Tag Archives: Contraception

The Climate Change Pope, Part 3

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I’ve spent a couple blog posts giving the background on why I believe the Pope is wrong about climate change.   Let me start this post by stating my areas of agreement with the Pope.

  1. I am not deligitimizing the overall, general issue of stewardship of God’s creation.     I am not suggesting the Pope has no authority in this area, nor that he should be silent about these concerns.   I am not even saying that the Pope has no right to an opinion on whether or not human-caused global warming (or climate change) is real.    He, as does every person, has a right to an opinion.    As Pope, he has the obligation to instruct the faithful.   More generally speaking, it is proper and correct to challenge all of us as to whether or not we are striking the proper balance between respect for human rights and progress and respect for God’s creation.
  2. There should be many things that we see that should not be particularly debatable as either a good thing or a bad thing in the realm of stewardship of the earth.   Dumping of toxins, breaking the law, leaving a plastic bottle in the woods – some are clearly more serious than others, but all are wrong.   The Pope is correct to suggest that knowingly doing something that is harmful to the planet is sinful.    This statement is not Gaia-worship, it is a simple acknowledgment that we have a responsibility we need to take seriously to keep this planet as healthy as possible, because God made it good, and also because it’s in our best interest to do so.    No matter how pro-capitalism one might be, this should not be debatable.
  3. Consumerism is a somewhat strange word, but we should all be able to agree that, while the economic system is not inherently problematic, the human conditions of jealousy and greed are.   You can point to any economic system ever put in place anywhere, and you will have one thing in common:   greedy people will find a way to take advantage of other people, and will exploit the system to their gain.    I personally believe that the Pope is often a bit too hard on capitalism, as if the system itself is flawed.    Compared to any other system devised, I actually thing it produces the most superior of moral outcomes – you earn what you deserve (generally speaking) and it forces allocation of resources in the most efficient way for a thriving economy, which benefits everybody.     Clearly, there are shortfalls, as will be the case with every system, and we continue to try to create the perfect variant of a social-capitalistic system, which will never happen.   But having said all that, it is certainly worth noting the personal pitfalls of this system.   Capitalism does offer the opportunity for great wealth.   That’s not bad, but is the question is why is that wealth being pursued?     It’s one thing if natural interests or a great idea that can add to the quality of life of others is the reason for the pursuit.    It’s also another thing if an opportunity exists to make your life better without sacrificing other good things (God, family, etc.).   It’s quite another if the drive is purely materialistic, and the time and effort is sacrificing time and energy on more idealistic pursuits.   This is where capitalism, while not bad in and of itself, can be a source of temptation for those who may have a personal weakness in the area of covetousness or greed.    This goes hand-n-hand, then, with the stewardship of creation.   Most Corporations are good, all of which are filled with working people – I hate the generalization of all Corporations as somehow innately evil. This doesn’t mean that greed cannot infect the principal owners/board members of an organization.    As Christians, we can both believe in the goodness of capitalism while speaking out against environmental injustices when they happen.
  4. There are grey areas in the area of stewardship that can be legitimately debated.    Is it immoral to build a factory that will employ people who will be able to provide for their families if it means the endangered snail darter will be at serious risk?    Is it immoral to shutter the entire project, causing community disruptions, lost jobs, and so forth because of an overscrupulous view of stewardship?    Good and honest people will disagree on the moral high ground here.   Perhaps there is a middle ground that makes sense.    One thing is almost certain – not everyone will agree, and it’s almost impossible to say that one side is sinning and the other is not.

So, I think the Pope makes many great points, and challenges us to make sure we are not letting politics steer our religious or moral obligations.    However, where I do take issue is moving from the moral directives to a much more specific proclamation of what our obligations are as a world community, as governments, and as individuals in response to the threat of human-caused climate change.

It is one thing to take a position that dumping a known toxin into a river is a sinful action, and it is quite another to suggest that driving a car is a sin if the option of a bus is available.   If the moral instruction is based on a belief that fossil fuel use is causing destructive warming, it is understandable why that instruction takes place.   But if that underlying premise is false, then the moral instruction is also false.    Put differently, if I do not accept the science-based premise that leads to a particular moral instruction on the basis of that scientific premise – not on simply obstinate grounds, but on grounds of experience and research and (to the extent possible) unbiased human reasoning – then am I obligated to accept the moral instruction that is a response to the flawed scientific premise?    This is different from just saying “I studied the Bible and I don’t believe in Purgatory.”    That is not a scientific question that leads to a religious doctrine.   So, I am not saying that whatever I don’t accept I don’t need to listen to.  In fact, I accept that the moral issue of stewardship is an obligation on my part.   It is the specific nature of this issue that I have a problem with.

