to the periods of sterility, and not only its use, in such a manner that during the other days the other party would not even have the right to ask for the debt, than this would imply an essential defect in the marriage consent, which would result in the marriage being invalid, because the right deriving from the marriage contract is a permanent, uninterrupted and continuous right of husband and wife with respect to each other.

    However if the limitation of the act to the periods of natural sterility does not refer to the right itself but only to the use of the right, the validity of the marriage does not come up for discussion. Nonetheless, the moral lawfulness of such conduct of husband and wife should be affirmed or denied according as their intention to observe constantly those periods is or is not based on sufficiently morally sure motives. The mere fact that husband and wife do not offend the nature of the act and are even ready to accept and bring up the child, who, notwithstanding their precautions, might be born, would not be itself sufficient to guarantee the rectitude of their intention and the unobjectionable morality of their motives.

    The reason is that marriage obliges the partners to a state of life, which even as it confers certain rights so it also imposes the accomplishment of a positive work concerning the state itself. In such a case [of a positive moral precept – Z], the general principle may be applied that a positive action may be omitted if grave motives, independent of the good will of those who are obliged to perform it, show that its performance is inopportune, or prove that it may not be claimed with equal right by the petitioner—in this case, mankind.

    The matrimonial contract, which confers on the married couple the right to satisfy the inclination of nature, constitutes them in a state of life, namely, the matrimonial state. Now, on married couples, who make use of the specific act of their state, nature and the Creator impose the function of providing for the preservation of mankind. This is the characteristic service which gives rise to the peculiar value of their state, the bonum prolis. The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages. Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life.

    Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.

  • Dalrock says:

    @Zippy
    On the other hand, engaging in a mutilated sex act (contraception), or stealing, is never permitted.

    Even if you don’t buy that (though Catholics must), you can probably see that it is a fundamentally different kind of case.

    I’m not arguing with your characterization of contraceptive sex as a mutilated sex act. This isn’t my position but as you point out it is the RCC position, and that matters a great deal if one is Catholic. My point was very narrow in regard to your argument in the OP that NFP is about not having sex. The part of NFP which is compared to contraception is very much about having sex. If the goal of NFP was to not have sex, no charts, thermometers, etc would be required.

  • sunshinemary says:

    Proph

    So once again I have to ask, since NFP = charting fertility + selectively abstaining from sex, which of those two things is it that makes NFP immoral? Is charting fertility immoral, or is not having sex all the time immoral?

    Charting fertility is not a sin.

    Selectively abstaining from sex is.

    When either spouse experiences sexual desire, they are to come together. There is only one exception to this, and it isn’t to prevent conception:

    5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1Cor 7:5

    Selectively abstaining from relations is only for the purpose of prayer, not for birth control.

  • Zippy says:

    Dalrock:
    The part of NFP which is compared to contraception is very much about having sex.

    It is about choosing when to not have sex, as opposed to choosing how to modify sex to block its fertility.

  • Zippy says:

    sunshinemary:
    When either spouse experiences sexual desire, they are to come together. There is only one exception to this, and it isn’t to prevent conception:

    Just to be clear, is it your understanding that every time a spouse feels any physical desire they must have sex, even when neither of them actually wants to have sex?

  • sunshinemary says:

    Just to be clear, is it your understanding that every time a spouse feels any physical desire they must have sex, even when neither of them actually wants to have sex?

    That’s cutting it pretty fine, Zippy.

    Don’t you think St. Paul meant that if you experience desire for relations, then have relations? I don’t interpret that to mean that every time a random sexual thought pops into your head that you must drop whatever you are doing and run for the bedroom. The rational understanding would be if you are lying in bed next to your spouse and you feel the urge, do it. Don’t worry about temperatures and charts; God says babies are a blessing, not a curse! It must grieve Him that we treat the blessings He desires to bestow upon us as curses to be avoided at all costs.

  • Zippy says:

    Sunshine:
    I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer the question. Is a person required to eat every time he feels hungry, even if he doesn’t want to eat?

    We are moral agents, not beasts.

    I agree with your general sentiment, but not to the extent that you take it, which seems to reduce us to the status of beasts.

  • Mike T says:

    Is a person required to eat every time he feels hungry, even if he doesn’t want to eat?

    The moral difference is that one can look on food, crave it intensely and not be a glutton. In fact, I met very few people of either gender that fantasize about food the way most normal, healthy people think about sex. If one loses “custody of the eyes” in a serious way by failing to have sex with their spouse they have committed adultery. This is an area where natural differences in human desire plus direct teaching from Christ makes a casual comparison impossible.

  • Zippy says:

    “It is morally mandatory to have sex every time you are horny” is certainly an … interesting … interpretation of St. Paul.

  • Zippy says:

    Here is the oft cited I Corinthians 7:

    1 Now concerning the thing whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
    2 But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
    3 Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband.
    4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
    5 Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.
    6 But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment.
    7 For I would that all men were even as myself: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that.
    8 But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I.
    9 But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be burnt.

