Lately, I’ve been on the Internet.
Depressing, I know. But I have. And in particular, I’ve noticed a widespread rash of anger directed at that crotchety old institution full of crotchety old men with crotchety old ideas: the Catholic Church. Seems there’s this thing happening out there in the “real world” (a phrase whose quotation marks become more and more poignant day by day), a thing called “contraception,” and the Catholic opposition to it’s got everyone’s knickers in a twist.
But the worst thing is that whenever someone talks to a Catholic about why they shouldn’t contracept, it seems like the only answers Catholics are giving deal with potential results of the action – hormonal imbalances, cancer risks, emotional issues, and prevented conception of children. These are definitely problems, don’t get me wrong, but they are not in and of themselves problems with contraception – they are negative results of it. They still don’t deal with why the act of contraception itself is always wrong. We’re always hearing why we shouldn’t contracept, but never why we can’t. It would seem that Catholics do not know what they are supposed to believe, nor how to defend that position adequately against the onslaught of the rest of the world.
Let’s deal with that issue together, in the hopes that we can defend the faith better (and heck, maybe even understand it a little better too.)
The Church calls contraception “intrinsically” wrong, which means it’s always wrong by the very nature of what it is, in and of itself, completely regardless of whatever other things might happen as a result. All those physiological and emotional consequences, and yes, even the prevented children, are negative results, but they are not what makes the act intrinsically evil.
So what’s the key issue here? What is the real problem with contraception, the argument that no one seems to be making?
Spoiler alert: It’s sex.
Specifically, it’s the nature of the act of sex. Let’s start back from the beginning, and by that, I mean the REAL beginning, in Genesis. God made everything, right? He is the Ultimate Creator, and in fact the Only Creator. Only God can create something new where it once was not, fashioning nothing into something. Now enter man. God, in His infinite craziness (1 Corinthians 1:25), decided to give us pathetic little humans a seat next to Him on His throne (Revelation 3:21). In a shocking, scandalous, ludicrous display of disregard for His own sovereignty, God gave us, US, the power to actively participate in the creation of a person, body and soul.
This. Is. AMAZING. This is one of the greatest acts our human bodies can execute, one of the most unbelievable powers we possess, so much so that it is a fundamental act in what John Paul II called the “primordial Sacrament” – marriage. We call this power our “fertility,” in recognition of God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). It is a power unlike any other within the bounds of our universe; animals may procreate new animals, but they lack the ability to procreate a key component that sets us far apart from them – the human soul.
So think about this. What is marriage? Marriage is a total gift of self. It is the complete, utter, 100% gift of oneself to another, nothing held back, not even the slightest bit. It is self-gift with a reckless abandon that leaves no stone unturned, no strength unsworn in fealty, no flaw unexposed in daylight. It is the gift of one’s whole soul at the altar, and one’s whole body in the consummation of sexual intercourse. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Sex is the consummate act of marriage, the completion of the union begun at the altar.
Now think about what contraception does in the context of marriage. Each spouse has a great gift, unique to mankind, the power of fertility, and it is theirs to give to whomever they choose. Introducing a barrier to the sexual act, whether chemical or latex, says, “I have this amazing gift, but I’m not going to give it to you. You can have everything else of me, but you can’t have this. You can’t have the deepest, most fundamental part of me. You can’t share in my participation in God’s creative power and glory.”
Do you see what is done here? If marriage is total self-gift, and in contraception, you withhold your greatest gift from your spouse, then do the math: Whatever you’re doing, IT’S NOT MARRIAGE. It’s not a total self-gift. It doesn’t even matter whether the contraceptive actually prevents the conception or gestation of a child – it’s an intrinsically disordered act before that ever happens. Syllogistically speaking:
Premise 1: Sex is the consummate act of marriage.
Premise 2: Marriage is the total gift of self, body and soul.
Premise 3: Contraception is the withholding of a particular personal gift.
Conclusion: Contraception is incompatible with sex and marriage.
All the arguments against the Church’s position cannot defeat this conclusion. It is simple logic. So the only attacks that can be leveled on this syllogism must call into question not the conclusion, but the premises. Here, my friends, here is where you must take ownership of your Catholic faith. You must be able to defend the assertion that sex is made for marriage, that marriage must be a total gift (and not merely partial), and yes, even that contraception is in fact a withholding of self-gift. There is not room remaining in this blog post to deal with these issues separately, but that is why books and CDs such as these exist:
Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West
Heaven’s Song: Sexual Love as It Was Meant to Be by Christopher West
Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Dr. Edward Sri
Contraception: Why Not? by Dr. Janet Smith
I highly recommend you grab one of these books and look into the matter. Happy reading, and Godspeed.