One may simply ask, “What’s the big deal?”    Well, it is a big deal, actually.    If the Pope gives moral authority to governments, the UN, and other secular organizations on this issue, it sets the stage for a much more aggressive response with the justification that the Vatican is on board.   I think the Pope, in his own way, has this vision of the goodness of they types of choices that will be made – people just decide to buy fewer things, drive less, think about the environment more, and participate less in the types of things that will drive climate change.   Governments will do reasonable things that benefit everyone.

There is good there, and the good things are the things we should do anyway, irrespective of climate change.   But going beyond personal choices, everything else is problematic even if the theory is correct.   And if the theory is wrong, then everything else is horribly flawed. Governments will tax – inefficient, and a displacement of resources that can help people.   Governments will regulate and restrict production, will deviate resources to unnecessary and expensive areas, and will be an overall drag on growth and incomes.   But far worse will be the continuation and escalation of social engineering:   (a) abortion on demand will continue, be promoted as a good, and will escalate in the areas of the world where it has yet to gain a foothold; (b) people will be encouraged to outright “fear” having children, further encouraging use of contraception,  (c) personal property rights and use of property will continue to be diminished and attacked, and (d) marriage will continue to devolve into an institution of self-happiness rather than as an institution of rearing the next generation.

Now, the Pope doesn’t want fewer children via an increase in abortion and contraception.   And he would condemn that approach.   But the secular world doesn’t care what the Pope thinks, except when he thinks something they can use to advance their agenda.   While it should not be the case that the Pope should never speak pastorally or on social justice issues due to the risk of progressives selectively choosing the words of his they want to use for their purposes, neither should the Pope dismiss or ignore the fact that this reality exists.   He should understand the consequences of his instruction, and at the very least make it clear that when he speaks of these things, he condemns absolutely a number of the human “solutions” or agendas around this issue.

He should, in my opinion, also not speak so absolutely about the truth of climate change as a result of human activity, but instead focus more generally on environmental stewardship and our moral responsibility.

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Why Am I Annoyed by Happy People on Commercials?

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The little boy drops a bowl of cereal.   The bowl breaks and stuff is everywhere.   The boy cries.   The mom smiles and consoles him.  There is no anger or scolding.  There is only…  a Swiffer!   And joy abounds.

The man has heart pains.  But because of the magical pill he no longer has heart pains.  He now feels younger.   Now, all his time is spent laughing as he plays hide-and-seek or fishing with his grandchildren.

I hate these commercials.  But why do I hate them?   Do I not want people to love their kids and grand-kids?   Do I prefer that people lose their temper instead of being cool, steady, and joyful?

No, that’s not it.

The first reason i hate them is because I am not that perfect.   I’d have yelled at the kid and thrown him in the corner while grumbling about his clumsiness as I cleaned up his mess.    And when I retire, I look forward to spending time playing cards with my grandkids, but I’m probably not going to play hide and seek.   Too much work.   So, yes, I see my own imperfections in the perfect unreality of commercials.

The second reason I hate them is because I don’t believe they mirror most realities, and they’re trying to sell me something by lying to me about the fact that all my anger and imperfections can now magically be solved by this particular product.  That’s a lie.

But really, my dislike for all this goes much deeper.   I may be overthinking this, but I am utterly annoyed by the hypocrisy of our culture.   We sure love our kids in commercials.   They are our joy and our hope.   But in a society that has killed over 50 million kids in the womb and prevented however many other pregnancies because of the contraceptive mentality we have totally embraced, the idea that we really, really love our kids so much because they mean everything to us is simply a lie.  They don’t.

That may seem harsh, and I don’t mean it as a universal statement that applies to everyone.   But I do mean it as an overarching cultural statement.

Imagine the following sentiment from Mr. and Mrs. ABC:   “Oh, little Johnny and Jenna are just the joys of our lives.   We can’t imagine what life would be without them.   They are such blessings, and it’s so unreal watching them grow up!  The time flies by so quickly!”

“Oh, so are you planning on having any more children?”

“Good, God, no!   We can hardly handle the two we have!”

So… which is it?   The “money can’t put a price tag on the little darlings that bring the ultimate joy to our lives” parents, or the “I can’t handle this” parents.    Because saying you can’t handle something, to me, is not something you say about a blessing.    It’s something you say about a burden.

Now, don’t get me wrong.   I am not saying it isn’t normal to think that you can’t handle life at times, including the kids.   This is perfectly normal.   In fact, sometimes I think we need those times to allow us to refocus on God.   Because when we can’t handle something, we must humbly turn to God in our humanness and ask for help, and admit that we are not God, we are not in complete control, and we are imperfect.    The answers that God gives in these times may not be what we desire.   We get tested and refined and strengthened so that we can not only handle what we have, but a little bit more.    And to the extent we can’t, we need to lean on Him all the more.   This isn’t all about happy happy joy joy.