    (Emphasis mine).

    Now I’m Catholic, so I’m not big on citing Scripture out of context and wedging it into a preconceived framework. But even if I was, I’m having a difficult time seeing “sex always, because me so horny, even if neither of us actually wants to right now and even if reason prefers a different choice” as something emanating penumbrally from these passages.

  • Mike T says:

    “It is morally mandatory to have sex every time you are horny” is certainly an … interesting … interpretation of St. Paul.

    Let’s go back to your example of eating. Suppose a middle class individual is on a serious diet to control their weight and teach themself discipline. They go out in public and have no money are so hungry that their blood sugar crashes and they steal a little bit of food. Will God treat that like a poor man gleaning a field or more like a much more serious form of stealing because it was only caused by the contemptible foolishness of the thief? Probably the latter.

    If you are horny, married and won’t avail yourself of your spouse then when you go in public horny lusting after women or worse, the weight of the sin is even heavier because you chose to not take the God-approved outlet for it.

  • Mike T says:

    But even if I was, I’m having a difficult time seeing “sex always, because me so horny, even if neither of us actually wants to right now and even if reason prefers a different choice”

    I can’t tell whether you are engaging in hyperbole or using a defition of “horniness” that is substantially different from ours. To most people, that doesn’t imply an airy, abstract desire for sex but an immediate and real physical/emotional desire to actually have sex. Sorta like the difference between wanting to have dinner tonight and actually having serious hunger pangs right now…

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    It seems to me that you are trying to reframe the discussion as a discussion of extreme cases. But the proposal was that it is always morally mandatory for spouses to have sex whenever one of them feels physical desire, independent of whether they even want to have sex or if their reason indicates that it is or is not a prudent time to have sex.

    This “sex is always mandatory when there is any desire” stance is asserted contra to what I wrote above — “In general, a married couple has pretty wide moral latitude in terms of having sex when they want to and not having sex when they don’t want to. This is … similar to an owner’s moral latitude in using his property as he sees fit.”

    People who are like beasts, simply unable to control themselves, are probably unable to follow the moral law without frequent reception of the Sacraments, etc.

    But the standard for what is morally permissible in general is not set by assuming that we are like beasts, utterly lacking in self control.

  • It’s easy to refute when you take the abstinence individually and the sex individually and contrast them with contraception. But to make the “contraception light” argument in its strongest form would be to look at the combination of the sex and the abstinence, the deliberate timing of sex to coincide with the periods of abstinence. There is some truth to saying that with NFP, a couple is looking for sex without consequences.

    It’s a fallacious argument, but one should deal with it on its strongest footing.

  • Zippy says:

    Brian Killian:
    True enough, but the point I was attempting to make in the OP isn’t that (or when) NFP is morally licit. The main point I was making is that equating contraception and NFP is a category error. NFP might, as some commenters suggest, be morally illicit as a practical matter all the time. But if so it would have to be so for entirely different reasons from contraception, which is categorically different, and which could never be morally licit even theoretically.

    Another analogous moral issue is the death penalty. Some people argue that the death penalty is as a practical matter no different from murder, and they frequently conflate the practical with the categorical. But even if we stipulate that as a practical matter circumstances never arise in which the death penalty is morally licit, it is a fundamental category error to equate it to murder.

    The “sin is sin, what difference does it make” retort offered by some is unmoving for any number of reasons; first among them that you can’t build a true moral understanding on lies.

  • slumlord says:

    It is about choosing when to not have sex, as opposed to choosing how to modify sex to block its fertility.

    I agree with Dalrock

    NFP is very much about choosing when to have sex.
    The whole point of NFP is that your trying to have infertile sex. What your attempting to instantiate is a conjugal act devoid of its fertility.

    But as being open to life has nothing to do with being fertile but rather about how you do it (see above) it really doesn’t matter.

  • Zippy says:

    slumlord:
    NFP is very much about choosing when to have sex.

    Sure, again, but I wasn’t making the kind of statement you seem to think I was making, and I think the rest of what I wrote makes that clear.

    The point is that what distinguishes NFP from contraception categorically is that NFP is about choosing when not to have sex, whereas contraception is about choosing to mutilate sexual acts.

    But as being open to life has nothing to do with being fertile but rather about how you do it (see above) it really doesn’t matter.

    Right. Being open to life in carrying out the conjugal act has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one actually happens to be physically fertile at the time. This (again) can be easily seen by the willingness of all Christian denominations to marry people who are accidentally sterile, those who are too old to reproduce, etc. Furthermore, if it did have to do with being actually fertile then every conjugal act which did not result in conception would be immoral.

  • Zippy says:

    Humane Vitae:
    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.

  • Zippy says:

    Also HV:
    Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process.

  • […] 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 […]

  • Ian says:

    How do people not get this? It’s as if I were to say that dieting is no different from bulimia as a means to losing weight.

