Friday, August 12, 2011

Thoughts on Protestant Lack of Understanding of the Truths About Contraception, the Pill as an Abortifacient, and NFP

By Dave Armstrong (8-12-11)

Sometimes, in order to justify use of contraception, the advocate will attempt to equate NFP with it, as if there is no essential difference. It's the same dynamic as running down annulment as "Catholic divorce" as if it is not essentially different, either. I think we can state that sometimes or many times, this outlook may be in play. I know all the tactics people use to rationalize error and sin, from 30 years of apologetics. And this sometimes occurs: perhaps more widely than anyone imagines.

Contraception is a serious sin, but there are plenty of other sins to go around. Since we're all sinners, prone to sin and subject to concupiscence, and guilty of much actual sin on an ongoing basis. Christians of all stripes fall short all the time. That's why we Catholics confess and examine our conscience and repent as a group at the beginning of every Mass. Jesus didn't cease calling the seven churches in Revelation "churches" despite a host of very serious sins. Paul didn't mince words about the Galatians and Corinthians.

I would argue that it is far more sinful for Catholics, who know full well that contraception is roundly condemned by their Church, to keep doing it, compared to Protestants, who are mostly ignorant and never taught at all about it, and who don't ostensibly accept and obey the word of an infallible Church, as every Catholic ought to do. "To whom much is given, much is required."

Whether individual Protestants "know" they are wrong regarding contraception is a very complex matter. Most are simply ignorant about the matter: having never been taught anything differently. And even if they have seen some Catholic anti-contraception arguments, they are often so weak or poorly presented, that it is little better than the previous ignorance.

I am maintaining that most Protestants, insofar as they learn anything at all about traditional Catholic and non-Catholic traditional teaching on this, do not yet "know" that it is wrong. Once they get to that point, then of course they are responsible for acting accordingly, and to fail to do so entails grave peril to their souls (including possibly eternally). But I don't see that most of them have gotten even to that point yet.

I was certainly purely ignorant when we contracepted for six years in our marriage. I had never heard a rational argument otherwise until I met an articulate Catholic who explained it to me (even a priest I had talked to at a pro-life event couldn't do it). Once I heard the actual reasoning, I was persuaded. But if my case is at all typical (and I think it is), then there are many millions of Protestants out there like I was, who are profoundly ignorant of the entire matter.

Most who contracept are unaware that the birth control pill can often be an abortifacient. I had never heard this until I talked to someone who was really up on all these issues. I barely heard about it even when I was in pro-life rescues, where no one could question the participants' pro-life convictions. Protestants who contracept are rarely told that they may be killing conceived children through the Pill, so that it is the case that they don't care and keep on using it anyway. This is usually not the case, I submit, because people haven't heard this in the first place. As an avid pro-lifer when I was Protestant, I would have stopped in a heartbeat, had I heard this; if I hadn't already been convinced of the wrongness of contraception. And I highly doubt that the multiple millions of Protestant pro-lifers would act differently.

Protestants are usually ignorant of historically demonstrable truths such as that no Christian body espoused contraception as a moral choice until 1930 (the Anglicans). Like myself, they don't study the matter sufficiently enough to ever figure this out. They have to be educated in a patient and charitable fashion. 

We Catholic pro-lifers may know that the Birth Control Pill is sometimes an abortifacient; hence we are responsible for that information. But most people who use the Pill do not know this; therefore, they can't possibly be committing a mortal sin (in the fullest sense) since they don't have the subjective intent to do so; being ignorant. It's still objectively a mortal sin insofar as the act is objectively sinful, but the subjective component of knowledge is absent; therefore persons in such ignorance would not be fully guilty of committing a mortal sin with full intent, by the definition of mortal sin in Catholic moral teaching.

Now, once such a person reads this and things like this, that discuss the Pill being an abortifacient, then they know more than they did, and are responsible to study the issue for themselves and act accordingly (and I have provided a link with resources so they can do just that). If they know for sure that this is the case, and keep acting in the same fashion, then they are subjectively responsible for grave sin.

It is almost a certainty that most who contracept are as utterly ignorant of the entire matter as I previously was. We should empathize: those of us who have traveled that sad path ourselves.

We could note hundreds of cases of Christians of all stripes failing to follow Christ's teaching. Falling short and failing and sinning is part of the human condition, unfortunately. If a particular sin is mostly due to ignorance and lack of knowledge (as is very much the case here), we can counteract that through education, done with compassion and charity.