So, in our human ingenuity, we’ve turned to abortion and contraception as the answers to our burdens – children – all the while putting on a face of love and joy and happiness over the children we have, as long as we don’t have enough to disrupt our lifestyle.   And this somewhat peeves me.

But, I guess a commercial about a dad with 9 kids doling out a punishment while pulling out an old dishrag he found for a quarter at a garage sale probably wouldn’t inspire consumerism.   So, I’ll just have to live with the fact that people on commercials love their kids.   At least the ones they kept.

 

Moments of Clarity

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After having been told in our marriage prep that the choice of contraception was up to my wife and I, and while deliberating about whether or not we wanted to stop at 2 or 3 kids so that we could have that perfect American family, a strange thing happened.

You see, I had been reading a lot about this little thing called the Catholic Church, and I was all-in on the fact that this whole thing made good, logical sense.   It was clear – Christ called Peter the Rock, the teachings on faith and morals that were bound here were a bound because it was divinely inspired teaching.   Scripture and Tradition – got it.

I was also all-in on contraception.   After all, a man of the cloth had clearly informed us that this was not, in fact, a teaching of the Church.  If we were OK with it, then God was OK with it.

As both my wife and I grew in our faith, though, we started spending a lot more time with other Catholic families, and at some point my wife informed me that she wasn’t sure we should be contracepting.   This was not part of my plan, and I clung to that initial piece of advice we had received as if my life depended on it.  Was this the same woman who wanted me to get snipped not that long ago?   (I didn’t for two reasons: (1) there was something deep down that told me it wasn’t right, and I could never get past that, and (2) I really cringed and felt pain in my nether region every time I thought about it, and could never get past that.)   It finally reached a point where this was causing some real stress in our relationship, and I had a brilliant idea.   It was time to go to the Catechism.   Yeah, that was it.  These other people were taking the extreme position on this, and the Catechism would be my proof that we were OK.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

If I’ve been blessed with anything, it’s the ability to be pretty honest with myself.   I am, by nature, a logical and analytical person.   Truth is truth, and if it’s presented to me clearly and definitively, I accept it even if I don’t like the answer.

I can still remember that day, opening up the Catechism and reading about the use of contraception.   I don’t remember anything I read except two words:  “Intrinsically evil.”

My conversion was immediate.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t an “Alleluia” moment.   It wasn’t a refreshing moment.  It wasn’t a happy moment at all.

It was a moment of clarity.  And I could not, in good conscience, ignore it.

And so my new life began.   The life that would lead me to a family that now includes 9 children who are both a tremendous joy and blessing, while at the same time – in my darker moments – secretly wondering what my life would be like if I had never had that moment of clarity.

I can recount a couple other moments like that in my life.   I think God gives all of us those moments.  He wants to move us in the right direction, but He often finds ways to make that happen where the choice still has to be ours.   Every conversion story I have ever heard is defined by particular moments, and there is not one of them that doesn’t believe that God had a hand in the process.   We may all be delusional, or it could be that God actually really does love us and is ready to forgive us and welcome us back to the fold, from whatever distance it is we have strayed.   It’s all well and good to have some excuse for a while that you can blame on someone else for why you are doing what you are doing.   But if you are not doing right, at some point God will make it your choice, and from that point forward it’s your decision to own.

I think we have these moments as individuals, as families, as parishes, as communities, and as nations.

I believe the recent scandal regarding Planned Parenthood is such a moment.

The discussion and sale of baby parts is nauseating and disquieting.   But it changes nothing at all about the abortion issue.   It is a stark reflection of who and what Planned Parenthood is, and it unveils the evil that lurks behind the facade of an organization that claims to be a champion of women’s health.   But in reality, we’ve had decades of technological capabilities of informing people that the baby is really a baby and not a clump of cells.   Ultrasounds brought us pictures of the baby in the womb.   Advancements in DNA technology and understanding have reached a point where even the unscientific common folk know enough that all humans have a unique DNA, and that the baby in the womb is human and distinct from the mother’s DNA.

We already know all that, but because many people don’t want to let the abortion issue go, they cling to the “it’s just a lump of cells” argument from 40 years ago as gospel, and continue to avoid confronting their own sense of reason on better understanding the humanness of the “fetus.”