  • Zippy says:

    Ian:
    It is because they think that what is (proposed to be) wrong is a general intention to eat combined with a general intention to lose weight; and under the tyranny of subjectivism what matters morally is thought to be these general cocktails of intentions or dispositions, not the choice of specific behaviors.

  • NEIL RANGEL says:

    WHETHER ONE LIKES IT OR NOT; NFP IS A FORM OF CONTRACEPTION.IT IS A DELIBERATELY STERILE ACT AND CONTRACEPTIVE IN INTENT AND OUTCOME.DEFINITELY NOT CATHOLIC. HOW CAN AN ACT THAT IS CONTRACEPTIVE IN INTENT AND OUTCOME NOT BE CONSIDERED CONTRACEPTION. HOW LONG ARE MANY GOING TO DECEIVE THEMSELVES.

  • Zippy says:

    There is plenty of infecund thinking when it comes to this subject.

  • nonyabizz says:

    as if 7 billion people aren’t enough….

  • […] An analogous case in the context of the sexual revolution would be the ‘rigorists’ who condemn NFP as a form of contraception, and their ‘laxist’ counterparts who make the same claim but conclude from it that […]

  • simon says:

    Having been invited to post in this topic in your response for my comment I would like to ask you a question before I restate/reformulate my previous argument.

    Do you believe that taking a hormonal pill for curing a certain disease by a married woman who does not abstain from sexual contacts is sinful?

    If yes, is it independent of the disease? Specifically, do you believe that a woman who *wants and intends to* conceive and takes a contraceptive pill as a form of a infertility therapy (it does have such a use) should abstain from sex until the therapy is finished?

    If no, why?

  • Zippy says:

    simon:

    I don’t tend to have or express fixed firm opinions about edge cases in moral casuistry, although I have discussed them quite a bit over the years. (Here is just one example of such a discussion).

    In this I am merely following the instruction of the Magisterium of the Church:

    Such theories however are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. Although the latter did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question. The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord. – Veritatis Splendour

    Every verbal description of a moral precept will admit of baffling edge cases, because positivism is false; but bafflement about edge cases is intransitive, so invoking edge cases as if they cast doubt on the moral prohibition of a specific act is a fallacy.

    The bottom line in different words is that a proposal (e.g.) that condomistic sex is not a mutilated sex act because (it is proposed) there are different verbal descriptions of different acts which are difficult to categorize, is not a valid argument.

    (I’ve written a lot about positivism, which you can find under its keyword in the sidebar; but you might start here. The bottom line for present purposes is that every verbal expression of a moral precept or a casuistic scenario in which it is applied will necessarily be incomplete – that is, will give rise to ‘edge cases’. This is true of all moral precepts, not just the prohibition of contraception. So if a transitivity-of-bafflement criticism were a valid argument we would not be able to talk about morality at all).

  • […] is, in its essence, very simple (really much simpler than contraception/NFP): if you lend (money or anything else) and expect the thing lent to be used up by the borrower and […]

  • […] Different intentions imply different behaviors, and vice versa.  That is why things like contraception and usury are and shall be judged based on objective standards: the notion of […]

  • […] sexual acts, because contracepted sexual acts are intrinsically immoral in themselves, as kinds of behavior. Choosing an intrinsically immoral kind of behavior is always morally wrong, full stop, no […]

  • […] (temporarily or perpetually) continent […]

  • Once again, as apparently tends to be the case with me – and I really hope I’m not coming off as elitist here, as I’m not trying to – the objections to this general point just baffle me. To argue that NFP is never licit is something akin to arguing that it is never a good idea to not have children. Thus the Duggars are the only truly moral family in America.

    Yes, one can just not have sex period. But then, why would you when there are options like waiting until you’re (mostly) certain pregnancy won’t result? This is clearly a fundamentally different thing than contraception – which should be obvious and which you explained several times – and thus there really shouldn’t be a question that it’s sometimes, at least, moral.

    Maybe you’re rubbing off on me. As time goes on I’m starting to see more and more of these “Well, duh” moments. I think sometimes it becomes like the tendency Dr. Feser wrote about when it comes to things like same-sex marriage: It’s so obviously ridiculous that it’s hard to argue against the opposing view, like trying to convince somebody that the sun makes things hot in the face of repeated denials. How you even argue in favor of something like that? What can you say that would possibly be convincing?

    Weird.

  • […] Contraception involves a purely subjective feeling that you want sex but do not want a baby right now. Pay no attention to the minor matter of choosing objectively mutilated sexual behaviors versus abstinence. […]

  • […] is especially odd though coming from Catholics who really ought to grasp the difference between sexual behavior – whether licit or illicit – and continence.  Continence is […]

  • […] the same is true of sexual perverts.  Sexual perversion isn’t a matter of playing  with odds: it is a matter of perverting the nature of a sexual […]

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