Too many Catholics, unfortunately, use NFP with contraceptive intent: not having sufficient reasons to space or avoid children. It can be used wrongly because at bottom it is a heart and a motivation issue; not just a technique. The primary evil of contraception is in the evil "anti-procreative" will or intent. The same intent can be present in the couple using NFP, lacking sufficiently serious reasons to avoid having children. It is not as serious of a sin, but it is still sin.

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Paul said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

Dave Armstrong said...

I have reposted the following remarks, that were in this combox, so as to uphold the anonymity of the woman who made them, out of respect for her apology (having to do with the previous version of this post, that is now revised because of the apology), and to also avoid reference to the anti-Catholic site involved:


I have apologized on [a Catholic site] for my uncharitable remarks. It was not my intent to insult . . .

If someone whom I respect as much as I do you says that I may have committed serious sin, I have to consider it seriously. You have no idea how your words have pierced me. I highly respect you and I have been reading your books for years. I am not angry about what you said, and, while I don't agree with every one of your criticisms of me, I do feel that if my words came off as uncharitable, then they were uncharitable.

I am sufficiently humbled and I have gone to confession.

Catholic apologetics has been close to my heart since my own conversion 13 years ago. However, after being beaten up so extensively as a bad example, I may step back for a while and contemplate my future in this medium.

(Fri Aug 12, 05:21:00 PM EDT)

Dave Armstrong said...

Here is my reply, minus her name:


[Name], my dear sister in Christ,

You have done the right thing, but it is over now and you mustn't beat yourself up too badly over it. We all make mistakes. Believe me, I have often been in the same position and have eaten humble pie on many occasions.

I know how vigorously I can argue, and perhaps a little about how it feels to many on the opposing side of one of my discussions (because they tell me!). I was simply dealing with the language and the logic of some aspects, not trying to run you down personally. I admire your zeal, and now I have great admiration for your expressed humility.

PLEASE do not stop doing apologetics because you may have stumbled a little bit here. I accept your report of what you intended to convey. If you made a mistake, you have now rectified it, and you need to forgive yourself (just as you were forgiven in confession) and move forward.

I have so much admiration for that. If I were there with you I'd give you a huge hug and give you some flowers to try to make you feel better. :-)

I will also greatly restructure this paper to reflect the fact that you retracted and apologized (and not even mention your name at all), so that you won't be held out as any sort of "bad example." Quite the contrary.

I was much too harsh, in making my criticisms and even in how I titled my paper. This is my own fault that I need to work on (see, I don't have this apologetics stuff perfectly down pat, either). I fear that I have hurt you, and I offer my sincere apology for that.

But you can learn from this mistake to do better (just as I hopefully will, myself). That's what God wants from us. He doesn't want us to quit the good thing altogether just because we weren't perfect in conduct or argument. That's the devil's victory.

Okay? Please write back as I am now concerned that I sort of "crushed your spirit" and that wasn't my intention, either. It saddens me. I've learned about myself as well, in this.

It will all end up for the better (Romans 8:28).


Dave Armstrong said...

And a second reply of mine, with the person's name removed:


Another related thought:

I'm so used to NOT persuading people, as an apologist, because of always having to deal with those of a different viewpoint, that it surprises me whenever I actually convince someone.

But any overtly harsh language on my part probably largely flows, in part, at least, from that. One has to be "tough" in a sense to try to persuade such hostile parties in any given argument.

Now you come along and actually accept my reasoning, and I realize that I must have come off sounding very harsh and overbearing. Sometimes we apologists forget that there are human beings on the other end of our arguments. We get so caught up in all the back-and-forth argumentation.

I am sorry, [Name]. I'm trying to make it up to you now by removing most of the critical material I have written about it.

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CathApol said...

Hi Dave,
I'm not quite ready to jump into full agreement with you over the Hays incident regarding cathmom5's comments on my blog. I've left you a couple questions which I'd like to see your comments on.


Dave Armstrong said...

Okay, thanks. I left a reply on your blog.

Ben said...

Dave wrote:

"Jesus didn't cease calling the seven churches in Revelation "churches" despite a host of very serious sins."

Excellent point!

And if only our Protestant friends would note the biblical pattern here: Jesus is constantly active in reforming and guiding his Church. There is not a shred of evidence -Scriptural or historical- to suggest that Jesus would allow centuries (let alone 15 centuries!) to pass before sending some latter-day "apostle" to begin "reforming" his Church!

None whatsoever.