Then there is another group of people – Christians no less – that have managed to convince themselves that abortion is just another issue.   They are against it, but because of other influences they have chosen to either minimize its importance or how evil it actually is because they have other political issues they feel strongly about.  Whether it’s education or the poor or the economy – good and legitimate issues – they are willing to overlook the fact that abortion should be a disqualifying issue for any candidate.   What does that mean?   For example:  if a candidate came out in favor of re-instituting slavery, but otherwise supported the issues you support, would you vote for him?   Most would (hopefully) say “no.”   Why?   Because that one issue shows a depravity of mind that cannot possibly qualify him for legal office.   Period.   If he is so out of bounds on that issue, we cannot trust that he will make wise decisions in other areas, regardless of his stand on other issues.

If we can agree that there are issues of disqualification for a candidate, then on what basis can any of us who believe that life begins at conception ever not disqualify a candidate who believes it is perfectly acceptable to kill a child in the womb?

The recent Planned Parenthood scandal is not so much about the strict legalities or illegalities of trading in body parts as much as it is about making it entirely clear to us that abortion is about killing babies with developed baby parts.   Those who are arguing that it really is legal, and for research, and all that are entirely missing the point.   The entire point is that these are actual developed organs, tissues, heads, livers, you name it.   These things come from some living being, and in this case we know that living thing to be human.

In other words, this is a moment of clarity.

Because of these videos, politicians will be required to stake out a position.   Everyone will be asked to either align with or against Planned Parenthood.   Based on this new information, we know ever more clearly that abortion is about killing human babies.    Any politician who continues to align with Planned Parenthood is making a choice that, to be perfectly honest, imperils their soul.    Any person who, in turn, aligns with a politician who has aligned with Planned Parenthood is doing the same.   I am not the judge, and I am not making any final statements about any individual person’s salvation.   But what I do know is that we are given these moments as a gift – a blessing – so that we can correct injustice in a particular area that is a grievous sin against God and humanity.

Making the choice to do this may or may not require putting other things that are important to you on hold.  It may not be an easy thing to do.   But we are given these moments to make a difference and to take a stand.   It may mean that another issue of less importance (Even though important to us) does not go exactly the way we’d like for a few years.    Well, it is my opinion that if we all made it clear that we are disqualifying any candidate on this issue, then within 2-3 election cycles it wouldn’t be an issue.   Politicians are funny like that.   And this does not make us “one-issue” voters.   I hate that characterization.    That implies that this is just one of many issues.   While it is true that it is one of many issues, there are different categories of issues.   By definition, a disqualifying issue takes precedence before consideration of other issues.   By all means, if there are two pro-life candidates then I will make it perfectly clear that I consider a lot of other issues and will speak to those.   If you are not pro-life, well, then your head is not right and I just can[t trust your judgment.   It’s actually pretty simple.   If you’re still confused, go back to the slavery example and read it again.

We must be honest with ourselves when God gives us a moment of clarity like this.   And if we don’t, there will be consequences to us as a nation and as individuals.

A Couple Final Thoughts From My Most Recent Posts

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OK, so basically I wanted an outlet to put down my thoughts on how the re-definition of marriage transpired.

I think I covered most things, but in re-reading and reflecting what I have written, there are a couple things that I want to add to wrap things up.

I’ve alluded to this general theme throughout, I guess, but I really just want to emphasize how critical it is that we tie the purpose of marriage together with what marriage actually is.   We need a triple-knot on this.   The entire idea of what people think marriage is meant to be directly affects what they think marriage should look like.

The current debate has almost completely normalized the idea, even among Christian folk who should know better, that marriage is an avenue of self-fulfillment.   Some may view this as just one aspect of marriage, but many view this as the primary purpose.   This is truly upside-down thinking, but it is the predominant view.

Thinking about Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles and then dying on the cross for His Church, marriage is supposed to emulate Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as bride.   Are either side in that equation concerned primarily with self-fulfillment?   No.   Jesus died for His Church and the Church has suffered countless martyrs that were/are persecuted and even sent to death for Christ.

Yes, marriage is about love.   But not “Sleepless in Seattle” romantic love.    That provides a wonderful element to a good marriage relationship, but it is a byproduct of it and not the purpose of it.

All the things I wrote about, in one way or another, center around the transition from marriage as being about sacrificial love for another and instead to companionship and self-fulfillment.  This then directly leads to a complete abandonment of the idea that begetting children is a necessary element to marriage.

If this is what marriage is all about (or not about), it is no surprise whatever that people can come to grips with and accept gay marriage.   After all, it’s not about having kids, and each person just wants to be loved and have companionship and be happy.   And that’s all marriage is, so there you go.

