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Response to demosincebirth (Original post)

Fri Sep 21, 2012, 09:11 AM

2. That's one of the real problems with Humanae Vitae

Notice that HV does not actually define "contraception". I suspect that this is because any actual definition would shoot holes in Pope Paul's argument. Here's a definition: Contraception is a means of having intercourse without procreation.

The second objection I have is that HV concentrates on the method, and completely ignores intent. I suspect this is because the so-called "NFP" ("Natural Family Planning", the term that the Vatican prefers instead of "rhythm method") that the Vatican touts is merely another way of having sexual intercourse and avoiding pregnancy. In other words, the end is exactly the same, the only difference is the method employed. Ignoring intent is bad moral theology.

What is wrong with the Church teaching is that it starts with the view of the Roman stoics and pagan Gnostics that the body is evil, and pleasure is to be mistrusted.

Paul VI implies, although he nowhere says explicitly, that among the "lower animals", sex is only used for procreation. The closest he comes in HV 10: "In relation to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means the knowledge and respect of their functions; human intellect discovers in the power of giving life biological laws which are part of the human person". (The Roman stoic Ulpian said that if you wanted to know what natural behaviour was, look in the barnyard.) I suspect that this is what Paul VI was thinking of. However, this is not necessarily the best place to look. Primates, our closest relatives in nature, use sexual activity in pair bonding, not just procreation. See Alison Jolly's The Evolution of Primate Behavior, Chapter 13. If Pope Paul is going to use a biological argument, he should use good biology.

The view that sexual intercourse is only morally licit if it is being used for procreation was promulgated by people such as Augustine of Hippo, whose own experience of sex was through having illicit love affairs. Augustine thought that he knew what sex was about, but his views were undoubtedly colored by his own experience -- and he actually had not a clue as to the proper function of sex in a marriage. This view led him to say in his De Bono Conjugali that all sexual relations, except for the express purpose of procreation, were at least venially sinful.

Pope Gregory I supported this stand, saying in a letter to Augustine of Canterbury that "even lawful intercourse cannot take place without desire of the flesh ... which can by no means be without sin."

My next objection to HV is that Pope Paul does not have any scriptural basis to his argument, but uses something called "natural law". As Ireneaus of Lyon wrote, "From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law", Against Heresies 4, 15. Thomas Aquinas has a long discussion in his Summa Theologica I-II questions 90-106. Now, there are some things which can be said to be "implanted in the heart of man" -- aversion to rape, murder, incest, child molestation and so on. But birth control pills and condoms are certainly not among those things.

Pope Paul also says some remarkably silly things in HV. For example, he says

Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men -- especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point -- have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion.


In case the Pope had not noticed, there was a great deal of adultery and fornication going on before HV came out. His second point in this paragraph is that men may lose respect for their wives, seeing them as mere sexual objects. I do not believe that this has happened. For example, it is generally accepted that the great increase in reported incidences of domestic violence is due first, to better reporting techniques, and second, to a social awareness that this is not acceptable behavior.

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