I already discussed the evolution of acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle alternative.   Underlying this acceptance is either a real or perceived increase in people who are actually gay.   Some would argue that there is no percentage difference in the number of gay people, only that they are now more willing to be open about it, thanks to our newly open and progressive society.    I think there’s probably truth to the fact that people who are gay are much less likely nowadays to hide it or suppress it, but I also think there are factors that have actually increased the numbers of people who are gay from the viewpoint of genetic predisposition, as well as those who are steered that way due to a culture that almost seems to prefer that a person seek out every alternative than a heterosexual and monogamous lifestyle.

I already discussed one factor: fewer dads and less fatherly availability is directly linked as a factor in men being gay.   It could be entirely environmental, or it could be a factor in driving a person towards a genetic predisposition.

Another factor that has been studied and confirmed, and then basically suppressed as explanatory is the hormonal pollution of the water supply, particularly in more populous areas.   And what is the hormonal pollution from?   The birth control pill, primarily.   It is an interesting irony that one of the outcomes of a society that embraces the temporary sterilizing of itself is that it leads to more people who desire relationships that are, by their very nature, sterile.

There really are more issues that are ancillary to all of this that help fill in even more gaps.   The fact that we now procreate in ways that fall outside of the unitive act of marriage in turn devalues the family.   It is no longer from an act of unitive love, it is a scientific process.   Don’t even get me started on frozen embryos.

And then there’s abortion.   As if it isn’t enough to prevent the conceiving of a life, we somehow managed to convince ourselves that it isn’t really a human life after all, and we can just do away with it.   An entire class of people just dehumanized.    There is simply no way 50 million plus abortions can occur with it taking a toll on marriages and what people believe is true of marriage.

I’m sure more could be added to the list.   But I think I’ve said my piece.   I’ll move on to other things, or at least different aspects of this thing.

Step 3 in the Re-definition of Marriage

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As a quick recap for a couple previous posts, in my opinion (and the opinion of many others) the whole marriage debate has a lot of nuance to it, and the sudden realization that marriage has been re-defined carries with it no shortage of fault and blame going back centuries.    I won’t re-hash that detail, but it is important to remember the following points:

1) Marriage never has been universally defined.   Ages of people and cultures have viewed it, its purpose(s), and its structure differently.   Never has it meant same-sex relationships, though, to my knowledge.   But the historical nature of it has not been, and is not, universal.

2) The above point is not an argument that there should not be a universal definition.   Just as Jesus started the spread of the Gospel in a small area with a small group of people, there is some providential design that is apparently very important in the way Christian teachings are to take root in the world.   God wants us to live in a certain way and believe certain things, but He didn’t make that happen by zapping everyone in the world with a magical laser beam of perfect knowledge.   The Church was to grow over centuries and millennia and reach people at the designated time.

3) As with all things Christian, the true nature of marriage was revealed slowly and steadily throughout the world.   The lack of uniformity is not, and cannot be, an argument that there should not be uniformity.   And so the true nature of marriage became more understood and accepted and adopted not just in a religious sense, but in a secular and civil sense.  This truth largely prevailed, and even further, was recognized as a necessary base for a strong society and nation.

4) Some would say that marriage started to be redefined when governments (often backed by the churches) got involved.   This is not really correct.   It may have changed the way governments decided to view married people or treat married people.   It may have added conditions to the marriage arrangement that would later set in motion the redefinition of it, but none of these things fundamentally changed what marriage actually was, or what its purpose was.

5) Luther cracked the nut when he declared that marriage was not a Sacrament, which meant it was not covenental in nature.   It was a vow or promise, but between people.    When we talk about “redefinition,” we are now talking about this relative to the Christian ideal.

6) The next post was a review of how divorce moved from a rare and generally unacceptable thing to a very prevalent and acceptable thing.   The very idea that this is even possible stems from a belief that there is not a true, very real, singular unity of the spouses that cannot be broken.   This took a long time to take hold as a belief, but once it did it spread very quickly.

The fundamental purpose of marriage is not to have a companion for life.   The foundational purposes are to (a) unite with someone who can help you get to heaven, (b) have children, (c) raise children with the primary idea that you want them to get to heaven.

That, of course, is entirely simplistic, and it says nothing of all the things that go into actually having a “good” marriage.   There’s all sorts of love and sacrifice and struggle that goes into all that, but those are not what marriage actually is.  It’s what it should look like to the outside world.   What it actually is is more real at the spiritual level, and invisible to us all.   We don’t see a physical contraption binding husband and wife, nor do we see the Sacramental graces that come from God in the marriage arrangement.

OK, so that recap is nearly an entire post’s worth of words.   Sorry.

But now I move on to an issue that generally is a hard sell to people who really really really don’t like the implications of re-thinking what it would mean to change how they view it.   Wait for it…   wait…   almost there…

Contraception.

There.  I said it.

It shouldn’t be anything new.   After all, Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae at a time when boatloads of theologians and clergy alike all thought he was going to give the green light to the use of contraception.    He pretty much pulled the rug out from underneath them.

I am not going to re-write that document or St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body here.   There’s a wealth of information for all who have the desire to be honest with themselves about really learning and understanding the Church’s teachings on the issue.    All I’ll say here is the top line summary:   Contraception is considered an intrinsic evil (yes, these words from the Catechism nearly instantaneously caused my own conversion on this issue after never receiving appropriate catechesis prior to marriage).  Why?   Boiling thousands of pages of detail into one sentence: The sexual act in marriage is about bringing life into the world through the act of love between man and woman that is our human and physical mirror image of the love between Jesus and His Father that gives us the Holy Spirit.   (It’s kind of a run-on sentence, but once I typed “into one sentence” I was pigeonholed.)   I admit, that comparison can seem quite odd, and even a bit disturbing if not viewed in its fullness of meaning, which is why I encourage much deeper study on it.

If this purpose of the marital act can be relaxed into one of pure pleasure without the life-giving nature of it, then it takes one of the foundational pillars of the purpose of marriage away and once again redefines it.   Yes, I know that these relations can still be an act of love, and a joining of two people, and all the good things that can come from that.   It’s not that every intimate embrace using contraception is entirely selfish.   But it almost always has at least some element of selfishness to it, and in many cases it really is just all about the pleasure of the act without the potential rewards of it. (I always hear “ramifications” as if begetting a child is like the aftermath of pressing the nuclear button.   I prefer “reward” when speaking about a new life coming into the world.)   And even removing the purity of motive, there is still the plain, old, legalistic, can’t-get-around-the-fact, aspect of using contraception that takes away the procreative aspect of sex.   Even if only intended to be a temporary measure for this reason or for that reason, you’ve removed the life-giving element of the act, which means you are no longer emulating the life-giving love between Jesus and the Father, which in turn means that act is no longer a human reflection of the Family that is the Trinity.    The longer one uses contraception, the more reasons one uses it for, and the fewer kids you decide is “right for you” because of it, the further away from the procreative foundation of marriage we get.

All the Christian religions universally agreed on the importance of this aspect of marriage until the Lamberth Conference in 1930.   The Church of England cracked open the door.   The Federal Council of Churches followed in 1931.   These initial allowances were conservative in nature – only when abstinence was deemed impractical for limited reasons.    But by 1961, nearly all Protestant religions followed suit, and many relaxed the standards, and the National Council of Churches finally declared that the only requirement was mutual consent of the couple.

The slippery slope is always an amazing thing to see historically.   And yet, every time someone proposes some relaxation of standards on just about any issue, they always seem to dismiss the future implications and the slippery slope argument.

From a social standpoint, the Federal ban on birth control in the US was lifted in 1938.   In 1965, states were no longer allowed to make their own decision on the matter.   The Supreme Court determined that contraceptive use is a Constitutional Right between married couples.    In 1972 the Supreme Court extended the right to unmarried couples.

The current prevalence of contraception, and its presentation as a good thing for women and “reproductive rights” has led to a world where numerous “Christian” nations are not even replacing themselves.  The sexual act is no longer reserved for marriage and comes (seemingly) without consequence.   The sexual act, primarily, is self-serving even within marriage.

Combine divorce and contraception, and you get a non-permanent arrangement where sexual gratification is one of the primary purposes of your maybe-lifetime-maybe-not relationship.   How many people call it quits when they are “no longer compatible sexually” or “that passion isn’t there anymore?”   How many don’t bother to get married in the first place?

This all needed to happen to get us to where we are today.   The Catholic Church stands alone, once again, in preserving the complete sanctity of what marriage is.    Unfortunately, an alarmingly high percentage of Catholics have decided that they do not need to follow Church teachings on this particular matter.   So, while the Church isn’t devaluing marriage in general, they are devaluing their own marriage, and likely passing that attitude on to their children and others.   I can empathize.   Many of those people simply do not know any better.   I thank God for revealing the truth to my wife and I after a few years of marriage before we did anything stupid and permanent, and I thank God for the grace to accept the truth.   It isn’t always easy.   Doubtless we would not have 9 children right now had we continued along our previously merry, but darkened, path.   We would have decided wrongly that 3 kids or so was the “right” number for us.

I digress a bit from the main point, but I don’t think we can understate what this has done to the mindset of marriage and relationship.   This, more than anything, has entrenched the idea that marriage is really about sexual companionship that has been given an official stamp of approval from someone or some institution that makes everything you do from here on out OK.

There are a couple more things that have assisted in re-defining marriage, though they are not, strictly speaking, a foundational thing.   By themselves, they wouldn’t be absolutely critical.   Combined with these foundational things, they acted to move things along, or were contributory elements in accepting some of the more fundamental changes.  I plan on posting about those as well.   May as well upset everyone while I’m at it.

Why Obama’s “Compromise” is a Shell Game: A simple Explanation

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On the immediate announcement, it sounded as if President Obama has given Catholic and other concerned people of faith a nugget of goodwill (or, at the very least, a recognition that political damage control was needed).

It is entirely possible that many people will continue to see it that way. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Not only has nothing changed, but the reality of it is that this actually ends up being worse.

Allow me to provide an example or two:

Suppose you donate to the United Way, and you designate your gift to a particular cause or two. While it may appease your sensibilities that you are designating your gift, the reality of it is that the only way this matters is if the vast majority of other donors also designate their gifts. Since most do not, all that happens is that the United Way reallocates all the other fungible donations and the final allocations are exactly the same as if you had not designated your gift at all. Now, if there are no morally offensive programs being supported, you may be OK with that. But if there are morally offensive programs, then you are, in fact, contributing to them in an indirect way. You can appease your conscience by telling yourself that “if everyone else had done what I did, there would be no problem.” But reality being what it is, that is not the case. So, all that happens is that a higher percentage of non-allocated funds are provided for undesignated programs, while a smaller percentage of other peoples’ funds are used to support the programs you designated money to. This is colloquially referred to as a “shell game.”

Why am I talking about this example? It simply provides an illustration of how something can be presented as one thing, but in reality it is something else. In this example, the contributor is made to feel good about giving to a specific group that is meaningful to them, but everyone knows that in the end it really doesn’t affect overall funding by program.

So, let’s explain the new “compromise” in the mandatory contraception debate. Prior to today, certain faith-based groups were told they would have to offer health care coverage that covered the expense of birth control (some of the abortifacient variety). The religious freedom aspect of this aside, there is a cost related to this direct coverage. Let’s just suppose the cost for some employer would be $20,000. This $20,000 hits the health care losses of the insurance company, and the rates for the program are adjusted to reflect this cost. The employer now has a plan that costs more for which they are directly covering something they are morally opposed to.

The compromise presented today is this: Employers, you can opt out. Instead, we’ll make the insurance company cover this at no cost to your employees. Thus, the thinking goes, it is not directly covered by the employer. Unfortunately, this compromise is no compromise at all, and is potentially even more harmful.

1) There is still a direct linkage to the employer’s health care coverage. In other words, if the employer opts out of health coverage, they will get fined as before. If they opt in, there is automatic coverage for birth control services. Regardless of whether or not it’s directly under that plan, or dubbed as a “service” of insurance companies, it is exactly the same thing in practice.
2) The cost doesn’t go away. The coverage is only “free” to the employee (notwithstanding increased premiums) but there is still a cost of coverage. The $20,000 does not stay with the losses of the employer, but get shifted to the expense line of the insurance company. Expenses are built into the rates for coverage, so the employer ultimately pays for the coverage.
3) Now, suppose the insurance company doesn’t load expenses for birth control utilization directly back to the employer’s health plan, but just loads it in equally across employers. The impact of this is concerning: supposing a Catholic ministry with faithful adherents to the Church’s teachings as employees, and supposing they do not use birth control at all, then their health plan costs will actually increase to accommodate the costs of contraceptive utilization of other plans. Thus, this new compromise actually leads to a situation where not only are faith based organizations paying for contraceptive use, but the more faithful the employees are to Church teachings, the more they subsidize the use of contraception in other employee bases!

This needs to be opposed just as ardently as the previous proposal. We can’t petend that everything’s going away just because the administration found a way to better disguise it.

The Great Teaching Moment on Contraception – Brought to us by Barack Obama

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Well, it’s been over a year since my last post, but I got the urge to chime in on the latest hubbub surrounding the HHS and Obama Administration decision to force compliance of a mandatory requirement that health plans offer free Birth Control to employees covered by health plans.

Unless you’ve been hiking on Mars for the last couple weeks, you know what I’m talking about.

While I am in complete agreement with all those calling this unfair and unjust, and while I join in opposition to it, that is not where I’ll go in this post. It is easy enough to find the arguments against this action around the internet, and it is worth reading over the various appeals for action at the USCCB.

What I’d like to muse about here is the fact that – as often happens with God – this outrageous action that never should have happened has nevertheless done more to draw attention to the Catholic stance on contraception than anything else in recent memory. Ironically, this may be a controversy that does more to save souls than to destroy them, especially if this ultimately gets overturned either by policy, a new administration, or in court.

While it is true that some Priests willfully broach the topic of contraception in their homilies, let’s be honest: there hasn’t exactly been a forceful and consistent message on this topic.

Not to make excuses for the lack of willingness to give a good old-fashioned “this is the way it is and suck it up and deal with it” homily on the topic of contracepting Catholics, there is also a reality that Priests have to deal with and struggle with. Now, to many of us, there is a feeling that the truth should just be spoken because that’s what Christ did and if people run away then that’s their issue. Others will come because there is always a yearning for truth. But things are rarely that simple. The most benign and generic homily that discusses the evils and sinfulness of contraception will elicit negativity from those who feel they are being judged. And ramping up the intensity will expand the universe of those who feel that way. It’s a tough thing to try and get people to actually confront their sin without making them feel like they’re bad people. And it’s human nature to filter out all the caveats about how we’re all sinners and go straight to “I think he just said I’m going to hell!”

On this issue, it’s particularly sensitive, for a few reasons. First of all, as a Catholic with 8 kids, I really need to resist the urge to look around at all the families with 2 or 3 kids and make any assumptions about them. Now, I’m not stupid. As a group, I simply know that there is contracepting going on. I know this because some aren’t shy about telling others about it. I also know it because there is no other reasonable explanation for the distribution of family sizes. But what I don’t know (unless they share) is who is doing it. And I don’t really want to know. So, I can’t and shouldn’t assume anything at the personal level. But it’s an easy assumption to make at the general level. But generalizing doesn’t usually help, because it’s human nature (especially when you know you’re an offender) to think “he’s looking at me.” And this draws offense and ire. Not because the Priest is wrong, but because the person doesn’t want to hear it and is offended at the very fact that something they are doing could dare be called a sin.

Second, there’s the unfortunate money and membership issue. It shouldn’t matter, but we live in the real world where it does. Some courageous priests won’t let the threats of “I’m leaving and taking my donations with me” matter, but other Priests will try much harder to figure out what they can get away with and keep the money here.

Third, there is the real spiritual concern of losing people. We want people at Mass. It is the best opportunity to make a difference, have the graces of Mass available, and experience conversion. There is always the hope that keeping the people coming will make a difference in the long run. It’s not an unfounded idea. This causes great struggle among the faithful Priests. They must be forceful, yet pastoral. I do not envy them.

Fourth, it is an adult topic. I have young children, and I’d want my Priest to be careful how he decided to address the contraception issue. I think this can be accomplished relatively easily, but it takes some thought. Different parents will draw the lines of acceptability differently. We want to keep the young children as innocent as possible for as long as possible.

This all leads to the fact that we do not hear about this issue nearly enough. So little, in fact, that a lot of otherwise good and faithful Catholics truly don’t understand that this is taught by the Church to be a grave sin. And even if they have heard that, they’ve been given very little context in the matter to understand the Theology behind it. How many otherwise faithful Catholics have rationalized that on this particular issue, they just disagree? And how many actually have really sound theological insights into their reasons for disagreements, versus the relativistic arguments of our generally secular society?

But thanks to the HHS and Barack Obama, things have changed. Over the last two weeks we have had letters from Bishops read throughout America. The issue is lighting up discussion boards, chat rooms, TV screens, and is even present in political debate. And while the argument is about the right to religious freedom more than it is specifically about contraception, this is not a drawback at all. Since the fundamental issue is more foundational from a Constitutional and Political perspective, it is getting much more coverage than if it was a narrow issue regarding the Church’s teachings on contraception.

But the practical impact of it is that every Catholic is now confronted with the question as to why this is such a big deal? Why is the Catholic Church saying that she can not and will not comply? What makes contraception such a point of argument that Catholic institutions are saying they will actually drop coverage before complying? How many times have we heard in the past two weeks that the Church considers contraception to be a sin? And we’re hearing that from news media in order to put context to the story. We are hearing more about the Catholic teaching of contraception from all forms of media than we’ve heard from the pulpit in the last four decades. This is truly a teaching moment.

Just yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with someone whose conscience was rekindled with respect to decisions he and his wife have made with respect to this issue. He was very sincere in reflecting about it and finding out more about the Church’s teachings. How many others are asking themselves the same questions? How many people are struggling internally with the issue who had otherwise set it aside?

Let’s thank God for how He works. Yes, we need to kill this unjust ruling. But in the meantime, let’s use this ruling! Priests can bring it up in the context of religious freedom and find ways to work in some things that will get people thinking. This has turned into a great opportunity for us.

Thank you, God, for finding ways to use the devil against himself, and using his methods of attack to bring about conversion. And thank you for the Church. May she demonstrate her strength during this time.